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jtswestark

star gazing

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Now that June is here, summer constellations are in full visibility. I am always looking for new and better ways to get Scouts fired up about astronomy, including talking about the space station, satellites, planets, galaxies, etc...

I was curious what kind of programs your troop uses to teach constellations?

What percentage of your Scouts earn Astronomy MB?

Does showing them pictures of the characters help them envision the constellations?

Do telescopes or other aides help fuel their fire?

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Here in Pittsburgh, we have 2 great resources:

 

1. Monthly "star-gazing" parties during the warm weather months held by a local astronomy club at a nearby park. They are very scout friendly and allow the scouts to look through (not touch) their telescopes and ask lots of questions. We usually attend and wander with the boys for 1-2 hours while they talk and explore.

 

2. Our local Science Center also has a planetarium and MB program for the Astronomy MB. The scouts cannot earn it in one fell swoop, but must observe the sky for several weeks and document their studies. The planetarium really gives them a head start and most finish the observations without a problem.

 

As a result of these, and Astronomy MB offers at Summer Camp, about 80% of our scouts earn the MB. It is one of our Troop's more popular ones (after leatherwork and basketweaving).

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Hi jtswestark,

 

We get about 2 scouts per year trying to earn Astronomy at summer camp. When you have a good counselor who'll conduct "night under the stars" sleepouts, I find that gets them interested. There are a couple of iPad apps out there that use the GPS location to show the night sky, labelled with constellation names, so that as you hold the screen overhead, the screen is supposed to show the correct labels with the portion of the sky it lines up with. Haven't used them though. I do use the Planets iPhone app to help figure out when what is visible. For the free price, it has a decent 3-D view of the sky.

 

I've personally found that when I show the Scouts Saturn through a small telescope, they think it's cool how 3-D and real the planet looks with its rings, instead of the flat whitish disks that the other planets show. This summer, Saturn is out until 3:00 AM. Talking about the Mars rovers works, too, especially if you've done some robotics-kit stuff.

 

Pictures of the characters? Not really helpful in my experience, but I do get more mileage out of the "connect the dots" pictures showing what stars belong to a constellation, and then using a bright flashlight at night to point out the stars. Just make sure you hold it above everyones' heads and that no one uses a light during the nighttime viewing session except if they are red lights to preserve night vision.

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Looking to load the scope for tonight's campout.

 

I don't bother counseling the MB. Like Frank17 says, there are far more qualified folks in our community who can teach it. And I'd rather the boys make an effort to see these good people and get a solid set of lessons.

 

I just tell the kids to line up east to west in chairs or on the ground with their heads pointed north. The older scouts help the younger ones find Polaris. Then we point out what can be seen. (And what could be seen if our eyes could see infra-red and ultraviolet, or if the atmosphere weren't in the way.)

 

We talk about distances. About the sizes of stuff. About the speed of things. About what the ancient's thought. About how this is a unique time in our solar system's history where it is drifting between arms of our galaxy giving us maybe an 11 million year window with the least obstructed view of the rest of the universe. And on and on ... Whoever wants to go back to the fire (some distance away to avoid light pollution) may do so. The boys who stay wind up actually seeing the sky rotate above them the one's who don't will be the ones saying "where? where?" after they hear a boy shout "oooh a shooting star!".

 

The only thing I make everyone do is keep their flashlights off or pointed to the ground away from people's faces.

 

A simple star chart is handy. The 18th cent. drawings are useless. But the stories behind the characters (if you've learned them) are definitely worth retelling.

 

I tend not to set up the scope until the boys are off playing capture the flag (or whatever). That way, whoever drifts by can take a peak once I sight stuff in. Waiting in line while a guy fiddles with knobs and gears is the worst "put-off." A piece of equipment that's so expensive you won't let boys touch it and learn to use is also a "put-off."

 

Anyway, I gotta go find that box of lenses ...

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Radio Shack sells a really cool laser which projects a visible green beam, like a really long Star Wars light saber. That's really helpful to use as a pointer. Instead of waving your finger at the sky saying, "see there's the handle and theres the dipper part and if you trace the last two stars...." meanwhile everyone is nodding, whether they see what you're talking about or not.

