The Sun has set, it's a clear night, and the stars are beginning to appear. Why not go outside and enjoy a bit of astronomy! It's fascinating. It's easy to do. And the more you look, the more you will see.
What do you need?
You don't need special equipment to study the stars about 2,500 stars are visible to the naked eye, but you will find that binoculars help you to pick out more like
Constellations - You can spot constellations of stars in the night sky.
Orion's belt - There are lots of constellations. One of the easiest to pick out is Orion, by spotting the three bright stars that make up this hunter's belt.
Light pollution - Streetlamps and the light from cars and houses all make the sky brighter, which makes it harder to see. But you can still see the Moon and main constellations. If you are lucky, you may see a comet or a meteor.
Do you know?
Your eyes adjust in dark it takes about 30 minutes especially if you have been in a lit room.
Become a stargazer
So you've decided to take a look at the night sky. What will you need to get you going? What should you look for? Here are a few tips to help get you started.
You need an ancient skill because Astronomy is the study of the night sky. The word astronomy comes from two Greek words i.e. Astron, meaning star, and nemein meaning to name.
You need some Basic equipment to become a stargazers
Here is a selection of the basic equipment you might find helpful
Torch - Torchlight tip If you need to look at a star map whilst outside, cover the end of your torch in red cellophane Red light doesn't interfere so much with night sight as white light.
Make notes - It's helpful to note what you have observed. Note the time, year, date, weather conditions, and location If you can, use a compass, so you know the direction you are looking in.
Binoculars - Larger lenses gather more light but the larger the lens, the heavier the binoculars. Holding binoculars steady whilst looking at the night sky can make your arms ache. Try to find something on which you can rest your arms. Binoculars of 8 x 30! Binoculars are sold in different sizes and powers. The numbers tell you what they are. The first tells you how many times the binoculars will magnify an object. The second is the measurement in millimeters across the front lenses.
Star maps - It may be worth buying a planisphere. You can make a circular map of the stars, made from two plastic discs. Line up the date and time and the discs reveal the stars that can be seen.
Light shy - Astronomers prefer to be away from artificial lights and as high as they can get. If you in a town, see if it's live possible to plan a visit to a darker area where you can observe the night sky.
The Milky Way is best observed away from towns and cities and the artificial light they create.
Try meteor spotting
The best time to look for meteors is when Earth is passing through meteoroids and a meteor shower is expected. Watch the skies between the 25th July and 18th August when Earth passes through a swarm of meteors called the Perseids. Or try the Orionids between 16th-27th October.
Do you know?
Our galaxy, the Milky Way appears as a burst of stars in a thick band across the night sky.
Venus is also known as the morning star and is always close to the Sun.
There are some well-known constellations in the sky. They are Ursa Major, Leo the lion, Orion the hunter.
I see a planet!
Look for Venus just after sunset in the western sky or just before sunrise in the eastern sky.
Phases of the moon
Each night over the course of a month, the moon appears to change its shape a little. It doesn't actually do so, what we see is differing amounts of the sunlit side as the moon circles Earth. These shapes are known as phases of the moon and eight phases make up a complete cycle.
A blue moon is known as when there are two full moons in the same month.
The moon's phases
The complete cycle from New Moon to Crescent takes 29.5 days. As the moon appears to grow, it is said to be waxing. As the moon shrinks, it is said to be waning.
If the Earth and moon were the sizes shown here, this would be the distance between them. Earth's gravity has slowed the moon's rotation over billions of years, and now one side permanently faces Earth.
New Moon - We cannot see the moon from Earth in this phase, as its lit face is direct towards the Sun. The moon as it appears from Earth. The moon as it is lit up (or illuminated) in space.
Waxing crescent - The moon has moved around a little and we can see the Sun's light reflecting off part of its surface. The moon as it appears from Earth.
First-quarter - The moon has completed a quarter of its orbit around Earth.
Waxing gibbous - The moon is showing a little more of itself every night. It is waxing or growing. Gibbous means it looks swollen on one side.
