About nine months ago we had a couple of posts on here about star-gazing, one by Paul and one by me, and it seems to me like it's time for another. Because it's so much more fun than talking about health care...
If you can get a clear night these days (and that's the trick, in my part of the country), and if you live in the United States, here is the very amateur star-gazing gist:
The bad news is, the moon is full for a while here. Boo.
The good news is, the sun sets early, so there's an hour or so of full darkness, before the moon gets well up, when you can still see quite a bit on an otherwise clear night. So get out there by about 6:30 to look around before the big moon comes riding up the sky, romantic but intrusive.
Things are getting interesting in the sky. Orion, my favorite constellation of all, is rising. You'll see him rising just a bit before the moon comes up. He's lying on his back with his shield above him. Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, and Rigel are un-missable, as is his belt.
Perseus is well up, somewhat to the east but nearly overhead, by about 7 p.m. I've gotten to know Perseus a little better this year, motivated by the incorrect statement in my daughter's science book that Algol is the constellation's brightest star. Looks like it's actually Mirfak, though Algol is quite noticeable as well.
One of the most brilliant things up right now (if you don't count Jupiter, who has the unfair advantage of being a planet) is the star Capella in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer. You'll see Capella and Auriga just below Perseus in the sky. Capella is readily visible if you face northeast and look up.
Don't miss Aldebaran and the Pleiades, both in Taurus. You'll find them in the east, above Orion.
Neither of the dippers is visible at the time I'm out at night. Mnemonic from H.A. Rey: Bears hibernate in the winter. Therefore, it's harder to see the Big and Little Dippers (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) in the winter. I'm not counting the star Polaris, of course, at the tip of the Little Dipper's handle, which is always up, being the North Star.
Don't forget to try the Sky Globe software mentioned in the earlier post. It's absolutely perfect for complete amateurs.
I was reading one of Rey's star books for children the other night and learned that Betelgeuse is 500 light-years away. Which means the light from it left it about the time of Columbus--as Rey points out. It could be gone by now, and we'd never know. (But it probably isn't.) Makes you think.