Linda Bailey is the Nature Education Coordinator for Fredericksburg Parks & Recreation. The Nature Notes blog highlights natural happenings in the area, and highlights various nature programs available in the city.
The Winter Night Sky
Winter is the best time to stargaze! The air is dry and cool and the planets and stars are much more clearly visible. This month, Jupiter owns the night sky as the brightest object other than the moon. Rising in the east just after sunset it will set in the west around dawn. Typically, Venus would shine brighter, but that planet is only visible around sunrise this month. Currently, you’ll find Jupiter shining like a beacon, to the upper left of the constellation of Orion.
To find Orion the Hunter, look to the southeast for three stars in a row. Those stars are Orion’s belt. In African mythology they were three zebras being hunted by a large, red lion. That “lion” refers to the red star, Betelgeuse, located at Orion’s right shoulder. Betelgeuse is an old, dying star called a red supergiant. In the same way cooling embers of a campfire turn an orange-red color, so do old dying stars, and Betelgeuse is nearing the end of its life. One day, maybe next week, maybe in a thousand years, it will explode and become a supernova. Meanwhile, this red giant is one of the largest stars known to astronomers. If Betelgeuse were located where our sun is, its diameter would gobble up Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt—extending nearly half a billion miles, all the way out to Jupiter!
According to Greek mythology, Orion was a hunter, but a pretty arrogant one. Zeus’ evil wife, Hera, didn’t like Orion’s boasting, so, she sent a Scorpion to kill him. Orion reached out to club the scorpion, but before he could kill the arachnid, it stung him and he died. Orion still hunts in the night sky, but that killer scorpion isn’t ever visible at the same time. The constellation Scorpius lives on the other side of the sky and is only seen in the warm summer months.
Discover these and other wonders of the universe with local astronomer, Myron Wasiuta, at Motts Run Reservoir on Feb. 15, from 7-9pm, for Stargazing in the Park. Mr. Wasiuta is not only extremely knowledgeable, but a gifted teacher. You’ll have an unforgettable experience! Pre-registration is required. Visit: https://www.usedirect.com/FredericksburgRec_Web/. You may also pre-register for a Winter Night Hike, to be held Feb. 7 from 6:30-7:45.
So, grab your warm clothes, and get outside to star hunt in the enchanting night sky!
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