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How to stargaze on the Winter Solstice

The winter solstice, December 21, is known for being the longest night of the year and astronomers at the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) suggest that the extra darkness makes for some of the best skywatching in the entire year.

“The winter time is one of my favorite times to do astronomy, and I remember as a kid with my small telescope – going out in December and looking at all the beautiful things in the winter sky,” Pat McCarthy, director of the GMT, recently told RedOrbit. “It’s a lot of fun and I hope other people do it as well. It’s a nice thing to do over the holidays.”

After bundling up and heading out with the telescope or binoculars, the GMTO suggests looking for galaxies, meteor showers and popular winter constellations, like Orion, Pegasus and Taurus.

McCarthy said winter skywatching has two major advantages compared to the summer: a clearer atmosphere and the Earth facing away from the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

“When you look out in the summer at the center of the Milky Way, you see the bright stars, but there’s a lot of dust that obscures their light,” he said. “But this time of year, we can look out away from the Milky Way and there’s less dust and it’s a little clearer. While you see less stars, we can see really interesting parts of the galaxy in which young stars are being formed in large numbers.”

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