A Look to the Sky: Stars

It may be starting to get cold out there, but that makes being outside all the better. Even on a cold winter evening, star gazing can be an enjoyable, soothing experience. Put on your heaviest clothes, team up with a bunch of blankets and find a dark area to lie down and look up at the sky for a while.  As far as dark areas go, for casual stargazing, I usually go to Roskie field or Peet’s Hill. For some better stargazing, the darker the area, the better.

There are many things to look for in the sky at night and any clear or even partly cloudy day will do for revealing the beauty of the night sky. With so much to look for, and so much to see, it’s impossible to refuse the opportunity to get out there with a group of friends (or one really close friend, if you know what I mean) and soak up the sight that has enthralled people for millennia.  Even if you do not know what to look for as far as constellations go, it is still magnificent to simply look up at the vast sky and see all the dots that make up our great galaxy and the universe around it. For some extra entertainment though, try searching for these two things:

The Dippers (and North Star): The dippers appear in the North sky. The Big Dipper (or Ursa Major) is easier to see and looks something like a ladle with a handle and a trapezoidal scoop. If you draw a line from the two stars farthest from the handle of the Big Dipper in the direction up out of the spoon, you’ll find your eyes landing on a bright star called Polaris, or the North Star, which indicates the approximate direction of north and is the star that makes the end of the handle of the Little Dipper.

The Milky Way Galaxy: The Milky Way Galaxy, though more faint than the Big Dipper, can often be seen if the sky is clear. It appears as a light band containing many stars and extending across almost the entire sky. Although not perfect, it runs approximately between north and south, and although usually skewed to one side or the other, is typically easy to see. The Milky Way is thought to be a spiral galaxy. Astoundingly, it is comprised of billions of stars and is just one of billions of galaxies in the universe.

The Planets: To be honest, it’s pretty difficult to discern the difference between planets and stars unless you know which stars are which, but if you are looking for a challenge this is a good one to try. Usually planets appear brighter than the average star — Venus is the brightest planet in the sky — or often are slightly different colors. For fun, I usually look for planets and guess which ones are which.

The dippers only make up two of many constellations in the sky. If you want to search for more constellations or find other stars or planets, try finding pictures of them on the internet then search for them in the sky. Skymaps can be used to identify constellations in the Bozeman area during the different seasons of the year. Also, if you have a smartphone, try downloading the free Google Sky Map app to identify stars, planets and constellations. Even if you have no idea what you are looking for, enjoy it. We have a beautiful view of a wondrous universe, and that is worth taking advantage of.