Friday February 8, 2013

A midwinter night’s dream awaits all ages and life stages when the sun has flashed its final beam of light and the dome of the sky darkens.

The grandest pictorial display of the year, drawn in dots of starlight, appears over the entire celestial expanse.

Giant pictures of animals, mythical characters, and familiar objects are easily discerned. It is a fanciful sight that has been the source of stories shared by generations the world-over for centuries.

The absence of moonlight in the days ahead makes for a period of optimum stargazing. New moon (when the moon is dark) is Sunday. Subsequently, we can expect the added charm of a thin crescent moon in the west, following sundown.

At 8 p.m. Leo the Lion, recognized by the curve of his large head, clears the horizon in the east, joining the huge figure of Orion the Hunter, already high in the south.

Orion is known by a red star above and a blue star below a line of three stars that together sketch a giant of a man. The hunter’s dog, Sirius, is at the heels of his master; the brightest star in the sky marks the dog’s shoulder.

Planet Jupiter is the brilliant light above Orion, at the top of the triangular face of Taurus the Bull.

Look north to enjoy the biggest Dipper in the world and west for Queen Cassiopeia, the sideways W almost halfway to zenith.

For a challenge, scan just above the west-southwestern horizon within the hour after sunset for planet Mercury. Mars may be sighted below the now brighter Mercury, although the red planet is fast disappearing into the sunset glow.

To contact Judy Isacoff go to www.naturesturn.org