The nice thing about winter skies, there is so much to look at. The bad part about winter skies, it's almost too cold to stand outside looking.
I think that is what is called a paradox.
Planning ahead as to what you want to look for and knowing where to look is a big advantage.
That is where reference material comes in handy. A good star atlas, a planisphere, a multi-circle device showing location and time for stellar objects.
A publication such as Astronomy Magazine or Sky and Telescope will provide lots of good information for planning.
I even have a star chart on my cell phone, but that may be going a little overboard.
Good background material will also let you know in advance what interesting objects or events are in the offing so plans can be made. Having a good dark-sky place is always a big help. Often these objects can only be seen from a dark place because city lights will wipe out any viewing.
For example, starting now and for the next two weeks there will be great opportunities for viewing the Zodiacal Light. That is sunlight reflecting off zillions of dust grains located in the plane of the galaxy.
Since the galactic plane is now almost perpendicular to the horizon the Zodiacal Light will take the form of a cone or pyramid of light looking a little fainter than the Milky Way rising from the western horizon about two hours after sunset. (See previous mention of a dark-sky place to view this event)
By planning ahead we would know that on Monday, Feb. 28, a very slender crescent moon will be about six degrees to the upper right of the planet Venus in the east about an hour before sunrise.
The next day, March 1, the moon will be four degrees to the lower left of the moon. On both occasions the two objects should be viewable in the field of view of your binoculars.
We would also know that the moon and Uranus are going to be playing tag as are the moon and Jupiter. Mercury is going to make an appearance in the evening sky to play with Uranus and Jupiter before all three planets go crashing below the western horizon.
See what fun can be had by a little planning ahead? More about those events as the date draws closer.
On another note, as of the date of this writing plans were still go for the launch of space shuttle Discovery at 2:50 today and can be followed on NASA-TV. The internet link is http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv.
Then in a couple of days we may have the opportunity to watch a double pass of the space shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS).
SKY WATCH: Third quarter moon, Feb. 24. Crescent moon left of Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius in the south about an hour before sunrise Friday, Feb. 25. On Saturday, Feb. 26 about an hour before sunrise use binoculars and look just right of the moon for two very nice nebula. M8, the Lagoon Nebula (the lower of the two), and M20, the Trifid Nebula. Both are easy to locate in binoculars, and enhanced in that new telescope you got for Christmas.
NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.