Ancient people throughout the world were keenly in tune with the stars and the movement of constellations for navigation and planting and harvest times. In their time, the night sky was darker because there was no electricity to create the light pollution that obscures the view of the stars in modern cities. Humans no longer rely on the stars to tell time but kids can make a constellation finder project to get a glimpse of the influence stars had on ancient timekeeping and legend.
Before you can decipher star patterns in the night sky, you need to familiarise yourself with the major constellations to start looking for. Check with a children's librarian or the children's section at a bookstore for constellation books, such as "Glow-in-the-Dark Constellations," by C.E. Thompson and Randy Chewning. Study the patterns for the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Orion, Cassiopeia and others so you will be able to recognise what you see. Get to know the cultural myths and legends behind the naming of the constellations.
The constellations follow an orbital cycle just like the planets. This means that which constellations you can see in your night sky depend on your latitude, time and the season of the year. Check your books for which constellations are visible at the time and place where you plan to make your observations.
A star finder or planisphere wheel will give you a portable road map to the stars at any time of year. You can print out a star wheel and holder from a variety of astronomy sites such as Yerkes Observatory or the Museum Victoria. Point the north side of the dial to true north from your location. Turn the wheel to match the date and time of your observation and read the visible constellations in the window. These will be the ones you can see in the sky above you.
Ask your parents for permission to stay up late for starwatching or plan a family sleepout under the stars in your own backyard or at a remote dark sky location on a clear night for good visibility. Armed with your star finder and a red light flashlight, watch the constellations appear and note how they change position over time, rising and setting like the sun. Make a series of observations through a month or at different seasons of the year to see the differences in which constellations are visible.
Star Finder Game
NASA provides a printable star finder fortune-teller game to challenge you and your friends to locate constellations. Player chooses a number on the top flaps and challenger opens and closes the fortune-teller that many times. Player then chooses a constellation from the inside and challenger opens and closes one time for each letter in the constellation name. Player opens one flap, reads the constellation name inside and tries to find it in the night sky.
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