Winter 2008 - The Winter Sky

We do look up occasionally, we gardeners - up to the leafy green canopy that is. Come winter, what do we see? Now that the trees are bare, the stars seem especially bright. That is in fact true and is a result of winter’s low humidity, which results in greater sky clarity. Follow me if you want to know more.

Start out simple with UMass’s McGraw Hill astronomy text book. It provides beginner’s level methods to find Orion, the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. There are sky charts of each season. Print out winter, grab your hat and go out into the dark.

At www.space.com/nightsky there are calendars of sky events and you can download good monthly sky charts. I liked learning about star magnitudes from open clusters to diffuse nebula. There is a dictionary and a pronunciation guide to help your tongue around some of terms. As gardeners, we can appreciate this, having similar difficulties with plant nomenclature.

www.earthsky.org provides a nightly “news report” of celestial happenings. Go to “earth sky tonight” and listen to some excellent podcasts . This site makes the science accessible.

www.astronomy.com provides specialized information for urban sky dwellers and links to learn about light pollution. There is also a kid’s section including the ABC’s of astronomy (good for any age) and directions for making a Milky Way with 4 old CDs and a hunk of Styrofoam.

Finally, we come to “Rhapsody of a Winter Night,” at www.richardbell.net/huygens.html. Turn up the Tchaikovsky and pass the cocoa! Read about the fathers of astronomy: Christian Huygens; Charles Messier and Carl Sagan. If you’ve been bitten by the star gazer bug – there are links to many groups who meet regularly for “star parties.”

Come next summer, when the trees do their best to monopolize your attention, the sky behind them will be more than just a patterned background.

- Lesley Parness

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at lparness@morrisparks.net.