Viewing the Geminids Meteor Shower

Get ready for a wonderful sky event this week! While the Geminid Meteor Showers will be active between the 4th and the 17th, they will peak on Thursday night (the 13th).  Look towards the Gemini constellation in the southeastern sky for a wonderful show. The Geminids are considered to be the most reliable showers of the year, and this year we are in for a treat since there won’t be any moonlight to distract from the shower. The Geminids are one of the only meteor showers not caused by comet debris. The beautiful showers are caused by an asteroid with a comet-like orbit around the Sun.

To make this a family stargazing event, don’t forget to prepare ahead of time! Set up a cozy spot in the yard, have their stargazing diaries ready, and prepare a few snacks as a surprise. Let your kids stay up a few extra hours, or sneak in to wake them up in the early hours before sunrise, and tell them to grab their jackets and hats.  Be sure to have your stargazing playlist ready to go!

Holiday Gift Guide for Stargazers

As the holiday season descends upon us, it’s time to start thinking about gift giving. And if you are like me, I get tired of buying the same old socks and scented candles for friends and family members. This holiday shopping season, consider these affordable, unconventional gifts– appropriate for seasoned astronomy enthusiasts and young stargazers alike!

Gifts for her

(These are taken right from my own wishlist!)

Zodiac Constellation Necklace makes for a great gift for mothers! You can show that special someone in your life that you are thinking about them by buying them this beautiful necklace with their zodiac constellation stamped into it. Mothers love to have a little memento reminding them of their children– consider buying a charm with each child’s zodiac constellation and put the charms together onto one chain.

This stylish hoodie with Ursa Major embroidery is the perfect way for her to show off her love of the constellations. This shop has several other types of clothing with constellation embroidery– all stylish and comfortable looking.

  This 2013 Desk Calendar would look great on a bulletin board or posted on the fridge. Each calendar has a beautiful sketch of a zodiac constellation. Don’t forget to circle the important dates in astronomy for the upcoming year before you wrap it!

A custom hand-stamped constellation ring is an elegant choice for the astronomy-loving woman in your life. You can choose any constellation, and this gorgeous ring won’t tarnish!

Gifts for him

The Ursa Minor Constellation Decal is a great gift for men and women alike– and you don’t even need to put it on a computer! It also works on car windows or any other smooth surface that might need some livening up!

A Vintage Constellation Chart  is the perfect gift for the guy who loves all things astronomy and all things vintage. The 8×10 size is perfect to hang in a den or office. It’s a beautiful reproduction, so you don’t have to worry about it falling apart. The constellation chart shows both the northern and southern hemispheres, so it’s a great gift for anyone in the world!

A Stars and Moons Fire Pit looks great to cozy up to on a chilly night. It would add a celestial touch to every backyard campfire, and set the stage for stargazing! What better way to tell the guy in your life that you’d love to spend some cozy nights stargazing around this beautiful fire pit.

This custom leather luggage tag is absolutely beautiful. You can have the artist custom stamp his initials, and even customize the constellation! There isn’t a more thoughtful gift for the astronomy-loving guy in your life.

Gifts for the kids

Here is THE BEST constellation book for kids and adults alike. By the famous creator of Curious George, this book does an amazing job of pointing out the constellations with very easy-to-understand drawings. Every child should have a copy of this book!

This is a great low-cost telescope kit for beginners. The Galileoscope allows kids of all ages to build and observe with a telescope similar to (but much better than) Galileo’s. Thirteen year-olds can assemble this with supervision, and younger children with adult help. The process of building the scope is beneficial in itself, and then at the end you have a great beginning telescope to use! It helps to have a tripod to attach the scope to, and then you can enjoy gazing at the moon or Jupiter!

Tickets to your local planetarium make a great gift for all ages. Take the time this winter break to visit a planetarium near you! Planetarium trips are especially fun for those of us in the Midwest during the winter season– the cold weather can make stargazing sessions a little tricky. You will usually find that tickets to a one-hour show are very reasonably priced.

There are many books out there with astronomy themes– fiction and nonfiction alike, for two year-old and twelve year-olds. You can foster your child’s love of reading and of astronomy with one gift!

Viewing the Orionids Meteor Shower as a Family

The Orionids meteor shower will peak on the nights of October 20th and 21st this month, as the Earth passes through the debris from Halley’s Comet. With this shower occurring on the weekend, it is a great opportunity to stargaze as a family.

This meteor shower will originate from the Orion constellation, which you can find in the southeastern sky late into the night. The best time to view the meteors will be between midnight and dawn, with peak viewing in the hours just before dawn on the 21st. While this early morning viewing time isn’t for everyone, it is a great chance to make stargazing a  very special time for your family.

Be sure to get your children to bed early on Saturday night, and then wake them in the pre-dawn hours for this special chance to  see some “shooting stars“. Set up a cozy spot in the yard, have their stargazing diaries ready, and prepare a few snacks as a surprise. Sneak in to wake up your children in the early hours, while it is still dark, and tell them to grab their jackets and hats.  Be sure to have your stargazing playlist ready to go!

The myth of Cassiopeia and Andromeda

The sky is full of constellations based on myths and legends from ancient cultures throughout the world. This is one reason that stargazing is important for children, and also something that makes it fun for them. The fall sky is full of a cast of characters from one of these ancient Greek myths.

