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Winter solstice is perfect time to start star gazing

This weekend will have the darkest night of the year –Sunday, June 21 is the Winter Solstice, it marks the day when the South Pole is furthest away from the Sun. UNSW PhD candidate Kirsten Banks said stargazing conditions have never been better.

“There are fewer planes in the sky than usual, and – with less activity going on in the major cities – there’s also less air pollution,” Ms Banks said. “This makes the sky clearer, which is perfect for stargazing.” As the Southern Hemisphere is moving into winter, the Milky Way Galaxy is also rising in our skies – making the view even more spectacular. “We’re about to get a front row seat to the centre of the galaxy,” she said. “A great way to start is to simply walk outside and look up. “There’s a lot you can see with your naked eyes. “To find a planet, look for a light in the sky that stays bright. “Jupiter, Saturn and Mars are starting to rise in the night sky now – and they’ll get even easier to see over the next few months.” If your backyard isn't dark enough find a local park or oval to stargaze from. “Parks are great places because there’s not a lot of direct light on to your face and eyes.” It’s also possible to see the Milky Way (or at least part of it) in places not far from Sydney, like the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands. If you see a light that twinkles (rather than flashes like a plane), you’ve most likely spotted a star. While beautiful on their own, they might also be part of a star group, like a constellation or star cluster. “Constellations can be seen with the naked eye when taking a broad view of the sky,” Ms Banks said. Star clusters, on the other hand, are groups of stars that are in the same area of space. You will need binoculars to find them. Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are now visible in the night sky, but you need to stay up late to see them. “While some of these planets are rising early in the evening, to see them clearly, you will need to stay up until at least after 10pm,” Ms Banks said. “As we move deeper into winter, the planets will start rising earlier and will be even easier to see.” Visit the Time and Date website to check exact planet rising and setting times.

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