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Star Gazing

It’s the perfect week to open your eyes to the winter skies for star gazing.

The evenings have had clear skies, and the planets, stars, and constellations are shining their brightest. You might be tempted to stay where it’s cozy this winter but you would be missing out. Here’s why you should spend your evening outside instead. 

What You'll see in the Night Sky this Month

With the last moon kicking off and ending with a new moon, the skies will be dark and moonless, allowing for some excellent stargazing if the skies continue to be clear. Several reports of outstanding Northern Lights have also been reported from Roseau east to Lake of the Woods. The best sightings of the brightest colors have been between 4-5 AM.  Heather Morey, a local photographer, described the lights as “dancing to their own beat.” 
It is the perfect month to open your eyes to the winter skies, and it’s something you can do anywhere on the planet.  The “winter circle” of bright stars can be seen in the southeast.  You can find this circle by locating the brightest star to the east of the moon and following it full circle past Mercury on the southwest curve and back to the moon. Some gazers describe this circle as more of a hexagon or loop.  You can also see Saturn and Venus with the naked eye.  They will appear to be the brightest lights in the sky. They will become brighter as it continues to climb into the post-sunset sky as a brilliant “Evening Star”.  
The moon is also a beautiful sight if you get an early start to your day.  It is a thin sliver of brilliance in the southeastern sky about an hour before sunrise.  It appears to be very delicate and will gently guide you to the reddish star Antares. If it’s clear, you might be able to see “Earthshine.” Earthshine is sunlight that is reflected from Earth. This is the glow you see forming a circle on the unlit portion of the moon. Mercury will also be visible to the east before sunrise.  The constellation known as the teapot of Sagittarius can also be a great way to start your day as it shines in the east at sunrise. 
As the new moon is present in the night sky, it will mark the start of the new lunar cycle. For many stargazers, this is a bonus because the sky will be exceptionally dark, making prime gazing conditions.  This is the best time to see those objects that often appear to be faint in the sky, such as galaxies and nebulae. It’s also a neat time to track the constellations.
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enus will also be giving us a show this month. Go outside and look to the west to glimpse one of the brightest planets. It will be climbing higher in the west after sunset each night.   Venus will pass very close to Jupiter near the end of the month. These two planets will be dazzling as they get closer and closer together towards the end of the month. Their conjunction will come in early March.  Using binoculars, you can capture them together in the same view. Mars, the red planet, will also be seen but will fade in brightness as it orbits around the sun.
The sky never ceases to amaze on cold, crystal-clear nights. Winter is at its midpoint, but there is still time left to catch a glimpse of some of the best celestial sights the season has to offer. Come spend a night gazing at the stars and take a chance on seeing those Northern Lights.