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Look Up! It’s The Perseid Meteor Shower

You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any. — EarthSky Magazine

 

The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming our way. Anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere may be in for a good old-fashioned sky show, just by looking up.

The Perseids are debris from a wandering comet that appears as shooting stars each August. (Records of this light show go back to 36 A.D., though the Swift-Tuttle Comet was discovered much later.) They often provide one of the best shows of the year, if the skies are clear and the moon is not full. Because the Perseids follow the full moon by only two days this year, the show may be less spectacular than usual.  :(

The peak of of the show will be Tuesday, August 12 around 3 am local time. Sometimes meteors can be seen up to a week before and after a shower’s peak. Astronomers are predicting as many as 70 meteors an hour for those who are able to see the Perseids. (That said, we always see fewer meteors than these predicted numbers, so don’t be disappointed. One fantastic shooting star blazing through the sky can produce lifelong memories and awe.)

You won’t need any special equipment to see the Perseids. The naked eye is actually best. Just be sure to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. And hope for a good show! Here are more tips for viewing the Perseids.

The San Francisco Chronicle offers more information about the Perseids, along with some good viewing tips and a sky map.

If you like, you can even be a citizen scientist and help NASA count meteors! Download a free app for iphones and androids and join the meteor count. (Here are more citizen science projects you might be interested in.)

Some of my family’s most relaxed and memorable moments have occurred while gazing at the stars together. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos. It’s natural to share those feelings with those around us, as we use the stars to try to look back through distance and time.

My family remembers one especially wonderful August, when we went to the top of our nearest mountain to see the Perseid meteor shower. Lying in the grass in the dark, we could hear choruses of “oohs” and “aahs” coming from all around the mountain,

Top 10 Ways to Learn in Your Own Backyard

Many parents worry about summer slide, the learning loss that can occur while school is out for the summer. Great news: There is a hotbed of learning right in your own backyard. Science, math, art, history, and early literacy can come alive through the kinds of rich, hands-on, project-based experiences that make learning meaningful, all while you’re having fun exploring outdoors.

(Read on for info about Galileo Camp and Natural Nester DIY Camp.)

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Grow a Habitat Garden and Experience Citizen Science

Small creatures like birds and butterflies are always fun to watch. There are lots of ways to encourage them to visit your garden and linger a while, many of which provide fun and fascinating projects while benefiting your local habitat, your garden and the greater ecosystem of the Earth. You don’t need a large yard to have a habitat garden. Apartment balconies, window ledges, school gardens, and decks can all host local habitat.

Backyard creatures essentially need four things: Food, water, shelter and places to lay eggs and care for their young. Learn more and find resources about habitat gardening. Welcoming wildlife needn’t be complicated. One very easy way to start is by making a bird feeder.

Want to take it a step farther? The Great Sunflower Project is just one of many opportunities for kids to experience citizen science close to home. Citizen scientists are ordinary people of all ages who help scientists and organizations track the count and behaviors of birds, butterflies, bees and others. After all, researchers can’t be everywhere, and many of us have habitats in our backyards and neighborhoods that can help them gain important information about nature. If you have 15 minutes, you can count bees, which are vital for the Earth’s ecosystem, for The Great Sunflower Project. Other projects available year-round allow you to track birds, bats, butterflies, fireflies, wildflowers, meteors and snow, learning about each in the process. See a list of citizen science projects.

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Have Some Gardening Fun

Pizza Garden

You can grow just about everything needed for a pizza right in your own yard and then harvest and eat all the items baked in a pizza. All you’ll need to add is the dough and cheese! Pizza gardens teach design, planning, growing, harvesting, cooking and nutrition. Determine the shape of your pizza garden and decide what you’d like to grown and how you want to divide the space. Round pizza gardens, for instance, can be divided into four, six, or eight spokes, to resemble pizza slices. Mark off areas with string or rocks. Make sure to give plants like tomatoes plenty of room. In addition to tomatoes, try zucchini, eggplant, peppers, spinach, basil, oregano, onions, or garlic. Or grow flowers – red flowers to represent tomato sauce, yellow flowers to represent cheese, pink flowers for pepperoni, and some green leafy plants for spinach or peppers.