 

I have a nice pair of binocs, 7x50, so they're really bright. Great for the moon and planets, but you pick up a lot of cool stuff like the Andromeda galaxy which you don't often see with the naked eye, depending on ambient light and your own vision. They have a fairly wide field of vision so what you see when with or without them is relatively the same, just better resolution.

 

I like teaching consellations by teaching the mythology which goes along with them. You're much more likely to remember the story of King Cephus, Andromeda, Perseus and Pegasus than you are to remember a bunch of random constellations. A really great book for that is published by The Nature Company (the science store in the mall) and I think the name of it was Star Watching, but I'm not sure (and can't put my hands on it right now). It has a two-page layout for every constellation and it's surrounding area of sky. For each part of the sky, it include all the hard science, the location of deep-space objects, etc., PLUS the mythology that goes along with the constellation. Many times it will include myths of cultures other than the usual Greco-Roman stuff we usually follow.

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Download Stellarium onto your laptop computer.

(http://www.stellarium.org/wiki/index.php/Main_Page)

 

The program can be put into "night mode" to take out side and not ruin your night vision. Hook your laptop to a projector inside and you have a planetarium.

 

I've used this to teach Cub Scouts Astronomy Belt loop/pin and plan to do so to teach the merit badge.

 

Best regards,

Eagle '77

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This weekend, I did something a little different. I used the telescope to project an image of the sun onto paper (NEVER LOOK AT The Sun DIRECTLY THROUGH A TELESCOPE OR BINOCULARS.) I introduced the boys to counting sun spots.

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I have "Star Gazer" on my phone and Ipad, but haven't taken them on a campout to use. The images they have don't really match the stars very well, but it is nice for a quick locator when get disoriented and reminder when you forget. But I've found it's tough to keep the attention of too many boys for very long past 8 constellations to begin with. So I can usually go for memory on most nights. It's when one asks about a tough one I haven't heard of or can't rememeber... thats when the app could help.

I used to bring along a great book, but looking down at a book in the dark, muffling the flashlight, screwing up your night vision, then looking back up and trying to readjust... just never worked real well.

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Meteor showers Thursday & Friday nights. Saw several last night while sitting at the fire in the backyard with Dave. To cloudy tonight.

 

Jack, are you playing around with a new unit up in Buffalo?

 

At camp, scouts from the other unit out in Calumet with us were using Google Sky, and another app. out on the dam. They both worked nicely, especially the one with the GPS app.

 

126 at OLOP took a tarp and painted the constellations on the underside. They have the scouts lay under the tarp, and teacj them the constellations before going to camp.

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We have a planetarium and some nice telescopes nearby so our resources might be better than some. However, I try to get them interested in this kind of thing while discussing celestial navigation. Most of them have never heard of the plane of the ecliptic, how to find it, or what it means in terms of season or latitude. The ones who are mature enough to grasp the significance quickly extend this to the other objects and that's where I send them on to the real astronomers.

 

BTW, I am continually disheartened by the majority of them who for some reason cling to the idea that the seasons have something to do with earth's varying distance from the sun. Some ideas are hard to kill.

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Radio Shack sells a really cool laser which projects a visible green beam, like a really long Star Wars light saber. That's really helpful to use as a pointer. Instead of waving your finger at the sky saying, "see there's the handle and theres the dipper part and if you trace the last two stars...." meanwhile everyone is nodding, whether they see what you're talking about or not.

 

I bought the "Green Laser Pointer 25 mW Professional Military Astronomy Grade by Green" from Amazon for about $12. This model has since doubled in price, but $12 seems to be a common price (at times).

 

As I understand it, the beams of green pointer lasers are all visible (unlike red lasers--which we use for Wide Games). Evidently most Scouts have never seen one before because they never fail to impress!

 

You will notice a remarkable number of negative reviews for green lasers. When I first got mine, the awesome green beam faded away after an evening of passing it around the campfire.

 

I replaced the factory AAA batteries with Energizer 900mAh rechargeable batteries but it had become a weak dud. However when I used Energizer Advanced Lithium batteries, the unit was again truly awesome.

 

Yours at 300 feet,

 

Kudu

http://kudu.net

 

 

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