Thursday, January 26, 2006

Starry, starry nights

On Tuesday morning I hosted a Starry Nights activities get-together for my MOMS Club chapter. I did a bit of online research and looked through my own books. Ultimately I figured that besides the fun of simply looking at stars and the moon on winter evenings, any child who can recognize a few letters or numbers can learn two simple constellations or parts of constellations in our winter sky. AND if we moms learn them too, it will help us at the MC star party evening in February!

I think the best starter constellations for all ages are the lazy W of the constellation Cassiopeia (it's her throne, cast into the night sky for spite by a Greek/Roman god) and, in winter and spring, the row of three stars that marks Orion's belt.

Then you can pick out the stars that mark Orion's two shoulders and two knees, and also the row of stars-and-fuzzy-nebula that make Orion the Hunter's sword, hanging from his belt. A starry connect-the-dots or shape-finding game, that's what this is!

::: Online Resources :::

= What Orion and Cassiopeia Look Like =

Orion chart and's Orion page
Cassiopeia chart and Cassiopeia among the circumpolar (northern) stars

= Constellations Game =

Pictures in the Night Sky -- constellation games for kids! The COOLEST, simplest online night sky game! Thank you, Australia.

= Just Starting Out =

Earth & Sky's Getting Started info is excellent
Stardate, from the University of Texas McDonald Observatory

= What to See Right Now =

Sky and Telescope has a free downloadable PDF, "Getting Started in Astronomy," with two-month star charts and a map of the moon for binoculars fun (if I remember).
Tonight's sky from Earth & Sky
This week's sky almanac from Earth & Sky
Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar
This week's sky at a glance from Sky & Telescope includes this:
Saturday, January 28
This week, make it a point to teach someone the brightest constellation in the sky: Orion, shining high in the southeast these evenings. In its middle is the easy-to-recognize three-star row of Orion's Belt. The Belt points down lower left to brilliant Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star of Canis Major.
Also, do a Google on "stargazing" or "night sky" or "star charts" to get lots of good info!

::: Books :::

  • Audubon First Field Guide: Night Sky (2005) -- excellent! I borrowed this kids' books from the library and thought it was so good I'd love to have it for our home library.

  • I highly recommend the following three books I have had for a long time, and there are lots more to be found.

  • 365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year, by Chet Raymo (Fireside, 1990), would be the first one for anyone to get, in my opinion. On any day of the year, turn to that date's page and there's something great to learn about the night sky. Or browse through the current week and month, too. Great format, nice writing style, perfect for beginners and yet lots of info for everyone.

  • Stars and Planets: The Sierra Club Guide to Sky Watching and Direction Finding, by W.S. Kals (Sierra Club Books, 1990). Great orientation to the night sky and how to find what where.

  • North Star to Southern Cross, by Will Kyselka (University of Hawaii Press, 1976). I bought this many years ago and really like it.

  • Finally, I gave this away as a gift once and really wish I still had a copy.

  • The Stars: A New Way to See Them, by H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin, 1976). It's by the author of the Curious George books! His book Find the Constellations (Houghton Mifflin, 1976) is geared more for beginners and is also great.

  • On our next clear evening I'm going to show my sons Orion and Cassiopeia, and look for the fuzzy spot in Orion's sword (that's the Orion Nebula, where stars are being born and lighting the nebula from within!). Go forth and do likewise, y'all.

    Starry blessings!
    ...once upon a time I ran an environmental education center's bookstore...

    1 comment:

    Barbara_W said...

    How very strange! I have two kittens from the Royal Sacred Siamese "Star Litter" named Orion and Cassiopeia and I take them to watch the stars over Sydney Harbour! My name is Barbara. I've enjoyed visiting your site. I have been to Oklahoma - Choktaw and of course, Oklahoma City. Wonderfully smart woman that you are. Good luck with everything.