Seed Race

Why not make gardening into a game, and create a science experiment at the same time, with a seed race? Choose two or more types of seeds.
Plant them at the same time, in the same conditions, near each other in the ground or in similar containers, indoors or out. (Or plant the same seeds and vary one or more conditions as an experiment.) Water and watch which one emerges first and grows fastest. Stake them with a store-bought or homemade yardstick to measure their progress.

Growing Initials

Give your kids something they can claim as their own, and engage them in early literacy  at the same time by planting seeds in the shape of a child’s initials. Lay string in the shapes of the letters you like and dig a shallow furrow beside it. Plant your seeds – leafy greens work well for this project because they come up quickly and fill out nicely. These include lettuce, chives, radishes, cress, and various grasses. Most greens have fine seeds, which can be planted in a close, continuous line and thinned as needed.

Saving Seeds

What better way for kids to learn about the process of seeds becoming plants than to collect, save, plant and grow their own seeds? Seed saving is fascinating, rewarding, frugal and fun!

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Make a Wind Chime or Music Tree

Kids love to make music and noise. What better place for that than outdoors? Hang old or recycled pots, pans, tin cans, lids, muffin tins, silverware, measuring cups and other items from tree branches. Group lighter items close together to create wind chimes, or place them farther apart to let kids make music with wooden spoons to experiment with different sounds or learn about the effects of wind.

Have Fun with Water

Outdoor time calls for water play, which allows even the youngest children to learn about the properties of water, as it allows things to float, sink, fill, empty, change textures and temperatures, and move at various speeds. Young children will enjoy a mud play area and lots of old cups and kitchen items for filling, scooping and dumping. Others may enjoy filling cups with water and making “magic potions” with food coloring, glitter and small found objects. Or fill a tub of water and make a fine sea-worthy vessel to play with.

Cork Rafts and Sailboats

You’ll need:
Corks
School or craft glue
Flat toothpicks
Construction or other paper
Ruler
Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
Scissors

Raft: Arrange corks in a square or rectangle, with long sides touching each other. Glue the sides of the corks together. Draw a small rectangle (approximately 1 x 4”) on the paper with the ruler and cut it out. Fold the paper in half, so that you have two rectangles approximately 1 x 2”. Draw your country’s flag, or flags from your imagination, on each outer side of the paper. Glue the toothpick into the inner fold on the back side between the two flags, and let the glue dry. Glue the two halves of the paper together to secure the flag. Affix the toothpick flags into one cork or several corks and set the raft in water.

Sailboat: Glue corks together, following the instructions for the raft, or simply use a single cork. Draw a triangular sail shape on the paper (approximately 1” long on the side that will be glued to the toothpick. Decorate your sail, if desired. Glue the sail to the toothpick on its 1” side and let the glue dry. Affix the toothpick sail into the cork or cork base and set sail!

Elementary and older children will enjoy making a paper boat and sailing it in a nearby body of water, alone or in a race with others.

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Create Garden Art

Artists and craftspeople have long been inspired by the garden. Just getting outside with art and craft materials can open a world of wonder and observation. Gardens, in all their color, variety and changing light, offer great subjects, as well as a place to clear the artist’s head. In addition, they often provide a place where one can get messier than inside a house. Bring tempera or finger paints and paper outside, for plein air painting, paint a flower pot that you can plant in, or make a pretty beaded spider web.

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Blow Bubbles

Bubble blowing may be one of life’s perfect activities. While providing endless possibilities and inexpensive fun, bubbles also illustrate properties of science. Each one is a thin skin of liquid surrounding a gas. The water molecules on their surfaces bond tightly together, because each is made up of two sticky hydrogen atoms and one oxygen one – H2O. More bubble science is explained here. Bubbles can be made using ingredients you have around the house. When the weather’s nice, I often make a bucket of bubble solution and leave it outside with wands and other fun equipment so my daughter and friends can make bubbles whenever they like. It’s always fun and magical to create bubbles and watch them trail in the breeze. Here’s a recipe for giant homemade bubbles and some fun bubble activities.

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Play Web of Life

This is a powerful group game that teaches older children about the interconnectedness of living things. We encountered it on a school field trip to a vibrant marsh and have never forgotten it.

