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Starry Skies

November 22, 2016

Some of the brightest stars in the entire night sky wheel into view at this time of year. By late evening, for example, brilliant Capella stands high in the northeast. The colorful stars of Orion stretch across the southeast. And the brightest of them all, Sirius, rises below Orion.

These bright lights are visible from just about anywhere — even the most light-polluted cities. But to see much more than that, you need to find somewhere with darker skies. From the typical suburb, for example, you might see a few hundred stars. And from really dark skies, far away from any streetlights, the stars visible to the eye alone number in the thousands.

The exact number depends on several factors, including the quality of your eyesight and the amount of dust and pollen in the air. With perfect vision and pristine skies, you might see up to about 4,000 stars at any one time.

One thing to keep in mind is that no matter where you are, you can see only half of the universe at once. The other half is below the horizon. The total number of individual stars you can see over the course of a year varies by location. If you spent your year at the north pole, you’d never see more than the northern half of the sky. But if you were on the equator, you’d eventually see the entire sky — and a total of perhaps 9,000 stars.

From the United States, we see only about half to two-thirds of the southern sky — leaving many stars permanently hidden from view.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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