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Looking Up: Planetary Objects In the Winter Sky



Ready to gaze in wonder at the celestial mysteries of the blackened sky? Then grab your telescope and get ready to see amazing swaths of stars and dazzling galaxies dotting the heavens above! You don’t have to be an astronomy enthusiast to enjoy a serene night of stargazing! There are so many stunning planetary objects in the winter sky just waiting for you to admire them. Go outside, look up, and see for yourself!

The Cosmic Wonder of Winter


Out of all the seasons, they say winter is one of the best times for skywatching. Along with having more viewing hours, the lowered humidity of the brisk air allows for a reduced heat haze which dramatically enhances the clarity and contrast of the night sky, making more planetary objects easier to see. For example, just above the horizon, Mercury can be seen as a steady, distant light without any optical aid. To spot other planetary objects that will be shining bright this winter, keep reading!

January




The mid-winter sky welcomes Jupiter into view during the month of January! As the second brightest planet, Jupiter can clearly be seen in the eastern half of the sky in the dark hours between midnight and dawn. January is also the month when Quadrantids meteor shower is at its most active. You can witness these radiating meteors anywhere in the night sky, with peak activity located predominately in the northeastern half, just slightly above the horizon. For best results, catch the meteor shower around early January, at the darkest hours directly preceding dawn.

February




To get a glimpse of Venus, look to the southwestern sky throughout the month of February. For the clearest view set your eyes to the sky in the late evening. Just east of Venus and slightly upward, Mars can be found in all its red, ruddy glory. For all you early-rising star gazers out there, look for Mercury in the eastern sky, about an hour before sunrise. In addition to planets, you can also witness a full moon corresponding with a penumbral lunar eclipse on February 11th!

Observation Tips




For a satisfying night of stargazing, read over these helpful observation tips that will help to make your astronomical adventures more comfortable and successful:

  • Give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness. Try to wait at least 15 minutes outside as your eyes adapt to the light change.



  • If you don’t have a telescope handy, high-powered binoculars will suffice. In addition to being more accessible, binoculars are much easier to operate too.



  • Rural areas are best for stargazing, so get out of the city to reduce light pollution. Make sure all outdoor lights are off and ambient lights are blocked.



  • Dress warm. Winter is cold enough as it is, but once the sun goes down it gets even colder. Wear a substantial winter jacket, along with a hat, mittens, scarf, etc.


Looking up at an endless sky spotted with the unmistakable twinkle of far-off stars, planets, and other celestial wonders can be a thought-provoking and humbling experience. With winter offering the best viewing opportunities, stay up late and get outside before the season ends! Do you have any tips to add about winter skywatching? Leave them in the comments!

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