I haven’t looked, I mean really looked, at the night sky in a long time. Last night my sons and I had the opportunity to do just that when we took a field trip with the cub scouts to Yale University’s Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium. Through Leitner’s eight inch refracting telescope (in use since 1882), we saw Jupiter and three of its moons- Ios, Gannymede and Europa. Although not in color, Jupiter’s distinct lines were clearly visible. One turn at the telescope just wasn’t enough for us- the boys and I went back for second and third looks.
The scouts were then treated to a free planetarium show that thrilled and inspired! “Ooos” and “ahhhs” emanated from excited crowd as the boys marveled at images and stories about constellations, black holes, dwarf stars and supernovas. I’d forgotten how fascinating outer space can be, and it was especially so while experiencing it with a group of young boys who were hearing and seeing some of these things for the first time.
The night ended with a film that took us from our sun, to the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond. Although the most current, up-to-date discoveries and research weren’t included, I can almost guarantee that the film inspired more than one budding astrophysicist or astronaut in the audience that night.
I highly recommend a trip to the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium. They are open to the public every Tuesday night for free planetarium shows and observing through their telescopes when skies are clear. The observatory is located at 335 Prospect Street in New Haven.
I also recommend sharing the newest and latest information about space with your kids (or grandkids) by visiting http://www.nasa.gov/ on the web. Having heard James Garvin, Chief Scientist of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center speak last month, you and your children will be amazed by the information about the missions and discoveries being made by NASA each and every day!
Here is a template to make a homemade star wheel that will help you and your kids identify constellations in the night sky: http://www.lawrencehallofscience.org/starclock/starwheel.pdf (credit: Uncle Al's Star Wheels, the Regents of the University of California). Enjoy, and please feel free to comment below about your own night sky observations and discoveries!