We may have passed the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21, when the sun takes its lowest path across the sky) and the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” (Dec. 25, when the ancient Romans first noticed the sun’s path climbing higher again), but the nights are still long as winter marches on. This is also the season when we get to see the stars come out early. Familiar winter constellations are now burning cold and bright, like Taurus the Bull and Orion the Hunter.
The cold weather might seem like a deterrent to winter stargazing but it can actually be quite enjoyable and rewarding with just a little preparation. Before going outside, check out the locations of the objects you want to observe. That will help you find them quickly and easily. Star dome charts and star maps are readily available online, or you can get night sky software that allows you to customize the view for your location and time.
Also, remember the first rule of observing: Make yourself comfortable! Plenty of warm clothing (especially thin, warm gloves for handling cold metal binoculars or telescope eyepieces). Occasional breaks for hot cocoa (Earl Grey works for me!). A red-filtered flashlight for reading charts outside. And position your viewing spot so that bright lights are blocked by trees, buildings, etc.
Ok so now that you’re all comfy, what are your celestial rewards? The three stars of Orion’s Belt are making their appearance in the eastern sky, making for one of the best “pointers” in the winter sky. Draw them upward and to the right and you’ll find Aldebaran, the fiery orange eye of Taurus the Bull. But keep that imaginary line going still higher and you’ll find the most famous winter star cluster of all – the Pleiades (commonly known as “The Seven Sisters”). There are many legends connected to the Pleiades, but one of my favorites come from the Chippewa People called “The Seven Dancing Brothers.” We will retell this story in the show.
What are the Pleiades in actual outer space? What about Venus and Jupiter? What else is in the January sky? Come join us for “Gateway to the Stars” Saturday, Jan. 7 at 6:45 p.m. and see for yourself!
Tickets for this presentation are $1 at the ticket window or $2 online. Members are free.