Archive | Astronomy

International Observe the Moon Night 2012 – The Wired Homeschool

Saguaro Moon

Saguaro Moon
Credit & Copyright: Stefan Seip (Astro Meeting)


We’ve all seen it floating over the horizon glowing orange, lighting the night sky, or high in the blue sky early in the morning. Our closest celestial neighbor, the moon, can be seen just about every day of the year (unless you live in upstate New York where clouds come out of nowhere). It is our constant companion and contributes to the tidal forces here on earth. 43 years ago images of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon inspired a generation of astronomers, scientists, and astronauts to explore the vast reaches of our universe.

Although many people see the moon every week they don’t take the time to really observe it. Some have never looked at it up close and gazed upon it’s barren beauty. This Saturday, September 22, 2012, you should take a closer look at our constant companion. There’s plenty to see with the unaided eye but a pair of binoculars will bring out features that you’ve never seen before. If you’ve never looked at the moon through a telescope, now is your chance. Find an event near you and have a look. Some astronomers have filters that can bring out certain features on the moon. You won’t be able to see the Eagle at Tranquility Base but you will have a new appreciation for our ever-present neighbor.

As homeschoolers, this is a great educational opportunity. Amateur astronomers are always eager to share their knowledge and you’ll get their full attention if you start asking questions. Have your kids bring along a sketch book and draw what they saw. Ask them if they can see the sun rising on the moon. Even if it’s cloudy this is still an opportunity to talk about the moon.

For more information about International Observe the Moon Night visit http://observethemoonnight.org/. There are materials for hosting your own event as well as other information about how you can participate in or host an event. There are also some free PowerPoint and PDF presentations you can use to talk about the moon. Also, listen to a podcast about this event at 365 Days of Astronomy podcast. Don’t miss this great educational opportunity!

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7 Minutes of Terror [Video] – The Wired Homeschool

On August 5, 2012 the Curiosity rover will attempt to land on Mars. The efforts that went into landing its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity were amazing. Curiosity is much larger and heavier that those two rovers so bouncing across the surface of Mars inside airbags isn’t an option. What NASA, and JPL plan to do is insane! Watch how they plan to tackle the gargantuan task of landing on Mars.

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Tips for Buying a Telescope for Your Homeschool Astronomer – The Wired Homeschool

Having spoken at least briefly to about 3,000 homeschool families who have a telescope or want a telescope, the big problem does not seem to be affording one, but making it work right and finding the motivation to use it.

If you have a telescope and are not using it, put it fully ready to use in a convenient place like the porch. I am much more likely to move the scope out front for a quick look at something if it is right there and ready to go than I am if it’s in the basement or attic.

If you have a telescope and can’t get it to work right Google “Star Party” and your city name and take the scope to the gathering. You will be deluged with a 100 geeks like me who can’t wait to fix the issue and be your hero.

Actually finding objects in the sky is another challenge. The easiest way is to download a program like Stellarium for your computer. It could not be easier to use and find what is available in the sky that night. Couple that with an App like Google Sky on your smart phone which will tell you what you are looking at in the sky when you hold your phone up to an object, and you can’t go wrong. Continue Reading →

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Venus Transit Amazes Many

Wow!  What a day yesterday!  As the weather forecast cleared up for the evening I was excited to catch a glimpse of the transit of Venus.  I left work a half hour early so that I could setup my telescope and get everything in order.

I’d decided to project an image from my telescope on to a whiteboard.  This would allow my kids to see the transit easily and also allow me to point out what was happening.

As the time of transit approached, clouds started to roll in and obscure my view of the sun.  I thought for sure I’d be clouded out.  I was losing hope.  Then the clouds cleared and at 6:05 pm EST I could see the beginning of the transit!

Projecting the sun

As the event progressed I called my 6 kids over and each of them looked through the #14 welder’s glass I had from the 2004 transit.  They were mostly excited that they could see the sun but the older ones were really excited to see Venus passing in from of the sun.  As Venus proceeded past ingress I pointed it out to them on the projected image.

After about 40 minutes the skies darkened again and the sun was setting below the tree line.  Earlier, I’d though to go to a local park but had nixed the idea because of the cloud cover.  I didn’t want to drag out the telescope and whiteboard only to stand around for 2 hours and see nothing.

As I was putting away my telescope I looked North and noticed the skies were clearing.  Decision time: do I take the telescope to the park?  I decided head to the park.  I grabbed some snacks for 3 of my kids and we were off.

When we got there the skies were mostly clear!  I was kicking myself for not bringing the telescope.  We did have the welder’s glass, however, and proceeded to watch the transit.

Venus transits the sun

Since we were near a parking lot and there was a much lower tree line here than at my house we got a full hour of additional observing.

In addition to sharing this with my 12, 10, & 9 year-old kids, we shared it with many people in the park as their baseball and soccer games were ending.  We grabbed everyone within reach and asked them if the want to see Venus.

Some were skeptical at first (one guy thought I was trying to sell him something) but once they looked at it themselves the wonder and amazement on their faces was very rewarding.

Young children, parents, and grandparents all were amazed by the tiny black spot in front of the sun.  Many had heard that this even was occurring but didn’t think it could be see without any special equipment (besides solar shades or welder’s glass).

What a great experience!  I was able to do some homeschooling in action with my kids and share this marvelous event with approximately 50 other people.  The only regret I have is not bringing my telescope and whiteboard to the park.  I’ll be sure to remember it in 2117.

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