Full moon - We can now see the complete face of the moon, reflecting the Sun's light. The outer circle shows the moon as it appears from Earth at each stage. Looking at the phases. This shows the path the moon takes around the Earth and the moon as it is illuminated in space.
Waning gibbous - A sliver of the moon is now no longer visible. The visible part of the moon is waning or shrinking
Last Quarter - The moon has completed three-quarters of its orbit around Earth.
Waning crescent - The moon has nearly completed s full orbit of Earth. We can only see a sliver
Constellations are collections of stars that can be seen from Earth and which have been named as groups. This is the space that we can all see and begin to recognize from a very young age.
The celestial sphere
Astronomers once believed that the stars were stuck inside a gigantic globe that enclosed Earth. They named it the celestial sphere. We now know that it doesn't really exist, but it is a helpful way of pinpointing the location of the stars.
How many constellations?
Leo the lion, Orion the hunter... There are 88 internationally recognized constellations. They all have a Latin name, but many have Jocally known names as well. Each has a story. Leo the lion is one of the twelve constellations of the zodiac
What's the story?
Many constellations were named after characters in ancient Greek myth. Orion was named because ancient astronomers imagined two lines of stars picked out this hunter's belt and sword.
This is an imaginary band within which the Sun, moon, and planets appear to travel. The 12 constellations, or signs of the zodiac, that lie on this band are seen as special by astrologers. The twelve signs of the zodiac lie on an imaginary band in the sky
A constellation's stars are not as close together as they appear. This diagram of the Cassiopeia constellation shows how the distances vary.
Are you north or south?
The sphere of the sky is divided into two halves, the northern and southern celestial hemispheres. Which stars and constellations you can see depends on where you live on the Earth.
The closest star in the Cassiopeia constellation is just over 50 light-years away. The most distant is more than 600 light-years away,
Some of the signs of the zodiac names are Leo, Scorpio, Cancer, Aries, Gemini, and Pisces are six of the 12 signs.
The northern sky
This star map shows some of the constellations in the northern hemisphere (that's anywhere north of the equator). Choose a clear night and look up. If you live near the equator, you won't be able to spot all these stars all year.
A star map of the northern sky is a flattened picture of half the sky. Imagine Earth surrounded by a sphere of stars. The Northern sky map is taken from the top half of that sphere.
What will I need?
Before you begin stargazing, put together a small kit. It's a good idea to wear warm clothes as it can get chilly standing outside at night. A compass shows you which way to look. A good tip is to cover a torch with red cellophane as it helps you to see the stars; a bright white light means your eyes have to keep readjusting.
Start spotting the constellations
You will find it soon becomes easy to pick out more constellations than those shown. Some, such as the well-known hunter Orion, are visible in both Northern and Southern skies.
The Great Bear
Ursa Major (the Great Bear) is supposed to represent Callisto, a beautiful girl who was turned into a bear by Zeus's wife (Zeus was the king of the gods).
This constellation was only named some 400 years ago which's relatively recent for a constellation. It represents a giraffe.
This constellation is said to show a mythical Greek king, who stands next to his wife, Cassiopeia
A distinctive constellation is used as a signpost in the northern sky is the plough, in Ursa Major can help in finding Polaris.
The southern sky
This star map shows some of the constellations in the southern hemisphere (that's anywhere south of the equator). Choose a clear night and lookup. If you live near the equator, you won't be able to spot all these stars all year.
A star map of the southern sky is o flattened picture of half the sky. Imagine Earth surrounded by a sphere of stars. The southern sky map is taken from the bottom half of that sphere.
They won't stay still!
As you begin star-spotting you will notice that the stars and constellations don't appear to be fixed in the same place. This is because the Earth's rotation makes the stars appear to move. The star's apparent movement shows clearly on a long exposure photograph of the night sky.
Spotting the constellations
The more stargazing you do, the easier it becomes to pick out constellations. Here are a few that you can look for in southern skies.
