Stargazing: Family Explorations

“Stars make me dizzy…The sky is so big and deep,” said Poppleton.  “I get seasick.”

The line between inspiration and feeling overwhelmed and swallowed whole by the sky is fine.  But if you, unlike Poppleton, fall on the side of inspiration, you might be interested in a few resources that can extend your  stargazing explorations with your family.

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Enjoy the wonder of the night sky:

The Stars:  A New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey

Ruth remembers: Many years ago, as a young mother, I saw The Stars at the library in rural New Hampshire when I checked out some other books by H.A. Rey (remember Curious George????)   It was my first inkling that Rey was a scientist, and I thumbed through the book and after checking it out several times, I was captivated enough to buy a copy.  It sat on our coffee table (well, the big slab of apple tree that served as one) so it would be in easy reach for inspiration and stargazing fun at night.  So many vivid mental images of finding Orion’s Belt in the winter sky, or looking through the book to find who a  constellation was named for.  I can’t wait to start having stargazing adventures with Molly and Jacob and creating new memories of the wonder of the night sky.

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Stargazing Journal, Potter Stile

More than just a place to record your night-time viewing, this journal is a great logbook with lots of handy supply checklists, and information as well as space to sketch and write what you observe.  The layout is terrific for recording those observations, with a place for the date and time as well as a small circle to indicate the moon phase.   Check out the “wishlist” page at the back to record objects that you are “on the lookout for or hope to someday observe.”

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Nightwatch:  A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terrence Dickinson ( author and photographer), illustrated by Adolph Schaller, Victor Constanzo, and Roberta Cooke

For beginning astronomers from early adolescence on, you can’t go wrong with this classic handbook now in its fourth edition.  It’s a very practical and user friendly book.  Accessible and helpful charts and tables–and gorgeous photographs. As a photographer himself, Dickinson has lots of practical suggestion for night photography as well as what to look for in a telescope,  good software and a slew of website resources.   Rich source of information to help families who want to be “backyard astronomers.”

Create your own night sky:

Jar of Glow in the Dark Stars

There are lots of brands of glow-in-the dark stars you can get relatively inexpensively to create your own constellations inside.  Let us know if you have a favorite!  The best thing about this brand is the bright glow and the large size of the stars.  The glue leaves something to be desired–we recommend getting some extra sticky tack.   You can create a sky of realistic constellations by gluing the stars right to the ceiling.  But if that feels a bit too permanent to you, we recommend either poster board or sheets of butcher paper for creating your star patterns.  You can tape them to the walls, and replace them as you investigate new constellations.

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Constellation in a Canister Easy instructions for creating miniature “constellations” on the lids of old 35 mm film canisters. It’s hard to round up these containers now that most of us have digital cameras, but you can use the general directions and the star patterns using different materials.  We found that tin cans work great:  you can either cover the can with aluminum foil and punch out the pattern in the foil; or turn the can upside down and an adult can use a nail to hammer in the pattern. You can use candles or flashlight as lighting sources if you want to go an extra step.  Use your imagination!  We are on the lookout for an old umbrella that we might create constellation patterns in as well.

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Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.  It is being used in planetarium projectors.  You can download it for your computer format.  (For the more sophisticated user.)

Explore the current night sky online:

For gorgeous images of the solar system, you won’t want to miss The Hubble Heritage Project

Each image, like the picture of the star-forming region here, have clear and interesting captions, such as this one:

“Like a July 4 fireworks display, a young, glittering collection of stars looks like an aerial burst. The cluster is surrounded by clouds of interstellar gas and dust — the raw material for new star formation. The nebula, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina, contains a central cluster of huge, hot stars, called NGC 3603.”  But even without the captions, kids love the striking images of the night sky, constellations, and deep space.

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And for for weekly stargazing tips, check out Stardate Online

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