Learn to stargaze and explore the sky

Part of the Kinderling Conversation for parents. Weekdays 12pm-1pm.

Thu 18 August 2016

14 mins

If there’s one area of exploration that’s been captivating people for centuries, it’s the night sky. The moon, stars, planets and the Milky Way have all been the subject of songs, films, rocket missions and more!

Millie Maier is an astronomer passionate about introducing kids to the night sky. Originally from California, stars and space have fascinated Millie since she was seven. With a PhD in astrophysics from Oxford University, Millie’s love of stars brought her to Australia where you can find her giving astronomy tours at Sydney Observatory.

“My favourite thing to do with kids is ask them what they see,” says Millie, “At the end of the day it’s just our imagination put into the sky, and most of these galaxies or stars– they don’t really live near each other in space – it just looks like they do to us, and they make little shapes from our perspective. If we lived in a different part of the galaxy, it would all look different.” 

Millie points out that the cool thing about stargazing is you don’t need a mobile phone, an app or even a paper map to get started! These are her instructions for recognising parts of the Australian sky.

Find the Southern Cross

First watch the sunset as it goes down in the West.

Turn 90 degrees South and look up.

In June, July and August the Southern Cross will appear as it does on the flag – but at other times of the year, it may look upside down.

Constellation Centaurus

To the left of the Southern Cross are two very bright stars: Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, also known as the ‘pointer stars’ because they point to the top of the Southern Cross. They are a part of the constellation Centaurus

Constellation Scorpius

If you draw a line from the horizontal part of the Southern Cross and take it all the way to the left (East), you’ll see something that looks like a scorpion tail. It opens to the East and wraps around to the South and then goes North where you’ll see a big, bright red star called Antares and then the little scorpion claws. You’ve found constellation Scorpius!

Spot planets

In winter, in sky at around 6:30-7pm, in the East you can see Saturn, almost right overhead is Mars, and then in the West is Jupiter. Venus and Mercury are also visible right after sunset also in the West. 

Want to see more of the sky?

Put the next lunar eclipse in your calendar! The next lunar eclipse will happen on 17th September 2016. For specific times when it will be visible in your region, you can check timeanddate.com and enter in your city.

You can also head to your local observatory and check out the night sky from a telescope. You can also pick up a sky map, sky guide or a sky atlas from the observatory or your favourite bookstore.

Record your stargazing exploration with a pic or a short video of your family checking out the stars and upload it to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with our hashtags #screenfreechallenge #kinderling

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