The Winter's Night Sky
And what a sight I did see! I stopped in my tracks. There,
arrayed before me, was the most dazzling display of stars
I’d ever seen, stretching exquisitely from one horizon to
the other. I was stunned.
You can go for many months, years even, and not really
see them. They’re there, of course, but suddenly one
evening, you look up, and you see them in all their glory.
I found myself catching my breath as I
was once again reminded of their beauty: the glorious, unfathomable dark night.
“For my part I know nothing with any
certainty,” wrote Vincent van Gogh, “but
the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
Are the stars any more beautiful and
dazzling than in the winter? On a cold,
crisp, moonless night they seem to leap
out of the sky. Robert Service, the poet
of the frigid north country, described the
winter stars as “dancing heel and toe.”
In fact, they are brighter in the winter
since there are more stars with a higher magnitude present
than in other seasons. The winter is truly the season of stars. The days are short in the winter and the night rules.
As early as 6:30 p.m. in the winter, the stars are fully out,
and what a joy it is to bundle up, slip on the skis and go for
a little winter star gazing.
Out of the myriad of stars that night, I was immediately
drawn to Orion. Along with the Big Dipper, it’s one of the
two best known constellations. Some star observers call it
the most magnificent of all of the constellations.
What gives it away are the three equally spaced and bright
stars of Orion’s belt. Just above the belt are two prominent stars forming his collarbone. Orion is known as the hunter and it’s the one constellation that is shaped like its namesake:
the hunter’s broad shoulders, the magnificent belt and lower stars representing legs or the bottom of his cape.
You’ll find Orion on the star charts included with this
issue of Cross Country Skier. In addition to Orion, the
charts show the other primary constellations of the winter