The winter solstice takes place on December 22. Daylight hours have reached their minimum for the year and the sun’s arc across the sky is at its lowest for the year.   

By contrast, the full moon that follows a few days later on the night of the 26th/27th will be at its highest for the year, and about as high as it can get in the sky from Essex – 66 degrees above the horizon when in the south.

Jupiter remains bright and prominent and is at its highest in the south between 8pm and 9pm during December.

Venus can be seen all month in the south east before dawn, although it will be sinking lower in the sky towards the end of December. The waning crescent moon joins Venus on the 9th, best seen between about 5am and 7am.

This month brings the best meteor shower of the year. The Geminid meteors originate from a point in the sky near the star Castor in the constellation of Gemini.

They will peak during the evening of the 14th and with no interference from the moon - if skies are clear there is a good chance of seeing some meteors at a rate of about one every few minutes.

The map shows the night sky at 9pm on December 14 looking to the east - the green dot marks where the Geminid meteors appear from.

As ever it will be best to view away from streetlights and other sources of light pollution. Some meteors may also be seen on the nights either side of the 14th.

Meteor showers are generally associated with comets. As comets orbit the sun they leave a trail of dust behind in their orbit, and when the earth crosses that orbit, the dust hits our upper atmosphere, burning up to form a streak of light we see as a meteor.

However, the Geminids are associated with an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. It is not entirely clear why Phaethon is shedding material into its orbit as a comet does.

One theory is that the extreme orbit of Phaethon, which takes it inside the orbit of Mercury to only 13 million miles from the sun, leads to a scorching effect which drives particles off the asteroid.   

With new moon falling on the 12th, the middle part of the month offers the best prospects for stargazing.

At midnight, Orion sits due south with the full array of the bright winter stars around it. To the lower left of Orion, the brightest star in the entire sky is on show.

This is Sirius, the 'dog star', and on cold winter nights can be seen to flash through a range of colours, an atmospheric process known as scintillation.