The Christmas night sky 2022: The planets pay a holiday visit

An illustration of the night sky on Dec. 25, 2022.
An illustration of the night sky on Dec. 25, 2022. (Image credit: Starry Night Education)

During this final week of 2022, we can observe what I would call "The Christmas Sky."

In many ways there are signs of the holiday season in our current evening sky. At this time of year many bring up the subject of the Star of Bethlehem. If you look low toward the southwest horizon about 30 minutes after sundown, you'll see a brilliant object that might remind you of that fabled apparition. Indeed, it's so bright that appears more like a dazzling beacon as opposed to a star: it's the planet Venus, the brightest of all the planets and the third brightest object in our sky next to the sun and the moon.

And don't forget to look for a jolly guest in the night sky this Christmas: Santa Claus! You can track Santa's whereabouts on Christmas Eve thanks to NORAD's annual Santa Tracker.

Related: Ursid meteor shower shines with ideal dark sky conditions this year

Joe Rao poses with binoculars outside.
Joe Rao

Joe Rao is a veteran meteorologist and eclipse chaser who also serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. 

 A Christmas Eve celestial ornament for 2022  

If you are blessed with clear skies on Saturday evening (Dec. 24) — Christmas Eve — you'll have a view of a gathering of three celestial objects low in the southwest sky beginning about a half hour after sundown. It's a trio composed of a slender crescent moon roughly 36 hours past new moon phase and situated off to the moon's right will be the planets Venus and Mercury

Basically, an isosceles triangle configuration and a striking one it will be! 

The moon and Venus form the base of the triangle, measuring roughly seven degrees in length, while Mercury serves a marking the peak of the triangle, roughly four degrees from both the moon and Venus. Here is an eye-catching holiday array which will be evident for a short while after sunset — but look quick! By an hour after sundown, the trio will be all but gone, already dropping below the horizon. 

An illustration of the night sky on Dec. 24 showing Venus and Mercury's positions in the sky. (Image credit: Starry Night Education)

 The Northern Cross 

The Yuletide evening sky is especially rewarding now. The eastern sky is filled with brilliant stars — sort of a celestial Christmas tree. Distinctive groupings of stars forming part of the recognized constellation outlines, or lying within their boundaries, are known as asterisms. 

One of the most famous is in the northwest these frosty evenings. Originally known simply as the "Bird" in ancient times, without any indication of what sort of bird it was supposed to represent, it later became the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. But the brightest six stars of Cygnus compose an asterism more popularly called the Northern Cross. 

Bright Deneb decorates the top of the Cross. Albereo, at the foot of the Cross, is really a pair of stars of beautifully contrasting colors: a third magnitude orange star and its fifth magnitude blue companion are clearly visible in even a low power telescope. While usually regarded as a summertime pattern, the Cross is best oriented for viewing now, appearing to stand majestically upright on the northwest horizon at around 8:30 p.m. local time, forming a most appropriate Christmas symbol. 

Interestingly, just before dawn on Easter morning, the Cross lies on its side in the eastern sky.

See the Northern Cross asterism in the constellation of Cygnus, the swan, above the western horizon after sunset. (Image credit: SkySafari App)

 The Christmas Package 

The legendary French astronomer Nicolas Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) referred to the three belt stars of Orion as "The Three Kings." And if we were to consider these three stars as representing the Magi, then not too far away, to the east, within the faint zodiacal constellation of Cancer, is the star cluster known as Preasepe, the Manger. 


A Celestron telescope on a white background

(Image credit: Celestron)

Want to get a better look at Orion's belt or Preasepe? We recommend the Celestron Astro Fi 102 as the top pick in our best beginner's telescope guide.

A manger is defined as a trough or open box in which feed for horses or cattle is placed. But the Book of St. Luke in the Christian Bible also tells us that the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes was set down in a manger because there was no room at the Inn. In our current Christmas week evening sky, Preasepe represents the manger where Christ was born. 

To the unaided eye, the manger appears in the middle of the dim constellation of Cancer as a soft, fuzzy patch or dim glow. But with good binoculars or a low-power telescope, it is a beautiful object to behold, appearing to contain a splattering of several dozen stars. Using his crude telescope, Galileo wrote in 1610 of seeing Preasepe not as one fuzzy star, but as "a mass of more than 40 small stars." 

The Beehive Cluster, or Praesepe, in the Cancer constellation. (Image credit: Fried Lauterbach/Wikimedia Commons)

 Three other planets 

And last but certainly not least, are three more planets adorning our Christmas evening sky. As the sky becomes fully dark about 90 minutes after sunset, face about one-quarter up from the southwest horizon to see "the lord of the rings," Saturn, resembling a bright yellowish-white star. Your clenched fist measures about 10-degrees, so Saturn will appear a little more than "two fists" above the horizon. A telescope magnifying 30-power or more will reveal Saturn's famous rings, now tilted about 14 degrees to our line of sight.

Higher up in the south-southwest and shining nearly 20 times brighter than Saturn, is Jupiter, the largest in our solar system and a superb telescopic showpiece with clouds bands crossing its disk, as well as its retinue of four large moons.

And finally, about one-third up in the east, shining with a fiery orange color is Mars, shining with a radiance quite similar to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Just over three weeks ago, Mars made the closest approach it would make to Earth until the year 2033. Now it is receding and will grow progressively fainter in the coming weeks. But right now, it still stands out in our glorious Christmas sky.

Happy holidays! 

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Joe Rao
Skywatching Columnist

Joe Rao is's skywatching columnist, as well as a veteran meteorologist and eclipse chaser who also serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Joe is an 8-time Emmy-nominated meteorologist who served the Putnam Valley region of New York for over 21 years. You can find him on Twitter and YouTube tracking lunar and solar eclipses, meteor showers and more. To find out Joe's latest project, visit him on Twitter.

  • rod
    Admin said:
    December is the month of the winter solstice, which a large part of the world associates with such celebrations as Nativity festivals.

    The Christmas Night Sky: A Yuletide Stargazing Guide : Read more

    Quite fun here. This morning I was out looking at the Sun using my glass, white-light solar filter. There are some unnumbered sunspots showing up now but look smaller than Earth size. From my log shows both sunspot groups that I viewed this morning. The image indicates the sunspots are a bit smaller than Earth size. Earth rotation apparent while viewing, keep the Sun centered in FOV.]
    I did enjoy some views of Venus last evening too shortly after 1700 EST. For folks who track the Sun using good solar telescopes and filters, the Sun's angular size is slowly increasing as we approach perihelion distance, very noticeable if you observe and track throughout the year.
  • redriver71
    Admin said:
    December is the month of the winter solstice, which a large part of the world associates with such celebrations as Nativity festivals.

    The Christmas Night Sky: A Yuletide Stargazing Guide : Read more

    I am new to your site. I do access your site to find the location of planets although I don't know much about the planets. I have a question, why, on your site, do the photos not show. All I get is a blank page that says : "SPACE,COM" . Just curious. Thanks.