With shorter days and long, dark nights, winter is a great time to go stargazing. Not only is it a fun way to enjoy the the great outside during the cooler months, but it’s also a hobby that anyone, anywhere can do. To learn more about how to plan an awesome winter stargazing outing, we caught up with our friend and professional astrophotographer Jack Fusco, who shared his top tips for making the most of your night sky adventure.
Find The Best Time and Place for Stargazing In Your Area
In and around cities, light pollution can make stargazing a less than awe-inspiring experience. As Jack told us, growing up in New Jersey, he didn’t even know the Milky Way was something you could spot in the night sky. “The further away from light pollution you can get, the more impressive the night sky will look,” he tells us.
While dedicated stargazers may drive hours to get a clear view of the wonders of the night sky, even journeying a little ways out of a city or densely populated area can help. Jack recommends a simple Google search for your location and the phrase “light pollution map” to help you pick a good location nearby. Another handy resource is cleardarksky.com.
As for timing, there are no requirements except darkness. “Unless you’re looking for a specific object in the night sky, you can head out as soon as it’s fully dark! This definitely makes heading out on those cold Winter nights a bit easier,” says Jack.
What Stars To Look For in Winter
The sky is filled with amazing sights all year round, but winter has its fair share of marvels, too. As Jack explained, the season is a good one for amateur stargazers with “some of the most exciting and easy to spot objects of the year.”
So on your winter stargazing adventure, you may want to look for Orion, Sirius, and the star cluster Pleiades. You can catch a glimpse of the Milky Way, but Jack warns that the portion that’s visible isn’t as detailed as what you can spot in the summer, “but still very exciting to see.” And of course, for people living at northern latitudes, the colorful glow of the Northern lights never disappoints.
The Milky Way as seen from Jasper, Canada.
Gear for Stargazing
One of the great things about stargazing is that it doesn’t require any specialized gear—just head outside and look up. Many features of the night sky can be spotted with the naked eye, such as planets, constellations, and, of course, the moon. And the less light pollution, the better; darker areas will allow you to see more without the help of any gear.
However, binoculars or a telescope can upgrade your stargazing experience. As Jack explained, in the winter, you can spot Orion’s belt high in the sky with your naked eye, but a telescope might help you spot the spectacular Orion Nebula, where new stars are forming.
More Resources for the Best Stargazing Experience
There are a number of apps and websites that can help you plan and enjoy your stargazing outing. Jack recommends Star Walk for stargazing and PhotoPills for aspiring astrophotographers. Both are great when you’re planning but also when you’re under the stars, offering guidance on what to look for and where to look. Another top resource is EarthSky,org, which is constantly updated with tips and news for stargazers.
All photographs courtesy of Jack Fusco and used with permission.