Step out of your doorway and look up.
What can you see?
If you are lucky enough to live in the country you could probably claim to see quite a lot, provided it’s not raining or cloudy. However, if you live near a large town or city, looking up can be quite difficult due to the over abundance of orange light emanating from streetlights – often called ‘Light Pollution.’
I recently took a group of wild runners on a night run through the depths of Hampstead Heath woods in London, UK. We stopped for a short time to overlook London in its glittering glory and I attempted to spot and show off a collection of constellations in the sky above, but due to the light from the city below, very little could be seen clearly. It’s a far cry from the deep clear night skies you get further out in the unlit countryside.
Now I am not saying it’s pointless to star gaze in cities; far from it! I am saying that it is much easier and much more dazzling when you journey a little further out. When I have gone to forests or view points further out, such as the Dunstable Downs or Epping forest there is much more to see. Taking a trip further afield can be time consuming although it may just be that much more dazzling and certainly more memorable for everyone.
Telescopes and view finders can make it more fun, especially with large low moons or when planets and asteroids are closer, but you do not need to go searching for the best deal on telescopes and optics to have a great time star gazing.
You can find easy, printable information about what’s in the sky above from many sources. One great source is from Northern Ireland’s own Armagh Planetarium. They have produced a wonderful downloadable PDF Star map to help you work out which stars are above you at a particular time of year!
However, if you are mad on gadgets then there are plenty of ways to trigger your interest using your phone or tablet.
SkyView Free is a great free app that allows users an augmented reality experiences. You can point the tablet or phone at the sky and correlate what you can see to their correct names and other information about them. It can be a great companion for teaching children about the stars.
Sky Chart is another great AR app that allows you to see the sky real time, even without the darkness. It also shows constellations along side drawings and figures from mythology that contributed to their names. Another great tool for helping you teach your children about ancient history as well as science!
The experience can be so memorable and inspiring for children. It is a great way to bond and to foster a real interest in the Sciences, Mythology and story telling! Your job as a parent is to get them the experiences and create the spark for a desire to know more!