Those wishing to enjoy the winter stars have longer nights to do so, but must trade off this benefit with what can be extreme cold- especially if you live in mid-northern latitudes (or further north). Not everyone can go to Florida where you can bask under Orion's glow in your short- sleeve shirt or at most a jacket!
From where this column originates in Hawley, Pennsylvania, the stars beckon through the window at home while the mercury (not the planet) dips below 20 degrees above zero (Fahrenheit) outside. Do I don- no, double-don - the coat(s), gloves, scarf and hat and step out of my relatively cozy abode? Dressed like Nanook from the North, do I defy the freeze as long as I can to look up at those lovely stars?
It's certainly worth it. The easy chair may be comfy and a good book may say, "stay inside"; the TV might even surprise me and have something on worth seeing. But can't that all be enjoyed on a cloudy night? We sure have enough cloudy nights. Clear nights at least in these parts are comparatively rare.
When that bank of nearly omnipresent cloud decides to part (at least it's not as bad as on forever-cloudy Venus), we can glimpse from our very door step or yard, multiple trillions upon trillions of miles beyond to the realm of the outer Universe. Stars of all sorts of magnitude and color, sprinkled so gingerly and in an endless variety of juxtapositions, spread across the heavenly vault.
Our eyes alone on a winter night can peer into the local galactic neighborhood and witness the grand Andromeda spiral galaxy, albeit as a dim and small, fuzzy oval. Without the benefit of even binoculars we may trace the amazing outline of bright stars making up the constellation Orion and detect one seeming star in Orion's "belt" that looks out of place. Like a very tiny patch of cloud, this "star" turns out to be the Great Nebula of Orion, unfolding like a majestic cosmic flower, more and more in telescopes of increasing aperture.
Darting across the field of stars is the occasional meteor, always startling, always wonderful. So fleeting, we ponder from whence it came and where it went. This rocky particle from space meets its glorious end, vaporizing in the upper atmosphere and seen by only very few if any at all.
Gleaming brilliantly in the evening western twilight is Venus, an amazing crescent as seen in a small telescope. Overpowering the already powerful lighthouses of winter's brightest stars is the planet Jupiter, seen in the east as night falls. It's squat disc and four large moons are ready to be inspected by anyone with a small telescope.
We mortals riding this planet we call Earth have all this to witness and more, some perhaps even through our window pane and all of it just outside our doors.
Page 2 of 2 - First quarter Moon is on January 7.
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Keep looking up!