Astronomers study celestial objects (stars, planets, moon, asteroids, comets, galaxies, etc) that exist beyond our own planet. It’s the one field that combines most science, engineering and technology areas in one fell swoop.
Astronomy is also one of the oldest sciences on the planet. On this page, you’ll find information about how to get started in the field of astronomy.
There’s a lot of videos listed below, including how to use a telescope, exploring what’s up in the sky tonight, learning about the objects in our own solar system, and much more! You’ll also notice a listing of Astronomy Experiments in the menu. You can jump right to those after you finish the videos on this page.
Since astronomy combines so many different areas of science, including chemistry, optics, physics of light, matter, energy, motion and mechanics, it’s important to have the fundamentals in place before starting with the experiments.
Are you ready? Here we go!
Our solar system includes rocky terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn), ice giants (Uranus and Neptune), and assorted chunks of ice and dust that make up various comets and asteroids. Two planets (Ceres and Pluto) have been reclassified after astronomers found out more information about their neighbors. Ceres is now an asteroid in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Beyond Neptune, the Kuiper Belt holds the chunks of ice and dust, like comets and asteroids as well as larger objects like dwarf planets Eris and Pluto. Beyond the Kuiper belt is an area called the Oort Cloud, which holds an estimated 1 trillion comets.
The Oort Cloud is so far away that it’s only loosely held in orbit by our sun, and constantly being pulled gravitationally by passing stars and the Milky Way itself. The Voyager Spacecraft are beyond the heliosphere (the region influenced gravitationally by our sun) but has not reached the Oort Cloud.
Are your ready to learn all about the different areas of astronomy? We’re going to take an intergalactic star tour without leaving your seat! I’ve included several additional videos after the first planetarium-style star-show to help you better understand what’s up there in the night sky!
You can watch the videos in any order. Enjoy!
Stars, Planets, Moons, & Asteroids
Discover which planets are up in the night sky and how to find them, including how to see the moons of Saturn and Jupiter with only a simple pair of binoculars!
We’ll explore exotic moons, icy comets, rocky asteroids and dwarf planets on our tour of the solar system, and sneak a peek at interstellar objects recently detected that passed right through our solar system!
We’ll also learn about how it might be raining gemstones on the ice giants, how Jupiter regularly shocks its moons, how diamonds are actually quite common outside our solar system, and discover the one planet that actually has a tail!
Materials for this lesson are: old CD, razor, index card or foil, tape, cardboard tube, sheet of paper, and a magnet Click here to download the worksheet that goes with this lesson!
All About Comets!
We’re going to learn about comets, and learn how to make our very own! This isn’t something you want to do without adult help, because you’re going to need dry ice and ammonia, both of which are not for kids to handle.
Comets are made of basic organic (carbon based) materials we see here on earth. We’re going to learn how carbon dioxide sublimates (goes straight from a solid to a gas), how water forms an ice matrix, learn how comets leak particles and bits of junk as it sublimates in the sun, and notice when comets breaks apart and “calve” (breaking apart) – sometimes comets can come completely apart! Comets are actually fragile and easily shattered by tidal forces or breaking into pieces.
For this experiment we’re going to use a 5 lb block of dry ice, water, a carbon source (like crushed charcoal or graphite), silicates (play sand), and ammonia (use anhydrous ammonia – ammonia in water, because the real ammonia gives off nasty vapors), a bucket lined with a trash bag, heavy gloves, a hammer and plenty of adult help.
Deep Sky Astronomy
Welcome to our study on Deep Sky objects! We’re going to discover the objects you can see with your naked eyes as well as with binoculars. If you have a clear night sparkling with stars, it can fill you with awe and wonder… until you try to figure out what you’re looking at… “Is it a planet? A meteor shower? A smudge on my lens? What is that thing up there?”
We are going to focus on deep sky objects you can see with your eyes, with binoculars or even a small telescope, so after our session together, you can simply walk outside, look up, and understand what you’re looking at. The video below is pretty long, so if you’d rather watch smaller sections one at a time, jump down a little further where I’ve split the video into six different smaller videos. Same content, just not all at once. Both sets use the same worksheet handout.
Step 1: Download your free map of the night sky: www.SkyMaps.com It is available for Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Step 2: Print out this document Print out this document and use it to take notes during our time together. This document highlights the objects we will focus on during our session together. On the second page is a listing of the objects we’re going to cover. Use the extra space to take notes on each object, including magnitude, distances, and nearby constellations.
We’re going to cover over 20 different celestial objects, including galaxies, star clusters, planetary nebula, supernova remnants, and double stars. You’ll learn not only what these objects are, but where you can find them in the night sky! We’ll also look at how we know what kind of galaxy we live in, without actually being able to see it.
The only materials you need is this handout, your sky map for your hemisphere, and a pencil or highlighter. If you have a pair of binoculars, feel free to use them after class is over and you’re looking up!
Did you notice that the video above is really LONG? I’ve split it into six smaller-sized videos that you can watch below if you’d prefer. (Same worksheet handout, same content, smaller videos.)
Deep Sky Objects: Part 1: Galaxies
Deep Sky Objects: Part 2: Star Clusters
Deep Sky Objects: Part 3: Nebulae
Deep Sky Objects: Part 4: Double Stars
Deep Sky Objects: Part 5: Supernovae
Deep Sky Objects: Part 6: Putting it all together!
This video series (above) is good to watch before going outside tonight, because I’m going to show you not only what galaxies, nebula,e star clusters, double stars, and supernovae are, but also where to find them in your night sky!
How to find Meteorites
Meteorites are rocks from space that hit the Earth. They can be pieces of asteroids, comets or meteoroids. For this experiment, we’re going to need a white sheet of paper and a magnet.
