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Winter relief: the naked eye stars

| 09 Feb 2022 | 12:20

It’s time to look up. There’s a dreamy ancient getaway waiting in the winter sky. The news, Covid, the climate all dampen the spirit. We need a breather, a refresher on a cold, clear winter night. Those night skies have enchanted humans forever, offering some brief relief and contact with the immortal. I’m encouraging casual stargazing, not “astronomy.” I’m interested in the spell of the “naked eye stars.” (Those of you with binoculars and telescopes have more elaborate opportunities.) Best times are starting about an hour or two after sunset in as dark and open area as possible.

In the southeast sky, find the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters, like a shimmering little cloud of light. With attention, you’ll see the sisters, a tight knot of at least 6 or 7 stars, which, described a century ago by Alfred Lord Tennyson, “glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.”

Look high and south for the Great Orion Nebula. There’s his three-star belt and a fainter line of stars that marks his hunter’s sword. The latter is invisible to the unaided eye, so binoculars might help. Orion is honored as a stellar incubator, an interstellar nursery for the primeval chaos out of which new stars are forming.

Many of the planets are also visible now. Look for larger, more circular objects. Mercury is yellowish; Venus, silver; Mars, reddish; Jupiter, white; Saturn, small and yellowish-white.

If, like me, you fall into the black hole of stargazing, check out WikiHow or SPACE.com. There are astronomy clubs around the Hudson Valley that meet on dark nights and even an observatory at the Warwick Valley High School. Stargazing might also lead you to interesting astrologers. Pam Gregory and Jessica Davidson, both Brits, are two of my favorites.

Finally, there’s a constellation, sometimes called the 13th or “forgotten constellation of the zodiac,” that I had never heard of. Ophiuchus (oh-FEW-kuss) is low in the sky. Horoscope.com has good information. It has astrologers excited about how it relates to the other signs of the zodiac.