You’ll need:
A ball of string, yarn, or twine

Players form a circle. The leader asks them to name a plant or animal that lives in the area. When someone names a plant or animal, he or she is handed the end of the ball of string. When someone names another plant or animal, the string is unraveled and handed to that person. The game continues this way until everyone is holding the same piece of string. It can be very dramatic for everyone to realize that they are webbed together. Choose one of the players to illustrate what happens when there is change, such as when a tree burns down or an animal is eaten. Have that person pull his or her piece of string to see its effect on all the others.

Slow Tip: If people get stuck on what to say next, go backward or forward in the food and shelter chain. The bird eats a frog, the frog eats an ant, the ant crawls under a tree, the tree provides oxygen for the deer, and so on.

Cook with the Sun

Box ovens employ one of the oldest energy sources of all, solar power. But while people have dried food in the sun for centuries, it was French-Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure who harnessed it for cooking. He used glass to trap heat and create convection while his 1700s peers were still burning mirrors. Anything that can be cooked in a regular oven can be cooked in a box oven, though it’s best to stick with recipes that don’t require raw meat or eggs, until you’re proficient.

You’ll need:
Large sturdy cardboard box, with four sides and a bottom (no top or lids), such as a 10-ream paper box
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
Duct tape
Cookie sheet or large cake pan
4 tin cans, filled with water to weight them
Charcoal briquettes and fire starter
Disposable foil tray or pie tins
Small stone
Recipe and cooking items
Bucket of water for fire safety

Choose a hot day with full sun. Completely line the box inside and out with foil, shiny side out. Tape only on the outside of the box (to avoid fumes getting in the food.) Choose a flat surface away from flammable objects. Line it with foil. Use the tin cans as “feet” to hold the cookie sheet or cake pan, which serves as the oven tray. Fill the foil tray or pie tins with briquettes, approx. one for every 40 degrees of desired oven temperature, and start. Place the item to be cooked on the oven tray (ideas follow). Slide the briquettes under the oven tray when ready (white). Place the box oven down over the items, using a small rock on the least windy side to lift part of the box off the ground for ventilation.

Follow the directions for your recipe. Cupcakes, biscuits, English muffin pizzas, and other items that don’t require long cooking times all work well in box ovens. Try one of our favorites:

Box Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake

You’ll need:
2 boxes yellow cake mix, prepared
1 ounce butter or margarine
1 8-ounce can of pineapples
½ cup brown sugar
Dutch oven or large cake pan
Second pan or cookie sheet

Place butter or margarine in the Dutch oven or pan and melt it in the box oven. Stir brown sugar and pineapples into the melted butter. Pour prepared cake mix over the pineapple mixture. Bake for 25 minutes or more, until the cake is golden brown. Remove from the box oven and invert onto a second pan or cookie sheet.

Slow Tip: Want to try some super easy sun cooking? Make sun tea by filling a container with water, adding tea bags, and letting the container steep in the sun.

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Enjoy the Night Sky

Backyard fun needn’t only happen during the daytime. Nighttime offers lots of opportunities to explore constellations of stars; meteor showers, like August’s Perseids; or phases of the moon. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, awe, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos, as countless people, back to the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and others have done before us.

Get to Know the Constellations

With 88 constellations and numerous other stars, the night sky can seem a bit overwhelming. Begin to get to know it by locating a few key constellations and orienting to those. After all, the constellations were themselves created to help the ancients better understand the night sky.

The Big Dipper, which is part of a larger constellation, is a great starting point, as it has an identifiable shape and is usually visible over much of the Northern Hemisphere. It appears like a ladle (bowl) and handle. Seeking the North Star, or Polaris? Extend an imaginary line up from the top corner of the ladle that is furthest from the handle. Polaris is in turn on the handle of the Little Dipper, which appears upside down and facing the opposite direction from the Big Dipper. Continue on from the North Star, away from the Big Dipper, for about the same distance and you will reach Casseopeia (the mythical Queen of Ethiopia), another famous constellation. In the Northern Hemisphere, Cassiopeia is shaped like an “M” in the Summer and a “W” in the Winter.

Consult a star map and continue to find relationships to these constellations.

Slow Snippet: What makes stars twinkle? What we see as twinkling is really the light from the star bending as it moves through layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. That trip takes billions of years, so that what we see is a snapshot of a time in the cosmos that is long past.

