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Astronomical Adventures: Exploring the Skies with Your Child
By Jacqueline Rupp

Hey Diddle, Diddle
The cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon…

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
How I wonder what you are…

Mr. Moon, Moon, bright and shiny moon…

Children have always been fascinated at the world above their heads, as these classic children's verses demonstrate. The magic of space plays to childhood imagination with unexplainable mysteries and worlds waiting to be discovered. And what better time to introduce kids to astronomy? With the recent success of the Mars Rovers, images of a distant landscape are as close as your computer screen.

April 19 marks the beginning of Astronomy Week, an annual event begun by The Astronomical League, the world's largest amateur astronomer's group. Culminating with Astronomy Day on April 24, planetariums and astronomy groups worldwide will hold regional events to introduce the public to local resources and astronomy information. Richard Tomlinson, member of The Astronomical League and spokesman for Astronomy Day explains, "I think children (and adults, too!) already have an interest in astronomy. It seems natural, so we don't really need to encourage it. We just have to satisfy that interest. That can start by taking children to local Astronomy Day events."

During the event, local astronomy leagues will be hosting sky-gazing festivals. For instance, in New York at the Hudson River Museum, the Chromatics, a group of singing rocket scientists, will perform their" scientific" songs, along with activities like "cooking comets" and" postcards from stars." To find events in your area, go to

So when should you begin to teach your kids about astronomy? "When they start looking and asking about the stars, moon, or sun in the sky, or sooner if there is a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event occurring. Even if they are too young to remember it, parents can remind children over the course of their childhood that they saw that particular event. That type of observation can be very important to them (even if they don't remember much about it as adults)," Tomlinson suggests.

And this June, one such once-in-a-lifetime event will occur. Read on for more info on this event. Tomlinson says some good places to start are at local planetariums, museums, and regional astronomy clubs (which can be found at Click on "Our Member Societies"). Even some nature centers offer nighttime star-gazing events.

One of the beautiful qualities about astronomy is that it is a free and convenient activity, and is constantly offering new things to see. All you have to do is step outside on a clear night. Binoculars help and basic telescopes can be purchased for under $50. A Sky Calendar is helpful, especially if you are in an urban area with lots of light, since it shows stars that can be seen easily without a telescope. You can download a copy at "Observing the sun (safely), the moon, planets, and bright stars are a wonderful way to start in astronomy," adds Tomlinson. For more information on how to safely observe the sun, go to: and click on "Activities." You'll find info on observing the sun as well as instructions for building your own spectroscope and sundial.

Constellations are legends of the stars, steeped in mythology; many have fascinating stories behind them. They can add another layer of interest to astronomy. Good books on this topic include:

The Constellations: Stars & Stories by Chris Sasaki, Sterling Publishing
Glow-in-the-Dark Constellations: A Field Guide for Young Stargazers by C.E. E. Thompson, Grosset and Dunlap
A Walk through the Heavens: A Guide to Stars & Constellations & Their Legends by Milton D. Heifetz and Wil Tirion, Cambridge Univ. Press

Kids can also make their own constellations by connecting stars, a stellar dot-to-dot game if you will. Or make a constellation mobile, using heavy stock paper for stars, taped with thin gauge wire. Using a picture of a constellation for reference, make sure you have the correct number of stars and curve the wire to form the right shape.

A backyard astronomy campout can be a fun family activity or sleepover party. Set everyone up with a Sky Calendar and compass and compete in a star scavenger hunt to see who can find the most stars the quickest. Serve Southern "Moon Pies" (for a recipe, go to and type "Moon Pie" in the search space) and star fruit slices (often called star anise, this yellow fruit can be found in the produce department of most supermarkets). A cheese ball (like the moon was said to be made of) and even "sun" flower seeds. On cooler nights, add some chicken soup with star- shaped pasta (called pastina).

And finally, saving the best for last, the once-in-a-lifetime event, which will occur on June 8, is the Transit of Venus. This event will mark the first time in 121 years that Venus, the second planet from the sun, will be observed moving over the disk of the sun. Usually while orbiting, Venus is a little bit high or low in relation to the sun and goes undetected as it moves by the sun. On the East Coast of the US, this will occur a little before 7:30 a.m. It is very important not to view this event directly. In other words, don't stare directly at the sun! Use solar filters on telescopes or indirect viewing techniques. Unfortunately, the West Coast of the US will miss out on the sight. However, on the night of June 7, you can watch webcasts of the event while it is happening in the Eastern Hemisphere. Go to for more info. And, if you miss it this year, just wait until 2012, since this transit follows a pattern of coming in pairs eight years apart.

Further reading:
There's No Place like Space!: All about Our Solar System by Tish Rabe and Dr. Seuss, Random House
I Wonder Why Stars Twinkle and Other Questions about Space by Carole Stott, Houghton Mifflin
Get A Grip on Astronomy by Robin Kerrod, Barnes and Noble

Astronomy on the Web:
NASA Kids -- -- The Official NASA site for kids.
At Home Astronomy -- -- Full of hands-on experiments for kids, such as building a lunar settlement or making an astrolabe.
Life Beyond Earth -- -- Look at unidentified flying objects and search for clues of life on other planets.
Your Age On Other Worlds --
Your Weight on Other Worlds --
Why is the Sky Blue -- -- Find out the answer to this question and why other astronomical colors are the color they are.
Native American Star Knowledge --

Jacqueline Rupp is a freelance writer from Philadelphia, PA, who specializes in parenting, crafts, and regional topics.


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