Take advantage of the clear Summer Skies! There are many opportunities to have fun this Summer, and one of them require only your backyard, some family and friends, and a clear night. The answer? Stargazing! It’s not only a fun, bonding experience but you and your little ones can learn something new!
Our galaxy is filled with planets, comets, asteroids, nebulas, black holes, and stars! Everyone should take advantage of the beautiful view available anywhere on a clear night. Not only is it fun and inspiring to look at the amazing night sky, there are also many chances to learning something new about our Universe. Below are some facts and information to answer any questions your little ones might have!
What are stars?
Remember the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?” It perfectly describes our fascination with those twinkly dots of light! They are bright, but some are brighter than others. They are also extremely distant from us. The closest stars to Earth after the Sun (yes, the Sun is a star!) are Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, which form a binary pair (two stars that orbit each other). The third star, which may or may not be part of our solar system, is Proxima Centauri and is about 4.22 light-years from Earth.
Stars are made out of very hot gases and produce their own energy. There are many types of stars and when a star gets old (think several billion years!), it starts to die and all of its gases are pushed into space. New stars are soon made out of those gases. Yes, even stars recycle! Some of the heavy metals found in human chemistry and other life on our planet were created from dying stars. You can scientifically say we all have a little star dust in us!
What about those shapes and patterns?
The patterns seen up in the sky are called constellations. They are patterns made out of stars, each different than the other, varying from animals to mythological creatures. But you can’t see all of the 88 modern constellations in one night. While some are visible right from your backyard, there are even more on the other side of the world.
Some cool constellations you must see:
• Orion – Named after a hunter from Greek mythology, you can see it from all over the world! Just look for the distinctive 3 star belt.
• Ursa Major & Ursa Minor a.k.a Big Dipper & Little Dipper – They can be found right near each other and look like large, square spoons.
• Hercules – Dedicated to the strong and immortal son of Zeus, the king of the mythological Greek gods, it is the fifth largest of the modern constellations.
• Draco – Latin for “Dragon” and shaped like the fantastical mythological creature, this constellation can be seen all year.
How to Stargaze:
Everyone will enjoy this wonderful night activity on a warm summer night or anytime of the year. Here are some directions to get started:
1. Check your local weather reports for the best clear night to stargaze. Here’s a great website to check besides your local weather report: http://www.noaa.gov
Tip: The best night to stargaze is one before a rest day or the weekend as you will be pretty tired after a long night of stargazing!
2. Have supplies ready before the night of the event:
• Clothes and blankets, bundle up in layers, the temperature could suddenly drop at night even though it summer
• Pillows, rug, blanket or anything comfortable to lay down on and keep you dry and clean
• Snacks and drinks to nibble on while watching
• Binoculars and/or telescopes – if you don’t have any binoculars or telescopes available, try these FREE Stargazing Apps:
– NASA App
– Sky Map
3. Chose a location. It could vary from your backyard to your nearest park. Keep in mind to choose a location with the fewest lights to have a better view of the starlight!
4. Decide on when to go, gather all your supplies, and have fun! Consider waiting for one of the several meteor showers throughout the year. Count how many shooting stars you see and don’t forget to make a wish! See a list of meteor showers below and click here for Tips and Info on Watching the Perseid Meteor Shower!
|Name||Date of Peak||Moon|
|Quadrantids||Night of January 2||Just past new|
|Lyrids||Night of April 21||Rises around 3 a.m.|
|Eta Aquarids||Night of May 5||Sets after midnight|
|Comet 209P/LINEAR||Night of May 23||Early morning crescent|
|Perseids||Night of August 12||In view most of the night|
|Orionids||Night of October 21||Dawn crescent|
|Leonids||Nights of November 16/17||Early morning crescent|
|Geminids||Night of December 13||In view after midnigh|
Obsessed with stargazing or don’t have the time to do it during the week?
• An old jar with its lid
• Blue or black construction paper or use markers/crayons/colored pencils to color recycled paper
• A hole puncher
• A glow stick or electric tea light
1. Roll up the construction paper inside your jar and cut out any excess that overlaps so it fits exactly inside the jar.
2. Hole punch “stars” anywhere on the construction. Tip: Want authentic star patterns? Use this Constellations guide to help you draw constellations.
3. Roll the construction paper inside the jar and place 2-3 glowsticks or battery operated lights inside.
4. Twist on lid to jar to close tightly.
5. Turn off all the lights and enjoy your new stargazing jar!
Stargaze this weekend or even tonight to see the Perseids Meteor Shower! Share your star gazing tips with Chipper below.