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Caribbean Night Lights

Thank your lucky stars you’re here, where the show in the sky is second to none.

- BY JAMIE CARTER

There are few more peaceful experience­s than stargazing to the sound of the ocean amid clear skies common in Caribbean.

Being at sea means being far from landbased light pollution. While those in cities can only see the moon, planets and the very brightest of stars, the Caribbean waters are among the darkest places on the planet from where it’s possible to see thousands of distant suns, bright star clusters, constellat­ions and even dramatic shooting stars. So get out on deck — perhaps to the area in front of the bridge, which is usually the darkest — or out onto your balcony, and give yourself 20 minutes for your night vision to kick in.

With a little patience, the galaxy will reveal to you its stunning winter wonders.

The Evening Star

This winter sees the second planet from the Sun, Venus, dominate the evening sky as the brightest object other than the moon. As it orbits the sun much more quickly than Earth (buzzing around in just 225 days), we sometimes see it for a few hours pre-dawn and at other times post-sunset. Shining this season in the western sky as a bright “Evening Star,” Venus will shine intensely and alone, with Jupiter and Mars visible in the east just before dawn.

Count the Seven Sisters

One of the jewels of the winter sky is right above your head. Get out on deck and look directly up and you’ll notice something bright and fuzzy. That’s the Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters, a cluster of stars around 440 light years from us. At barely 100 million years old, these are newborns. Look at them carefully and you should EH DEOH WR PDNH RXW DERXW ¿YH VL[ RU even seven separate stars with the naked eye. The human eye’s peripheral vision is more sensitive to light, so try looking just to the side of it rather than straight at it, and you’ll best appreciate its incredible brightness.

With a little patience, the galaxy will reveal to you its stunning winter wonders.

Witness a Full Moon Rising

There are few more magical sites in nature than watching a full moon appear on the horizon at dusk in wonderfull­y muted orange and yellow colors. When you’re at sea, the backdrop makes it even more impressive. On January 10, 2020, a Wolf Moon will rise in the east at dusk, and come February 9, skygazers can see a Super Snow Moon, so called because our satellite is at its closest to Earth in its monthly orbit just as its enters 100 percent illuminati­on. Consequent­ly, it can look larger than usual as it appears above the eastern horizon. Back to a smaller size, March 9 sees a Worm Moon rise to welcome spring.

There are two golden rules to full moon-gazing: be on deck at dusk, and look east. The day before and after are also worth being on deck for, but know that a bright moon bleaches the stars from the night sky, so these nights are good only for moon-gazing and planet-spotting.

Catch a Falling Star

Is there anything more exciting than seeing a shooting star streak across the night sky? They may look potentiall­y dangerous, but shooting stars are nothing more than dust and debris left by the tail of a comet as it passed through the solar system. When they collide with the Earth’s DWPRVSKHUH WKH\ EULHÀ\ HQHUJL]H

January 3-4 will be particular­ly good nights with the Quadrantid­s meteor shower, though it’s possible to see shooting stars on any night. Get out on deck from 10 p.m. to see shooting stars, but know that the show will probably be at its best between midnight and 2 a.m. The next meteor shower after the Quadrantid­s is the Lyrids, which peak on April 21-22, 2020.

Hunt the Hunter

The three belt stars that form the center of the constellat­ion of Orion the Hunter are perhaps the most famous of all. During the Caribbean winter these three stars — Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka (from left to right) — are high in the southern sky. However, it’s

what’s below them that will impress you most: the Orion Nebula. The glowing jewel in Orion’s Sword that appears to hang down from Orion’s Belt, this nebula is where stars are now being born. As with the Pleiades, its stunning brightness is most easily seen if you look just to the side of it.

Discover the Dog Star

Once you’ve found Orion’s Belt, you can’t but notice that it appears to point to a brilliantl­y bright star just below it and to the southeast. That’s Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, and WKH ¿IWK FORVHVW WR XV DW MXVW OLJKW years. It’s called the Dog Star because it forms the eye of the constellat­ion Canis Major, the Great Dog, the rest of which may be visible below it. To the left of Sirius is the bright star Procyon in Canis Minor, the Little Dog; look between these two stars and \RX¶OO VHH WKH ULFK VWDU ¿HOGV RI RXU Milky Way galaxy. In the few hours before midnight, Sirius will be joined by Canopus just below it, the second brightest star in the night sky.

There are two golden rules to full moon-gazing: be on deck at dusk, and look east.

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