No matter how far along you are in your sophistication as an amateur astronomer, there is always one fundamental moment that we all go back to. That is the first moment we went out where you could observe the stars and the cosmos well and look into the night sky.
Most of us have no idea of the vast panorama of lights that dot a clear night sky when there are no city lights to interfere with the view. For city dwellers, this is a revelation as profound as if we discovered aliens living among us.
Sure we all love the enhanced experience of studying the sky using binoculars and various sizes and powers of telescopes. But I bet you can remember as a child the first time you saw the fully displayed clear night sky with all the unique constellations, meteors, and comets moving about and an exposure of dots of light far too numerous to ever count.
Recapture the wonder
The best way to recapture the wonder is to go out in the country with a child who has never had this experience and gaze up and say that compelling word that is the only one that can summarize the feelings they are having viewing that magnificent sky.
That word is – “Wow.”
Probably the most remarkable fact about what that child is looking at that is also the most difficult for them to grasp is the sheer enormity of what is above them and what it represents.
The very fact that virtually every dot up there in the sky is another star or celestial body that is vastly larger than Earth itself. It can be a mind-blowing idea to kids not by twice or ten times but by factors of hundreds and thousands. Children have enough trouble imagining the size of Earth itself, much less something on such a grand scope as outer space.
But when it comes to astronomy, we do better when we fall into deeper and deeper levels of awe at what we see in the night sky. Some amazing facts about what the children are looking at can add to the goosebumps they already have as they gaze skyward.
Solar System Facts.
- Our sun is part of a giant galaxy called the Milky Way that consists of one hundred billion stars just like it or more prominent. Show them that one hundred billion is 100,000,000,000, and you will surely see some jaws drop.
- The milky was is just one of tens of billions of galaxies, each of which has billions of stars. The Milky Way is one of the small galaxies.
- If you wanted to drive across the Milky Way, it would take 100,000 years.
But you can’t get there driving the speed limit. It would help if you went five trillion, eight hundred million miles yearly to get across that fast.
- Scientists calculate that the Milky Way is 14 billion years old.
These little fun facts should get a pretty spirited discussion about the universe’s origins, the possibility of space travel, or if there is life on other planets. You can challenge the kids to calculate that if every star in the Milky Way supported nine planets and only one was habitable like Earth, what are the odds that life would exist on one of them? You will see some genuine excitement when they try to run those numbers.
Such discussion can be fun, exciting, and full of questions. Don’t be too hasty to shut down their imaginations, as this is the birth of a lifelong love of astronomy that they are experiencing.
And if you were there that first moment they observe the stars in that night sky, you will re-experience your great moment when you were a child. And it might all set off a whole new excitement about astronomy.