See 6 planets in the night sky this Christmas

Catch a planetary parade in late December 2021 to round off another great year of astronomy.

Published: December 13, 2021 at 10:18 am
Try 3 issues for just £5 when you subscribe to BBC Sky at Night Magazine today!

Six planets of the Solar System are going to be visible in throughout December 2021, with a beautiful planetary parade occurring over the Christmas holidays.

Advertisement

This will be a great astronomical event for beginners, for young astronomers and children, as well as seasoned astronomers and astrophotographers who love a bit of planetary observing and imaging.

Jupiter, Saturn and Venus are visible throughout December, but the best time to see the 6-planet parade will be from 28 December to 3 January, 30 minutes after sunset.

For more info, read our guide on how to see the planets in December and our guide on how to find the planets in the night sky.

For regular stargazing advice throughout the year, sign up to receive the BBC Sky at Night Magazine e-newsletter or listen to our monthly Star Diary podcast.

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team
Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team

Because these events happen close to sunset, it's worth remembering to wait until the Sun has completely set before observing: catching the Sun with the naked eye or through binoculars or a telescope could seriously damage your eyesight.

And for help with our instructions below, remember that 1° in the sky is about the width of your little finger held out at arm's length.

5° is the width of your 3 middle fingers held out at arm's length.

And for more on 'magnitude', read our guide on understanding stars' brightness.

Using your hand outstretched at arm's length, your fingers can be used to estimate degrees of distance in the night sky.
Using your hand outstretched at arm's length, your fingers can be used to estimate degrees of distance in the night sky.

How to see the Christmas planet parade

Six planets will be on view in the evening twilight sky towards the end of December 2021.

Given a good flat southwest horizon, mag. –4.3 Venus appears around 7˚ up, 30 minutes after sunset.

On 28 December, Mercury and Venus are close above a flat southwest horizon, 40 minutes after sunset.

Mag. –0.7 Mercury can be seen 4.3˚ below Venus.

How to see the planets December 2021

Over the following evenings, Mercury maintains its brightness and improves in position compared to Venus.

Mercury and Venus need a low, flat southwest horizon and will be best seen through binoculars.

Take care that the Sun has set properly before looking, though, as observing the Sun through binoculars could seriously damage your eyesight.

As Mercury and Venus approach the southwest horizon, look further east (up and left from the UK) to locate mag. –2.0 Jupiter.

Midway between Venus and Jupiter lies dimmer mag. +0.9 Saturn.

Jupiter, Saturn and Venus as they will appear from the UK at 17:00 UTC on 28 December 2021. Take care when observing planets close to sunset: make sure the Sun has truly set. Credit: Stellarium
Jupiter, Saturn and Venus as they will appear from the UK at 17:00 UTC on 28 December 2021. Take care when observing planets close to sunset: make sure the Sun has truly set. Credit: Stellarium

True darkness occurs just after 18:00 UT and this is the time to look for Uranus and Neptune.

Extend a line from mag. +2.0 Hamal (Alpha (α) Arietis) through mag. +5.2 Eta (η) Arietis for approximately three times again to locate a pair of sixth magnitude objects. The southern one is mag. +5.7 Uranus.

Use our locator chart to help you find Uranus. Credit: Pete Lawrence.
Use our locator chart to help you find Uranus. Credit: Pete Lawrence.

Neptune is a binocular planet too. Shining at mag. +7.9, it’s currently located 3.2˚ to the east-northeast of mag. +4.2 Phi (φ) Aquarii.

A star chart showing the position of Neptune in the night sky throughout December 2021.
Use our locator chart to help you find Neptune. Credit: Pete Lawrence.

The only main planet that will be absent from the evening sky is the morning planet Mars.

Advertisement

This guide originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

Authors

Pete Lawrence, astronomer and BBC The Sky at Night presenter.
Pete LawrenceAstronomer and presenter

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer, and a presenter on BBC's The Sky at Night.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored content