Can you locate the north star? What three stars make up the summer triangle? Have you ever seen a meteor shower?
Any active Scout Troop will spend many nights under clear skies away from city lights – ideal conditions for observing the stars. We try to include an observing session on our weekend campouts. With a rudimentary understanding of astronomy and a few good sources of information any Scouter can lead an observing session.
Studying the requirements for Astronomy Merit Badge is a great introduction to the subject. Our observing session begins with a brief overview of the sky- a few stars and major constellations – perhaps half a dozen things total for a maximum of three or four minutes. Then the Scouts are given the opportunity to repeat the the tour themselves. One volunteers to begin and repeats the information until he makes a mistake, the Scout who spots the mistake then gets to take over until he completes the tour or makes a mistake himself.
An invaluable tool is a green laser pointer. As you may imagine once they see this tool Scouts are very interested in trying it out themselves. They can do so (under close supervision) in repeating the tour as outlined above. Using the pointer is a huge incentive for Scouts to pay close attention. Besides all this the pointer is a great aid in assuring that everyone is actually looking at the same stars or constellations.
If you have a smart phone, iPod Touch or iPad you can get some incredible applications for stargazing.
|Google Sky MapsA free Android application – Point your phone at the sky, and Google Sky Map will show the stars, planets, constellations, and more to help you identify the celestial objects in view. Pretty darn miraculous.
Free from Google Mobile
|Star Walk App
An amazing application for iPhones. Hold your phone up to the sky and see a star map for the direction you are pointing. Just amazing.Available on iTunes for iPhone and iPad
The first time you spot the Andromeda galaxy, glimpse the moons of Jupiter, or stare deep into the infinite milky way are profound moments.The next time you are out under the night sky try your binoculars – you’ll be amazed!”Beginning stargazers often overlook binoculars, but experienced observers keep them close at hand. Compared to a telescope, binoculars actually have certain advantages. Granted, they’re smaller and give lower magnification. But they’re lighter, much easier to take outside, use, and put away, and less expensive. They also give a much wider view than a telescope does, making celestial objects easier to find. They let you use both eyes, providing surer, more natural views. Moreover, in binoculars everything is right-side up and presented correctly, not upside down and/or mirror-reversed. “Binoculars For Astronomy – an article at Sky &Telescope
he Night Sky is a rotating star finder (planisphere) that allows the user to recognize the constellations for any time of night, any day of the year. The sky appears to rotate (due to the rotation and orbital motion of the earth), so to be successful recognizing the constellations a beginner needs to know which stars are above the horizon at any time. Here’s one available at Amazon (planispheres are loctaion-specific, check your latitiude to get the proper one for your area.)
|Astronomy Grade Green Laser Pointer
The clearly visible beam of light at night makes this pointer an ideal way to point out stars to a group of Scouts. During the day the green dot is bight even in direct sunlight – handy for pointing out distant locations or features on a nature hike. I suppose that it would make an effective signaling device as well.
Available at Amazon
|Night Sky: A Guide To Field Identification
A thorough, simple and accessible guide to the night sky that won’t bog you down. Find information about the planets, stars, constellations and other sky objects with a minimum of fuss.
Available at Amazon
|Sky and Telescopeis the granddaddy of astronomy websites. I have found the following tools to be very useful in preparing for our weekend observing sessions:Sky Tour Podcasts
A narrated tour of the sky for a given month and year. A wonderful, hands-free way to gain some knowledge – just plug in and look up!Interactive Sky Chart
Create a custom naked-eye map of the whole sky for any place on Earth, at any time of day or night, on any date from 1600 to 2400. Requires free registration.This Week’s Sky at a Glance
A brief rundown of observable objects and events- very useful and interesting.
|Earth & Sky
A two or three minute daily science radio broadcast that includes plenty of observing hints as well as other non-astronomical information. Get their podcast feed and listen to daily installments on the web.The Earth & Sky Skywatch Center features printable charts and information to enhance your observations.
The generous folks at Skymaps create a free down loadable sky map every month – a fantastic resource for setting up your observing sessions. They also offer poster sized maps, books and other observer’s tools.