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Summer is a great time to grab a blanket and head out to a dark spot to watch the stars! And if you’re lucky, you’ve got access to a telescope and can get an up-close view of the moon and many other celestial objects.
While skies are often clearer during the winter because there’s less haze in the atmosphere, summers are definitely more comfortable for kids to be outside late at night. The air is warm, and there’s usually less of an urgency about bedtimes since there isn’t school to get up for in the morning. Pack some snacks and a star guide and you’ve got a terrific outing for families, camps, homeschool groups—anyone!
In this booklet, we’ll take a look at some ways to make your astronomy nights a success. From working on Citizen Science projects to tips on what to bring and where to go for star gazing, you’ll find a wealth of information here.
Look up, and enjoy!
Want to go to space? Only a few people get to travel to the stars, but that doesn’t mean space is completely unreachable! Armed with little more than a computer and our imaginations, there are plenty of ways we can travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Read on for some cool space websites for kids (and adults!) who like a little bit of space mixed in with their days on Earth.
Does your kid love to stargaze? It’s a great moment when kids look up and around and discover that the universe is a really huge place. It’s such a huge place that it can be intimidating. Luckily, there’s an app for that.
Most of us are fascinated by the skies, especially when we’re younger. A little help in navigation can go a long way toward sustaining kids’ interest and really learning about the objects that make up our solar system. A trip to the planetarium can be a lot of fun and books, of course, are great learning tools, but the next best thing is the planetarium on your phone or tablet.
Where better to learn astronomy than the premier astronomy institution of the United States—NASA!
Eyes on the Earth
An interactive experience that lets viewers measure global temperatures, precipitation, and other elements, including gravity fluctuations. Requires a one-time download and it’s worth it.
NASA Space Place
A slew of projects and activities wait at this site, including instructions for making a pinhole camera and examining the differences between how humans think and how robots “think.”
We may not have colonies on Mars yet, but humans have long satisfied their thirst for new land by heading out into the far reaches of the solar system! Tune in to see where we’ve been and where we’re heading next, and find out why space travel is so hard and so rewarding.
Are you ready for the Perseid meteor shower? Many people look forward to this yearly exhibit of meteors, scheduled to peak around August 12 and 13 this year. Unfortunately, there’s going to be a bright moon during that time, which will wash out some of the brilliance of these meteors. But they will still be worth watching!
The Perseids are named for the constellation in which they seem to originate—the Perseus. The meteors accompany a comet called Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862 by two astronomers named Lewis Swift and Horace P. Tuttle. The comet is in the midst of a long 133-year orbit around the sun, and every time it gets near the sun, the comet spews a bunch of dust particles into space. As our planet passes through this dust cloud, this dust falls through Earth’s atmosphere and burns up in little fireworks of light that we can see from our own backyards. A terrific show for Earthlings!
And it’s completely safe. These meteors are burning about 50 miles above the surface of the Earth—there’s no chance you’ll be hit in the head.
Usually, sky watchers can expect to see 60-80 meteors an hour during the Perseids, but this year, that number may be less. Still, head out around 10 p.m. your local time to start scanning the skies.
You don’t need any fancy equipment to watch the meteor shower. The meteors will be appearing all over the sky, so you don’t even need to look in any particular direction. To enjoy the show, try to get away from a light source. If you live in the city, take a trip beyond city limits where there is less light pollution. And don’t forget a blanket!
One way to get kids interested in science is by letting them do science. Discoveries made are discoveries remembered! This might seem hard—after all, how can fifth graders contribute to actual scientific fields of knowledge? With citizen science!
Citizen science programs are opportunities for kids (and adults) to engage in actual scientific exploration. Scientists spend many hours observing, entering data, and making connections—they could use some help. And anyone can do it. Thanks to the Internet, you don’t need to be in a lab to contribute to scientific study in valuable ways.
Kids are natural citizen scientists. They’re curious about the world around them and they tend to ask “why?” far more than other age groups. They also love when the projects they do are part of something real. There’s far more motivation to strive for STEM success when you know that your observations and recordings are making a difference.
Try these sites for great project ideas for citizen science in the classroom!