Sunday, September 28, 2008

Going to the Planets with Your Eyes and Imagination

by Jeff Seward

A good way to teach your kids their first lesson about the eight or nine (depending on how you wish to tell them about Pluto) planets of the solar system is by combining factual lessons with visible sightings of the planets.

How to Teach Your Kids about Planets

START BY DISTINGUISHING PLANETS FROM STARS; this will also help them understand better why planets are easier to identify among the thousands of stars in the sky if they know what they're looking for. This may also be a good time to start explaining to them why Pluto, once known as the 9th planet in the solar system, has been demoted to becoming a dwarf star.

YOU CAN MAKE LESSONS MORE INTERESTING by providing explanations behind the stories of the planets' names. This makes a great segue from astronomy to Greek and Roman mythology.

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to see all eight planets in one night so consider dividing your home astronomy lessons into several sessions.

SHOW YOUR KIDS A PHOTO OF OUR EARTH and explain to them why our planet is livable compared to other planets in the solar system. If possible, enumerate the factors that make Earth inhabitable. This is also a good time to explain why scientists believe there's a chance for Mars to have once been inhabited and the theory of aliens.

VENUS is the closest planet to Earth and is the easiest planet to locate with the naked eye because of its brightness. Although the phases of Venus can only be visible through the use of a telescope, you could show photos that will give your kids a good idea about the dangers of the greenhouse effect and emphasize to them the importance of keeping the environment clean.

JUPITER is the next easiest planet to locate with the naked eye because of its size. Make sure, therefore, that you mention to your kids how Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system. If you have a small telescope with you, you can also point out to them where the Red Spot of the planet is and how it's actually a storm that has been brewing for more than three centuries. This is a good time to explain the differences in Jupiter's and Earth's weather and why we're blessed to have weather like ours.

MARS can be easily located as well because of its distinctive coloring. You can elaborate on what you've discussed earlier on by enumerating the similarities between Mars and Earth.

MERCURY is the closest planet to the Sun, and you can explain why its location or proximity to the center of the solar system makes it difficult to locate at certain times of the day. You can also provide explanations as to why Mercury's weather is extremely hot and cold at day and night respectively before citing the possibility of having the same thing happen to Earth.

ALTHOUGH SATURN IS NOT THE ONLY PLANET IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM WITH RINGS, it is however the most famous. Saturn will appear yellowish to the naked eye but its rings will only be visible with the help of a telescope. If you can show your kids what the rings look like, you can then explain to them what these rings are made of.

URANUS can only be seen by the naked eye if it's shining at its brightest. You will also have to be an optimal place and time. If you're living in a city, you might need the help of a telescope to give your kids a better and clearer view of this planet.

NEPTUNE is the most difficult planet to locate by the naked eye and conditions have to be near perfect first before this can be possible. Together with Uranus, both planets require you to study planetary schedules and locations if you wish to locate them at the shortest amount of time and effort.

And lastly, if you still have time and you do own a telescope, you can also show your kids Pluto. As Pluto is named after the God of the Dead, you might want to cite similarities between the mythical god and its equivalent planet. Explain about the controversy revolving the demotion of Planet.

And there ends your first home astronomy lesson for your kids. Prepare lots of food for the session because this makes a great bonding time for your family as well.

About the Author

Learn about Sun facts and Jupiter facts at the Planet Facts site.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How To Moon Gaze

by Jeff Seward

For many of us, our very first experience of learning about the celestial bodies begins when we saw our first full moon in the sky. It is truly a magnificent view even to the naked eye. If the night is clear, you can see amazing detail of the lunar surface just star gazing on in your back yard.

Naturally, as you grow in your love of astronomy, you will find many celestial bodies fascinating. But the moon may always be our first love because is the one far away space object that has the unique distinction of flying close to the earth and upon which man has walked.

Your study of the moon, like anything else, can go from the simple to the very complex. To gaze at the moon with the naked eye, making yourself familiar with the lunar map will help you pick out the seas, craters and other geographic phenomenon that others have already mapped to make your study more enjoyable. Moon maps can be had from any astronomy shop or online and they are well worth the investment.

The best time to view the moon, obviously, is at night when there are few clouds and the weather is accommodating for a long and lasting study. The first quarter yields the greatest detail of study. And don't be fooled but the blotting out of part of the moon when it is not in full moon stage. The phenomenon known as "earthshine" gives you the ability to see the darkened part of the moon with some detail as well, even if the moon is only at quarter or half display.

To kick it up a notch, a good pair of binoculars can do wonders for the detail you will see on the lunar surface. For best results, get a good wide field in the binocular settings so you can take in the lunar landscape in all its beauty. And because it is almost impossible to hold the binoculars still for the length of time you will want to gaze at this magnificent body in space, you may want to add to your equipment arsenal a good tripod that you can affix the binoculars to so you can study the moon in comfort and with a stable viewing platform.

Of course, to take your moon worship to the ultimate, stepping your equipment up to a good starter telescope will give you the most stunning detail of the lunar surface. With each of these upgrades your knowledge and the depth and scope of what you will be able to see will improve geometrically. For many amateur astronomers, we sometimes cannot get enough of what we can see on this our closest space object.

To take it to a natural next level, you may want to take advantage of partnerships with other astronomers or by visiting one of the truly great telescopes that have been set up by professionals who have invested in better techniques for eliminating atmospheric interference to see the moon even better. The internet can give you access to the Hubble and many of the huge telescopes that are pointed at the moon all the time. Further, many astronomy clubs are working on ways to combine multiple telescopes, carefully synchronized with computers for the best view of the lunar landscape.

Becoming part of the society of devoted amateur astronomers will give you access to these organized efforts to reach new levels in our ability to study the Earth's moon. And it will give you peers and friends who share your passion for astronomy and who can share their experience and areas of expertise as you seek to find where you might look next in the huge night sky, at the moon and beyond it in your quest for knowledge about the seemingly endless universe above us.

About the Author

To learn facts about Earth and facts about Saturn, visit the Planet Facts website.

Step-by-Step Guide to Increase IQ