Sunday, August 30, 2009

Let the Exploring Begin!!!

Almost all children have an unquenchable thirst for information. Kids have a natural curiosity about the world we live in. See picture!!! When they get a chance to look into the eyepiece of a telescope or put a set of binoculars up to their eyes and behold the beauty of the night sky, that’s when the questions really start to fly. It is a real joy to be able to share what I know about those splendors set in the rich tapestries that is our night sky. 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. This presents a perfect opportunity to let your children experience what Galileo saw 400 years ago. For most of you out there, this quite possibly will be a moment for you to be amazed as well. I have been doing this Astronomy thing for 42 years now and I still get blown away every time I take a look. But Steve Ole buddy, I have no idea where to start. To that I say right here my friend. Let’s start out by getting ready for the event because that is what it is when you and your kids or Cub Scout den or group start to really look at the night sky.

There are several avenues to take here and we shall touch on them all. The first solution is to go to your local planetarium. This will prepare you and your children for the wonders ahead. The presenter will talk about constellations and all manner of things to look for in the night sky. This is a great base from which to start. Now if you do not happen to have a planetarium in your area then no worries. You can do the same thing under dark skies. Preparing for this night is not a huge deal. You need an atlas of the night sky (Library) and some gems of information to peak your audience. Some gems can be as simple as how big the moon is or how far away it is Those dark spots on the moon were thought to be seas or oceans but we now know it is where the moon was struck by a huge asteroid and cracked the crust of the moon sending magma from the Moon’s inside to the surface to fill in the cracks and crater. Compare it to a volcano here. Simple stuff like that… When you have stuff crashing into one another then you have their attention. Now I realize that you may not be able to get all the “stuff” you want to share with the kids into that noggin of yours. That’s what delegation is all about. In scouts, or most every group you will have another leader or parent there to ride herd on the group. Perfect time here to let that person relay a few bits to the group. What does this do? Number one, everyone is engaged in the process. Number two; you split up the teaching or presenting to make it less boring. This is always a win–win situation.

Your local Astronomical club will have a program for groups. It can be done at the headquarters of the club or taken to your site. Just have a chat with the outreach director there he will be able (in most cases) to fill your needs. Some clubs charge a fee for this while some do not. The program can be as simple as drawing the constellations and then go out to look at them and locate them to discussions of the planet Jupiter then go out and see it through the telescope. If the site is dark enough, the club representative can show your group planetary nebulas and Globular clusters through his scope or scopes. These are sure to grab the kid’s attention and then of course there is the moon. This is a whole presentation in its self. The really great thing about using the club’s resources is they have access to many thousands of dollars worth of equipment and a slew of knowledge. The other thing is they have done it many times before and are used to speaking to the public. I know this can be a problem for some people. I highly recommend this solution.

Lastly there is one solution open to you and that is public events put on by the local clubs or the local observatory. These can be public star gazes or even a meteor shower party. They will not be as focused on your group but will provide a very good time to all. To find a public event near you all you have to do is call the local club or look on their website. If you have an observatory close by this will be a grand opportunity for the kids to look through a really big telescope. Observatories like Astronomy clubs have their own programs. Their outreach programs are first rate and can be brought to the school if needed. One last thing, it does not have to be at night. There are solar programs for your group to enjoy. Clubs as well as the observatories have special scopes that have filters that let you see the sun and it’s spots and prominences (big loops of gas and plasma) safely. So take a moment and think about getting your child, children, group or even hoard of kids to the nearest event. Be it at the local astronomy club, observatory or even one you direct. It will be a time of wonder under the stars for them and you as well!

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

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