Astronomy Resources for Budding Scientists

Astronomy Resources for Budding Scientists!

Being accessible to everyone, everywhere, at all times, the sky is the ultimate community-based educational resource! Using a wealth of resources from books to apps, citizen science to local planetariums, families can explore outer space together and learn experientially about the sky above us.

Studies of outer space can be intriguing to young minds – particularly due to their mysterious nature. In plain sight all day and all night, the sky is filled with fascinating things both big and bright that are impossible to touch and nearly impossible to experience (there aren’t a lot of job openings for astronauts these days).

In order to support young Earth-bound astronomers in their pursuit of learning about all things outer space, families can utilize online resources, books, and – best of all – numerous community-based learning opportunities and resources!

Community Resources

Locally, families can explore the stars with a handful of community organizations or at one of many planetariums. In Williamstown, Williams College is home to the Milham Planetarium and two observatories, and offers planetarium shows to the community during the academic year. Amherst College’s Bassett Planetarium offers tours and star-centric programs to school and community groups. The Springfield Museums, too, are home to a venue for celestial learning – the Seymour Planetarium offers daily planetarium shows on a variety of topics to visitors. Additionally, local organizations like the Springfield Stars Club, Arunah Hill Natural Science Center, the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomers’ Association, and the Five College Astronomy Program periodically offer workshops, classes, stargazing, and other learning opportunities for star enthusiasts of all ages.

Technology-Based Resources

Of course, the internet is filled with resources for learning about outer space. Young aspiring astronauts can begin their studies of space with Star Child, an educational website that provides kid-friendly information about the universe in both text and audio form. Filled with content-specific vocabulary (with an accompanying glossary) and divided into two sections based on age and reading level. For teens and tweens, NASA’s Imagine the Universe offers similar information and resources, but with more depth and detail that older students can understand. Parents can help to teach children about early ideas about the universe by using resources in the Library of Congress’ Understanding the Universe: Changing Models of the Solar System and the Universe. Made up of a collection of historical images, this online resource comes with a teacher’s guide and pre-made graphic organizers for collecting information from the images.

For users of tablets and smart phones, numerous apps are available to help decode the patterns of the twinkling night sky. SkyView, a free app for Apple devices, provides users with a map of the night sky that shows you what’s around you – and what’s out there that you can’t see. When the app is open, devices can be pointed to the sky in order to reveal a full map of the night sky that can be used to identify constellations, planets, and more. Can’t wait until nighttime to get a dose of stars and planets? Astronomy Picture of the Day sends fascinating pictures of beautiful wonders of the universe right to your device every day! Pictures can be saved for further observation, and have been hand-selected by NASA astronomers.

Citizen Science

Further locally-based studies of outer space can take place by engaging in celestial-themed citizen science projects – of which there are many! Families can help European scientists to map light pollution around the globe by participating in Loss of the Night, a project that asks participants to download and use an app in order to measure the amount of sky glow present in the night sky above them. Galaxy Zoo, a web-based citizen science opportunity, asks participants to support researchers in learning about how galaxies form. Citizen scientists participating in Galaxy Zoo are shown pictures of galaxies and asked to classify them based on their shape – some of these pictures are of galaxies yet to be seen by any other human being, meaning participants might get to be the first to ever them!

In our own home galaxy, families can learn about the sun by participating in a citizen science project to spot solar flares. Solar Storm Watch helps scientists to track solar storms on their path to earth by asking citizen scientists to watch for and tag flares, identifying them for the scientists involved. Families can engage in citizen science surrounding one of the most mysterious space topics of all – extraterrestrial intelligence. SETI@home (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) uses a free computer program to download and analyze radio telescope data – furthering the search for intelligent life outside of the planet Earth.

Finally, families can share their enthusiasm about outer space with others by hosting or attending an International Observe the Moon Night (IOMN) event! While such events aren’t truly citizen science in that they don’t require participants to collect and share scientific data, they are community-based science in that they bring together science enthusiasts for observation and experiential learning! Families celebrating IOMN can do so this year on Saturday, September 19th, 2015, when moon-loving folks around the world will come together to observe and share appreciation for our planet’s lone moon.


Stargazers can learn more about outer space from the pages of these great books:

And what should you listen to while observing the beautiful moon? The astronomy episode of the Hilltown Family Variety Show, of course!

[Photo credit: (cc) Mr.TinDC; Ohad Ben-Yoseph]

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