God provided a lot of things in Earth's night sky for us to wonder about and observe. Ancient civilizations, chiefly the Greeks and Romans, named the star groups "constellations." Most are named for mythological figures.

Ancient peoples must have had great imaginations - or a lot of extra time on their hands. With only a few exceptions, modern people cannot make out the figures they are supposed to represent. The most easily recognizable are Orion (the might hunter), Taurus (the bull), and Scorpio (the scorpion). The first two are currently present in our night sky. But even those are vague. One can easily make out the belt and sword of Orion, but not the rest of it; likewise, for the triangular shape of Taurus' head, with the red giant Aldebaran as the "eye of the bull." More recognizable is the scorpion, a summer constellation, and one of the largest and longest in the sky. The Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown), a summer constellation, is a bunch of stars in the shape of a bowl.

And then there are the "asterisms." The Big Dipper and (Little Dipper), actually part of Ursa Major (the big bear), the Northern Cross, part of Cygus (the swan), are among the most recognizable. And even the Northern Cross is a rather lopsided figure. But where we see a dipper, other countries view it differently. Some countries call it "The Plow" or "The Sickle."

Twelve constellations along the ecliptic (the imaginary line that the Sun, Moon, and planets follow across the sky) have been named for signs of the zodiac. Taurus and Scorpio are among those. A lot of people believe in the zodiac and horoscopes (which also depend on the placement of the Sun and Moon). They claim people born under a particular birth sign have special attributes. There's no scientific evidence to support it, and yet it does occur. I, for instance, am a Taurus, and one attribute is creativity.

We have millions of stars visible to the naked eye. The brightest, of course, is our own Sun. But that's just from our unique perspective. The Sun is really only a slightly yellowish "main sequence" star, similar to thousands of others in the sky. As a main sequence star, it's fortunately very stable and may last a billion Earth years yet. Other stars visible to us are not so lucky. There are red and blue and white "super giants," whose size is larger than our entire solar system. One such is Sirius, sometimes called the "Dog Star," for it's in Canis Major (the big dog). Another is Procyon, in Canis Minor (the little dog) and Antares, the reddish star in Scorpio.

Astronomers are always observing stars explode. Such a star is called a "nova," which means "new," and called that by civilizations long gone, for the star was too faint to be seen until it exploded. And then we have "nebulosities," or gaseous clouds of stars forming. Orin is studded with nebulosities, as is the Pleiades (the seven sisters - although there are more than seven of them). Both of these are currently visible in the early winter sky. So haul out the binoculars or telescopes and have a look. There's a lot to be seen in the stars and a lot of wonders to behold.

Next month (March), I'll resume the usual "Desert Evenings" past of my column.