Keep a Moon Diary

Taking note of the moon’s phases and rhythms, as it moves through its cycle, is a great way to feel the rhythms of our lives and of nature. Observing the moon and keeping a moon diary can help younger children understand how long a month is.

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Have a Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are a great way to get everyone exploring and observing in nature.

You’ll need:
Pencils and paper

Create a list in advance or have players contribute to one list of 10-20 things they might find in the backyard or park. A list might include an oak tree, a pond, a red bird, a dandelion, a wildflower, a nest, a feather, an acorn or a hollow log. You or the hunters could also list more subjective items, such as something rough, something orange, something unexpected, or a heart-shaped rock. Teams or players go off to seek the items on the list and cross each off when they see it. One point is awarded for each item found. The person or team with the most points wins.

Make a Nature Bracelet

This is a fun and easy way to get kids to look around them and observe small items in their own backyards.

You’ll need:
1″ or wider Masking Tape, enough to go around each child’s wrist

Tear off a piece of masking tape, slightly larger than the child’s wrist. Place it around the wrist with the sticky side out. Go for a walk or hunt and look for small items in nature that can be stuck to the masking tape, such as leaves, twigs, seeds, acorns and pods. (Generally things that have already fallen on the ground are safe to pick. If in doubt, leave something.) Fill the bracelet by sticking the items onto it and wear it proudly.

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These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Want to take it further? Create your own backyard DIY summer camp with eight weeks of ideas from A Natural Nester and many others.

San Francisco Bay Area parents, want to find a camp that inspires summer learning and fun? Check out Galileo Camps, with over 40 Bay Area locations. Use code: 2014INNOVATION for $30 off.

This post is part of the School’s Out Top 10 Summer Learning series. Be sure to read all the other great Top 10 lists!

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Thanks to our sponsor, Galileo Learning.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Kids Growing Strong (pizza garden), Public Domain (night sky), Pass the Cereal (nature bracelet)

First Meteor Shower of 2014: The Quadrantids

Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The year’s first meteor shower may be a great one! The Quadrantid Meteor Shower is set to peak on January 3rd, 19:30 a.m. Universal time (2:30 p.m. EST). Although the best viewing will occur in northern Asia, clear skies and a new moon should result in fine viewing across the Northern Hemisphere. For best viewing , look up at 11 p.m. or later, January 3rd or 4th, your local time.

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower has been known to rival the popular Perseids and Geminids, in terms of number of meteors per hour. However, unlike those showers, during which meteors are sometimes visible for days, the window of time in which to view meteors is fairly brief.

What is a meteor shower?

Meteors occur when the Earth passes through streams of dust and debris from ancient comets which have entered the Earth’s atmosphere. (When the comet has flown close to the sun, its dirty ice evaporated and that, in turn, caused the comet dust to spew into space.) The Quadrantids are a relatively recent discovery (1830). Their name comes from a constellation that no longer exists on modern star charts. Their namesake, “The Mural Quadrant” has gone the way of other obscure and somewhat whimsical star patterns at one time known as “The Printing Office” and the “Northern Fly”.

How to watch the Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The Quadrantids should be visible with the naked eye in North America and perhaps in other parts of the world. Sky watchers in cold climates should bundle up, grab a chair (ideally one with some neck support), and perhaps a blanket, head outside where you can see the largest patch of night sky possible (with as little city light as possible), and look up.

Because meteor showers last for days before and after the projected peak, be sure to scan the skies during the surrounding days, if you can.

A thermos of hot chocolate is a great accompaniment for the Quadrantids.

This American Meteor Society page is a great site for exploring more about the Quadrantids and where and when to see them in your local night sky.

 

Photo:  Photos by Kev

Perseid Meteor Shower Will Light Up the Night Sky This Weekend

You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any. — EarthSky Magazine

 

The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming our way this weekend. Anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere may be in for a good old-fashioned sky show, just by looking up.

The Perseids are debris from a wandering comet that appears as shooting stars each August. (Records of this light show go back to 36 A.D., though the Swift-Tuttle Comet was discovered much later.) They often provide one of the best shows of the year, if the skies are clear and the moon is not full.

