Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Fast and the Norovirus

Hello folks.  Sorry to be so late in posting, but last Tuesday night, my daughter came down with the stomach flu.  So I've been a very good mommy for the last couple days, but a very bad blogger.  It's amazing how much stuff you have to catch up on when this kind of thing happens!  But I'm back, and since I've just spent a couple days with my kiddo, let's talk a little about astronomy with kids.

Some kids are totally into astronomy, and are willing to stand around in the cold waiting for that perfect view of Jupiter.  They'll watch with amazement as you realign the telescope four or five times in a night.  They'll ask you great questions about the Moon, black holes, galaxies, and half a dozen other astronomy topics.

And then there's my daughter.

Don't get me wrong - she loves to look at the sky!  She loves that her mom is an astronomer, and knows lots of things about objects in space.  But being outside in the cold is not her idea of fun.  And standing and waiting while I get everything set up is REALLY not her idea of fun.  She's a typical (gorgeous, brilliant, fun-loving...sorry, that's the mom in me again!) seven-year-old girl.  Space is cool...but not if you have to stand around waiting for it.

So how do you share astronomy with a kiddo who may not want to sit still for it?  Simple!  Try a little "drive-by astronomy."  Headed to the car to go out for dinner?  Challenge your child to identify a bright celestial object (Margaret now knows the Moon, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn by sight.  This spring we'll work on Mars!).  Walking back to the car after grocery shopping?  See if your little one can identify a bright constellation (Margaret knows Orion and Leo...and almost Taurus).  It's a really easy way to get a kid interested in looking up, and it's kind of a fun game to play too!  Try to identify the bright objects in the photo below...and click here for the solution.

The sky of January 9, 2009 by Tamas Ladanyi.  Courtesy Astronomy Picture of the Day.

If the "drive-by" sparks a question or two...or maybe if the little one seems willing to stand and look up for a couple moments - expand on the idea.  Did you just show your tyke how to spot Taurus?  Show them the Pleiades - the little open cluster of stars on Taurus' back.  How many tiny stars can they see there (you'll be amazed how much better their eyesight is!)?  The Pleiades is the tiny bright blue cluster in this image:

 The Pleaides above Morby Castle by P-M Heden.  Courtesy Astronomy Picture of the Day.

We call those stars the Seven why can't we see 7 of them anymore?  And now you can talk about outdoor lights, light pollution, and how much more we used to be able to see in the night sky.

Not sure you know enough yourself to teach your kiddo?  Come on out to our monthly star parties.  We've got astronomers on site who will be happy to spend time with you and your kids.  Telescopes will be set up and ready to go (minimal waiting!), and everyone always has a great time, no matter what their age.  Our next star party will be on February 11th, and on the second Saturday of every month thereafter.  Mark it on your calendar and plan to join us!  Got a telescope that you and your little one need help figuring out how to use? - bring it along!  We'll be glad to give you a primer on your new equipment.

Until then - how about a question or two from you?  Please leave me a comment and ask anything you like.  I love taking questions from people - and it lets me speak to things that you're really interested in.

Carpe noctem!

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