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Among the many good things in our community, Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation can be counted on to deliver fun, interesting and educational opportunities on a regular basis. Aside from the sports programs (and there are many), there are also boating trips, educational hikes and classes for things like canoeing, fishing, cooking and archery.

On Jan. 7, Lake Rim Park is offering Stars and Constellations — a class on just that — the beauty and mysteries of the nighttime winter sky.

It’s the perfect opportunity for star gazers of all stripes and colors from novices to hobbyists to professionals to come out and view the night sky, explore its wonders and learn about constellations and other celestial objects and the folklore behind them.

Mike Morales is a park ranger at Lake Rim and helps out with this class on a regular basis. He noted that even though it is pretty chilly out there on winter evenings, the experience is absolutely worth braving the winter weather.

“We do these classes mainly in the winter because that is when the sky is clearer,” said Morales. “So even though it01-05-11-stars-and-constellations.gif is really cold, this is the best season of the year to do astronomy. There is not as much pollution and ozone and smog clouding up your view either.”

While attendees are invited to bring their own telescopes and binoculars, quite often members of the Fayetteville Astronomy Club come out and bring their high powered telescopes, and are kind enough to share their view (and equipment) for the benefi t of the group.

“The astronomers have telescopes that you can punch in the coordinates and it will show you what you are looking for,” said Morales.

And what exactly will they be looking for?

“The constellations shift throughout the year,” Morales explained. “This time of year Orion, the Hunter, is pretty prominent. You can still see the Big Dipper, too. Of course, you can see the Little Dipper all year round, that is the constellation with the North Star in it. We’ve got Cassiopeia the Queen in the sky this time of year, too.”

If the conditions are right, plan to see more than just the constellations. Morales said that other space entities are often visible as well, things like nebula, the Andromeda and the Milky Way as well as other galaxies.

In the past they’ve seen not just Saturn, but the rings of Saturn, Jupiter, as well as three of its four big moons and the bands of Jupiter, too.

Between the park ranger on duty that night and the local astronomy club, no one is left out in the cold, trying to fi gure what they are seeing or where to point their telescope to fi nd the secrets hidden in the night sky.

“This class is just to get people interested in astronomy and get them looking up and maybe to teach them the basic stars and planets that you can see,” said Morales. “It isn’t just for astronomy buffs — although it is really nice to have the astronomy club out here because they have the technical know how to use their telescopes can show beginners who bring their own equipment how to properly use it, and they are always very nice and give people an opportunity to see things that they might not get to see otherwise. We also have some basic telescopes that we set up and let people use as well.”

The class is free and runs from 6-8 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made by calling the park at 424-6134. It is an outside event so remember to bundle up.

Photo: The winter sky offers a variety of constellations. Check out the Stars and Constellations class at Lake Rim Park.

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