Phoenix:- This is a mythical firebird that is reborn after plunging into a fire. The constellation was named in the 1600s.
Pavo:- This constellation is said to represent a peacock. Its brightest star, which represents the peacock's neck, is called Peacock.
Centaurus:- This constellation was named by the ancient Greeks, and forms one of the largest of all constellations. It represents a centaur half man, half horse.
A distinctive constellation is used as a signpost in the northern sky is Crux (otherwise known as the Southern Cross)
Some of the inventions we use today are closely connected to the space program. Just take a look at the following.
A handheld dustbuster has super suction power.
Cordless tools:- Space scientists and power tool designers together made cordless tools so astronauts could drill rock on the moon. This work led to the invention of cordless medical instruments and a cordless vacuum cleaner.
Medical scans:- Computer technology designed to enhance pictures of the moon is used by medical staff It makes scans of the human body easy to read so doctors can diagnose disease. Surgeons use lightweight, battery-powered instruments.
Memory foam:- This was developed to improve seating and crash protection for pilots. The foam moulds to the shape of the body then return to its original shape. Memory foam is used here in a neck cushion. Memory foam is also known as temper foam.
Aerodynamic bicycle wheel:- Following research, three spoked bicycle wheels were developed into shapes that move quickly and easily. These wheels maximize the bike's efficiency for racing.
Material facts:- Some people believe these materials were invented for the space program, when in fact they were just used by it. The heat-resistant plastic, Teflon, for example, was invented in 1938 and later used on space suits and heat shields. Teflon is commonly used as a non-stick covering for cooking pans. It is also a stain-resistant fabric protector.
Velcro was used during the Apollo missions to hold equipment in place at zero gravity when it would otherwise have floated off. Velcro is also used to secure clothing.
Things like these
During the 1960s onwards, US space agency NASA adapted everyday objects for use in its space program. NASA made its own smoke detector with adjustable sensitivity It also used smoke detectors on Skylab, the space station launched in 1973, to detect toxic vapors. A type of barcoding was used by NASA to keep track of spacecraft components. Quartz clocks were first used in the 1920s. In the 1960s, NASA worked to produce a highly accurate quartz clock.
Since humankind began exploring space in the 1950s, there have been a number of key moments. From the first satellite to the launch of the first space station, take a look at some of these amazing events.
1957: The first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1, took approximately 98 minutes to orbit Earth. The first living creature was sent into space Laika the dog was strapped into Sputnik 2.
1959: We had our first glimpse of the far side of the moon from the Luna 3 spacecraft. Luna 3 was Soviet spacecraft.
1961: The first human in space: Yuri Gagarin's orbit of Earth lasted 108 minutes.
1963: The first woman in space: Valentina Tereshkova on Vostok 6. The flight lasted 70 hours, 50 minutes and orbited Earth 48 times.
1965: The first spacewalk, lasting about 10 minutes, was achieved by Alexel Arkhipovich Leonov.
1969: The first human to step on the moon was Neil Armstrong from Apollo 11. The other crew member who walked on the moon was Edward Buzz Aldrin. Mike Collins not walked in the Moon.
1973: The first US space station, Skylab, went into orbit. It was to be manned by three successive crews who would perform nearly 300 experiments whilst on board. Skylab fell back to Earth in 1979
1977: Voyager 2 is launched closely followed by Voyager 1. The spacecraft have studied the solar system's outer planetary systems and are still operating. Titan lll Centaur carried Voyager 2.
1986: The first section of Mir, the Russian space station was launched. Mir was the first permanent residence in space and was almost continuously occupied until 1999. Mir burnt up in Earth's atmosphere after 15 years in orbit in 2001.
1998: The first part of the International Space Station (ISS) was launched. Still in operation today, it is powered by large solar panels and orbits the Earth at an altitude of 360 kms (225 miles).
2004: Cassini reached Saturn and sent back the clearest photographs ever of Saturn's ring system. The image shows the rings and their shadow on the planet Saturn.