Astronomy for Kids Tips for Observing Space from a Telescope

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Introducing your child to the world of astronomy will open their eyes to a whole new experience. By observing space from a telescope, they will learn the ABCs of observation and have a far better understanding of the world above. Your child will also be better educated in regards to understanding the solar system, how the earth tilts and so forth. Amateur astronomy is a whole new venture which is such fun. Each and every time your child looks through their telescope or eyepiece, they will be observing a distant part of the universe which is highly fascinating. If your child follows the tips below and utilizes the information within, they will become well equipped for observing space from a telescope and enjoy themselves immensely. They will sharpen their minds and have an interest which they will approach with great enthusiasm. And he or she, will be one step ahead of their peers at school in regards to scientific knowledge.

To observe space from a telescope successfully, children need to know how to use a compass and be able to determine north, south and even east and west. Without this knowledge stargazing will be very difficult. Finding specific objects will be so much easier. Invest in some astrology books, and a star chart. Now sit down with the children and get acquainted with the solar system, the fact that the earth spins, why stars appear to move across the sky. Allow your child to learn as many facts as possible. They may wish to know what shooting stars really are. Every amateur astrologist needs a planisphere chart and these are relatively inexpensive.

A planisphere consists of a star chart as well as a horizon overlay. Now depending on the time of year as well as the time of night it shall be used, one sees different stars. To use the planisphere correctly, simply face north, now turn the horizontal overlay until the month and the time are correct. The stars you now see on the plan sphere must match those in the sky. Many amateur astronomers tend to hold this over their heads but most professional astronomers say there is no need to do so. The author finds that following the instructions above are all that you need to do. The planisphere works somewhat like a GPS or street directory.

Eye Strain:

Parents much ensure that their kids avoid eye strain. No doubt your child will be more than eager to get started but ensure they take short breaks. Have your child do some simple eye exercises which will benefit them in the long run. Professional astronomers take time out to cup their eyes with the palm of their hands and relax for 60 seconds. Others simply walk away from they eyepiece at half hour intervals. One could also have their child rolling their eyes up and down, side to side and around for 60 seconds. Now have them closing their eyes for 60 seconds to give the eyes a rest. Eye fatigue can cause major problems down the track so be sure to explain this to your child prior to allowing them to sky track.

Eye Patch:

Your child may feel like a pirate with an eye patch but there is good reason for purchasing these. Wearing and eye patch over the eye which will be deemed the ‘observing eye” while setting up the telescope and other equipment, will give your child a fully darkened well adapted eye for observation. They will certainly notice the difference and you will too if you use an eye patch. Now move the patch to the eye which is the non-observing eye while using the eyepiece. See the difference? By using an eye-patch both eyes can be kept open and this aids in reducing eye fatigue. Test it out if you are sceptical.

Remember Your Batteries:

Always carry spare batteries so that you will not miss out on anything. Take the batteries you know you will need and some spares. Be prepared is the motto your child should be taught from the onset.

Teach Your Child About Focusing:

If your child wishes to step into the world of astrophotography, they will need their lenses set at infinity. The latest auto-focus lens go way past infinity when used by hand. But by setting the lens at infinity, you resolve this problems very easily. Set them at infinity during the daylight hours and lock it. You can do this by using tape around the barrel if needed.

Increase Your Child’s Sensitivity To Low Levels of Illumination:

This is deemed ‘dark adaptation.’ Within the first half minute, the sensitivity of the eyes actually increases 10,000 fold. But with just a little exposure to bright light temporarily, the eyes become accustomed and the strength of them increases. Of course the duration and the intensity of light comes into the equation as well. Your child’s eyes will become more sensitive to red light at night than a flash from a strobe light. Therefore, they will see more in red light than any other colour. Now simply use a red light and adjust its intensity to the lowest possible. Let your child to gaze at this briefly. Thirty seconds then a break, another 30 seconds and then another break.

