Stargazing is often thought of as an activity that can only be done in the spring and summer months, but the truth is that winter is the best time of year if you enjoy stargazing! Although it is the best time of year, it’s also the most inconvenient time to stargaze in our region due to inclement weather concerns and cold weather. Even though it’s cold, the colder temperatures are actually what makes winter such a good season to be looking at the skies!
The warm, humid summer air can contribute to hazy skies during the summer months, making it difficult to clearly see your favorite constellations, planets, and sometimes even the moon. The bitter cold air ultimately makes for crystal clear skies. This matched with longer nights makes for the perfect opportunity to spend some time outdoors stargazing this season with family and friends!
It just so happens that during the winter season is when some of the most interesting and dramatic constellations, objects, and stars are in the sky. If you have a telescope or any other equipment like binoculars or a sky map, this can assist you in finding some of these mystifying and beautiful illustrations in the sky!
The Orion constellation is named after the hunter in Greek mythology, however this constellation is anything but stealthy! Orion is one of the most recognizable and prominent constellations in the sky, being clearly visible in the night sky from November to February. From the Northern Hempisphere, Orion can be visible in the southwestern sky. The best way to find Orion is to go outside on a crystal clear night and look for three bright stars close together in a straight line; these three stars represent Orion’s belt! The two bright stars to the north represent his shoulders, and the two to the south are his feet.
The constellation Taurus represents a bull in the sky, and is one of the most noticeable and one of the oldest documented constellations. In the Northern Hemisphere, Taurus passes through the sky from November to March, but is at its most visible point in January. Orion and Taurus are right beside each other, and you can often use Orion’s belt to find Taurus’ most prominent signs, the v-shaped star cluster, signifying its “horns.”
The Pleiades Star Cluster
The Pleiades Star Cluster, or also known as the “Seven Sisters,” is visible from every part of the world. Like Taurus, this star cluster can be found with the help of the constellation Orion and Taurus. To find the Pleiades Star Cluster, find Orion’s Belt, then find the brightest star depicting the v-shaped “horns” of Taurus. A bit past this star, you’ll find the Pleiades cluster!
Gemini belongs to the zodiac family of constellations, and there are two meteor showers that are associated with the constellation Gemini: the Geminids and the Rho Geminids. The easiest way to find Gemini is to look east of the v-shaped “horns” of Taurus, and look for Castor and Pollux, the two brightest stars of Gemini. Winter and spring are the best time to look for the constellation Gemini in the night sky, so don’t miss out!
This winter, keep your eyes to the skies with some family and friends… you never know what you might find!
Winter Stargazing Tips to Stay Comfortable and Safe in the Elements
- Wear layers! A heavy, warm jacket will only do so much if you only have a t-shirt underneath.
- Wear thick, warm socks: As the night wears on, temperatures can drop fast… keep your feet warm from the elements.
- Bring a blanket
- Wear or pack gloves: Fingerless gloves can help you work any equipment you may bring.
- A warm thermos with your favorite warm beverage: Hot chocolate, tea, coffee, soup — whatever it may be, there’s nothing better than a warm, cozy beverage under the winter skies!