Look Up!

by Kelsey King

Have you ever wondered why the Sky seems to be clearer during the winter? The sky is more clear in the winter because the air is at its driest. In other words, there is less water vapor in the air for the reflection of light, creating less haze.  In the winter, as you may have already noticed, it gets dark quite early and up in the sky you may notice many stars and constellations (a group of stars that can be used to form a picture with lines).  It’s amazing to look up and think, “Wow, people used those hot balls of gas to navigate?”

Ancient sailors (3000-1100 BCE) typically used the land and other significant markers to tell them if they were headed in the right direction. Those few who were bold enough to venture out to sea couldn’t travel using land markers, so they used the sun and stars to navigate latitude (north and south). Today, we have 88 constellations to look at in the sky. However, we can’t see them all at once due to the changing seasons.

There are only 30 visible to us in the northern hemisphere with only 5 of them being visible to us year round. The winter constellations include:

  • Canis major
  • Pleiades
  • Eridanus
  • Gemini
  • Orion
  • Perseus
  • Taurus

The easiest one to spot up in the sky would be Orion because it has the brightest stars. The best way to find this constellation is to look for Orion’s belt, which looks like 3 stars in a row. From there you may be able to imagine lines coming out from the 2 outer stars on the belt, forming the rest of the torso, and, what I see, a pteruges (roman warrior skirt). The stars at the top, making up the shoulders are called Betelgeuse (left) and Bellatrix (right). The stars Saiph (left) and Rigel (right) form the bottom of the skirt. Now if you can see the body of Orion,  you may be able to draw imaginary lines to create his arms. In the Right hand he’s holding up the skin of a great lion as he’s facing the bull, Taurus. The left arm will be holding a club held high above his head.