Queen Cassiopeia and her daughter, Andromeda

Cepheus and Cassiopeia, king and queen of Ethiopia, had a beautiful daughter named Andromeda. While she was one of the most beautiful young women in all the land, Cassiopeia was sure that she was the most beautiful of all. Queen Cassiopeia, being a proud mother and boastful queen, declared Andromeda to be more beautiful than the nymphs of the sea. This greatly angered Neptune, the god of the sea. In his anger, Neptune sent a horrible sea monster to ravage the coasts of Cepheus’ kingdom. The only way that Neptune could be satisfied was for Cepheus to sacrifice his daughter to the horrible sea monster. Andromeda was thus chained to a rock in the sea, to be sacrificed to the monster.

At this time, Perseus was passing by after having killed the horrible Medusa. This great hero saw the beautiful princess chained to the rock. Perseus agreed to kill the monster in exchange for Andromeda’s hand in marriage. Cepheus and Cassiopeia agreed to this, and the great hero swiftly killed the monster and freed the princess. Perseus and Andromeda lived happily ever after, and all four characters (Perseus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia and Cepheus) are immortalized in the fall night sky.

Harvest Moon

harvestmoon The closest full moon to the autumnal equinox is called the harvest moon. The harvest moon is not necessarily bigger or brighter than a regular full moon. However, the moon’s orbital path is unique at this time of the year, and so it rises earlier than usual. Because of this, there is a shorter than usual time between sunset and the rise of the full moon, which means a nice, bright late evening sky.

Why does it look so big?

This is due to an optical illusion, the reason for which is still debated. Whenever the full moon is closer to the horizon, it appears to be much larger than when it is not. However, you can de-bunk this illusion very easily. Hold up a dime toward the full moon when it is near the horizon, and then a few hours later when it is farther up in the sky. You will notice that even though the moon appears larger when it is near the horizon, the dime will cover up the same amount of the moon in both positions. Another fun thing to try is to bend over and look at the full moon from between your legs. When you look at it from this position, it looks much smaller than when you look at it right side up!

Why is it called the “Harvest” moon?

Historically, the early brightness of this full moon helped farmers to gather their crops, despite the days getting shorter and shorter at this time of year. As the sun begins to set, the full moon rises, illuminating their fields. Save time on academic papers with research papers writer service. Today farmers rely on artificial lights to guide their tractors, but in the times before electricity, the harvest moon was a huge help.

Fall Equinox Activity

Here at Lie Back, Look Up, you will find plenty of stargazing and astronomy activities to do with your family. Many of these activities include free printables, as well as some tutorials and videos. Please let me know in the comments how your family has enjoyed these activities!

The autumnal equinox, occurring this year on September 22nd, is a great opportunity to help your kids explore why we experience seasons. The explanation behind the occurrence of seasons is one of the biggest misconceptions in astronomy. Many children believe that the Earth is closer to the sun in the summer and farther in the winter, thus the seasons. And while some children understand that seasons have to do with the tilt of the Earth, many still have trouble explaining how this results in seasons.

One of the greatest activities that I’ve done with my middle school students to help them understand this concept (as well as seasonal constellations) is “kinesthetic astronomy”. This involves using your bodies to model the objects and movements in the solar system. The original idea and complete lesson plan for this activity can be found here. You can modify this activity to focus only on the “reason for the seasons”, as explained below.

Reason for the Seasons

Begin by explaining that you will be using your bodies to model the Earth. The North Pole is at the top of your head, the South Pole at your tailbone, and the equator would be your waist. Use a basketball or other round object to model the Sun. Position yourselves so that you are facing the sun. Point out where your home would be on your body–  North America would be on your chest, so when you are facing the sun, North America is experiencing daytime. Explain that the Earth rotates on its axis, which would be an imaginary line, going straight up out of your head and straight down out of your tailbone. Model the Earth’s rotation on its axis by spinning counterclockwise. Model the Earth’s orbit (revolution) around the sun by traveling around the sun. Kids can have quite a bit of fun by rotating and orbiting at the same time!

Once your child understands those two basic motions, rotation and revolution, you can begin talking about the tilt of the Earth’s axis. The North Pole of the Earth’s axis is tilted toward the star Polaris, which is 500 light years away. Have your child tilt from their waist approximately 23.5 degrees from vertical. Now you can again practice rotating and revolving, but this time incorporating the tilt of the axis. This can be very tricky but a lot of fun! Remind your child that they must keep their bodies tilted toward Polaris the whole time. The direction of the tilt should not change as you rotate and revolve.

Have your child move through the Earth’s orbit around the sun slowly. Point out that at one point his or her chest is pointed toward the sun and at one point it is tilted away from the sun. Also, there are two in-between points in the orbit. You can also mention that the tilt of the Earth’s axis has not changed (it is always towards Polaris), but their orientation to the sun has changed because of the Earth’s tilt and revolution. When the Earth is tilted toward the sun we experience summer and when we are tilted away from the sun we experience winter. The two in-between points are fall and spring.

To explain why the tilt towards or away from the sun causes seasons, you can remove your object representing the sun and instead use a flashlight to represent the sun. Stand in the middle while your child orbits around you (with the tilt), and shine a flashlight at his chest. Have him stop when he is tilted toward the sun and look at the flashlight beam on his chest. It should be concentrated in a small circle. This shows that in the summer, the sun’s rays are very direct on the Earth. Next have him stop when he is tilted away from the sun and look at the flashlight on his chest. It should be spread out, which shows that in the winter, the sun’s rays aren’t as direct on the Earth. In the fall and spring positions, the Earth is in-between the positions of direct and indirect rays.

Here is a great interactive to test their understanding after the activity!