If you want to give your spirit a lift this winter, step out on a dark night in December and look at the stars.

Darkness is important. For the best viewing, pick a time when the moon is not out and a place far from the glare of city lights.

Wait a few minutes until your eyes get dark-adapted, and you will find the sky spangled with stars. On a good night, you will be able to see about two thousand stars.

The stars are ranked on a scale of brightness, or magnitude. The first-magnitude stars are the brightest, the second magnitude stars are fainter, and so on. The naked eye can normally see down to the fifth- or sixth-magnitude. Beyond that, you need a telescope to see farther.

But you don’t need a telescope to enjoy star-gazing. All you need is your eyes and a sky full of stars.

The winter sky has an abundance of bright stars. In our latitude there are 15 stars of first-magnitude, and all 15 make their appearance sometime during the night in December. Ten of these stars can be seen in the evening sky after sunset.

Keep in mind that the stars are “fixed” only in relation to each other. Because of the rotation of the earth, the stars appear to move from east to west across the sky every night, just as the sun does during the day. Unless you spend a long time outside, or come back to view the sky later in the night, you will not notice this movement.

In addition to this daily motion, there is a slow westward drift caused by the revolution of the earth around the sun. This annual drift brings a new group of stars into view from one season to the next.

Looking east on a December evening, you will find a unique congregation of first-magnitude stars known as the Winter Pentagon. The figure takes up a large chunk of the sky, and the six stars in it have a variety of colors.

Sirius is the brightest star in the sky and the last of the group to appear. It rises around 10 p.m. early in the month and 8 p.m. on Dec. 31. You will find it close to the horizon, scintillating like a diamond.

Going left and clockwise around the pentagon, you come to yellow-white Procyon. Farther up is Pollux, an orange star, and approaching the zenith is Capella, shining yellow like the sun. Completing the right side of the figure are two stars of contrasting colors, the fiery red Aldebaran and blue-white Rigel.

Orion is the only constellation in our sky with two first-magnitude stars, Betelgeuse on his right shoulder and Rigel by his left knee. Betelgeuse is a red giant, big enough to engulf the orbit of Mars, and Rigel shines with the light of 60,000 suns.

The Summer Triangle sinks toward the west, pointing south like an arrow. Altair forms the tip of the arrow, and Vega and Deneb make up the trailing end. All three are white or blue-white stars.

While you are looking at the stars, be sure to check out the Milky Way, glowing faintly like a band of celestial foxfire. The glow is caused by billions of stars thousands of light-years away. Enjoy the view, for you are looking at something that people in the cities never see.

Darkness is vanishing, and so too is our connection with the night sky. Because of poor design by electric utilities, light pollution is wiping out starlight in cities around the world. The problem is correctable, but less correctable is the feeling that the stars are no longer relevant to life in today’s world.

The stars were once as familiar to our ancestors as computers are to us. Ancient people used them to navigate, to make calendars, to determine the right time for planting crops. They celebrated and memorialized the stars. They peopled the sky with gods and they wrote themselves into the heavens.

The night sky is an archive of human culture. All the bright stars in the sky, from Betelgeuse to Rigel and Aldebaran, were named thousands of years ago. Most of the names are Arabic, and some are older than the Pyramids.

People all over the world have added their stories to the archive. What began as mythology evolved into science. The universe grew immensely bigger and more fascinating than ever, though that fascination is being hijacked by technology.

There is enchantment in starlight. You know you have fallen under the spell when it draws you out on a cold night in December. You look up and see stars shining through the trees. They seem closer to the earth now, and you feel closer to the stars.

Star-gazing restores the lost feeling of intimacy with the night. When you become familiar with the stars you begin to greet them like old friends. And when that happens, when you feel the enchantment, you, too, have written yourself into the story.

Richard Weber is a nature

enthusiast living in Ellis County.