6 Dec 2011

Observing the Night Sky- For All Ages

Looking up at the night sky is a pastime that can provide unlimited entertainment for all ages. Consider making the experience even richer by working storytelling into your night sky plans. Ancient Greeks, Romans, and people from other cultures around the world made up tales to explain many night sky phenomena. You can discover their mythology and lore in the Dot to Dot in the Sky series published by Whitecap Books. A blend of sky science and stories, these books introduce the characters associated with the constellations, planets, and Moon.
Stories in the Stars and Stories of the Zodiac show how to find constellations by leading readers dot-to-dot in the sky from one constellation to another. Begin with Orion, the Hunter. Note that he stays on the opposite side of the sky from Scorpius, the Scorpion, to protect himself from being stung. Look for the giant “W” in the sky and describe how beautiful Cassiopeia, the Queen, is falling off her throne as punishment for a foolish mistake. Maybe you will see Ophiuchus. He sings so endearingly, animals follow him, plants grow in his direction, and rocks roll his way.
Many of the stories explain how ancient characters—gods, goddesses, monsters, and heroes came to be placed in the sky as stars or represented by planets. (Note: these are not “connect-the-dots” drawing/coloring books.)
Young children can look for different colors of stars, make up their own constellations, or look for pictures on the surface of the Moon. Try to find a princess, two frogs sitting on rocks, or a turtle. In Canada, we talk about seeing the face of the man on the Moon or a rabbit (try tilting your head to the right). Dot to Dot in the Sky, Stories of the Moon explores the stories people from around the world have told when gazing up at the Moon.
Older children and adults will enjoy using binoculars to observe Moon craters. The details you can see are quite incredible and may just spark an interest in all things celestial. Remember to pick a night when the Moon is not full so the light  through the lens is not too bright.
You can identify constellations with the naked eye or use binoculars to view star clusters, galaxies, nebulas, the Moons of Jupiter, and the phases of Venus. It’s important to note that because the planets are so bright, you can see them almost as easily from cities as you can from rural areas. Dot to Dot in the Sky, Stories of the Planets reveals the Greek myths associated with each planet. When you look at Mars, remember the red planet is represented by Ares, the god of war. He loved a good argument but had few friends because of his violent nature.
You can also watch the night sky for movement. Look for satellites and meteors—commonly called shooting stars. These bright streaks of light are caused by bits or rock and dust in space, often as small as a grain of rice. A meteor the size of a pebble can make a streak of light brighter than the Full Moon. Light from a large meteor is called a fireball, while a rock from space that actually strikes the Earth is a meteorite.
Meteors are best spotted after midnight, facing east. Showers occur at the same time every year. From about December 4-16 and especially from December 13-14, watch for meteors originating from Gemini. Keep in mind that dates will vary slightly each year. There are many fascinating things to see when you look up. Have fun exploring the night sky!

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