December Night Sky

We now know that Comet ISON did not survive perihelion in any readily observable form. While there are some other, rather faint, comets around, I think it is time to put comet fever behind us and look at more enduring objects!
Jupiter shines brightly in the East by mid evening. It is now in Gemini, almost the highest part of the ecliptic, and therefore perfectly placed for UK observers, as it will be all winter. Even binoculars will show its 4 brightest moons, and with a telescope you can see them change position over the course of an evening. You will also see cloud belts; with a telescope of 6” plus and good seeing, you should see beautiful detail in them.
Taurus is also rising in the East, including its large open clusters – the Hyades, the V shaped formation around its brightest star Aldebaran, and the famous Pleiades. Both are seen best in binoculars – even better if you can get access to large tripod mounted ones.
Winter also brings Orion, with its profusion of bright stars of varying colour in a very distinctive formation, and M42, the Orion Nebula, the finest deep sky object in the heavens. Any telescope will show some luminosity, but an 8” or more will show much fine detail with an eerie, greenish, hue, as well as the 4 central stars of the Trapezium.
But my personal target will be the nearby Horsehead Nebula. We are all familiar with its images. However it is a small, dark, gas cloud, illuminated by brighter gas behind it, and close to a bright star (Alnitak, the left most of the 3 stars in Orion’s belt), all of which make it difficult visually. The star chart below shows you where to find it. The outline “7” in the centre is a (faint) cloud of gas apparently surrounding Alnitak. The Flame Nebula is a brighter patch to the left of the star in the arm of the 7. And the Horsehead Nebula is the notch on the trunk of the 7, about ½ degree, or a moon diameter, south of Alnitak. Seeing it will require a telescope of 8” plus, a very clear night, averted vision, and patience. Good luck!Horsehead nebula finder chart