Lie Back, Look Up

Family adventures with the night sky

Lie Back, Look Up - Family adventures with the night sky

Transit of Venus 2012

Did you see it?!  The transit of Venus happened on June 5th, 2012 and was observable here in the United States.  We watched it here in Michigan from around 4:30pm until sunset.  This important astronomical event won’t occur again for over 100 years.

The transit of Venus that occurred in 1882 was of extreme importance in the astronomical community.  The data that was collected during this transit was used to calculate the Earth-Sun distance accurately for the first time.  Today, these types of astronomical events can be used to help excite your family  about astronomy.  I really feel that this was an important event for my family to see– it definitely gave us a sense of perspective.  Seeing the small dot of Venus against the sun, you really got an idea of how small the Earth is in our solar system.  Also, knowing that this event will not happen again in our lifetime, we had a great discussion about what life will be like in 2117 when the next transit of Venus happens.

You can often join your local astronomy club at gatherings for events such as this (like we did!).  These events are wonderful, because there are often quite a few expensive telescopes around, and their owners are usually more than happy to let you look through them.

It’s too late to view the transit of Venus, but there is still plenty of time to plan for some of the important astronomical and sky events upcoming in 2012.  Check back for more information later this year on the following events….

  • August:  the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars & the Perseids meteor shower
  • September: the Autumnal Equinox
  • October: the Orionids meteor shower
  • November: a penumbral lunar eclipse
  • December: the Geminids meteor shower and the Winter Solstice

 

Lie Back, Look Up: Why it’s important

Stargazing is a great way to “get outside” as a family.

 A back-to-nature movement to reconnect children with the outdoors is burgeoning nationwide.

—USA Today, November 2006

Many would agree that families are spending less and less time outside together.  Stargazing is a great way to get out and just enjoy the outdoors together– be part of this movement to reconnect children with nature.  Too many children don’t have enough experience outside at night, and stargazing can can help to conquer many of the fears that children have of the dark.

Gazing beyond the earth gives you perspective.

Part of the process of adolescence is for kids to begin to look beyond themselves.  We live in a world where children can explore their universe with a few clicks of a mouse, but the best way to gain perspective on their place in the universe is with their own eyes.  There is no substitute to gazing at the highlands and lowlands of the moon through a telescope, or looking at the Andromeda galaxy (2.5 million light-years away!) with the unaided eye.

Studying the sky is a great way to learn about other the history of other cultures.

From Galileo’s observations of the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter, to ancient farmers using the constellations to guide their crop planting, stargazing has had an important role for humankind throughout history. Learning about the mythology of the stars can be a great window into other cultures.  There are many books available on constellation mythology and endless websites dedicated to the topic. You can buy essays on the website any time.