Winter nights are undeniably great for cosy reading on the sofa, but they’re also often ideal for star gazing with kids. Early darkness, not long after getting home from school, combined with frosty, clear nights means that we’re able to look up at the moon, stars and planets long before bedtime. There’s nothing like a bit of awe and wonder before your fishfingers for supper, we’ve discovered.
Night Sky Watcher by Raman Prinja is the latest astronomy book we’ve been using to aid our journeys through the night sky. It’s chock full of practical advice, not only on how to find constellations and planets when you tilt your head up to the darkness above, but also how to make your star gazing fun and easy.
Night Sky Watcher has separate sections on observing stars, planets and “unusual sights” such as satellites, meteor showers and eclipses. Richly illustrated with astronomical photos, short boxes and bubbles deliver bite-sized parcels of facts and viewing advice, supplemented by activity ideas ranging from joining up stars to form your own constellation to acting out planetary orbits with friends. I love the book’s emphasis on going out there and doing astronomy, not just reading about it.
One aspect which has worked especially well for us is the star spotting guide; constellations are presented in their stellar context, with Prinja showing us how once we’ve found one set of stars we can use that constellation to navigate to another. “Star-hopping” has been a big hit and has really extended the girls’ previous experience and understanding of looking up at the celestial sky.
The book’s design is rather clever; it comes in a silver edged zipper pouch, which immediately suggests adventurous astronaut gear. The book isn’t “just” a book, it’s part of your night sky watching equipment designed for taking outside and using in situ. The book’s interior feels equally modern and slick with “astrofacts” appearing every few pages on an iPad/tablet screen and glossy paper adding to the sheen and sparkle of the astronomical photos.
Before heading into the dark to look for stars the girls and I boosted our star-pattern recognition skills but making our own bag of indoor magnetic stars which we could move around on the fridge and radiators to form the constellations we’d be looking for once we got outside.
Once we had a handful of glowing “stars” we set about making the constellations we wanted to look for in the night sky. Alongside Night Sky Watcher we also used this constellation crib sheet to help us place our stars in the right patterns on a radiator in a dark room.
Once we’d made a few constellations the girls got another idea. Recalling the time we “scribbled” with light (using a long shutter release on my camera), M and J wanted to draw the constellations in the air; in Night Sky Watcher (as in standard practice when learning about constellations), the stars are “joined up” by lines to give the constellation’s outline, and it was these outlines that the girls wanted to try and draw.
Can you recognise this constellation?! It’s meant to be Cassiopeia…
Drawing the constellations wasn’t as easy as using the light magnets to lay out the right patterns and soon our “drawing with the light of stars” became rather free-form.
Whilst making our magnetic stars we listened to:
Other activities which might go well with reading Night Sky Watcher include:
Other space books we’ve enjoyed recently are How to be a Space Explorer written by Mark Brakea nd illustrated by Emma Jones and Space Exploration: A Three-Dimensional Expanding Pocket Guide by John Holcroft. What space books have you recently discovered?
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Night Sky Watcher by the publisher.