The perfect time of year for stargazing depends entirely on your location. For those in the northern regions, summer is a great time, even though you have to stay up later to wait for the sky to grow dark. Fall and spring are the best times for those in the southwest because it’s too hot in the summer.
Yet the night sky is filled with wonder in all seasons. The celestial objects visible in the summer are not visible in the winter and vice versa. To be a fair-weather stargazer means that you miss out on half of the wonders of the night sky.
We have grown so accustomed to controlling our environment through indoor cooling and heating that we’ve forgotten how to engage with nature in every season.
The Scandinavian folks have a great saying about this. “There is no good or bad weather, only the wrong clothes for the weather.”
I recently read The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu by Katja Pantzar. Katja relocated to Finland and found healing for her depression through the Finnish lifestyle. She talks extensively about an outdoor lifestyle in all seasons, including the harsh Nordic winters when she still rides her bike to work in the dark.
“Even biking on a miserable wet, dark day becomes a sisu-boosting exercise; yes, I can do it. I’m not going to leave my bike at home just because the weather is not optimal. I’ll approach it like a young child eagerly puts on rain boots for the joy of jumping in puddles. I know that I will feel much better, happier, and more energetic if I bike– that adrenaline boost and blast of bracing air and exercise will carry me through the day.”
We can develop the same attitude about stargazing in the cold. We can decide that we are not going to miss out on some of the year’s best stargazing just because the temperatures are chilly.
I love the work of Ginny Yurich at 1000HoursOutside.com. Kids easily get 1,000 hours annually in front of their digital devices, so she encourages parents to turn that on its head to create a lifestyle of spending 1,000 hours outdoors. And she pushes for that time in all seasons throughout the year.
In Ginny’s podcast interview with Linda McGurk, author of the book There is No Such Thing as Bad Weather, Linda explains the meaning of the Swedish word friluftsliv. “It is a word that literally translates to ‘free air life,’ but it’s really hard to translate. It’s more than a word. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a cultural rhythm that is learned and passed on from generation to generation. And it sort of revolves around spending time outdoors and especially embracing nature in everyday life.”
In the interview, Ginny and Linda talk about embracing time outdoors, even in the colder months. While many people think they don’t like the cold weather, making it a priority can change your feelings about it.
We can learn to create a lifestyle of seasonal rhythms under the night sky, too. Each season brings different constellations into view. The planets each follow their own unique timelines across the sky. And even the Moon changes its shape from one night to the next over the span of a month.
Here is a checklist for cold-weather stargazing:
- Wear layers
- Wear wool socks
- If there is snow on the ground, clear the snow away from your stargazing spot to keep your toes warmer
- Bring a blanket
- Don’t forget the gloves, hats, and scarves
- Use peel-and-stick heating pads in your shoes and through some hand warmers in your pockets
- Bring something warm to drink (check out our article about Moon Milk)
Here are some of the best things to see in the winter night sky:
- Pegasus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Perseus and their ancient mythological story
- Taurus with its Pleiades and Hyades asterisms
- Orion and the Orion nebula
- Canis Major and Canis Minor
- SiriusWinter Hexagon (Sirius, Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Pollux, and Procyon)