It’s January—the perfect month to stargaze! The sun sets early and nights are often clear and crisp. You’re likely to have some great views of awesome starry skies.
Pick a clear night and head for the darkest part of your backyard or a nearby park—invite an adult to join this expedition. Sit or stand quietly for a few minutes while your eyes adjust to the darkness. Then look up and see the wonders God has created in the starry night sky.
To give yourself an idea of the huge number of stars out there, try to make a rough count of those you can see. Here’s how: make a frame out of both your thumbs and pointing fingers. Hold the frame up at arm’s length and count the stars you see in it. Move the “frame” around until you’ve covered the whole sky. How many stars did you count?
We can only see the stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. Astronomers estimate that there are at least 100 million stars in the Milky Way. That’s 100,000,000 stars!
But there’s more. Astronomers have counted at least 100 thousand (100,000) galaxies! And they estimate that there are at least 100 thousand more that they can’t see. That’s more stars than we can imagine. Yet their Creator calls each one by name!
The star closest to us—not counting our sun—is called Proxima Centauri. It is 24,925,000,000,000 miles (40,113,000,000,000 km) away.
Here’s a way to measure star distances: One light year is the distance a beam of light can travel in a year. That distance is about 9,461,000,000,000 miles or 5,878,000,000,000 kilometers. Our closest star is 4.2 light years away!
How can we make sense of all those stars scattered all over the night sky?
Some people group them into pictures called constellations. They draw imaginary lines between certain stars to make the pictures. The Big Dipper and the Little Dipper are two constellations that look like square soup ladles.
Most constellations are very sketchy pictures. You have to use your imagination to see how the constellation called Taurus looks like a bull or how the one called Orion looks like a hunter.
Ask a few different adults to point out the constellations they know.
To help you find more sky pictures, check out this kids’ astronomy website.
There’s also an app for tablets or phones called Star Guide that lets you view the stars, constellations, and even satellites in your part of the world, night or day (available from iTunes, $1.99). Tap the sky picture on the screen for more information.
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?
Stars don’t really twinkle. They shine steadily like flashlights. Stars only seem to twinkle because they are so far away from us that their beams are weak—dust and gasses in our atmosphere interrupt their steady light and bounce it around a bit.
If you watch the night sky closely, you’ll see some steady beams. They’re from our planets: Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and the rest.
These planets are much closer than our “nearest” star. They circle our sun, just as the Earth does, so the light they reflect is very strong. Their beams can cut through our atmosphere with no trouble.
Since the planets are so close to us, you can see them move through space. But because the stars are so far away, you can’t notice their movement from night to night.
Here’s something to try: Go outside several nights in a row to stargaze. Each night look for stars that twinkle and for planets that shine steadily. When you can tell the difference, you can follow the planets’ movements easily.
Read Isaiah 40:25-26. Then write down or tell someone what looking at the starry sky tells you about our Creator.
Are there too many streetlights or porch lights nearby to allow you a clear view of the stars? People who live in cities often have trouble seeing the wonders of the nighttime sky. So some people have created “dark parks.” These are places far from cities where any kind of artificial lights are banned. Sometimes there’s a small planetarium nearby, or volunteers who will set up telescopes.
To learn more and to find out if there’s a “dark park” near you, visit the website of the International Dark Sky Association.
What’s closer to us than our planets? The moon. Like Earth’s planets, the moon doesn’t make its own light. It reflects the sunlight. Because it’s so close to us it reflects very brightly and beautifully.
Go outside some night when the moon is full. Try these two experiments:
- Find two pieces of brightly colored cloth, each piece a different color. Put them into a backpack and take it outside into the moonlight. Reach into the pack, pull out the pieces of cloth, and look at them. What color are they? Can you tell?
- Take a book outside into full moonlight and try to read. At first the page will seem clear enough to read. But when you get right down to it, you’ll probably find it hard to distinguish letters.
God created each one of us a bit different from everyone else. Most people can’t see color by moonlight. They see only lighter and darker materials, or patterns in the material, but not color. Maybe you are one of the few who will see color. Maybe you will read easily!