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Why Do Stars Seem Brighter During the Winter?

Posted at 9:53 AM, Dec 23, 2018

Have you ever looked up on a clear night during the winter and thought the stars looked extra bright? You’re not wrong. During the months of December, January, and February the Northern Hemisphere is facing a closer spiral arm of our galaxy that has fewer, but gigantic stars.

Artist rendering of the Milky Way courtesy of NASA/JPL/Caltech/R.Hurt.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is nearly 100,000 light-years across with the center 25,000 to 28,000 light-years from the Earth. During the summer months, the Northern Hemisphere faces the center of the galaxy. There are billions and billions of stars and galactic dust in this part of the Milky Way. The combined light from all of these stars gives the summer night sky a duller look.

In the winter we are looking towards the “suburbs.” We are viewing a smaller area of the Milky Way, known as the “Orion Arm,” and towards deep space. Stars appear clearer and sharper due to the lack of combined light from so many distant stars.

The Orion Arm is one of the “minor” spiral arm of the Milky Way. Our solar system resides in this arm. This area is named for the prominent constellation Orion, which is visible in the evening during the winter months.