On a new moon night in 1986, a family in the San Fernando Valley got into their station wagon at 8pm. The sun had already set when they reached the crest of Griffith Park in the Hollywood Hills, where the Griffith Observatory offered the best view of the night sky.
Equipped with a home made telescope constructed out of an elbow piece of pipe and a mirror, the family, along with several thousand other Los Angeles residents, peered up at the flaring tail of Halley’s Comet. Though it was just a slightly orange wisp in the milky sky, no member of the family would ever forget it.
There is a constant show happening on the celestial stage and now with the quantum leaps forward in GPS and touch screen technology, we can access a world of information about the cosmos. We put together a list of tools for introducing your budding astronomers to some awe-inspiring sights and facts.
No matter where you are in the summer, there is something extraordinary happening in the night sky.
Summer is the best time for stargazing. If you already have plans to go camping or traveling, take a little time to figure out what might be visible from your location. Moonless nights present the most visibility, and there is nothing like a campfire and a view of the constellations.
Telescopes offer a remarkable view of the stars and there are many, highly rated, beginner-friendly options that won’t break that bank and require minimal set up. Some of them have full stands, desktop stands or portable handheld models with excellent magnification. A quick search on Google can provide a wide array of recommended telescopes.
Smart devices offer universes of education and fun. Below are some very nifty apps that provide beautifully rendered drawings of the solar system, engaging games and other juicy celestial information you and your kids can explore, whether conditions are optimal or not.
SkySafari offers NASA images collected from the Hubble. It has fantastic GPS and provides updates on upcoming celestial events: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/skysafari-3/id437108143?mt=8
Pocket Universe is great for beginners; it has easy identification for planets and stars, and it even has a quiz built in: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pocket-universe-virtual-sky/id306916838?mt=8
SimpleRockets is a game based on real physics that lets the user design their own craft and use actual calculations to complete successful missions: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/simplerockets/id663068211?mt=8
There is so much to discover about the vast reaches of space– and doing it as a family is all that much more rewarding. We have at our disposal both the original sense of inquiry that our early ancestors did, along with the most powerful tools to experience the magic of the night sky. For more resources on stargazing with your family, check out Sky and Telescope: