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With Stargazing, the Sky is the Limit

7 Aug 2020

As mysterious as they are awe-inspiring, stars have been a source of wonder for kids and grown-ups throughout history. This summer, become the stargazer you were born to be!

Marie-Ève Naud, an astronomer as well as the scientific and education public outreach coordinator at the University of Montreal's Institute for Research on Exoplanets, has provided us with some helpful tips on how to unravel the mysteries of the night sky while getting the most out of our stargazing sessions.


Your trustiest tool? Two eyes! If you’re really dedicated, you can also equip yourself with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. The most important thing, however, is to get as far away from all sources of artificial light as possible. If you live in the country, you won’t have to go far: get comfy in your backyard on a night when the sky is clear. If you’re in the city, bring a blanket to a park, far from any streetlights, and enjoy the show!

It’s mind-blowing to think those tiny points of light in the sky are in fact massive stars (like our sun), lightyears away from us in space.

For a better grasp of what you’re looking at, get your hands on a star map or download an app like Stellarium on your laptop or smartphone.


Constellations are basically “connect the dots” drawings humans imagined in the night sky. In addition to the Big Dipper (easily recognizable by its famous ladle shape) and the Little Dipper (which includes the star Polaris, a.k.a the North Star), here are the top 5 easiest constellations to spot:

1. Cassiopeia, shaped like a “W” during summer and an “M” during winter

2. Orion, named after a great hunter, is easy to spot in winter thanks to the three bright stars arrayed in a straight line that make up his belt.

3. The Summer Triangle, which is not technically a true constellation, is relatively easy to find as it appears almost directly overhead during summer. It's comprised of the stars Deneb, Vega, and Altair, which are each the brightest stars in their respective constellations (Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila).

4. Cygnus, meaning “the swan” in Latin, is easy to recognize thanks to its distinctive cross formation, which includes Deneb, one of the brightest stars in the sky.

5. The Pleiades, visible during fall and winter, is a cluster of shiny stars from the constellation Taurus. The better your vision and the darker the night sky, the easier these stars will appear to the naked eye—can you spot all 12 of them? In Japanese, the cluster is called Subaru, which means “unite.”


Five planets from our solar system can be seen with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. While they might resemble stars, the easiest way to tell them apart is that they don’t twinkle! Some planets (Venus, Mars, and Jupiter) can actually shine bright enough to be seen before the sky is completely black, like right after sunset and right before sunrise.

Things to Look Out For

A phenomenon you don’t want to miss, no matter where you are in Canada: the Perseids, a prolific meteor shower that will reach its peak around August 12 of this year. With zero light pollution, you should be able to spot thirty or so shooting stars in this magical celestial show. Get your wishes ready!

Did You Know?

- There are tons of other planets that orbit around other stars that are called exoplanets. We have confirmed the existence of over 4,000 of them, many of which could potentially resemble planet Earth! Something we can all be proud of is that many of these exoplanets have been discovered by Canadians.

- The light from the nearest star to our solar system, Alpha Centauri, takes 4.2 years to reach us.

- There are hundreds of billions of stars just in our own galaxy, but even on the clearest and darkest nights, we can only see a few thousand with the naked eye.

- There are 88 officially recognized constellations.

- Shooting stars are not actually stars, but rather small bits of dust and rock that burn up while entering Earth's atmosphere.

- Stars are mainly made up of hydrogen and helium in the form of plasma. At their core, the heat is so intense that it causes an atomic reaction called nuclear fusion. This process releases enormous amounts of energy, which makes the stars shine so bright (something we can be thankful for)!