It’s official: it’s cold out there. Saskatoon in January is infamous for long stretches of plunging negative temperatures and this year is no exception. One thing that comes hand-in-hand with extra frigid nights, though, is crystal clear skies. When you’re cursing the world, scraping inches of ice off your car in the morning before sunrise or stomping your feet at the bus stop in the evening after classes, take a look up and enjoy your reward for being a prairie dweller.
Saskatoon’s northern latitude and relatively low commercial light pollution make it a perfect urban candidate for viewing the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. Atoms in Earth’s upper atmosphere become excited by interaction with charged particles from the sun during periods of intense solar activity, causing shifting ethereal lights to dance across the sky. Solar activity is monitored in detail by various satellite systems, so you don’t need to stand around guessing whether the lights will put on a show — if it’s a clear night, head to spaceweather.com and check out their real-time aurora forecast.
Late in January and extending into February, look south in the morning to see something that hasn’t happened for over a decade. All five naked-eye planets — the planets in our solar system we can see from Earth without a telescope — will be visible in the sky at the same time. Just as the sky is beginning to brighten, between 8 and 9 a.m., the planets will stretch in an arc from southeast to southwest. Mercury will be tiny in the southeast, next to a very bright Venus — these two planets are the only two who orbit closer to the Sun than Earth. Then, closer to due south will be Saturn, the ringed giant, and past due south will be Mars, distinguishable by a reddish tint. Finally, in the southwest will be Jupiter, the largest planet in our celestial neighbourhood.