What's in the night sky of the week of 19 to 25 December 2022 in our weekly stargazing guide.


Chris Bramley Hello and welcome to Star Diary, the podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. You can subscribe to the print edition of the magazine by visiting skyatnightmagazine.com or digital edition by visiting on iTunes or Google Play.

Ezzy Greetings, listeners, and welcome to Star Diary, a weekly guide to the best things to see in the Northern Hemisphere as night sky. As we are based here in the UK all times are in GMT. In this episode we'll be covering the coming week from 19 to 25 December. I'm Ezzy Pearson, the magazine's features editor. And I'm joined on the podcast today by reviews editor Paul Money. Hello, Paul.

Paul Hello Ezzy. Oh I'm excited. It's the week leading up to Christmas. Now, now the bad news. Most of the events occur in the morning sky.

Ezzy Oh, no.

Paul I know.

Ezzy It's always the way it is.

Paul It is. but it happens every month. We got to have this. So we're going to start off them with December 20, because on that morning, a very slim crescent moon – with Earthshine remember, that's the other thing that makes it wonderful – it lies close in below the star alpha Libra. This is Zubenelgenubi. It is a nice double star and you can see it in binoculars. So have a look at that sort of thing. Really good in a pair of, say, 10x50 binoculars and such a very nice double star. And you got the Moon there as well hanging below it. So you've got these crescent moon, you've got the Earthshine and you've got this wide double star as well to boot. So I think that's worth getting up at 7 a.m. in the morning. I see it is. And it is getting lower in the sky because the trouble is as we head towards the crescent, we're obviously getting closer to the horizon and closer to sunrise as well into the morning twilight. You've got to bear that in mind. So if you leave it to rise too high, it'll get swamped by the daylight as the light gets brighter. So that's the 20th. On the 21st, the Moon is even lower. Now, this is where you really do need an uncluttered horizon. And the key is really just how long can you go before you lose the Moon, before it's too close to the glare of the sun? And I actually think the 21st is getting pretty close to that time. You might just get it, you know, the next day. But I would say it's a real struggle. So on the 21st, though, it also lies on the crescent moon in Earthshine, right next to Beta and Delta Scorpius Graphius and Deschuba. And so that day on the 21st, it was also the winter solstice. So winter officially begins in the northern hemisphere and summer begins in the southern hemisphere. So winter may officially begin, but of course technically the lights will start to draw out. So we'll actually start to get lighter nights. But it takes a few weeks. I always think around about when you get to February, you really start to notice it. So we're all right yet we've still got the dark skies, astronomers. We still got the dark skies hanging on those dark skies. But we are at the winter solstice. So of course we're at the point whereby winter officially begins. That is astronomical winter, I should say. Meteorologists like to use the first of the month, so we won't go into that. I don't use the real sky. Folks that don't use the real sky.

Ezzy It makes it even easier with the calendar.

Paul Well, it does. Yes, that's the general idea, isn't it. Now the next day, December 22, the actual Moon will be quite close to the Sun. So I'm really I don't know whether you'll get it because it'll be in the early morning sky. You can try, but just bear in mind, be careful about the Sun rising. If you're searching for the really, really slim crescent Moon, the Moon will be new on 24th. So we're looking on the 22nd at the moment this is good news, but it's only two days away when it's new. And the reason why it's good news is that it's actually a great time to get... I could call this the Christmas meteor shower. Christmas lights in the sky, couldn't we?

Ezzy Yeah.

Paul Because it's the Ursids meteor shower. So the thing about the Ursids the radiant lies close to the star Kochab in Ursa Minor. That's the second brightest star actually in the Ursa Minor you've got two stars there, which are pretty prominent, Polaris. And everybody knows Polaris, the North Pole star and Kochab. So the radiant lies close to Kochab. And although the activities around ten per hour, there's no moon.

Ezzy No.

Paul Cause it's close to Kochab is circumpolar. So you can actually observe all night if you really wanted and watch out for meteors. So this is a I've not seen a meteor shower. This is the perfect time just to just keep looking up, have a watch out. And if you see anything radiating away from, say, Kochab in Ursa Minor, then there is a good chance you picked up an Ursa meteor. It's just, you know, with then with ten per hour zenith hourly rate – that is the perfect conditions, we have to reiterate. That is absolutely perfect. You're looking straight towards zenith, which is the point directly above you. It's the hourly rate under exceptionally dark skies. But let's face it, how many of us have got that? So we have to be realistic. You may be looking at two or three per hour.

