Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, We all Wonder What You Are
That’s why August is the perfect time for a family outing to watch the night sky
No science lesson can top contemplating the Universe on a warm summer evening. Get the kids in their jammies, pack your favourite lawn chairs, a couple of blankets, plus some juice boxes or a thermos of hot chocolate, and set out to the back yard or the cottage to explore the secrets of the starry skies. No experience necessary; the only requirement is a dose of healthy curiosity.
Here from the Canadian Space Agency, is what to look for in August:
• The Perseid Meteor Showers: Each year, the Earth passes through the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, causing shooting stars as tiny particles streak through Earth’s atmosphere. This year, the peak is expected on the night of August 12, with dozens of meteors expected each hour. Look to the northeast after midnight, and keep your list of wishes on hand.
• The International Space Station: The second brightest object in the night sky after the full Moon, the station can be seen with the naked eye. It looks much like an aircraft, minus the blinking lights. (Online, see it at http://heavens-above.com/ and enter the name of your hometown). When you see the station glide by overhead, think of the Canada wordmark waving proudly on Canadarm2, and of Dextre, the Canadian Space Agency robots hard at work on board. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will join them when he blasts off to the station in December 2012 for a six-month mission that will make him the first Canadian commander of the orbiting science lab.
• The Northern Lights: The aurora borealis are frequent in Canada’s North, but they can also be seen in southern parts of the country during periods of intense solar activity. Find out when by following @AuroraMAX on Twitter or Facebook (www.facebook.com/AuroraMAX).
Tips for stargazing like a pro:
• This month, the planets are barely visible and only in the wee hours of the morning. Planet charts are on the internet for the coming months.
• The legends behind the constellations make great campfire stories. Download a free star map from the Canadian Space Agency’s website (www.asc-csa.gc.ca/pdf/Star_Finder.pdf).
• If possible, head for darker skies away from city lights.
• Dress warmly. August nights can be very cool.
• Don’t forget your binoculars. While you should never look at the Sun with binoculars (or even the naked eye, for that matter), it is perfectly safe to gaze at the Moon (the crescent Moon is easiest to observe) and planets. In fact, several of Jupiter’s moons can be seen with regular binoculars.