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Summer doesn’t end for another week, but you can already get a preview of the evening sky of winter in the hours before sunrise.
Winter’s skywatching highlights include the constellations Orion and Gemini, as well as Sirius, the brightest star in all the night sky. All are in good view by around 4 a.m., and are high in the sky at first light.
Orion is in the southeast at that hour. It’s best identified by the hunter’s “belt” of three moderately bright stars. The constellation’s brightest stars flank the belt: orange Betelgeuse to the upper left, and blue-white Rigel to the lower right.
The belt also points the way to Sirius. Just follow the beltline down toward the horizon and you’ll come across the brilliant star, in Canis Major, the big dog. Sirius is not only brilliant, but it twinkles fiercely, blinking from white to red to blue in an instant.
Gemini is well to the left of Orion, and is noted for the bright stars Castor and Pollux, which represent the heads of the celestial twins. And Gemini is especially easy to find right now because a visitor is passing through its borders — the planet Jupiter. It’s a little brighter than Sirius right now, but it doesn’t really twinkle — its light holds steady.
As Earth moves along in its orbit around the Sun, all of these sights will rise a few minutes earlier each night. In a few months they’ll highlight the evening sky — putting on a good showing throughout the cold nights of winter.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013