Science Sarah Says … Starlight

Science Sarah Says … Starlight

by Sarah Glassco

Holiday light displays have been getting more extravagant every year it seems to me—but have you ever seen the majestic beauty of the Milky Way sweeping across the night sky? You must go out into the country where the sky is really dark (no city lights) to see this wonder. Once I watched shooting stars and moonrise over the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. This memory of brightness, glowing and slowly growing in the deep darkness, is an image of stillness and hope that I treasure.

This month as we celebrate the Winter solstice, the longest night of the year, take some time to explore the wonders of night with your child. The moon is a good place to start. In spite of all I learned about the moon while growing up in the space age, I still see the kindly face of “the Man in the Moon” smiling at me. Read Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, and then watch the moon follow your car as you drive at night. Or read Moondance by Frank Asch, and look for the moon in puddles or a pond.

The moon is just past full (December 10), so watch, as the moon seems to shrink every day until December 24, when it will disappear.  For 4 and 5 year-old children, Allan Fowler has written a series of very simple, well-illustrated factual books about space, stars, the sun and the moon.

This month, look for the bright planets Venus in the southwest sky (5:30 p.m.) and Jupiter in the southeast (6:30 p.m.). Orion is the most prominent constellation in the winter sky. It is so easy to see the broad-shouldered hunter with a dagger at his belt.

There are wonderful constellation stories from many different cultures. These stories gave people ways to remember the patterns of stars and their relationships, an important survival skill when stars were the primary navigation guides. The Hubble website offers a monthly video-tour of things to see in the sky at night. Sky watching can be a family activity that grows with your children. When my daughter went off to college her knowledge of stars made her instantly popular at the Freshman Orientation camp-out!

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