We had just gotten home from the gym, and the weather wasn’t as frigid as it had been the past few weeks, so we took a moment to breathe in the cool night air and enjoy the beautiful, clear sky.
Just above the horizon, a couple of stars appeared extra bright, and my husband asked if I knew what they were. I’m by no means an expert in astronomy, but as a former journalist I loved to attend star-gazing programs that I could write articles on and now I also like soaking in the knowledge of our naturalist at the Dickinson County Nature Center.
So I took a stab at it and guessed that it was probably a planet, and I knew naturalist Charles Vigdal’s March Star Trekking program was on Jupiter at opposition, so I figured that bright spot was probably Jupiter.
My husband got out his astronomy phone app and found out that I was indeed correct, and I have to admit that made me quite proud.
Right now, Jupiter rises as the sun sets, and it is making its closest approach to the Earth this year. At 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, Vigdal will help you find Jupiter in the night sky during his next Star Trekking program.
The largest planet in our solar system reaches opposition, when an outer planet and Earth are the closest to each other in a direct line up on the same side of the sun, every 399 days. Because of its distance from the Earth, it still looks like a star-like point to the naked eye, but binoculars and telescopes can easily reveal it as a different body.
The program will also include general information on Jupiter and other planets in the solar system. At the first Star Trekking event this year, Vigdal taught about the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper, and he will expound upon that talk with information on more constellations visible year-round, such as a Cassiopeia and Cepheus.
Star Trekking will end outdoors as participants get the opportunity to find Jupiter and other constellations for themselves, weather permitting. In case of inclement weather, Vigdal will use a virtual planetarium program to help participants visualize what they would see outside.
Star Trekking continues throughout 2016, highlighting important celestial events during the year, including:
8:30 p.m. May 6: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower
8:30 p.m. Aug. 5: Perseids Meteor Shower
8:30 p.m. Oct. 21: Orionids Meteor Shower
8:30 p.m. Dec. 13: Geminids Meteor Shower and Supermoon
For more information on the Star Trekking program, visit the nature center's website or call 712-336-6352. You can also keep up with what is happening at the Dickinson County Nature Center on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.