How to Set Up and Use a Telescope
Let’s take a look at how a telescope is put together, and how to use it! If you’re looking for telescope recommendations, here they are:
1. Before purchasing a telescope, get a GOOD PAIR of binoculars and a star chart. (Telescopes are pretty useless unless you know where to point them.)
2. When you’re ready to get a scope, I have two recommendations:
What kind of scope you get depends on what you want to look at and who’s doing the looking.
If you’re an adult interested in planetary stuff, then you’d get a 90-120mm refractor.
If you are a kid wanting to look at deep sky objects, then go with a 6 to 8” Dobsonian, since it’s the least expensive, biggest “bang for your buck” that also has a mount that is close to the ground so kids don’t knock it over.
How to Star Gaze with Binoculars
A good pair under $50 are Celestron’s Cometron 7×50 bincoulars. These are a good starter pair for the night sky.
My personal favorite with binoculars are Orion’s UltraViews, which are outstanding for astronomy. I have the 10×50 wide-angle, but you can really get any set of binoculars and use the video below to determine if they will be good for astronomy!
Click here to download the worksheet that goes with this class. Is time travel into the future possible? Are there really such bizarre objects that warp space and freeze time? What about wormholes and tunneling – are those possible? You bet!
We’re going to take a sneak peek at the laws of physics that govern these things and more! We’ll discover what happens to stars that wander too close to a black hole, what happens when black holes smack into each other, and figure out the different ways to detect black holes since they are invisible.
A lot of people think that this side of physics is way too hard to comprehend. In fact, it doesn’t take an Einstein to understand these concepts at all. In fact, you already know about the concepts behind special relativity from your everyday life experience. (I’ll show you that today in our class together!)
Are you ready to discover your inner Einstein? Join me as we discover stars, planets and black holes. It’s like going to the planetarium, but you get to do it right at home! Listen to pulsars, learn how telescopes are built, explore black holes, and make energy plasma in your kitchen.
Here’s what you’ll need: Two balls, one larger than the other (like a tennis ball and basketball, or a bouncy ball and a racquetball), a strong magnet, a thin sheet (like a plastic cutting board, sheet of cardboard, or inside cover of a hardbound book… you need to make a ramp), metal ball bearing OR magnetic marble (you need something that rolls that is also strongly attracted to the magnet).
Light is energy that can travel through space. How much energy light has determines what kind of wave it is. It can be visible light, x-ray, radio, microwave, gamma or ultraviolet. The electromagnetic spectrum shows the different energies of light and how the energy relates to different frequencies, and that’s exactly what we’re going to cover in class.
We’re going to talk about light, what it is, how it moves, and it’s generated, and learn how astronomers study the differences in light to tell a star’s atmosphere from millions of miles away.
Materials: Tape, pencil, ruler or yardstick, paper, calculator, red laser, flashlight, glass of water, large chocolate bar, microwave, plate, orange highlighter, and an old CD Click here to download the worksheet that goes with this class.
One of the perks of being a scientist are all the GADGETS! This includes microscopes, telescopes, and binoculars! This video (above) will outline the different instruments, what they are used for, and how to pick the best one for what you want to do.
Microscope Recommendation: Pick one that has a mechanical stage (instead of stage clips), a coarse and fine adjustment knob (make sure these turn freely and easily), three lenses (4X, 10X, and 40X), and 10X at the eyepiece. If you are planning to use it outdoors, get one with a adjustable-position reflective mirror on the bottom, otherwise one with a lamp that plugs in works well. Expect to pay $125-$250 for a good model.
You’ll also need microscope slides, cover slips, tweezers, vials, stain, and crazy glue (to permanently nail your specimens to the slide).
Binocular Recommendation: Be sure to watch the video above about how to tell if your binoculars are good for star gazing! If you want to purchase a pair, I personally recommend 7×50 or 10×50’s. (Don’t go bigger – they get really heavy after holding them up for long periods of time.)
Telescope Recommendation: If you’re looking for a good beginner scope, check out the 6 to 8” Dobsonian that you can build yourself.
Telescopes & Binoculars
How do you know if your telescope is a good one? Are your binoculars good for astronomy?
We’re going to go over “The Most Important Numbers” – numbers and specifications for a scope and binoculars that really tell you how good they are for use with astronomy, and what you can really use them for specifically. For example, some telescopes are much better for looking at the moon and planets, and others are better for deep sky observing, and it can be confusing to tell which is which.
This is a 2-part video series, so here is Part I:
In Part II (below) we cover t he best accessories for your telescope. Ready?
The Best Accessories for your Telescope
Astronomy Scavenger Hunt
Now that you’ve worked through a lot of our Astronomy content (and if you haven’t, go back and do that before going here!), we have a special treat for you! You can download our Astronomy Treasure Hunt worksheet (don’t peek at the back, that’s where the answers are). Give it to a parent who will read it off to you, and you can run around the house and find the answers you need!
Star Gazing: What’s Up in the Sky Tonight?
It’s that time again for SUMMER star gazing! This is the time of warm, late nights sparkling with stars, planets and meteor showers! We are going to focus on objects you can see with binoculars or small telescope. We’ll also show you how to use Star Charts to help you navigate and find objects. You can download your sky map free here: Click here to download the current SkyChart (it’s free).
During our time together, you’ll be able to interact with Kent, ask questions, and gain insight on the next objects to search for to take your star gazing to the next level. We will bring you you a virtual “tour of the night sky” where you can discover, learn, and ask questions as we go along!
- Download your copy of the free star charts from SkyMaps
- Click here to download a Moon Map
- Click to get the Skygazer’s Almanac (this is just a sample so you can learn how to read it)
- If you’d like the current version from Sky & Telescope for your latitude, go here.
Make sure you download your free star chart!
Click here to download the star chart!