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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