As the year winds down, so does the amount of daylight we have. Each day is getting progressively shorter until we reach the winter solstice, December 21st. If we humans are being completely honest with ourselves, it’s a dark time of year in more ways than one. We are preparing for the long winter ahead and reflecting on our successes but also failures of the year that was. In all of that, it’s hard to find light spots. Fortunately for us, once night falls, there are (approximately) 200 billion trillion light spots surrounding us on all sides.
This month, we’re talking about those little pinpricks of light trillions of miles away that we call stars. While 200 billion trillion is the estimated number of stars in all of outer space, our night sky usually includes around 6000 stars. From those 6000 stars, humans have navigated, told stories, made art, and predicted the future. Our lives, culture, and even physical bodies are inextricably tied to stars.
This time of year is particularly suited for connecting with the celestial bodies that helped build both our bodies and cultures. Winter in the northern hemisphere means we are oriented towards some of the biggest and brightest stars we’ll see all year. Not only are the stars brighter, it’s easier to see them. When we cast our gaze starward, we’re looking through the thick filter of Earth’s atmosphere. In the winter, our chilly atmosphere holds less moisture, meaning less haze between us and the night sky.
Now it’s time to bundle up and head out for an evening under the stars, but one of the hardest parts about winter stargazing is finding a good spot to do it. Ideally, your location will have minimal light pollution from nearby cities or towns and have a clear line of sight towards the sky. Picking the best time is also critical. Consult your local stargazing forecast and look ahead for upcoming astronomical events. Once you’ve picked a time and a place, bring along some friends, binoculars or a telescope–you can rent one from the MMSD planetarium, and plenty of warm drinks and take in the stars that blanket our world.
One Sky, Many Stars
While stars are a universal experience on Earth, each individual has a unique relationship with the night sky. When we see a star streaking across the sky, we almost instinctively make a wish. Those wishes can be deeply personal needs, hopes for humanity, or a passing fancy. Whatever we may wish for, we are sending our desires to the stars where they collect like a great cloud of universal hopes and dreams.
We can look up at the stars during this darkest month of the year and marvel at the humbling enormity and depth of what we don’t know while simultaneously feeling deeply connected to the breadth of humanity these stars have been witness to. There is both knowledge and unknowing hanging above our heads; both our elemental being and undiscovered worlds; destruction and creation; dark and light.
A podcast on the stories told in our stars:
Explore Wisconsin’s Dark Sky Park:
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News from Nature Net Members
|Fellowship Applications Open
|2024 Parks Challenge
|New Exhibit Coming 2024
|Are you a recent graduate looking for a meaningful way to engage in conservation work? Do you know someone who is passionate about land stewardship or environmental education? The Aldo Leopold Foundation has opened applications for their 2024 Future Leaders Fellowship Program! Learn more about these opportunities and apply here!
|Dane County Parks has announced their 2024 Parks Challenge. Register and receive a digital journal to record your visits to all 25 Recreation Parks in the Dane County system! If you complete them all by the end of 2024, you’ll receive a Parks Challenge T-shirt! Learn more here.
|Madison Children’s Museum is bidding farewell to their Coops to Cathedrals Exhibit to begin construction on a new exhibit starting January 3rd. Starting summer 2024, the new exhibit will feature interactive nature experiences and will encourage young visitors to connect to all living things. Sign up for their newsletter to get sneak peeks of the new exhibit!
More from Nature Net…
|As the year wraps up and you reflect on all you got up to as a family, consider including the Nature Net’s network of nonprofits in your year end giving. Each of our member organizations strives to provide quality environmental education experiences for children and families in our community–and they couldn’t do it without your support! Find donation information here!
|Hoping to connect young people in your life with nature in the new year? Check out the Go Outside Fund from Wisconsin Natural Resources Foundation! Grants between $100 and $500 are available to pay for field trip supplies, transportation, substitute teachers, or educator costs. Apply by December 31st. More information available here!
|Ring in the new year with Nature Net! Many of our member sites are celebrating the end of the year and the start of the next! Experience festive lights at Henry Vilas Zoo or Cave of the Mounds. Make lanterns at the Children’s Museum or go on a night walk at the Arboretum to celebrate the solstice. Explore these and other options to celebrate on our calendar.