…continuedStargazing, Family Style
Expectations at the Eyepiece
Telescopes can be a great crowd-pleaser, but it’s important to keep everyone’s expectations realistic. This is especially important when young children are present. Apart from the Moon and planets, celestial objects never look like the pictures you see in books and on the Internet. One big reason is that our eyes react instantaneously to light, while photographs represent light accumulated from dim objects over many minutes or even hours. Also our night vision does a poor job of detecting color nebulas that appear gloriously red or green in photographs look dim and gray by eye. Half the excitement of using a telescope is appreciating that you can even see these objects at all!
Observing with a telescope takes practice you need to look at the planets or other celestial objects a lot before your eye becomes accustomed to subtle details and contrasts. Seeing Jupiter’s cloud belts or dark features on the surface of Mars requires both a good-quality telescope and a patient eye. Show your family a few pictures of the objects you plan to look at ahead of time. Then explain that although the fainter objects don’t look like much in the telescope at first, the longer you look at them the more you see.
If you’re just getting your astronomical bearings and uncomfortable serving as a celestial tour guide, there are other ways to have a great night under the stars. Why not plan a visit to the local planetarium? This is a great way especially if you live in a light-polluted city or town to get familiar with all that the night sky has to offer.
As you can see, the night sky is full of ways to draw your family’s gaze collectively upward whether you’re lying on your back in a field teaching the constellations or showing off a galaxy 10 million light-years away in your computerized telescope. Just try to find activities that appeal to your group, and feel free to tinker with these projects to suit your abilities. Then who knows? You may be having company at the eyepiece more often.
More Ideas Online
The Internet is full of astronomical activities for students and classroom settings, yet while many of these can be adapted for use at home, the pickings are slimmer for activities designed with families in mind. You can find some great projects at At Home Astronomy and Family Astronomy Activities from the Canadian Astronomical Society.
One oasis of ideas is a program sponsored by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. “In part we developed Family ASTRO because there was such a dearth of family-oriented material on the Web,” notes project creator Andrew Fraknoi. The ASP offers “Night Sky Adventure,” a set of well-explained activities that can be enjoyed by children of all ages.
When he’s not imaging planets and “faint fuzzies” with his electronic astro-camera, Sean Walker shows his daughter how to find the North Star and lets her take quick peeks at the Moon through his telescope.