Archive | Astronomy

Transit of Venus Will Be A Sight to Behold

The past two months I’ve done a monthly blog post about astronomy and the things you can observe from your own backyard that people have observed for thousands of years. This month, rather than talk about multiple events, I want to focus on one major event: the transit of Venus across the disc of the sun.

This rare astronomical event will not happen again for another 105 years!  Arguably, nobody alive today will see it again (unless you’re frozen and then thawed out when it happens again).  The previous transit occurred in 2004 and it was a sight to behold!  You won’t want to miss this year’s transit.

I was able to observe this marvelous event in 2004 when it last occurred.  The photo at the beginning of this post is one of the images I captured during the event.  You can view others in a photo gallery.  I can tell you that it is a sight to behold! Seeing another planet pass between the earth and the sun really helps you realize the special place we have in our solar system.

I’ve compiled a number of resources that you can use to find out more about this event. Don’t forget your eye protection when you look up!

As I find more resources that I think will be beneficial, I’ll continue to add them to this post.

Continue Reading →


Look Up for May 2012 – The Wired Homeschool

2011 Annular solar eclipse. Image courtesy of NASA

After a busy month in April, backyard astronomers have a number of great things to see in this month’s night sky and during the day.

The first few nights of the month look for Mars near a waxing gibbous moon. Mars is currently visible in the sky towards the south about 1 hour after sunset in the constellation Leo near the star Regulus. Mars is a blazing red object so it’s very easy to differentiate from Regulus.

On the 4th and 5th you’ll see Saturn near the moon as well in the constellation Virgo. Saturn which looks yellow will also be near the star Spica which has a bluish appearance and twinkles. Remember: stars twinkle, aircraft blink, and satellites move quickly across the sky. Planets do not exhibit any of this behavior.

The full moon on May 5th is going to be spectacular. Dominating the eastern sky at sunset, it is the closest full moon to earth in 2012 and will appear 14% wider than the full moon in November. It will also setup some great waves for all the surfers out there.

On Sunday, May 20th, if you’re in a narrow viewing path in the western United States and Asia you will be able to see an annular eclipse. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun but doesn’t completely block it. A ring appears around the moon during the eclipse and it will be a sight to behold. For times and viewing locations checkout the article 2012 annular eclipse of the sun over at Remember: you must use appropriate eye protection when viewing an eclipse! So get yourself some eclipse glasses if you want to view this phenomenon.

On the 28th look for Mars near a waxing gibbous moon and then look for Saturn on the 31st near an even larger moon. Note how much the size of the moon has changed in just 3 days.

Venus is still blazing brightly low in the western sky. It’s currently in a crescent phase and is gradually enlarging as it approaches Earth and will soon transit the sun (more on that next month).

Jupiter is slowly riding off into the sunset after putting on a great show for us last month.

Wow! What a great month for astronomy! I hope you get an opportunity to view some of these spectacular events. You don’t need any special equipment, just your eyes (except if you’re viewing the eclipse), to enjoy the marvelous heavens above us all!

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.


App Review – Planets for iOS – The Wired Homeschool

To go with this month’s “Look Up” article, I thought I’d review an astronomy app for iOS related to backyard astronomy.

With Planets beginning astronomers can have a handy reference for finding planets in the night sky. It features 2D and 3D views to help orient the user and pinpoint celestial bodies through the night. Since it uses GPS Planets can accurately render a representation of your night sky.

The 2D view is very useful if you want to get a simple view of the sky and you don’t want to know what else is around the planet (like stars or constellations). The 3D view gives you a more accurate representation of the night sky and shows you the constellations and stars that each planet is near. You can also zoom in on a planet in the 3D view.

In addition to the 2D and 3D maps there is also a visibility graph that shows you how long each planet is visible. Tap on each planet and get information about it like it’s size, rotational speed, and number of moons. Want to know more about the planet? There’s a link to it’s Wikipedia article too. 3D globes of each planet are available too. You can explore each planet by rotating and zooming in on it, even change your point of view.

Planets is a handy tool for astronomers of any level but is especially useful for beginners who are learning to find their way around the night sky and best of all, it’s free!

Planets - Q Continuum

Cost: Free
Category: Utilities
Languages: English, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish
Rated 4+
Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later


Look Up for April 2012 – The Wired Homeschool

April is a really exciting month for backyard astronomy. Many planets will be near the moon in the night sky which helps those unfamiliar with the “dance of the planets” find planets and know for sure that they’re looking at planet and not a star. The great thing about what I’ll be sharing with you is that you do not need a telescope to observe any of they phenomena.

On April 3rd and 4th Mars will be near a waxing, gibbous moon in the South during the pre-dawn hours. Go outside before sunrise and check it out. Then, April 6th and 7th Saturn will be near the full moon.

On April 15th, Saturn will be at opposition which means that it is opposite the Sun so that the Earth is between them. This means that Saturn will rise in the East at sundown and set in the West at sunrise. It’s a great month to view Saturn and Mars so get out there and take a look.

Venus and the moon will be near each other on April 24th. Venus is super-bright right now and it looks like an airplane except you won’t see any blinking lights.

Finally, we go back to Mars which will be near the waxing, moon on April 30th.

Note: all this information is for people living in the Northern Hemisphere.

Looking for information about the night sky? Why not try reading Jay Ryan’s Celestial Almanack. Jay shares lots of great information about astronomy every month that you can use in your homeschool curriculum.


Disclaimer: This blog article contains affiliate links.


How to Hack a Webcam for Telescopes and Microscopes – The Wired Homeschool

I posted this video to YouTube in 2006. It’s the most “viral” video I’ve ever produced—receiving over 300,000 views.

It’s a simple instructional video showing you how to modify an old webcam to use with a telescope. You could even adapt this for use with a microscope if it has interchangeable eyepieces. Simple hacks like this are a fun way to introduce your kids to scientific topics.

Grab that telescope that’s been collecting dust in your basement or closet and go out at night a make some moon videos! Post them on YouTube or send them to me and I’ll be happy to include them here. If you post your video on YouTube, put a link to it in the comments below.

Once you’ve hacked your webcam, check out this article on capturing images and how to use your new toy.


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