A kid in foggy goggles yells BELLY FLOPPP!, the sound of the lifeguard whistle blows, the smell of Chlorine fills the hot air, and suddenly, nostalgia has made her way to us. What are some of your best summer memories? Maybe it’s chasing after the ice cream truck, cannonballing into the lake, catching fireflies in jars, or selling lemonade to the cars that pass by. All make for a pretty epic summer break. But what about stargazing at a National Park? If you have children in your life, it’s essential you add stargazing to their list of favorite summer pastimes! And hey – you’re never too old to create a new memory yourself.
Midwest National Parks of the United States offer a sanctuary of natural darkness, making them perfect stargazing sites. Head over to one before the summer is over – many parks actually have night sky programs. Pick the park of your choice and ask the folks at the visitor center about the program. Thank your lucky stars (and your national park ranger) for the opportunity because that giddy summer’s here feeling you had as a kid is about to return.
Before setting off for your stargazing adventure, order Junior Ranger Night Explorer, an activity booklet from the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior. To start off, the booklet will guide you through smart stargazing, including what items to bring with you so you can see all the planets and star clusters up close and personal. With Junior Ranger Night Explorer, your little rising stars will learn how to find the North Star, track phases of the moon, learn about galaxies, and use all their senses to explore the night environment at a national park.
What’s perhaps even cooler is that right inside the booklet are some stargazing tools! Cut out the planisphere (also known as a star wheel) and holder provided in the booklet. Then turn the wheel until the date appears above the time that you are out at night. The constellations visible at that time will appear in the window. Next, hold the planisphere above your head and look up at it to see where each constellation is located in the sky.
If you notice that some stars appear to be different colors than others, it’s because they are! The colors of stars indicate what temperature they are. For example, blue stars are hot, while red stars aren’t so hot. The sun is yellow, which means it’s a medium temperature. By studying the color of a star, astronomers can learn about its birth, life and death. That’s right! Just like us, stars are born, alive for some time (about ten billion years that is), and eventually die.
Creative Junior Night Explorers can even make up their own constellation story. The Big Dipper was known to Native Americans and Greeks as a big bear, but farmers in England knew it as a plow. Their differing ways of life actually influenced what they believed the shape to be – pretty incredible, right? Now grab your handy dandy Junior Ranger Night Explorer activity booklet and draw your own constellation!
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About the author: Blogger contributor Cat Goergen is the PR Specialist in GPO’s Public Relations office.