December 21 marks this year’s winter solstice, the longest night of the year and – since the skies will be particularly dark ahead of the new moon from Friday, December 23 – a perfect opportunity for passionate stargazers to see myriad stars from our galaxy, along with Mars, Jupiter, and Venus, as well as three meteor showers.
The winter solstice is an annual event occurring when the Earth’s North Pole is at its furthest tilt away from the Sun. This year, the best locations from which to enjoy this event are the British Isles, where people could get an amazing glimpse of the skies without needing telescopes or binoculars. For instance, across the Isle of Man, there are 26 official Dark Sky Discovery sites where there are very low levels of light pollution and, thus, the possibility to see the sky clearly.
“This year the solstice promises to be full of celestial wonders, with three of the brightest planets, meteor showers, and many constellations on show,” said Howard Parkin, the co-founder and vice chair of the Isle of Man Astronomical Society.
“We are blessed in the northern hemisphere with a dramatic display of stars, and these sights in the night sky are best shared with others. Stargazing is an activity that the whole family can enjoy and involves nothing more than stepping outside and looking up.”
During this night, anyone in the northern hemisphere should be able to easily spot 12 out of the 30 brightest stars in the skies, including three closely located stars that make up the Belt of Orion. Further down, Sirius – the brightest star in our galaxy – should also be visible. Other constellations that stargazers can enjoy are Canis Major (also known as “the Big Dog”) and Taurus. In addition, planets such as Mars, Jupiter, and Venus will also be distinctly visible if the skies are clear.
Finally, during the following nights, stargazers can enjoy three meteor showers: the Geminid shower, which started a few weeks ago and peaked in mid-December, the Ursid shower, which will peak on December 2022, and the Quadrantids shower, which can be seen between the end of December and the beginning of January.
While the Isle of Man most likely remains the best spot on the planet to enjoy these celestial spectacles due to its low light pollution, even in busy cities people could take a moment to stop, look up, and enjoy these natural wonders.
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