It’s Time to Introduce Your Kids to Astronomy

Where are you guys going now? Anywhere? Nowhere? Maybe to the grocery store every 10-14 days, like mine? I’m in the fifth week of social distancing and while on another walk today, I said my 9-year-old son, that perhaps we should pack up the dog in the car for the weekend and go round. “But where would we go ? “he asked.” Don’t do it, “I replied.” Just around. “

I feel crazy, so when I came across this guide from the Giant Magellanic Telescope (GMTO) on how to enjoy astronomy at home, it reached out to me. I can’t go to dinner at my husband’s relatives’ house, but I can go into space! Great, not really, but given how small our world seems now, extending only to the boundaries of our own property, it would be nice to stop and appreciate the vastness that still exists.

The GMTO Guide puts you in touch with NASA ‘s stargazing tips , as well as suggestions for podcasts on astronomy and the Smithsonian Learning Lab’s collection of astronomical resources . But if you are really a beginner, is another good place to start – EarthSky , which can help you get started with a rather qualitative observation of the stars with just a pair of binoculars:

The point is, most people who think they want to buy a telescope would be better off using binoculars for a year or so. This is because novice telescope users often find themselves completely bewildered – and ultimately delayed – by the dual challenge of learning how to use sophisticated equipment (sight) and at the same time learning to navigate an unknown realm (night sky).

EarthSky especially recommends starting with your binoculars from the moon – especially at dusk, when the brightness decreases and you can see more detail – and pay close attention to the phases of the moon. From there, you will move on to contemplating the planets, then star clusters within the Milky Way, and finally to places outside the Milky Way.

If you’re really interested, you can buy a planisphere , which is a star map that shows you which stars are visible in the night sky at any given time. To make this easier and cheaper, you can download Sky & Telescope’s free Astronomy Getting Started brochure, which includes star charts, or choose from many stargazing apps to help you.

Or you can be very non-technical about everything and just take the blanket out to the backyard on a clear night, lie down and enjoy the peaceful view.

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