April 15th: Stargazing with Kids

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365DaysDate: April 15, 2009

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Title: Stargazing with Kids

Podcaster: Ed Sunder

Organization: Flintstone Stargazing http://flintstonestargazing.com

Description: One of the most fun and rewarding parts of astronomy is sharing it with others. In particular, sharing the night sky with kids is particularly fun because in many cases, you can be the first person to share the surface of the Moon or Saturn or nebulas and galaxies with them.

Bio: Ed has been observing since he first looked through his telescope and saw Jupiter and her moons in June, 2007. Since then he’s observed and imaged the entire Messier catalog and is outside looking at the stars from his driveway pretty much every clear night.

Today’s Sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by AAVSO.

Transcript:

Hi, I’m Ed Sunder and I’m an amateur astronomer in Flintstone, Georgia. I’ve been doing astronomy for the past year and a half and recording my journey at my blog, flinstonestargazing.com.

I’d like to welcome you to the April 15th edition of the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Today’s post is titled, “Stargazing with Kids”.

In addition to being an amateur astronomer, more importantly, I’m the father of 6 sons ranging in age from 2 to 12 years, so I have a lot of experience dealing with kids, as you can imagine. I also was a space camp counselor while in college and so have spend quite a lot of time teaching kids about space and technology. I love teaching and while I enjoy teaching in general, it’s even more fun to share something that I’m as passionate about as astronomy. As I mentioned in my first podcast, I was hooked the first time I looked through my scope and saw the moons of Jupiter through the eyepiece. I want to help children have that same excitement and sense of wonder. In this podcast, I want to give some suggestions for how to observe with kids and have them get the most out of the experience.

I’m out with my telescope nearly any clear night observing and imaging. Since I image from my driveway, it’s pretty easy for me to have the kids come out and take a look at things through my scope and they are generally eager to do so. One of the drawbacks though, is that by the time the sky is really dark, the kids are generally in bed. Of course, since I’m observing from my driveway and the kids’ room is above the garage, I can hear them and know they aren’t often asleep until well after the light is out. If they get too loud, I’ll shine my green laser pointer through their window and tell them to get to sleep. Anyway, when they do come out, they normally take a look, say “neat” or “cool” and then go back inside. These quick looks are good to help them see highlights of the night sky, but in order to get them more interested, I have to spend a bit more time planning. The activities that have really been enjoyed by my kids have been ones that go beyond, “hey look at this!” as much fun as that can be. Instead, the most successful outings have been where I’ve been able to do a bit of work ahead of time and tied it to some sort of event or activity.

One of the things that we do periodically is try to see the International Space Station soar overhead. With sites like heavens-above.com, it’s easy to figure out when the station will be visible and I generally have the kids come out and we watch it glide across the sky. Watching the space station and knowing that there are astronauts and cosmonauts up there in that thing up in the sky is cool for both kids and adults. The other nice thing about this is that you can predict when the station will be visible and it only takes 5 minutes or so. It doesn’t take a long attention span. Another thing we do is take part in the great worldwide star count. This is an effort each fall to help map light pollution around the world that anyone can participate in. The kids and I have participated for the past few years and intend to continue to do so. You go out side, lie down in the grass, let your eyes adjust and then follow the simple instructions for figuring out how many stars you can see in the constellation Cygnus. It’s easy and fun and while lying on the grass with the kids, sometimes we’ll even see a meteor. And it just takes 20-30 minutes and helps science. The next thing I’ll do sometimes is to pick a planet or two and the Moon, since these are easy to find, and I’ll show them some craters or the rings of Saturn or the clouds of Jupiter.

These are bright targets that are easy to see, easy to find and easy for kids to recognize. Finally, last year in February, I had a lunar eclipse party. We invited a bunch of folks over, had hot chocolate and some treats and watched the shadow of the Earth envelop the Moon. Even though it’s kind of slow motion, the kids still enjoyed seeing the whole thing happen. Eclipses are nice because everyone can see it happen even without a telescope, but of course, it’s that much more interesting through the eyepiece.

By tying what we’re viewing into some sort of event and spending a bit of time planning, I can keep it interesting for the kids. These same ideas work well for star parties where there will be kids, but also work well with anyone. One of the things I’m always surprised by is how interested parents are when the Barnard Astronomical Society, my local astronomy club, hosts a star party for school kids and their parents. In some ways, when looking through a telescope, we all become kids for a while.

This has been Ed Sunder wishing you clear skies and encouraging you to share the sky with kids.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. Until tomorrow…goodbye.

About Ed Sunder

Ed has been observing since he first looked through his telescope and saw Jupiter and her moons in June, 2007. Since then he’s observed and imaged the entire Messier catalog and is outside looking at the stars from his driveway pretty much every clear night.

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