Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Autumn's long nights a great time for lessons on night sky

At 2 a.m. this Sunday, the first Sunday of November, it will be time to “fall back” into Standard Time.

As you set the clock back one hour, sigh sadly, and contemplate the short days and long nights ahead, remember that long nights aren’t just a sun-lover’s curse, they’re a star-gazer’s blessing! An excellent lesson on the Earth’s rotation around the sun and how seasons change is attached below.

Especially here in southeast Louisiana, where the temperatures are still in the 60s and 70s at night, it’s a great time of year to gather the family, spread a blanket in the back yard, and check out the free show in the sky every night.

Saturday, November 6 brings the new moon, which means a dark sky and extra visibility for checking out nearby stars and planets. In fact, the whole weekend will have a relatively dark sky thanks to the late-rising moon, a great opportunity for nights outside.

The moon returns to fullness on November 21. With a clear sky and a full moon, you won’t need a telescope just a pair of binoculars or even the zoom lens on your camera to get a great look at some of the moon’s craters, mountains, and seas.

The moon’s magical waxing and waning in the night sky (plus the calm talking time on that backyard blanket) may even pique the interest of your youthful stargazers, which will give you an opportunity to teach them about the moon’s cycle. An excellent lesson on the moon’s phases is attached below.

If your young astronomers in training are ready to journey past the moon and into the outer reaches of the solar system, it’s time for them to learn that not all “stars” are stars. The planet Jupiter is extra bright this year, brighter than any star in the sky and found in the southeastern sky in the evening. Though a telescope could help you see some of the amazing cloud tops and the Great Red Spot, you can see a few of Jupiter’s moons using only binoculars!

An excellent lesson on the planets of Earth’s solar system is attached below.

So, whether your backyard blanket conversation covers stars and seasons, moons and magic, or planets and philosophy, bundle up and get out there! The celestial show and the learning it inspires are a gift from the universe, literally!

Next up: an awesome meteor shower, the Leonids, is headed our way on November 17. Stay tuned for an article on icy comets, dust on fire, and shooting stars!





The Sky – Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events 2010

Lesson Plans:

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