Top 10 Deep-Sky Objects of December 2023

December skies provide a great opportunity to see some of the most beautiful deep-sky objects. We’ve organized our top list according to the objects’ apparent magnitude, from faintest to brightest. Our list includes nebulae, star clusters, and a galaxy, so you’ll have plenty to choose from. Let’s begin!


How to find a deep-sky object in the sky?

Any of the objects listed below can be easily found using the Sky Tonight app. All you need to do is tap the magnifier icon at the bottom of the app’s main screen, enter the object’s name or designation into the search field, and then tap the blue target icon next to the object’s name. The app will instantly show you the current location of the object in the sky.

Best deep-sky objects in December

10) Eskimo Nebula

Eskimo Nebula
Eskimo Nebula — a planetary nebula located in the constellation Gemini that resembles a face in a fur hood.
  • Alternative names: NGC 2392, Clown-faced Nebula, Lion Nebula, Caldwell 39
  • Apparent size: 48″ × 48″
  • Apparent magnitude: 9.6
  • Constellation: Gemini

The Eskimo Nebula is a bipolar planetary nebula with a dying Sun-like star in its center. The nebula got such a name because, from the Earth, it looks like a face surrounded by a fur-lined hood. The Eskimo Nebula can be observed in moderate-sized amateur telescopes — it will look like a circular greenish smudge with a bright star in the center. Larger telescopes will provide a clearer view of its details.

If we hadn’t told you, would you have guessed the name of the Eskimo Nebula? We bet you wouldn’t! Take our quiz to see how many weird nebula names you can guess correctly just by looking at their photos. There’s also a short video version of this quiz on our YouTube channel.

Guess the Nebula!
Astronomers are weird people and they often name things according to their strange ideas. Let’s see how weird you are – try to guess a nebula’s name from its picture!
Take the quiz!

9) Rosette Nebula

Rosette Nebula
Rosette Nebula — a vast emission nebula in the constellation Monoceros, shaped like a rose (or a human skull).
  • Alternative names: Skull Nebula, Caldwell 49
  • Apparent size: 1.3°
  • Apparent magnitude: 9.0
  • Constellation: Monoceros

The Rosette Nebula is a so-called H II region — an emission nebula containing ionized hydrogen in which active star formation takes place. The nebula is so named because its appearance resembles that of a rose. Some observers also noticed its resemblance to a human skull, so it’s sometimes also called the Skull Nebula. Because of its relatively large size, the Rosette Nebula is best observed in a telescope with a wide field of view — it will look like a circular patch of light with a star cluster in its center.

8) Crab Nebula

Crab Nebula
Crab Nebula — a supernova remnant in Taurus with a pulsar in its center.
  • Alternative names: M1, NGC 1952, Taurus A
  • Apparent size: 420″ × 290″
  • Apparent magnitude: 8.4
  • Constellation: Taurus

The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant powered by winds of a central pulsar. It resembled a crab to 19th-century observers, hence its name. The Crab Nebula originated from a supernova explosion observed by Chinese astronomers in 1054 AD. The explosion was so bright that the new “star” was visible even in the daytime! The Crab Nebula is a popular target for amateur astronomers — through a small telescope, it looks like a faint smudge of light. The nebula is also bright enough to be visible in binoculars under dark skies.

7) The Running Man Nebula

Running Man Nebula
Running Man Nebula — an emission nebula in Orion that resembles a running figure.
  • Alternative names: Sh2-279, NGC 1973, NGC 1975, NGC 1977
  • Apparent size: 40′ × 25′
  • Apparent magnitude: 7.0
  • Constellation: Orion

The object known as the Running Man Nebula comprises three reflection nebulae: NGC 1973, NGC 1975, and NGC 1977. It is a part of the Orion’s Sword asterism and is located close to the Orion Nebula. Many observers think the nebula bears a resemblance to a running human figure, hence its name. The Running Man Nebula can be glimpsed in small and medium telescopes, but it’s unlikely that you’ll see the outline of the running man — it shows up primarily in photographs.

