Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Exploring The Winter Night Sky

Last year around this time, I posted about going outside to embrace winter. I live in New England and we experienced one of the most harshest winters on record. This year, a whole different story. Many days have been mild, reaching mid 50's! There is no snow, no ice and it seems like spring instead of winter.

Confused about having no snow and no opportunities to enjoy snow activities, I had to think of something to engage my eager children. We decided to look to the sky and we got to see first hand how beautiful a starry winter night can be!

We began our journey by taking a class called "Moon Magic." It was offered through our local Audubon Society. Each family received a moon journal and we learned a bit about Astronomy.

Check your local Audubon Society for a class or your local science museum, they offer great programs and opportunities to learn more about astronomy.

Finding the right App:
Considering there are 88 official constellations, identification can be a challenge. I downloaded and tested a few different App's. I recommend one of the following:

Star Walk for iPad (Vito Technology Inc.,):
For just under five dollars, Star Walk is one of the easiest astronomy Apps available. I love how it functions as a personal planetarium! The digital compass allows you to recreate the sky on your iPad and you can even view how the sky will look in the future!

Moon Atlas (Horsham Online Limited):
If you are interested on focusing on just the moon, Moon Atlas another App for under five dollars does the trick. It has the ability to provide details in a very interactive way. It gives information on the moons phase and angular sizes and craters.

If you are looking for a free App, there are two that I found worth the download.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (Concentric Sky):
With decades of photos taken from Hubble and crystal clear images, Astronomy Picture of the Day showcases daily images and information.

Planets (Dana Peters):
I love its simplicity. Being able to view planets from both a 2D and 3D perspective. Perfect for young kids!

Once you have taken a class, visited a planetarium, downloaded an App, bought a telescope, you are ready to explore.

Tips for Exploring:

Find the darkest place:
Go to a place with the least light during a night that is free of clouds or fog. Spend some time letting your eyes get used to the dark. Look for the first star you see, a familiar constellation.

Bring your App or a star map:
If you do not have access to an App. You can google your local star map and print it out. If you are in the Boston area. The Museum of Science has a great map that they update regularly.
Keep your eyes adjusted to the night light:
Bring along a dim flashlight.

If you are interested in using a telescope, I purchased and can recommend the Zhumell Zenith 60x600 . Great for beginners and for children.


For children:
The Stars a New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey
Written by the author of Curious George, this book is just perfect for little ones and newbies alike!

For Adults:
The National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky
I love any reference book by the National Audubon Society and this guide lives up to the Society's reputation of producing excellent easy to use guides.

Happy exploring!

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