Winter is a great time to get outside and soak in the stars. Here's how to get the most out of the night sky.
Night sky

Winter wonderlands aren't only snowy fields, icy ponds, and colored lights. Look up into the night sky to behold one of winter's most festive displays. A cold, clear night is one of the best times to see the Milky Way and all those shimmering stars. It's also a great time to pile the car with kids, blankets and binoculars for some super stargazing.

Where and When To Go

Go when and where it's clear. You want a clear night, not a cloudy one. A cloudless night is ideal; as long as it's not overcast, you'll see stars. And you want to time your gazing as close to the new moon as possible so that the moon's light won't block out your view of stars. The new moon phase each month is when the moon has its dark side toward the earth. This is followed by a crescent moon, when the moon is still small enough to give you lots of starlight. A full moon won't steal all the thunder from the stars, but if you can plan for the darkest sky possible, you'll see more. If you can arrange with the heavenlies and the weatherman for a clear, (close to) moonless night, your viewing will be ideal. Check your local newspaper to see a schedule of moon phases. Several Web sites also offer these details.


Seeing in the dark. Set yourself up so your view is not obstructed by buildings or trees. And think dark; you want to be away from city lights. The "wasted" light of cities and suburbs causes what's known as light pollution, creating an unnaturally light sky that would normally be dark. Light pollution wreaks havoc with stargazing. Find a safe open field or park far enough from polluting light sources so that your family can experience natural darkness.

Continued on page 2:  What to Take