Go on a UFO Hunt With Your Kids (and Learn About Stars, Too)

stargazing astronomy night skySo you might have to use the possibility of a UFO sighting as leverage to get your kids out stargazing, but then just let the stars do their magic.

I learned basic astronomy and several of the constellations in elementary school, and that knowledge has given me joy for a lifetime. Whenever I find myself under a starry night sky, I can't help but search for the Big Dipper and, my favorite, Orion.

With summer vacations and camping trips in full swing, now is the perfect time to start basic astronomy education with your own kids.

To find out how to create a memorable experience, and not end up freezing in the middle of the night with a tired, crying kid in your arms, I asked Anastasiya Matrokhina, of VITO Technology, which creates cool smartphone apps such as Star Walk, for her best stargazing survival tips.


1. Prepare early

Your child should have a good nap before the night's adventures, as the sun sets later during the summer. As a good parent, you probably already know this and that snacks, hot chocolate, paper towels, flashlights, and blankets are absolutely vital. By the way, wrap your flashlight with some red cellophane, which can be purchased at most craft stores. This helps your eyes adapt to darkness more easily and keeps the bright light from getting in the way of your sky viewing.

2. Do some (fun) homework

Pick up some books at the library, search the Internet, and then explain to your child what you are going to see. Make sure he doesn't expect to see the same picture through the telescope or binoculars as he sees on bright pages of astronomy books; otherwise, he might be really disappointed.

3. Pick the best spot

Check the weather forecast and find a less light-polluted area where you won't be disturbed. And, of course, use a star atlas to pick the objects you will explore in advance and learn several interesting facts before you go.

4. Choose a moonless night

"New moon night" (meaning, strangely enough, a moonless night), though it may sound strange, provides the perfect variant for stargazing, as the light from the moon is bright enough to outshine some stars or planets. So unless you are planning to gaze at the moon itself, it is better to choose a moonless night. You might also choose a night that promises an exciting event -- for example, a comet or a meteor shower. The brightest meteor shower seen in the Northern Hemisphere is Perseids, which is visible from mid-July each year with the peak in activity being between August 9 and 14. I wonder...maybe you can even see the monster star.

5. Bring the right gear

You'll want to bring binoculars and/or a telescope (surf the Internet for a rental; if it comes together with a professional who can explain astronomy tricks, even better). If you have an iPad or iPhone, try installing a realistic stargazing guide app to bring up a live representation of what you see in the sky. For instance, the iPhone version of Star Walk shows an on-screen view of what stars and constellations should be visible on a clear night from your current location.

Even if you confuse all the constellations and have to invent several new ones, or you totally missed the "event" from your vantage point, or even if you lost some of your stuff, be positive. Chances are, your kid had a great adventure anyway. And at least they got to stay up really really really late.

Have you taken your kids stargazing yet? What tips do you have?


Photo via makelessnoise/Flickr 

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