6) M35

M35 — a large open star cluster in the constellation Gemini.
  • Alternative names: NGC 2168
  • Apparent size: 28′
  • Apparent magnitude: 5.1
  • Constellation: Gemini

M35 is an open star cluster relatively close to us — it is located 2,800 light years away from the Earth. Its angular size in the sky roughly equals the size of the Full Moon. You can easily see M35 through binoculars as a fuzzy patch of light. A telescope will help you see individual stars in the star cluster. If you have really sharp eyes, you can even spot M35 with the naked eye in a dark sky!

5) Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula — a stunning emission nebula in Orion's Sword.
  • Alternative names: M42, NGC 1976
  • Apparent size: 65′ × 60′
  • Apparent magnitude: 4.0
  • Constellation: Orion

The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula located in the middle of the Orion’s Sword asterism, near Orion’s Belt. It is one of the most well-known and brightest nebulae in the night sky: you can see it with the naked eye as a fuzzy patch of light. With the help of a medium-sized telescope, you can observe the Trapezium Сluster in the heart of the nebula — it looks like an asterism of four bright stars. You can learn about other deep-sky objects located in the constellation Orion from our article.

4) Christmas Tree Cluster and Cone Nebula

Christmas Tree Cluster and the Cone Nebula
Christmas Tree Cluster and the Cone Nebula — an open star cluster and a dark nebula in Monoceros.
  • Alternative names: NGC 2264
  • Apparent size: 20′
  • Apparent magnitude: 3.9
  • Constellation: Monoceros

What would December be without a Christmas tree? Meet the object NGC 2264, which is actually two deep-sky objects in one — a star cluster and a nebula. The Christmas Tree Cluster is an open star cluster that resembles a Christmas tree when viewed through a telescope. The Cone Nebula is a dark conical nebula located within the Christmas Tree Cluster. Despite their low apparent magnitude, both objects are challenging to see with the naked eye, so it’s better to use binoculars or a telescope for their observation.

3) Double Cluster in Perseus

Double Cluster
Double Cluster — two bright open clusters in the constellation Perseus.
  • Alternative names: Caldwell 14
  • Apparent size: 60′
  • Apparent magnitude: 3.7
  • Constellation: Perseus

The Double Cluster is a pair of open star clusters located in the constellation Perseus — NGC 884 and NGC 869. It occupies an area about twice the size of the Full Moon in the sky. The Double Cluster is easily visible to the naked eye and appears as two fuzzy patches of light. Binoculars or a small telescope will help you see individual stars in the two clusters.

2) Andromeda Galaxy

Andromeda Galaxy
Andromeda Galaxy — the nearest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way located in the constellation Andromeda.
  • Alternative names: M31, NGC 224
  • Apparent size: 3° × 1°
  • Apparent magnitude: 3.4
  • Constellation: Andromeda

The Andromeda Galaxy is a barred spiral galaxy and the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way, located approximately 2.5 million light-years away from us. It is easily visible to the naked eye in a dark sky and is one of the few galaxies that can be seen without optical aid. To the naked eye, the galaxy appears as a faint, elongated patch of light. Binoculars or telescopes with medium magnification will reveal more details, including the galaxy's spiral structure and its satellite galaxies. To learn more about the Andromeda Galaxy, read our dedicated article.

1) Pleiades

Pleiades — an open star cluster in Taurus that resembles a tiny dipper.
  • Alternative names: M45, Seven Sisters
  • Apparent size: 110'
  • Apparent magnitude: 1.2
  • Constellation: Taurus

The top of our list is occupied by the bright Pleiades. This open star cluster is one of the most famous and easily recognizable clusters in the night sky. Located just 444 light years away, it is also one of the nearest star clusters to the Earth. To the naked eye, the Pleiades look like a hazy grouping of six stars resembling a small copy of the Big Dipper. Binoculars or a small telescope will reveal many more stars in the cluster. You can read more about the Pleiades in our article.

Bottom line

The brightest deep-sky objects you can see in December include the Pleiades, Andromeda Galaxy, Double Cluster in Perseus, and Orion Nebula. All of these objects can be observed with the naked eye outside light-polluted cities. To locate the objects in the sky, use the Sky Tonight astronomy app.