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This page updated 11/17/05!
"And behold, the star that they had seen in the East went before them, until it came and stood over the place where the child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly." (Matthew 2:9)
"At the dead of night, two noble planets, Tarva and Alambil, will pass within one degree of each other. Such a conjunction has not occurred for two hundred years." --Dr. Cornelius in Prince Caspian
"Dear old leopard." --Lucy in Prince Caspian, admiring the Narnian constellations
Astronomy is perhaps the most romantic of the sciences. Since ancient times, people have looked up in wonder and fear, admiration and alarm, towards the heavens. Superstitions have come and gone, but the names of the stars and planets still reflect the beliefs or the past. Today, one can hardly help but look up with awe and admiration, but fear and alarm are replaced by interest and knowledge. With a few books and a bit of equipment, you can nurture the budding scientists in your home! Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
Resources for younger children
Resources for older children and adults
Living books for Astronomy
"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork." (Psalm 19)
Wondering what's up? There is always something going on ! Go to Sky and Telescope and find out more.
Click here to find planets and more in your sky tonight!
Top ten ways to begin astronomy:
1. Go outside in the evening and look up!
2. Visit a Planetarium.
3. Check the paper or online for information about the planets, sun and moon.
4. Watch the sun rise.
5. Watch the moon rise.
6. Record the moon phases.
7. Look for planets. Use binoculars to see Jupiter's 4 largest moons. Record their position night by night.
8. Find the constellations.
9. Watch a meteor shower.
10. Look for comets!
Need reference help? Try these books:
Astronomy: A Self-Teaching Guide by Dinah L. Moche Very simple and cool! Libby (age 11) is whizzing through it even as I add it!
H A Rey's The Stars : A New Way to See Them. Yes! The man who brought us the "curious little monkey" was actually a scientist (apparently not a biologist, as George is a chimp, not a monkey). This is great, and can be paired with his Find the Constellation.
Stars and Planets There is a Peterson Field Guide to almost everything, including the sights of the night sky.
Nothing helps the amateur astronomer find constellations with the naked eye quite so well as a Celestron Sky Map
With this wheel, and a watch, you can find the constellations above your head any night of the year. Invaluable!
One Small Square: Night Sky is less constellation oriented, but has clear descriptions of all astronomical phenomena. The pictures are great.
For photos and images of the planets, no one beats Seymour Simon. His text is light--just the facts; his titles lack creativity but are easy to find. We can't all be poets, I suppose. Or can we? Get the books for the photos; they are worth the investment. Look for Simon's books:
Our Solar System
Comets, Meteors and Asteroids
Poor Pluto doesn't seem to get a book by Seymour Simon, so try Pluto by Gregory Vogt for information on the little dark planet at the edge of the solar system.
More "grown up" resources:
365 Starry Nights : An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year by Chet Raymo (astronomy lessons night by night) .
The Backyard Astronomer's Guide by Terence Dickinson (includes equipment recommendations).
For the more advanced astronomy student:
With a good back yard telescope, and not too much effort, this is one fun book: The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide : With Complete Maps, Charts and Tips to Guide You to Enjoying the Most Famous List of Deep-Sky Objects by H. C. Pennington (whew!) The Messier objects (about 100 of them) were catalogued in the 1700's by Charles Messier, a comet hunter who was annoyed by "fuzzy objects" that were not comets in the sky. He catalogued them to get them out of the way! His list includes star clusters and galaxies, all fairly easy to find (even with 1700's technology).
Need information about tonight's sky??
Online, Sky and Telescope magazine is the best source for finding out what planets can be seen from your location and when they rise and set. It also includes meteor showers, comets, etc.
And some good theory books for high school and beyond?
Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist by Guy Consolmagno This is such a great book! Find out just why the Vatican keeps an astronomer in this Jesuit's biography. Journey with him to Antarctica to hunt for meteorites. Enlightening! Also by Brother Consolmagno: Turn Left at Orion will help the back-yard astronomer find 100 objects in the night sky through the year 2006.
Seeing in the Dark The truth is out! Most great astronomical discoveries are made by amateur astronomers! Be inspired to join their rnaks!
Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe by Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Stephen Meyer is a great dialogue, and will surely start some interesting conversations in your home!
Intelligent Design : The Bridge Between Science & Theology by Michael Behe and William Dembski
God and the Astronomers by Robert Jastrow delves into the design of the universe.
The Sun in the Church : Cathedrals As Solar Observatories by J. L. Heilbron
Star Names Their Lore and Their Meaning by Richard Allen
Need a good telescope?
Q: Is there a big difference between the results one gets with a refractor or a reflector? Is a reflector to be automatically preferred as the better option?
A: Size and space is the real difference. A reflector of the same diameter (say 60 mm) as a refractor has the same light gathering power. The big difference is size of the equipment. A refractor has to be longer since it uses lenses, not mirrors. The mirrors make the scope more compact because the light is reflected back and fourth inside the scope, instead of directly to the eyepiece. Either way, in terms of magnification, a 60 mm scope is a 60 mm scope. Many folks feel that the refractor is a better scope for clarity, but since the diameter and focal length must be proportionate, a large aperture will soon make a refractor too large for easy use.
Q: What are the Autostar and Nextstar systems? Do I need them?
A: TheMeade Autostar system will make a huge difference in how often you use the scope, and how much you enjoy it. No one I have spoken with now recommends one without Autostar, or the Celestron Nextstar due to the ease of use. Basically, you get a database of thousands of objects. You use a hand-held controller, punch in the code for the object you want to see, and the motorized 'scope base will find what you want to see. When I was studying astronomy in high school, this technology was only available for the big 'scope in the observatory. But the guidance computer took up the entire room! Now you can have all that power in the "palm of you hand"--literally! It is as exciting as the invention of the telescope itself.
Some examples of telescopes are available from Amazon:
Celestron Firstscope 70EQ
Meade ETX90AT Telescope w/884 Tripod...
Meade ETX125EC Telescope
Celestron Nexstar 5i Computerized
Celestron Nextstar 11
Find more Telescopes here
Living books for astronomy:
- Maria's Comet by Deborah Hopkinson is the true story of astronomer Maria Mitchell
- Amelia Takes Command by Marissa Moss--Amelia, beloved star of her own note book/journal, goes to space camp, and lets us in on the details.
- Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis
- Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome stars Dick who is briefly studying astronomy--until he discovers the Swallows and Amazons!
- From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne
- Dropped from the Clouds by Verne
- Round the Moon by Verne (e-book version only--requires microsoft reader free software)
- Star Gods of the Maya by Susan Milbrath--a different mythology and cosmology and makes for an interesting comparison. Older kids.
- Blind Watchers of the Sky by Rocky Kolb is a good history of astronomical thought.
- Archemides and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick has a fine chapter on early astronomy.
Please browse our other science shelves:
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