Astronomers are predicting an especially good show this year, the peak of which will be Sunday, August 11 and Monday, August 12. Midnight Sunday to dawn Monday should provide the best viewing under a half-full moon. Sometimes meteors can be seen up to a week before and after a shower’s peak.  Astronomers are predicting as many as 70 meteors an hour for those who are able to see the Perseids. (That said, we always see fewer meteors than these predicted numbers, so don’t be disappointed. One fantastic shooting star blazing through the sky can produce lifelong memories and awe.)

You won’t need any special equipment to see the Perseids. The naked eye is actually best. Just be sure to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. And hope for a good show! Here are more tips for viewing the Perseids.

The San Francisco Chronicle offers more information about the Perseids, along with some good viewing tips and a sky map.

If you like, you can even be a citizen scientist and help NASA count meteors! Download a free app for iphones and androids and join the meteor count. (Here are more citizen science projects you might be interested in.)

Some of my family’s most relaxed and memorable moments have occurred while gazing at the stars together. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos. It’s natural to share those feelings with those around us, as we use the stars to try to look back through distance and time.

My family remembers one especially wonderful August, when we went to the top of our nearest mountain to see the Perseid meteor shower. Lying in the grass in the dark, we could hear choruses of “oohs” and “aahs” coming from all around the mountain, as people caught sight of the meteors blazing through the night sky. Of course, this year, we’ll be outside again, somewhere, looking for the beautiful Perseids.

Enjoy the show!

Photo: Eta Aquarids by Jason Gunders, Queensland, Australia

See this guide to other Meteor Showers Throughout the Year

Enjoy June’s Full Supermoon

Look up in the sky! It’s Supermoon! On Saturday, June 22 and Sunday, June 23, the moon will appear especially large and bright, due to its closer-than-usual relation to Earth. This supermoon, or perigee moon, will be the largest-appearing moon of 2013.

The supermoon will rise from the east around sunset, and then will appear huge and low on the horizon before rising into the sky for the night. Because the moon will be at its fullest Sunday at 7:30 am EDT, both Saturday and Sunday should offer ideal viewing opportunities for those with clear skies.

Read more science behind the supermoon.

Read tips for photographing the supermoon.

The Full Moon

Of course a supermoon is by definition full. People in many cultures throughout history have named the year’s full moons based on the activities that happened during them. The Farmers Almanac calls the June full moon the Strawberry Moon because, for the Algonquin Native Americans, June was synonymous with strawberries. The Cherokee called the June full moon the Green Corn Moon. The Choctaw referred to it as the Windy Moon. Celtic people referred to the June full moon as the Moon of Horses. Throughout much of more modern Europe, the June full moon was known as the Rose Moon, for that flower’s peak.

I’ve long been quite entranced with the full moon names and their variations. Of course, they reflect both the need to mark passing time and the way that time was experienced by people who were living close to the land. Lunar time-keeping pre-dated our modern calendars (and some calendars, like the Jewish and Chinese calendars, are still lunar-based.) The Farmer’s Almanac has a good list of Native American full moon names and how each came to be.

Other, even older, cultures have had moon naming traditions, too. This site lists full moon names from Chinese, Celtic, Pacific Island, Native American, Pagan, and other cultures.

Full Moon Gardening

Lots of people garden using the phases of the moon. The good news is that there isn’t one best time to plant — Each aspect of planting has an associated moon phase, based on how much moisture is pulled up through the soil by the monthly pull of the moon (much the way the moon influences the tides.)

The time just after the full moon is an especially good time for planting root crops, as the gravitational pull is high (adding more moisture to the soil) and the moonlight is decreasing, contributing energy to the roots. For this reason, the waning moon is also a good time to plant bulbs and transplants.

The Farmer’s Almanac offers a wonderful moon phase calendar for the U.S. that allows you to plug in your location and get the exact time of your local full moon.

Whether planting or watching, enjoy June’s full supermoon!

Graphics and Photos: Optics Central, Public Domain, NASA, Susan Sachs Lipman

Lyrid Meteor Shower will Peak Early April 22

The Lyrid meteor shower is due for its annual appearance, and is expected to peak late Sunday night, April 21, and early Monday morning, April 22, over North America. Even though the near-full moon may render much of the annual show invisible to us, Space.com tells us that away from city lights, 20 meteors per hour could be visible.

