Astronomy And The Night Sky

No matter how experienced you are as an amateur astronomer, there is always one importent moment that we all go back to. That is that very first moment that we went out where you could really see the cosmos well and you took in the night sky. For city dwellers, this is a revelation as profound as if we discovered aliens living among us. Most of us have no idea the vast panorama of lights that dot a clear night sky when there are no city lights to interfere with the view.

Sure we all love the enhanced experience of studying the sky using binoculars and various sizes and powers of telescopes. But I bet you can remember as a child that very first time you saw the fully displayed clear night sky with all the amazing constellations, meters and comets moving about and an exposure of dots of light far to numerous to ever count.

The ideal way to recapture the wonder of that moment is to visit the country with a child of your own or one who has never had this experience and be there at that moment when they gaze up and say that very powerful word that is the only one that can express the feelings they are having viewing that magnificent sky. The word is – “Wow”.

Probably the most amazing fact about what that child is gazing at that is also the thing that is most difficult for them to grasp is the sheer size of what is above them and what it represents. The very fact that almost certainly, virtually every dot up there in the sky is another star or celestial body that is vastly larger that Earth itself, not by twice or ten times but by factors of hundreds and thousands, can be a mind blowing idea to kids. Children have enough trouble imagining the size of earth itself, much less something on such a grand scope as outer space.

But when it comes to astronomy, we do better when we fall into deeper and deeper levels of awe at what we see up there in the night sky. Some startling facts about what the kidsn are looking at can add to the goose bumps they are already having as they look skyward. Facts like…

*    Our sun is part of a huge galaxy called the Milky Way that consists of one hundred billion stars just like it or larger. Show them that one hundred billion is 100,000,000,000 and certainly some jaws will drop.

* The milky way is only one of tens of billions of galaxies each having billions of stars in them also. In fact, the Milky Way is one of the lesser galaxies.

*    If you wanted to drive across the Milky Way, it would take you 100,000 years. But you can’t get there driving the speed limit. One needs to drive five trillion, eight hundred million miles per year to travel all the way across that fast.

*    Scientists calculate that the Milky Way is 14 billion years old.

These small interesting facts should get a very spirited discussion going about the origins of the universe and about the possibility of space travel or if life exists on other planets. You can challenge the kids to calculate that if every star in the Milky Way supported nine planets and if only one of them was habitable like earth is, what are the odds that life would exist on one of them? I think you will see some genuine excitement when they try to run those numbers.

Such discussion can be fun, exciting, and full of questions. Don’t be too hasty to shut down their imaginations as this is the birth of a lifelong love of astronomy that they are experiencing. And if you were present that first time when they saw that night sky, you will re-experience your own great moment when you were a child. And it might start a whole new interest in astronomy in you all over again.