Now the evenings are drawing in, why not take the opportunity to introduce the family to the awesome night sky? Stargazing is fun, free and a learning curve for kids. Sarah Hastings from RW4Y*
shares some tips.
Stargazing with children is something you may not have considered before, but switching off the lights and looking up into the starry skies is a lot of fun. Plus, engaging in activities like this encourage children’s interest in science, astronomy, and the world around them. It’s also inexpensive and easy to do, once you understand the basics.
Where to stargaze
The first step to consider is where you will stargaze. If you’re lucky enough to live in a dark sky area, you can do this from your own garden if you have one. If you have roof windows, for example in a converted loft or extension, you can even stargaze from indoors. This can be helpful on clear but very chilly nights as you can stay cosy indoors without missing out on the display above you! Just be sure to switch off as many lights inside as you can, to keep light pollution to a minimum and increase the number of stars you can see.
In built-up zones such as cities, suburbs, and residential areas, this will be more difficult as light pollution from all the lights around you will affect how clearly you can see the sky. But it’s not impossible to stargaze in these areas, even in city centres. If you can, head to high ground such as a hill or the roof of a building so that you’re above the light sources and you’ll find you can stargaze much easier from there.
During a new moon, the sky is at its darkest and the stars shine even brighter, so you’ll be able to see even more in the sky.
When to stargaze
You can do it any time you like, as long as it is a clear night and
there are no clouds. But you’ll have the most success if you plan your
stargazing for when there is a new moon, as even moonlight can make
stars more difficult to see. During a new moon, the sky is at its
darkest and the stars shine even brighter, so you’ll be able to see even
more in the sky. With a little additional research, you can also plan
your sessions to coincide with astrological events. These include meteor
showers and times of the year when planets are more visible than usual.
What equipment will you need?
To get started, all you need are your eyes and a map. If you’re
interested in using equipment you may be tempted to buy a telescope to
better see the stars above, but you might want to try binoculars first
as these are much easier to use — especially for children. They’re also
far cheaper than a telescope, but once you have the hang of looking at
the night sky and can identify some stars and planets, you might want to
use a telescope to study smaller areas of sky in more detail.
Sky maps and apps
Without a sky map, guidebook or app it can be very difficult to make
sense of the sky above you, so remember to bring at least one along.
Many apps are interactive and can show you what’s in the night sky in
real-time, so you know exactly what you’re looking at. This option might
be best for total beginners or if you’re stargazing with small
children. However, using a guidebook and working out the constellations
yourself can be very satisfying if you are up for a challenge.
Tips and tricks
If you’re stargazing in your garden or from your home, you may not be
able to control the environment around your property, such as
streetlamps and lights from your neighbours’ windows. This will affect
how many stars you can see, and how clearly you can see them. Switch off
as many lights on your property as possible to increase visibility
where you can and you should still notice a difference.
Remember that clear nights tend to be chillier, so you may want to
bring a few layers with you, such as a jumper, jacket, and hat. Small
children might benefit from gloves and a blanket to snuggle under, too.
You might be outside for a few hours, depending on whether you’re
waiting for an astrological event or for a cloud to pass by before you
can look at the stars. Bring a flask of hot chocolate and a few snacks
with you, or you could even organise a night-time picnic to enjoy while
you stargaze. That means everyone can have a fun time even if you don’t
end up being able to see many stars. Most important, make sure that
everyone is equipped with a torch so they can find their way around in
the dark without tripping over.
Whether you’re stargazing from home or heading out further
afield, remember to make sure the environment is as dark as possible to
get the best results.