The Lyrids (pronounced Lie-rids) have been observed for more than 2,500 years — during 687 B.C., Chinese records noted that “stars fell like rain”. Aside from some similar key years, notably last year, when my family scanned the skies and then joined many other enthusiasts for NASA’s Up All Night NASA Chat, and 1982, when 90 and more shooting stars were seen for a period of hours, the Lyrids have been a minor meteor shower.

Can’t watch it at the exact time? Don’t worry — astronomers tell us that meteor showers can last for hours before and after the peak time.

What is a meteor shower?

Meteors occur when the Earth passes through streams of dust and debris from ancient comets which have entered the Earth’s atmosphere. (When the comet has flown close to the sun, its dirty ice evaporated and that, in turn, caused the comet dust to spew into space.) The Lyrid meteor shower hails from the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which orbits the Sun only once every 415 years, even though we see the Lyrids that result from it annually. The orbit of this comet appears to lie in the constellation Lyra, the source of the name Lyrids.

How to watch the Lyrid Meteor Shower

Meteors are best viewed with the naked eye. Sky watchers should grab a chair (ideally one with some neck support), and a blanket if it’s cold, and head outside where you can see the largest patch of night sky possible (with as little city light as possible), and look up.

Because meteor showers last for days before and after the projected peak, try to scan the skies during the surrounding days, if you can.

This American Meteor Society page is a great site for exploring more about the Lyrids and where and when to see them in your local night sky. Their Meteor Shower Caldendar lets you get ready for future meteor shows, like the popular Perseids, which will hit this year on August 11-12.

 

Photo: Composite of 2009 Lyrids over Huntsville, Ala. (NASA/MSFC/Danielle Moser)

 

 

 

Slow Nature: Keep a Moon Diary

The changing moon is a source of fascination for people of all ages.

Scientists, from ancient Babylonia to modern countries around the world, have attempted to explore it. Ancient people used the full moons to determine their calendars, and Native Americans named the full moons according to the activities that took place under them, such as harvesting and the first shoots of corn. The moon’s pull is tied to our tides and even our bodies. Many migratory animals are guided by the moon.

Why not make your own moon explorations and observations by keeping a moon diary?

Taking note of the moon’s phases and rhythms, as it moves through its cycle, is a great way to feel the rhythms of our lives and of nature. It can help younger children understand how long a month is. Of course, everyone has fun searching for the “Man in the Moon”. Look outside during the next full moon to try to find him.

You’ll need:

A blank calendar or pencil and paper
A view of the moon

Look at the moon each night after it has risen and record its phase, in writing or drawing, as it makes its monthly rotation around the earth. The amount of moon we see is really the amount of sunlight that is reflected on it during each phase. New moons are between the earth and the sun, so that the sun almost entirely shines on the part of the moon we don’t see. Full moons are on the side of the earth opposite the sun, so that sunlight shines on them in full. The moon always follow this pattern:

  • New
  • Waxing crescent
  • First quarter
  • Waxing gibbous
  • Full
  • Waning gibbous
  • Third quarter
  • Waning crescent
  • New

Here are some more fun activities to try:

Photo: NASA

Geminid Meteor Shower Promises a Spectacular Show

Now playing overhead: The dramatic Geminid Meteor Shower, which many astronomers agree is the best meteor shower of the year.

The Geminid Meteor Shower is forecast to peak late Thursday/early Friday Dec. 13-14, between around 10 p.m. and sunrise, at your local time, in North America. If you can’t stay up that late, not to worry — astronomers tell us that some meteors should be visible as soon as darkness hits. In addition, the shower lasts for days before and after the peak date, and there have already been reports from around the world of people spotting many spectacular fireball-like celestial streaks in just minutes.

This year’s shower coincides with a new moon, so the sky should be extra dark for excellent viewing. NASA scientists, like Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office, predict a fantastic show, aided by the possible appearance of a second, newly discovered meteor shower.

What is a meteor shower?

