Weekend Nature Challenge: Winter Star Gazing

by Melissa Harding

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“All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems… But all these stars are silent. You-You alone will have stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night. You, only you, will have stars that can laugh! And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me… You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure… It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

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There is something remarkable that happens to us when we look up into the night sky. For some, it may bring up thoughts of heaven and the divine, for others thoughts of far away burning gas giants. Whatever thoughts the night sky may conjure, you can be sure they are deep ones. The stars have influenced humans throughout our history, from the stories of constellations to their use as navigational beacons. They feature prominently in both our mythology and our science. However, our world has become bright with the lights of houses and cities, making it a rare exception when we stop and look up at them.

This weekend, we challenge you and your family to do just that and go star gazing. Winter is the best time of year for this, as the nights are longer and the cooler air creates less haze and humidity to block your view of the sky. In the northern hemisphere, the night sky in winter is facing toward the outer edge of the Milky Way with its fewer stars, whereas the summer sky is facing to the center of the galaxy and the light of many more stars can obscure the sky with a lighted haze. Long and cold winter nights can provide some of the most detailed and beautiful stargazing of the entire year. Take a walk to a dark place if you can or enjoy the stars you can see from your backyard. Look for constellations, bright stars, and planets. Make up stories about the constellations you find and keep a keen eye out for shooting stars! You can get an even better look if you bring a pair of binoculars, but your eyes will do a fine job as well. You will be amazed at how beautiful the night sky is and so will your family.

Take the next few days to explore the night sky near your home or favorite green space. What stars or constellations did you notice? Did you observe any other things of note? Tell us in the comments below.

The above photo is courtesy of NASA.

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