Daylight is now increasing about 3 minutes per day. Rejoice.
We have gained one hour and 17 minutes since the solstice Dec. 21, but nights are still long, giving us some great opportunities to try stargazing.
Think of it as becoming part of nature on the grandest scale. Nothing can stretch the mind like the study of the night sky. My students over the years have loved our sky-watching sessions. The light reaching our eyes tonight from many stars has been traveling through space since the Ice Age, or even since the time of Earth’s dinosaurs.
Stargazing doesn’t have to be a complicated, expensive activity. Needed are an inquisitive mind and discerning eye. A good base is following the moon’s phases (the nearly full-moon rises at 3:36 p.m. Friday and full moon is Feb. 9), noting the positions of the planets, looking for northern lights, and finding out where constellations such as Orion or Ursa Major (aka the Big Dipper) are located. Bookstores and museums sell books for beginners, and the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars have star maps and information on planet location, and moon rise and set times.
You don’t need a telescope, at least starting out. For a deeper look into the oceans of space, you can achieve great satisfaction with a pair of binoculars or small spotting scope (the tools used by bird-watchers). They offer wide fields of view and make things easier to find, and can be taken to rural areas where the nights are filled with starlight rather than light pollution. Stargazing can inspire a new appreciation for the universe and our place in it.
Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.