What to look out for when stargazing in winter

The night sky is constantly changing, depending on the time of year and the time of night. Winter is a great time for families to start stargazing because it gets dark early enough for even the youngest of children to witness the stars.

‘The best time for stargazing is in winter – all the best starscapes can be seen then.’
- David Fincham, ranger

Here are a few sights to look out for:

  • Sunset
    What better way to start your stargazing extravaganza than by watching our own star set?
  • Shooting stars
    ‘If you get the timing right a meteor shower can be an incredible spectacle. These do require a little patience though so might not be ideal for the very youngest children. The key meteor showers are Quadrantids in January, Perseids in August, Leonids in November and Geminids in December. In 2014 we may even get a new, possibly spectacular, meteor shower on 24 May.’
    - Rod Hebden, science expert
     
  • Finding constellations
    ‘With the free software, Stellarium, you can see how far away each star is in light years and therefore how far back in time you are seeing. Are you seeing star light from the swinging 60’s or the time of King Henry VIII?’
    - Guy Salkeld, fascinated member of staff
     
  • Orion’s Belt
    This is one of the easiest constellations to spot. Look to the south-west for three bright stars close together and almost in a straight line. The two stars to the north are his shoulders and the two to the south are his feet.
     
  • The Plough
    'This constellation is easy to spot if you imagine that you're looking for the shape of a saucepan. It is visible all year from the UK and if you imagine a line rising up from the last two stars in the Plough it will lead up to the North Star.'
    - Nick Allison, park manager
     
  • Satellites
    ‘If you get the timing right you can see the International Space Station. There are people up there so don’t forget to wave.’
    - Saul Burton, stargazer and park manager

    If a light is moving slowly across the sky and it isn’t flashing then it is likely to be a satellite. On the NASA website you can register for an email update when the Space Station passes over your house.
     
  • The moon
    ‘People used to think that the moon was a perfect sphere. But if you’ve got binoculars you can see that it’s covered in craters and the edges are bumpy. Can you imagine people walking on its surface?’
    - Rod Hebden, science expert
     
  • Planets
    ‘Believe it or not, planets are often the easiest things to spot with the naked eye. Venus can be incredibly bright. It’s been known as the Evening Star or the Morning Star as it is often the first ‘star’ to appear or the last one to fade. In January 2014 Jupiter will be at its closest to the earth and illuminated by the sun – making it easier than ever to see. With good binoculars you should be able to see four of its moons.’
    - Rod Hebden, science expert
     
  • The Milky Way
    ‘If you can get somewhere with very little light pollution you can easily make out our galaxy: the Milky Way. This is a flat spiral but from our perspective it looks like a bright band across the sky.’
    - Saul Burton, stargazer and park manager
    Stellarium, can help you to locate the Milky Way.

 

Things to take on your family stargazing trip

You don’t need a telescope or binoculars, but there are a few bits and pieces that will make your stargazing adventure all the more enjoyable.

What to take stargazing

Mind-boggling facts about the night sky

Some children might need a little help to see why sitting around on a cold dark night, looking up, is fun. Here are a few incredible facts to help bring the sky at night alive for your family.

Amazing facts about the night sky

Where to go stargazing

Discover the perfect stargazing spot