By Mike Lynch
Wintertime is a wonderful time for stargazing in the Northwest. It’s the Super Bowl of stargazing as far as I’m concerned.
Not only is the air clear and we see the brightest stars and constellations of the year, this month you will also see the planet Jupiter high and bright as evening commences.
So many times I hear, “I’m going to wait until warmer weather to stargaze.” or “I’ll get that holiday telescope out in April.” This is a big mistake. You’re losing a golden opportunity to get to know the universe above you.
The biggest problem, with star watching in the spring and summer is that you have to stay up late. By mid-March with daylight saving time, it’s not dark enough until after 9 p.m.
This time of year, however, you’re good to go for stargazing as early as 6 to 6:30 p.m.
The planet Jupiter is still holding court in the high eastern sky during the evening. It’s the brightest starlike object anywhere in the nighttime. Through even a small telescope you can see up to four of Jupiter’s largest moons that resemble tiny little stars on either side of the disk of the planet. On the planet itself you should be able to see at least some of the cloud bands that stripe the largest planet of our solar system.
Right now Jupiter is among what I call Orion’s gang of great winter constellations in the southeast sky that reach their highest point by about 9 p.m. The constellations surrounding Orion are Gemini the Twins; Canis Major and Minor, the big and little dogs respectively; Auriga, the retired chariot driver; and Taurus the Bull, with the bright Pleiades star cluster, also known as the “Seven Little Sisters”.
In the northern skies look for the Big Dipper, standing up on its handle, and the giant upside down W that outlines the throne of the constellation Cassiopeia.
You can see those constellations and a few others every night in the north as they make a tight circle around Polaris, the stationary North Star. Polaris is halfway from the northern horizon to the overhead zenith, and every celestial object in the entire sky appears to revolve around it every 24 hours.
Circumpolar constellations like the Big Bear and Cassiopeia are close enough to Polaris that it allows them to always be above the horizon.
Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations.” Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.
The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org/.