Ezzy Well, I will say, if you want to if you want to make sure that you're getting the most out of this meteor shower, because it is not a particularly prolific one. We have lots of guides over on the website www.skyatnightmagazine.com. But my my one big piece of advice is it is December make sure you wrap up warm and I usually find that it's always my feet that feel the cold the most. So, you know, make sure that you've got nice thick socks on. Maybe find like a piece of wood or piece of cardboard to stand on that can actually help keep your feet warm weirdly enough.

Paul Oh definitely. Concrete and tarmac are the worst worst.

Ezzy Yeah, they just leach the heat right out of you. So wrap up warm. We don't want anybody getting hypothermia, but if you do manage to manage to stay out there and see some meteors, it's an always an excellent thing to see.

Paul Of course, a bonus is you can always put on your Christmas list 'buy me thermals'.

Ezzy It'll be a little bit late, yeah, you might have to get your Christmas present early to take advantage it for that one. But yes, always a good or good Christmas present for an astronomer is a nice, decent set of woolly underwear.

Paul Because it surprises. Everybody would go for telescopes or binoculars. But sometimes one of the most useful things is actually some decent, warm clothing, especially this time of year as you say because I've been out there under the freezing, oh, there's snow, etc. You know, when we're doing the reviews, we're dedicated lot, you know, we will go out even if the snow on the ground as long as the sky is clear as well.

Ezzy One thing I have noticed, you can now get heated socks. So if you did want to give somebody socks for Christmas, because I know that always goes down well, lots of options there for you.

Paul Say Christmas guide to shopping as well.

Ezzy Just a couple of tips there for your Christmas list in case like me, you've left your shopping until the last week.

Paul Let's get to Christmas Eve, December 24. And it's in the evening skies. Yes, the evening skies, at last thing. But there's a bit of a problem because we're looking in bright evening twilight. And the thing about this, you look towards the southwest because over the previous few days, slowly and surely, I'm not talking about Mars, I'm talking about Mercury and Venus are creeping into the evening sky. They are deep in the evening twilight and set fairly quickly. But on the 24th, you have to look very carefully. I've got it down for roundabout 15, 16 minutes past four, before they set, but the crescent Moon, the incredibly thin crescent Moon will be there. It is a real challenge because it's not too long after new. That's the difficulty. So but the main thing we should always emphasise is make sure the Sun has set.

Ezzy Yeah.

Paul We can't emphasise that too hard, can we?

Ezzy It's always a lot easier to do it when it's in the evening sky because as soon as the Sun goes down, you know, it's not going to pop back up again. Whereas in the morning it's kind of... you're trying to time it to when do you think the Sun is going to come up. But always make sure the sun is well out of the way when you are trying to make these observations, because we don't want you to hurt your eyes.

Paul Exactly. You know, we want you to see the rest of the event. There was no point not telling us about them.

Ezzy Exactly.

Paul Now, naturally, Venus is the brighter of the two planets sort of thing. So that's the one that will guide you to Mercury to the upper left of Venus itself. So Southwest make sure the horizon is uncluttered because anything in the way, even a hill, could limit your chances of success. But as I say, if you're lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the incredibly thin crescent moon as well before it sets.

Ezzy I will say that Venus looking forward to next year as well – We're giving you some some hints about next year – Venus is going to put on a particularly good show next year, so catch this early glimpse of it and then you can carry on following it throughout the rest of the year.

Paul You could say it all starts now, doesn't it? As you.

Ezzy Absolutely.

Paul As 2022 ends, so 2023 will be the... We've had the almost the year of Mars really now and into early next year. Then it will be the year of Venus as well.

Ezzy Absolutely.

Paul Okay. So it's Christmas Day and we have a Christmas comet. Now, don't get too excited because it is about eighth magnitude, but you should be able to see it in binoculars. If you look towards Corona Borealis, the northern crown, it lies between Bootes the herdsman and Hercules. But it is a morning object. Oh, I'm sorry, Ezzy, you go back to the morning skies again, but it's 4 a.m. You'll be out looking for Santa.

