When we picture outer space, it tends to be the elementary school science textbook version: a dark (usually black) sky, with bright, white stars and a few pops of color coming from planets like Mars and Saturn. But in real life, stars comes in a variety of different colors, too—it’s just not always something we can see without a telescope or other equipment. The good news is that out of the entire year, winter is the best season for catching a glimpse at the stars’ true colors. Here’s what to know.
Wait—stars are different colors?
A quick glance up at the sky may give you the idea that stars are all a bright white color. Or, if you grew up in the 1990s and had those glow-in-the-dark star stickers on your ceiling, you might think that they’re all neon greenish-yellow. But nope: there are colors galore up there. According to EarthSky, the higher the stars climb in the sky—above the turbulence of Earth’s atmosphere—the more vibrant stars’ colors become.
How to see the stars’ colors
On winter nights with dark, clear skies, people with relatively good eyesight should be able to see some of the colors of the brightest stars. If the conditions are right, but you’re still not seeing anything, EarthSky suggests trying again with a pair of binoculars. But we’re not just going to send you out into the wilderness in the dark without more specific instructions: here are some tips from EarthSky that can help:
- In the northeastern sky in the evening, look for a bright, golden star called “Capella, the Little She-Goat,” which is part of the constellation Aurigain. The star tends to flicker when it is lower in the sky.
- Below Aurigain, there should be a bright red star just above the horizon. This is Aldebaran, and it’s part of the constellation Taurus.
- There’s also Elnath, a blue-white star which is officially part of Taurus, but it typically is considered part of Auriga too.
If you need some extra assistance, EarthSky has plenty of charts and stargazing resources that can help.