No matter how far you progress in your development as an amateur astronomer, there is always a pivotal moment we all return to. This is the first moment we left where you can really see the universe very well and contemplate the night sky. For city dwellers, this is a profound revelation as if we have discovered aliens living among us. Most of us have no idea of the vast panorama of lights scattering across a clear night sky when there are no city lights interfering with our vision.
Surely we all love the enhanced experience of studying the sky with binoculars and the different sizes and powers of telescopes. But I bet you can remember as a kid the first time you saw a clear night sky fully displayed with all the astonishing constellations, meters, comets moving and showing points of light that couldn’t be counted.
The best way to recapture the splendor of that moment is to go out on the field with your child or with someone who has never had this experience and is there in that moment when they look and say that powerful word which is the only word that can sum up the feelings you feel when you see that wonderful sky. This word is – “wow”.
Perhaps the most comical truth about what this child is looking at that is also difficult to understand is the sheer magnitude of what is above them and what it represents. The fact that every point in the sky is another star or celestial body much larger than the Earth itself, not twice or ten times but by factors of hundreds and thousands, can be an amazing idea for the mind. For children. Children have a hard time imagining the size of the Earth itself, let alone anything in a world as big as outer space.
But when it comes to astronomy, we do our best when we fall into deeper and deeper levels of wondering what we see in the night sky. Some amazing facts about what babies are looking at can add to the goose bumps they actually get when they look up at the sky. Facts like …
Our sun is part of a massive galaxy called the Milky Way, made up of 100 billion equal or larger stars. Show them that a hundred billion is 100,000,000,000 and that they will be speechless.
* The Milky Way is just one of tens of billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars. In fact, the Milky Way is one of the smaller galaxies.
* If you were to cross the Milky Way, it would take 100,000 years. But you cannot get there by driving at the specified speed. You have to drive five billion eight hundred million miles a year to pass that speed.
Scientists estimate that the Milky Way is 14 billion years old.
These fun little facts should generate a lively debate about the origins of the universe and the possibility of space travel or whether there is life on other planets. You can challenge kids to calculate that if every star in the Milky Way is home to nine planets and if only one of them is habitable like Earth, then what are the chances of life on one of them? I think you’ll see some real enthusiasm when you try to implement these numbers.
A discussion like this can be fun, exciting, and full of questions. Don’t be too quick to stop your imagination, as this is the birth of a lasting love for your astronomy. And if you were there that first moment when they saw that night sky, then you will once again experience your wonderful moment as a child. And it can unleash completely new feelings about astronomy within you again.