Eyes turned to the sky

Star-watching in winter

With the collaboration of Sébastien Giguère, Education Officer and Scientific Coordinator at Parc national du Mont-Mégantic.

What’s the best time to watch the stars? Is there a season that’s more favourable than another? Are there more stars in the winter sky? These classic questions are often heard at Parc national du Mont-Mégantic.

The best time to look at the stars is when the feeling comes upon you. Whether you’re in town, in the countryside, or in the mountains, it only takes a few seconds to raise your eyes to the sky and contemplate the mystery of the universe. Wonder is experienced in the moment!

Parc national du Mont-Mégantic Parc national du Mont-Mégantic
Parc national du Mont-Mégantic Guillaume Poulin | © Sépaq

The sky in eternal motion

The starry sky is constantly changing. The planets and constellations move from hour to hour, and from season to season; the moon is constantly changing phases, and our perspective on the Milky Way is constantly in flux. There are torrents of shooting stars, aurora borealis, planetary conjunctions, and the perpetual passage of satellites. The best time to look at the stars often depends on what you want to see. The same holds true for the seasons of the sky. Each has its own personality, its advantages and its disadvantages, according to the tastes of each one of us.

The big hit of winter

In addition to the accompanying cold, one of the main characteristics of the winter sky is that it is shows its face much earlier than does its summer counterpart. In July, it’s not always easy to wait until the end of the evening for the first stars to appear. In winter, you can go out and watch the constellation of Orion with the children without having to postpone your bedtime! ! Orion is without a doubt winter’s biggest hit. Its distinctive shape makes it the favourite of many. 

Located in the "sword" of the mythical warrior, the Orion nebula is a huge cloud of gas and dust inside which new stars are born. At 1,500 light-years from Earth, it’s the "nursery of stars" that’s closest to home. Although fabulous colour images taken by the best telescopes can easily be found on internet, simple binoculars are enough to provide a real honest-to-goodness view!

Parc national du Mont-Mégantic
Parc national du Mont-Mégantic - The Orion constellation above the Mont-Mégantic Observatory. Guillaume Poulin | © Sépaq
Venus and Jupiter in the twilight sky. Sébastien Giguère | © Sépaq

Thanks to the Winter Hexagon!

Another signature of the winter sky is its hexagon. Spread over half a dozen constellations, this region of the sky includes many of the brightest stars visible from Earth. The brightest of all is Sirius, in the constellation of Canis Major, the big dog. If many people feel that there are more stars in winter than in summer, it’s partly because of the Winter Hexagon. Like the Big Dipper and the Summer Triangle, it’s an asterism, a landmark composed of bright stars, but not an official constellation.

Good star-watching to one and all!

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