Meteors occur when the Earth passes through streams of dust and debris from ancient comets which have entered the Earth’s atmosphere. (When the comet has flown close to the sun, its dirty ice evaporated and that, in turn, caused the comet dust to spew into space.) Scientists believe that the Geminids actually come from an asteroid, called 3200 Phaethon, which is really the skeleton of an extinct comet. The Earth passes through this particular debris stream each December, and is said to originate near the constellation Gemini.

How to watch the Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminids should be visible with the naked eye in North America and perhaps in other parts of the world. Sky watchers in cold climates should bundle up, grab a chair (ideally one with some neck support), and perhaps a blanket, head outside where you can see the largest patch of night sky possible (with as little city light as possible), and look up.

Because meteor showers last for days before and after the projected peak, be sure to scan the skies during the surrounding days, if you can.

A thermos of hot chocolate is a great accompaniment for the Geminids.

This shower has been getting stronger every year it’s been recorded, going back the the 1860s. It could be “an amazing annual display”, according Cooke of

This American Meteor Society page is a great site for exploring more about the Geminids and where and when to see them in your local night sky.

This movie of the 2008 Geminids comes from a space camera at the Marshall Space Flight Center:

Watch the 2008 Geminid Meteor Shower

Shine on, Harvest Moon

Songwriters have crooned about it. Farmers have counted on it. A Chinese festival honors it with special mooncakes. It’s the Harvest Moon, which traditionally shines its all-night beacon to help farmers gather their crops. In addition to being timed well for the job, the October full moon travels particularly close to the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere, so that it appears larger and closer than do other full moons throughout the year. It’s also visible for a longer amount of time than other moons — often all night — so that, especially before electricity, the harvesting needn’t stop at nightfall. And, if that weren’t enough, it also brightens the night sky for many successive days in a row.

All this week, those in northern latitudes have been and will be able to go outside on clear nights and witness the Harvest Moon. It’s due to be at its absolute fullest at September 30 at 3:19 Universal Time, or  11:19 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 8:19 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time on September 29 in the U.S., so you’ll get good full moon shows all weekend, and fine shows throughout the week, whether you’re harvesting food, memories, or one of the last possibly warm full-moon nights.

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Photos: Roadcrusher, Matthias Kobel

You might also enjoy:

The Wheel of the Year: Summer Turns to Fall
Walt Whitman’s Ode to the Harvest
Fall Foliage at its Peak
Celebrate May’s Full Moon

Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower This Weekend

 

You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any.  — EarthSky Magazine

 

The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming our way this weekend. Anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere may be in for a good old-fashioned sky show, just by looking up.

The Perseids are debris from a wandering comet that appears as shooting stars each August. (Records of this light show go back to 36 A.D., though the Swift-Tuttle Comet was discovered much later.) They often provide one of the best shows of the year, if the skies are clear and the moon is not full.

This year, they should be best in the U.S. and Canada late Saturday, August 11, and early Sunday, August 12, especially in the hours after midnight into August 12. Early morning August 13 is another good time to see them, because the moon will be waning (not bright) and late-rising. Astronomers are predicting 50-60 meteors an hour for those who are able to see the Perseids. (That said, we always see fewer meteors than these predicted numbers, so don’t be disappointed. One fantastic shooting star blazing through the sky can produce lifelong memories and awe.)

You won’t need any special equipment to see the Perseids. The naked eye is actually best. Just be sure to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. And hope for a good show! Here are more tips for viewing the Perseids.

The San Francisco Chronicle offers more information about the Perseids, along with some good viewing tips and a sky map.

If you like, you can even be a citizen scientist and help NASA count meteors! Download a free app for iphones and androids and join the meteor count. (Here are more citizen science projects you might be interested in.)

Some of my family’s most relaxed and memorable moments have occurred while gazing at the stars together. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos. It’s natural to share those feelings with those around us, as we use the stars to try to look back through distance and time.

My family remembers one especially wonderful August, when we went to the top of our nearest mountain to see the Perseid meteor shower. Lying in the grass in the dark, we could hear choruses of “oohs” and “aahs” coming from all around the mountain, as people caught sight of the meteors blazing through the night sky. Of course, this year, we’ll be outside again, somewhere, looking for the beautiful Perseids.

Enjoy the show!

600px-Meteor_burst
Meteor Burst Photo by NASA Ames Research Center/S. Molau & P. Jenniskens
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