young person watching the sky at dusk with telescope

How to Watch a Meteor Shower – Practice STEM with Kids

Shooting stars have captivated humanity’s imagination since we started writing things down (and probably before). We now know that shooting stars are meteors, burning up as they hit Earth’s atmosphere. As these space rocks break apart, the heat and particles meteors (and comets) create streaks across the night sky. Watching a meteor shower is a fun way to practice STEM with kids and spark their imagination and love for science. To make stargazing fun and easy (and even educational) with kids, we have a few tips.

Stargaze on a Schedule

While our lives can be unpredictable, meteor showers and other cosmic events are quite the opposite. In fact, meteor showers occur on a fairly predictable schedule: Ursid meteor shower occur right around the winter solstice every year, Perseid meteor shower occurs on August 11 – 12 and so on. Almanac.com has the schedule and lists the comet associated with each shower, if there is one. Check it out and add the next meteor shower to your family’s calendar.

Find a Guide

The universe is big and it can be hard to figure out where to look for meteors, but a few readily available tools can make it much easier to sort things out. A printed guide such as National Geographic’s Backyard Guide to Stargazing offers a straightforward approach to finding constellations, planets and other objects. A printed constellation map can help orient your brain to the vastness of space. It provides a roadmap, an organizational hierarchy to the millions of stars that otherwise seem unfathomable. If your stargazing occurs close to a wifi or cellular signal, Star Chart app is designed to allow you to simply point your phone at the sky to see which celestial objects you are looking at.  

Consider a Handheld Laser

Watching the night sky for small amounts of light can be done with the naked eye. And of course amplification tools like binoculars and telescopes help make sense of the vastness of space. But a single small tool is commonly used to guide human eyes to the sky’s wonders: a handheld laser. Astronomers love handheld lasers because the beam appears to touch the object it is aiming at and works well in light-polluted or moon-lit skies. Kids love them because they are cool. Parents love them because they are easy to procure and carry along on a stargazing adventure.

Green is almost universally the astronomy laser pointer of choice because it appears very bright, even at low power. The green beam looks like it touches the object it is aiming at and is also popular because it works well in light-polluted or moon-lit skies. Learn more about green laser pointers for stargazing

Avoid Other Light Sources

A full moon reflects quite a lot of the sun’s light energy, creating a well-lit viewing experience sub-optimal for stargazing. The best time to look at stars is when to moon is new or close to its crescent phases during waxing and waning. Time and Date tells you when the moon is at its brightest and darkest. Plan a stargazing date when the moon is dark. Similarly, skip standing under street lights or areas with a lot of cars – headlights are great for car safety but not for stargazing.

Get Comfortable

We know you know this, but children (and adults) are better learners when they are not distracted by their basic needs. If you adventure outside to stargaze, make sure children are dressed warmly enough to spend some time outdoors, pack a thermos of hot cocoa and some snacks and maybe a blanket or two for sitting outside, and make sure everyone has used the bathroom before departing.

Most of all, have fun. Even if you only have a few minutes to spend watching the skies, a world of awesomeness has been opened for young minds to explore as they grow.  

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