Do you enjoy star-gazing? Jill, mum of 2, tells us how she introduced her daughters to astronomy for kids.
The Planet Saturn
How I got interested in stars
I have always had a fascination with stars and it was cemented by a visiting student from Germany who stayed with our family a number of years ago. She taught me constellation names and locations in the skies and showed me where to spot the nearest spiral galaxy to ours, the Andromeda Nebula. It literally blew my mind away that I could see another galaxy!
To find the Andromeda Nebula, you locate Cassiopeia which is a W-shaped constellation; go down in a straight line from the bottom star on the right hand of the W, until you see the Andromeda constellation which has 4 stars in a row. Then go up from the 2nd star from the left, up two stars and just to the right you will see a cloud, that is the Andromeda Nebula! There are great constellation maps at astrosurf.com.
Whenever we have a clear sky in the evening, I take my own children outside to try to see some of the stars and even planets visible to the naked eye (usually Venus at twilight time).
A good starting point is the Moon, for example, you could over the period of a month try to observe the different phases (weather permitting) or try taking digital camera pictures of the different phases. For younger children have them point out the different shapes the Moon has and of course, you can always discuss whether or not the Moon really is made of cheese.
Next, you can learn about the Solar System, you will find a good introduction at nineplanets.org (of course poor Pluto is no longer classed as an official planet).
Some constellations to look out for
Try taking out a star map and seeing if you can spot some of these constellations, my personal favourites are:
- Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) – the North Star lies above the Little Dipper
- Orion, with his three star belt
- Gemini, which we always called the “Scotty Dog” as it looked vaguely dog shaped
- Plaeides also known as The Seven Sisters – cluster of seven stars. It is impossible to see all seven with naked eye but it’s fun to see if you can count them.
- The above mentioned Andromeda and Cassiopia
Some good astronomy websites:
Some space-themed movies for kids:
- Star Wars
- Apollo 13
- Space Chimps
- Muppets from Space
- Treasure Planet
Space-age music to listen to:
- John Williams’ theme tune to Star Wars
- Holst “The Planets”
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Lots of interesting clips on www.musicfromspace.com
Have you tried star-gazing with your kids? Let us know in comments below.