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The Webfooted Astronomer - August 2000

 

Making Astronomy a Family Affair

By Laurie Moloney

"WHEN I was 5 years old I found Jupiter all by myself in the scope," said Ariel Angell, who is now 8 years old. "I love staying up late, too." Ariel's father, John Angell, has been taking his daughter to Table Mountain since she was three years old.

My brother Duane Moloney and his wife Peggy have been bringing their three kids to Table Mountain for the last nine years. At the 1999 TMSP, I spent several hours with my niece Sara, then 10, teaching her how to use the telescope. "I like looking at stars and staying up late," said Sara. "I liked learning how to use Aunt Laurie's scope and saw Venus, Jupiter, and the Pleiades. I stayed up until 2:30 a.m.!" Sara also enjoyed learning how ancient cultures viewed the heavens.

Sara's brother, Mathew, 14, says globular clusters are his favorite. "The big mass of stars is cool!" Their younger sister, Christine, 9, says she likes looking at the stars through the telescope. "Especially the ones you hold, like the Astroscan," she said. She was thrilled when she found Jupiter by herself in the 6-inch Dobsonian telescope that her family built together.

Great for the kids and the adults

Sharing astronomy with the kids in your immediate or extended family can benefit both you and the kids. Children who are exposed to the natural world at an early age learn to care about and respect the environment. And no adult is as important to a child as her parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Family camping trips remain my most precious memories of childhood. It was my father's patient teaching about the trees, plants, animals, and stars in the Colorado Rocky Mountains that gave me my enthusiasm and respect for nature—and my hobby as an amateur astronomer.

In addition, exposing kids to amateur astronomy can build their self-esteem by teaching them problem solving skills and give them opportunities to succeed. And they'll feel special and appreciated when you include them in your hobby.

My sister-in-law, Peggy Moloney, says, "Going to Table Mountain has given my kids a passion for knowledge. They are learning that science can be fun and doesn't always require books. It's a way for them to explore their skills. "For me, it's a safe family event where you can get away from it all and go camping. Table Mountain has been an opportunity to create a family tradition."

How to teach kids astronomy

John Angell learned a long time ago that the easiest object for small kids to view is the moon. "The moon is so bright that you can see the projected image of the moon on the child's eye. This way, you can tell if the child is actually seeing the moon. Also, because children do not have the adequate coordination needed to close one eye, I teach them to keep both eyes open, covering one eye with their hand."

John used these techniques with Ariel when she was two years old. By the age of three, she had learned how to look through the scope by herself. During the SL9-Jupiter crash in July 1994 when Ariel was 3-1/2, she looked at Jupiter and was so impressed that she ran inside for her teddy bear and held him up to the scope so he could see. Then, Ariel walked over to the eyepiece box and said, "Daddy, more power?"

John has learned that stargazing is most enjoyable for Arial when she has her own scope to use. She started out with a 3.5-inch f-5.6 MAK, but now she's using an 8-inch F4.5 Dobsonian of her own.

When Ariel was five, John took her to the Table Mountain Star Party. "We met up with Chuck Dethloff and his wife, Judy. John left his C-5 at home, opting to bring only his spotting scope. Chuck had three telescopes, one of which was an 8-inch F6 reflector on a Dobsonian mount. Chuck offered this telescope to John and Ariel for the night.

"After viewing a few objects through this scope, I thought it would be fun for Ariel to do some exploring on her own. So I put in a 32mm Plossl eyepiece, and pointed the scope to the Sagittarius region of the Milky Way. I then asked Ariel if she wanted to push the scope around on her own for a while. This little girl was ecstatic about the idea, and proceeded to look around. After about five minutes, she came running up to me and said, 'Daddy, do you want to see what I found? It's really cool!' I looked through the eyepiece, and saw only stars. I knew how important this was to her, so I told her it was cool, that I was proud of her, and thanked her for sharing with me."

This went on a few times, until Arial called her Dad over to see something else that was "really cool." And there was the Trifid Nebula in the eyepiece! Then she looked at the star chart with her little red light, and said, "I want to find this." After pushing the scope around a little bit, she said, "There it is. Hey, Daddy, do you want to see what I found? It's really cool." She did this until 12:30 a.m., finding about four or five different objects. She even ventured away from the Milky Way and found Jupiter!

"I was totally thrilled that she had so much fun going through the steps just like her father, and sharing her views with others," said her proud father.

So don't leave the kids at home. Astronomy gives us a great opportunity to share an activity we love with the kids we love. And you'll be helping them in the process.

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