Ezzy Exactly.

Paul You know. So why not? Keep a lookout for Santa at the same time, but get your binoculars out. Because in the actual circlet there of corona borealis is comet C/2022 E3 ZTF. What a mouthful.

Ezzy Yeah, it's comets. They always have these really long names and I know it's because it's, it's the, the year it was found and then something to do with the quarter and the survey that found it. And it all makes very... A lot of sense if you're looking from it from the scientific perspective. But I do wish they had some better name sometimes.

Paul Well, you know, I always worry that if I discover a comet and its name, usually after the discover, comet Money. But I always worry about Comet Money because. Because knowing my luck, that's the one that's going to destroy us. And I'll get blamed. "You found it, and it's heading towards us. Do something about it." "I can't do anything about it." So there we are. So I suppose in a way I don't want to find a comet. So although I haven't said Comet Money has a certain ring to it, don't don't mean to say we'll we will be better off as such for that. Well, yeah, no it's worth having a look for and it's the early hours of the morning, so you never know. Later that day, Santa might have brought you a new telescope or a pair of binoculars. So that evening, as the Moon setting very early and very quickly, it means the rest of the night will be dark and hopefully clear as well. So a few things to look out for that are Christmasy. I always think this sort of thing. First of all, the rosette is like a wreath, a Christmas wreath as well, that sort of thing. So have a look at that, it's in Monoceros. And the Christmas tree cluster in Monoceros. Wow. I mean, what a perfect item to have a view out with a pair of binoculars or especially a telescope as well. But with it being dark, this is the time now to test out your new equipment on the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula. Take a tour of the planets. You've got... I mean, we've got a whole range of planets back now to view. We got Venus and Mercury in the evening sky, twilight. Then you've got Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter, Uranus and Mars. So what do you want? Plenty of planets, plenty of deep sky to play about with your telescope or binoculars, especially if you've got them brand new just to end the week on. So there we are. Christmas night, you might be out under the stars. Let's hope it's clear.

Ezzy Absolutely. And if you are around with your family, people perhaps that don't necessarily share your your deep love of the night sky, things like the Orion constellation and bright planets like Saturn and Jupiter and Mars. They're all great ways to get people who don't necessarily look very closely at the night sky most nights. It's a great way to get people involved and looking up together as a family. So I highly recommend that. And we hope that you have a very merry Christmas. So thank you very much for taking us through that, Paul.

Paul It's a pleasure. I hope everybody has a nice Christmas as well, because, you know, we it comes but once a year.

Ezzy Absolutely. And to recap for your Christmas week, on the 19th of December, we have the Moon passing close to Zubenelgenubi. On the 21st, it's the winter solstice where the crescent moon will be near to three bright stars. On the 22nd, the moon's going to be close to the Sun. So do be careful if you're trying to observe it. But we'll also have the Earth's meteor shower. They'll be up throughout the night if you want to try and see that. Finally, 24 December, Christmas Eve, very early in the evening, we have Venus and Mercury will be making their appearance in the evening sky. And then finally on the 25th of December. Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF will be going across the night sky. Plus, there's a whole host of things that you can see with your family or with your new Christmas equipment that you've got. So we hope that you will manage to see some of those if you want to make sure that you're always up to date and always know what's going to be going on in the stargazing sky please do be sure to subscribe to the podcast. Next week we will be here a day early, will be on the 24 December that the podcast will be coming out rather than on Christmas Day. So we hope you all have a very merry Christmas and we'll see you then. If you want to find out even more spectacular sites that will be gracing the night sky throughout the month be sure to pick up a copy of BBC Sky at Night Magazine where we have a 16 page pull out Sky Guide with a full overview of everything worth looking up for. Whether you like to look at the moon, the planets, or the deep sky, whether you use binoculars, telescopes or neither, our sky guide has got you covered with detailed star charts to help you track your way across the night sky from all of us here at BBC Sky and Night Magazine. Goodbye.


Chris Bramley Thank you for listening to this episode of Star Diary podcast from the makers of BBC Scotland Guide Magazine. For more of our podcasts, visit our website at www.skyatnightmagazine.com or head to aCast, iTunes or Spotify.


Elizabeth Pearson
Ezzy PearsonScience journalist

Ezzy Pearson is the Features Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.