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What to look out for when stargazing in winter

by Gary Reading, Nov 2018

The night sky is constantly changing, depending on the time of year and the time of night. Winter is a great time for families to start stargazing because it gets dark early enough for even the youngest of children to witness the stars.

Here are a few sights to look out for:

Sunset

What better way to start your stargazing extravaganza than by watching our own star set?

Shooting stars

‘If you get the timing right a meteor shower can be an incredible spectacle. These do require a little patience though so might not be ideal for the very youngest children. The key meteor showers are Quadrantids in January, Perseids in August, Leonids in November and Geminids in December.’

– Rod Hebden, science expert

Finding constellations

‘With the free software, Stellarium, you can see how far away each star is in light years and therefore how far back in time you are seeing. Are you seeing star light from the swinging 60’s or the time of King Henry VIII?’

– Guy Salkeld, fascinated member of staff

Orion’s Belt

This is one of the easiest constellations to spot. Look to the south-west for three bright stars close together and almost in a straight line. The two stars to the north are his shoulders and the two to the south are his feet.

The Plough

‘This constellation is easy to spot if you imagine that you’re looking for the shape of a saucepan. It is visible all year from the UK and if you imagine a line rising up from the last two stars in the Plough it will lead up to the North Star.’

– Nick Allison, park manager

Satellites

‘If you get the timing right you can see the International Space Station. There are people up there so don’t forget to wave.’

– Saul Burton, stargazer and park manager

If a light is moving slowly across the sky and it isn’t flashing then it is likely to be a satellite. Look online to find out when the Space Station will pass over your house.

Planets

‘Believe it or not, planets are often the easiest things to spot with the naked eye. Venus can be incredibly bright. It’s been known as the Evening Star or the Morning Star as it is often the first ‘star’ to appear or the last one to fade.’

– Rod Hebden, science expert

The Milky Way

‘If you can get somewhere with very little light pollution you can easily make out our galaxy: the Milky Way. This is a flat spiral but from our perspective it looks like a bright band across the sky.’

– Saul Burton, stargazer and park manager