Stargazing on a winter night

Sister came up to visit this weekend and brought her friend Tiffany, an inner-city girl, out to the farm. One goal: To show Tiffany the stars, since you don't see them in the city.

We decided to go to Winger for supper last night. I brought the binoculars along in case the sky cleared enough for some star-viewing.

Just as we left for Winger, a band of sky opened up straight above. We drove down the road aways to get away from the glare of the yardlight, and stepped outside. The stars were in full view, only slightly dimmed by the half-moon in the southern sky.

Tiffany had a sharp eye, and found a star cluster to the east. When we focused the binoculars on the cluster, it went from a dim blur to a beautiful group of perhaps a dozen or more sparkling stars.

The Milky Way is not as apparent in the winter months simply because the earth faces the outside rim of the galaxy in winter. There are fewer stars in that direction. However, it was still evident. We studied the constellation Pegasus, which was almost directly overhead, because it is the key to locating the faint blur of the Andromeda galaxy, which we did not find.

Mars is still close, and quite red. The moon was spectacular in the binoculars, with the mountains and craters near the edge of the light casting long, dark shadows.

I learned only last winter the utility of binoculars for stargazing. There are space objects you can see more clearly with binoculars than you can with a telescope. The Andromeda galaxy is one, the Orion nebula is another.

We passed the binoculars around until we got cold, and decided to move on to Winger. We had been standing on the road for 1/2 hour. As we drove to Winger, low bands of fog on the road made it appear as though we were traveling through space. I think Tiffany got the impression that such fog is common up here.

Moran's in Winger is a wonderful place for a Saturday night dinner. The salad bar is the best around. Tiffany was having as much trouble deciding as the rest of us, until she saw the Combo Meals section, under which was written: "For the city slicker who can't make up his dang mind." A good laugh. She had the chicken and ribs. Brother had the Torsk, Sister the Walleye, and I had chicken and ribs.

EARLIER in the day, I took the whole crew out to the spot where I would love to build a house. We walked out on the ice. It was so still. You could hear a hammer pounding in the distance, and tires howling on distant roads. It was a perfect winter day.