Stargazing in the winter can be the best time of the year to spot stars. It is perhaps a cruel twist of fate that, just when the night air turns coldest and the wind bites most sharply, the night sky is at its brightest, clearest, and most beautiful. For those who enjoy stargazing, the cold winter months will bring peak viewing conditions—a great reason to look forward to the winter months.
There are a few reasons why the winter sky is regarded as a special treat for backyard astronomers.
Cold Air Is Ideal
The winter sky doesn’t hold as much moisture as warm air can. The first is that cold air doesn’t hold as much moisture as warm air can. Summer skies often appear hazier because, actually, they are. The warm moisture-laden atmosphere of summer is thicker, and less transparent, than the crisp, cold winter dome, making it harder to see what lies beyond.
Nights are also longer in the winter, giving us a greater window in which to enjoy the wonders of the universe.
A Time For Dramatic Constellations
Winter is also the time of year when some of the largest and most dramatic constellations, including Gemini, Monoceros, and Orion the Hunter come out, as well as breathtaking deep-sky formations like the Pleiades. Unlike many of the other constellations, which can be dim and difficult to identify, several winter constellations are bright enough for even the greenest skywatchers to pick out.
Enjoy The Dark!
The primary reason the winter sky appears so breathtaking is due to our position in relation to the surrounding celestial neighborhood during this season. In summer, Earth faces the luminous center of the Milky Way, whereas in December, January, and February, the Northern Hemisphere gazes towards the edge of our galaxy. Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way houses approximately 300 billion stars, and during summer, we observe a larger portion of them. However, just as light pollution hinders stargazing within a city, the brilliance of the inner galaxy makes it challenging to distinguish individual stars in the summer sky.
So while it may sound more pleasant to lie out in the fields and gaze up the stars in the comfort of a breezy summer evening, remember that the winter sky has a magic about it that is worth the extra trouble.
Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.