Telescope Tapping:

An excellent tip for amateur astronomers is to tap gently on the telescope tube or mount when viewing objects in the sky. This is deemed “rocking the scope” and is done by professional astronomers to define smaller objects better. Your child will be amazed at how various detail basically pops out right in front of their eyes. Your child can tap either the mount of the scope. The trick will still work whichever one they choose. This is often called “going deep”.

Observe Away From Pavements, Buildings and Large Objects:

All the above absorb heat during the day and release it at night. When the heat is released at night they create air currents. These are called heat images and they decrease the quality of the image in the telescope. Therefore observing from the top of an apartment block is not beneficial. Look for grass covered open areas.

Don’t Observe Through Windows:

The same problems apply as mentioned above. More so if there is a pronounced difference in air temperature within the house in comparison to outdoors. You will have a nasty air current which can degrade the image as well. If you must observe through a window leave it closed. But do remember that your window will now act as the lens within your optical system. You will need to aim the scope directly through the window and not at an angle. Do not point the scope up or down as this creates major distortion.

Give Your Eyes Time To Adjust To The Darkness:

Faint sky objects will not be seen too well if you do not allow enough time for the eyes the adjust to the darkness. This usually takes about 30 minutes under very dark conditions. Don’t look into any bright light while waiting for the eyes to adjust as this will ruin the overall image you shall see. Most astronomers make good use of red light when working with telescopes and reading sky maps. Purchase a handheld flash light with red lens of simply cover one with a couple of layers of red nail polish or red cellophane paper.

Align Your Scope:

If you are using a finder scope align this before you head outdoors. A finder scope is the little spotting device which sits atop the main telescope. This aids in lining up objects.

Turn The Magnification Down:

Start of with just a small amount of magnification. Too much can be a major mistake. It cause fuzziness and dark images. Images will be much brighter and sharper when the magnification is turned down.

Start Observing With A Low Power Eyepiece:

This will be the eyepiece you see which is marked with the highest number. You will find objects much easier at low power. The images will be much brighter and sharper overall.

Observe Easy To Locate Objects:

Children are eager to get started so have them finding easy objects such as a bright planet or the moon. Trying to find faint objects straight away could have them very frustrated. Children like to feel a sense of achievement so keep it simple at first to ensure they gain the confidence needed to go one step further. Attempting to locate galaxies and nebulae takes a load of practice. As a child gains confidence he/she will then become more experienced. They can then search for more challenging objects.

Teach Your Child The Names Of The Stars In Our Galaxy:

A very easy way to teach children the name of each planet in order starting from the closest to the sun, is to use each letter from planets backwards. Therefore you have S-Saturn, T-Titan, E-Earth, N-Neptune, A-Aurora, L-Luna, P-Pluto. This simplifies things for the child and makes remembering the planets more fun. Of course teach them the name of other stars as well as Mars, Venus, Jupiter and so forth, but start with the basics.

Learn About Averted vision:

This simply means to use the corners of your eyes. Your eyes are much more light sensitive to this area in comparison to the centre of the eyes. Therefore you should not continually just stare straight ahead at an object and expect it to be viewed clearly. Try glancing at it from the side of your eye when using a telescope and you will notice the difference. This could make a great difference to seeing something in the sky and missing it altogether.

Keep Your Child's Expectation Real:

Keep your child’s expectations real. Kids have very vivid imaginations, due to this they often have preconceived ideas about a number of things. A small child’s imagination could run away with them and they could be very disappointed if they don’t find the man in the moon, see the birth of stars and so forth. Keep their expectations reasonable and they won’t be upset. A backyard telescope is minuscule in comparison to those they may have seen at planetariums and so forth. It is imperative that you explain this to them. They will not enjoy the image quality and detail which they see on television, magazines or at the movies. Now remember that watching objects close to the sun is dangerous, it can wreck the eyes. Ensure that the child is comfortable, have them sit instead of stand whenever possible. Astronomy is your child’s personal voyage to discovery. Help to make that a wonderful adventure for them.

More about this author: Janette Waldron

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