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The Night Sky

Published: 08/15/2009 by Anita Yasuda

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»»» Cosmology & Astronomy

There is a wonderful classroom right above our heads-the heavens. The stars and the patterns they form called constellations, present the opportunity to teach your child about science, world cultures, mythology, and more.

The United Nations has designated 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy. Another reason to turn your eyes towards the night sky. This year isn’t just for professional astronomers, it’s for you and me!

The stars have inspired scientists, scholars, story tellers, and artists throughout history. See your child’s curiosity grow as you explore the night sky together. Here are ten ways to make the International Year of Astronomy fun for your family:

Explaining “What is a constellation?”.  A constellation is a group of stars. Officially there are 88 constellations. For more information, check out The Constellation Web Page by Richard Dibbon-Smith.

Show what has been achieved. Look for the International Space Station (ISS), the largest man-made object in space. It’s a staggering 131 feet high, 290 feet wide and 356 feet long. The ISS is visible from most places on Earth! Visit the NASA website to find the best viewing time.

Read aloud a constellation myth. Your local library should be a good source of stories. You can also have students make up their own story. Choose a constellation with which students are familiar and begin. You can add drama to this activity by having a bag of props. Choose a prop from the bag and continue the story incorporating the prop.

Expand to music and history. Check out the American folksong Follow the Drinking Gourd.  The Drinking Gourd song was supposedly used by an Underground Railroad operative to encode escape instructions and a map. These directions then enabled fleeing slaves to make their way to freedom.  Discuss how slaves used the stars to find their way and the importance and history of the song.

Astronomy as part of world cultures.  Astronomy is central to many cultures such as Chinese New Year, the Japanese Tanabata Festival, and First Nations solstice festivals.

Introduce astronomers and participate in the community. Galileo was the first person to use the telescope to study the heavens and is credited for many astronomical discoveries. Local astronomical societies often sponsor community events. Visit the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to find a club near you.

Observe the moon. Galileo made careful observations of the moon. Explain how our ocean tides are affected by the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon.

Astonomy and the concept of time. When you look at the stars you are actually looking back in time. If a star is ten light years away this means that it took ten years for the light to reach us. PBS has a brilliant site where your child can find a star that is their same age. Click on Explore the Sky.

Using astronomy to navigate. Early navigators used the stars to find their way.  They used star charts. For a video on how to use a star chart, visit Astronomy Magazine®.

Recreate the solar system.  Give space meaning! You will need garden stakes, paper, markers, and tape. First write the names of the planets on the paper and tape them to the garden stakes. In order to calculate the distances between the planets visit Build a Solar System on the Exploratorium website.  Using your scale as a guide transform your yard into the solar system.

I hope you will enjoy exploring the night sky as much as my family does. Your child may not become an astronomer but their study of the stars may inspire a lifelong hobby.  <>


Canada’s National Museum of Science & Technology
There are many virtual exhibits and activities for families. 

Kids Astronomy
You will find songs about the planets, interactive games
such as puzzles, crosswords, movies, postcards, games,
and online classes.

NASA for Students
This site, designed for children in grades K to 12, offers, up to date information, interactive games, research tools, podcasts, video clips etc. Check out the new Space Your Face activity to be a part of moon exploration.