Winter months provide many viewing opportunities

Rob Morris

This is a great time of year to look at the sky.  Some of the brightest stars and most visible constellations can be found in the evening skies of winter and spring.  If you are away from the city lights, you can even see the band of the Milky Way stretching overhead.  Prominent in the southern sky is the great warrior Orion, most easily recognized by his belt of three bright stars in straight line.  Beneath his belt, you can find the Orion Nebula, visible in even a 6-inch telescope.  Above and to the right of Orion is the Taurus the Bull, his burning red eye a red giant star named Aldebaran.  You can even find the Pleiades nearby, like flies on the back of the bull.  They also make a great target for a small telescope.

Mars will be bright in the nighttime sky

Mars is at its brightest during its opposition in late January.

The planets are also putting on a good show for us over the next few months.  Mars is almost exactly opposite the sun in the sky, meaning that it is at its brightest.  Mars is the reddish star just to the east of Orion.  Saturn is also visible low in the eastern sky late in the evenings.  The rings are still pointing mostly towards us, but are visible as a thin band around the planet.  If you are an early riser, you can find Saturn in the western sky.  Unfortunately, the other visible planets (Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter) are all near the Sun for the next few months, with Jupiter only moving far enough away to be seen as we get into Spring.

We know it is still cold, but that makes the air crisp and steady which helps for nighttime viewing.  The evenings get darker soon, and many times, it is dark out when we are getting home from work or school.  So take a few minutes to look up and enjoy the beautiful skies of winter.

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