While many of us are tucked up in cozy comfort in the night hours, the intrepid astronomers among us head outdoors to drink in the starry night skies. Stargazing in winter may be a wee bit nippier but it definitely brings the best rewards, and you don’t even need to leave home to do it.
In winter the cold air holds less moisture than warm air so the night sky is amazingly clear; plus, this is the time of year when some amazing astronomical events take place. This year we have some epic stargazing conditions to take in, and for most you won’t need a telescope to do it.
Bundle up against the cold with a thermos full of coffee at your side and settle into a prime stargazing location with your head tipped back to drink in the millions of stars overhead. Read on to discover when and where to stargaze in Ontario’s Highlands and the once-in-a-lifetime astronomical events taking place this winter.
A Christmas Star
Astronomers are gearing up for an epic December and January, with the Great Conjunction of 2020 that will introduce stargazing conditions that haven’t been seen on Earth for almost a thousand years. This planetary event will see Jupiter and Saturn draw together in the night sky, with a fortuitous target peak date of Dec. 21 (the winter solstice, the longest night of the year).
This alignment has been called the “Christmas Star” because it’s believed that the star of Bethlehem described in the Christian New Testament was a similar planetary conjunction. Make a date for Dec. 21 and head outdoors to see this phenomenal astronomical event for yourself.
Between Dec. 4 and 17 one of the largest meteor showers of the year will pass by Earth that will peak between Dec. 13 and 14. The best time to view the meteor shower, according to NASA, will be between 10:30 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Watch as more than 120 meteors per hour streak past our planet in this phenomenal astronomical event. The Geminid Meteor Shower will be visible by the naked eye but feel free to pull out the binoculars or telescope if you have any.
To take in the show, NASA suggests lying down in a dark spot away from city lights and pointing your feet south, then wait for the shooting star show to begin.
If your first thought was the northern lights can’t be seen south of northern Ontario, you’d be wrong. The famed Aurora Borealis is at times visible in more southerly locations as well, and this year is one of those times.
As with other astronomical happenings, winter is the best time to see the northern lights. In 2020, the lights are expected to reach southern parts of Ontario during the month of December and various points in January and February. Visit the Geophysical Institute’s website for a forecast of when and where the best aurora will be found.