Winter Tour of Bright Objects

This is a plan for a star party with some constraints:

  • Bright lighting (expected to be used at community events, at places such as school with property lights on)
  • Young observers (Scout or school audiences)
  • January (winter objects)
  • Early evening (twilight ends between 6:00 and 6:30). I expect to use this on evenings when the Moon does not rise till later. On nights when the Moon is up you could add that; it’s a good target for kids. Because the other targets in this plan are bright, they should work acceptably in moonlight.

It features:

  • Bright objects, easy to find and mostly also visible to the kids’ naked eyes
  • Examples of the major categories of sky objects
  • Fun, large, colorful objects that kids tend to appreciate more than small faint fuzzies

Plan by type of object


Different planets are visible in the evening from year to year. You will need to look up what is visible when you use this plan. The bright, easy-to-see planets that might be in the sky in the evening are:

  • Mercury (but it is always difficult to find low on the horizon
  • Venus
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn

Everybody has heard of Mars, but it usually appears as only a pale orange dot. It is exciting when you know what it is, or if you can see surface features at high magnification, but Mars is usually not a successful choice for an easy target with youth.


We seldom get to see a bright comet in the night sky.  If you have the opportunity, take advantage of it.


  • Orion Nebula


  • Andromeda Galaxy

Open clusters

  • Pleiades
  • Hyades
  • M35
  • Beehive
  • Double Cluster

Globular clusters

I haven’t come up with any that are bright and easy for kids to appreciate. M79 is easy to find, but all globulars look like small faint fuzzies to kids.

Planetary Nebulas

I haven’t come up with any that are bright and easy for kids to appreciate

Colored Stars

  • Betelgeuse (red giant)
  • Rigel (blue giant star)
  • La Superba, Y Canum Venaticorum (red carbon star) (above the horizon, but may be obstructed and in skyglow)

Double Stars

  • Trapezium, 6 stars
  • Castor, 6 stars
  • Mizar and Alcor
  • Rigel, beta Orionis
  • iota Cassiopeiae
  • lambda Orionis
  • sigma Orionis, 5 bodies, A and B are red and blue
  • alpha Leporis
  • gamma Andromedae, triple
  • Polaris
  • Cor Corelli


  • Orion
  • Big Dipper
  • Cassiopeia
  • Taurus
  • Andromeda
  • Cassiopeia
  • Lepus
  • Gemini

Plan in target order


Tell the myth of Andromeda and Perseus

Andromeda Galaxy

gamma Andromedae

triple star

Canes Venatici

Tell the story of King Charles and the hunting dogs.
Marginally visible from most places in evening. Above the horizon, but may be obstructed and in skyglow.

La Superba

Y Canum Venaticorum, red carbon star. 12h 45m 24.2s +45d 24′ 49″

Cor Corelli

alpha Canum Venaticorum, double star


belongs to story of Andromeda and Perseus

iota Cassiopeiae

double star


Big Dipper

There are many myths and stories associated with this asterism.

Mizar and Alcor

Most likely an optical double, though uncertainty in the measurements is an interesting science lesson. Mizar is a 4-star system.

Ursa Minor


double star (now known to be a triple, the third member only recently seen for the first time)



Beautiful open cluster. Contains nebulae, though they are hard to see. Tell the Iroquois story of the creation of the Pleiades.





red giant star


blue giant star, double star


multiple stars, illuminating the Orion Nebula

lambda Orionis

double star

sigma Orionis

5-star system, A and B are red and blue

Orion Nebula

Canis Minor


double star, A is a main sequence star, B is a white dwarf (probably hard to see)


alpha Leporis

double star



open cluster


6 star system


Beehive Cluster


belongs to story of Andromeda and Perseus

Double Cluster

Story of a Star Life

Orion Nebula
Birthplace of stars.
A main sequence star.
Example of planet formation. Rings are common.
gamma Andromedae
Many stars are found in pairs. This is a triple star.
This is a multiple star system.
Stars often cluster close together.
globular cluster
A larger grouping of stars. I haven’t found a good one for kids.
Andromeda Galaxy
An even larger grouping of stars. Galaxies are important structures in the larger universe.
A blue giant. A large star may become this instead of a main sequence star.
A red giant. A main sequence star in old age may become this.
planetary nebula
An older star sheds its outer layer to make a nebula. I haven’t found a good one for kids
Procyon B
A white dwarf is the core remnant after a giant loses mass. We probably won’t be able to distinguish the dwarf
Crab Nebula
A supernova is another end of star life. This is a difficult target, and you will not be able to impress youth with it. There are no supernova remnants that are easy to see. If you hear of a naked-eye supernova, show it while you have the chance – it happens very rarely.
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