Two nights ago we bundled up our little family and joined up with a few of our homeschooling friends for some star gazing. What a wonderful experience.
Compared to so much of our fast-paced, highly technologized world, looking at the stars is a truly remarkable experience that also connects us to the ancients. It is fascinating to think that the stars and planets we look at today are the same ones the ancient Greeks gazed upon. On the cosmic time scale essentially nothing has changed since they looked out to the heavens.
The telescope we used was hand built and is owned by our friend Chris. It is a Dobsonian telescope and he built it with some help from a former student based on plans from a book. Here is Chris gazing upon a star map looking for clues to finding M31, or the Great Andromeda Nebula, which he did locate and we saw through the scope:
We were behind a middle school just outside of a town outside the city, so we were not bothered by the city lights. The kids ran and played in the dark with glow sticks. There was a playground nearby, so while we looked for stars we could hear them playing. When some interesting object was focused in the telescope the kids would then come running. Sometimes they needed a ladder to reach the eye piece:
We also saw Jupiter and three of its bright moons (it has at least 63 moons). To think that we saw what Galileo first saw in 1610 is really cool. We could even see a clear line of one of its atmospheric cloud bands. Later we gazed upon a globular cluster and the double star in the handle of the Big Dipper.
I know that these kinds of experiences are not unique to homeschoolers, but I know they were not available to me as a kid. I know we were not worried if we got to bed late because our school schedule is flexible. Regardless, if you know someone who has a passion for astronomy and has a decent telescope, convince him or her to organize a night out with several families. Both kids and adults will be rewarded.