Star Gazing

Here are suggestions to make astronomy fun for family camping. It is all about space and the night sky.
Start Early
The sky is darkest after midnight. But you spot the moon, a few planets, and stars right after sunset. Dress warmly. Get comfortable with a mat to lie on or a camp chair. It can be cold on summer nights. Bug spray, snacks and drinks are all recommended.
Find The Stars
A number of websites are devoted to help you find constellations. Some allow you to print a sky map showing you where stars will appear. The iPhone-friendly SkyView – Explore the Universe or the Sky Map app for Android users provide information and assistance.
Get the Gear
Increase your child’s understanding with binoculars. They magnify stars well and are easy to hold steady. Check when Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible. Avoid trying to observe the fainter planets during a full Moon.
Find the Pictures
Think of the galaxy as a game of connect-the-dots. Challenge kids to find constellations. Read legends about common ones, like Orion and Perseus, to help educate kids.
Follow a Stars
The skies above can become comfortingly familiar if you teach little ones to look for a few easy-to-spot constellations again and again. Two to return to are the Big Dipper and Venus.
Look for bright targets
“What is the brightest thing you can see in the sky tonight?” It is easiest to start by looking for bright targets, so teach them how to observe the Moon or how to find the planets.
Do they notice the red glow from Mars? Have they seen the Moon during the day?
Try asking them how you might measure the change in the apparent shape of the Moon over time. They could take a picture or draw the Moon with glow in-the-dark paint once a week.
A verse of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star leads nicely into a discussion about why stars twinkle, but planets don’t twinkle as much.
The stars, being much further away and pinpoints of light, appear to flicker because of the way their light is affected by our atmosphere. The planets, which are much closer and reflect the light from the Sun, aren’t affected as much.