Activities For Home School Programs – Astronomy on a Budget

In ancient times, the sky was looked upon as something mystical and mythical, as if it had a message for the human race. The invention of the telescope revealed how vast and amazing the sky is. There is lot more to learn, and much of what lies beyond our atmosphere is still a mystery. In home school programs that I design, I always teach how the sky actually tells us lots of things. In today’s activity I will teach you some binocular basics and the basics of telling the time by looking at the stars.

Being a junior astronomer is not at all that expensive. Imagine just lying down on your lawn and gazing at the stars. Costs nothing! But let me warn you …star gazing can get addictive! At least history tells of men who have spent their entire lives studying the stars.

Home school programs can ideally teach you about stars from the comfort of your home. Once you get interested in stars, you will be filled with tons of questions. Why do stars twinkle? Why do they move? What are they made of? How far are they? How big are they?

Visiting your local library or telling your parents to take you to the local astronomy club becomes a must. You are amazed at the telescopes and want to rent a portable one. But then you dream of having your own telescope and lie on your lawn with cookies and cocoa and enjoy all the wonders in the sky.

For home school programs I recommend a pair of hand held binoculars with a 50mm lens and a 7mm exit pupil. The main lenses collect light rays and the exit pupil allows just the right amount of light to pass through. Choose a pair of binoculars with a magnification of 10x and not more. A higher magnification will, no doubt, produce a better resolution, but a slight shake of the hand, and you will lose the star you are looking at.

You can buy a good 10 x 50mm pair or a 7 x 50mm pair for as little as $100. A tripod and a L-adaptor would be great accessories to go in for.

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Telling the Time by Looking at the Stars

To tell the time, you must first find Polaris, which is also called the North Star or the Pole Star. Polaris is a bright star that appears to be stationary while the other stars appear to move. Some people prefer to first find the Big Dipper, which is a constellation that outlines a dipper or a bowl with a handle. There are two stars on the side of the bowl opposite to the handle and they are called Dubhe and Merak. When you connect these stars with an imaginary line and extend the length of the line 5 times upwards, you will find Polaris.

Now imagine a round clock with the Polaris at the center.The imaginary line is the hour hand of your star clock (no minute hand). You will notice that this hour hand (and the Big Dipper) moves around the Polaris in a complete circle. So your imaginary hour hand will move around the Polaris just like the hand of a clock. The only difference is that it will move counterclockwise, and therefore you will have to imagine the clock as a mirror image of your kitchen clock. This means that 12 will be in the same place, but 1 will be in place of 11, 2 will be in place of ten, 3 will be in place of 9, and so on.

Depending on where you live, on the midnight of March 1, you will find that your imaginary hour hand points to 12. Now when the hour hand moves to 1 (normally 11) it will be 2 am in the morning. You must count two hours for every 5 minute mark. When the hour hand is at 3 (normally 9), the time is 2 times 3, that is 6 in the morning. This will give you a fair idea about how our ancestors told the time by looking at the skies.

You can buy a ready-made star clock at an Astronomy store. By turning the paper dial to match the exact position of the Big Dipper, you will be able to tell the time.

For your free “Homeschool Parent’s Guide to Teaching Science”, filled with great science experiments and activities, visit the link below