Bonding with the Universe

Bonding with the Universe.

As parents, we often worry about what our children are getting excited about.  We hope we can guide them to “bond” with healthy things like a love of learning, of family and of healthy social activities.  But we also worry they will bond with the wrong people like internet stalkers or the wrong crowd at school.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could harness that tremendous energy and desire to latch onto something and bond with it and help our children “bond” with the universe through a love of astronomy?

Kids love to get excited about what you are excited about.  So there lots of ways you can “spring” the fun of astronomy on them that will jump start them on a long and happy exploration of the hobby of astronomy.  Here are a few to get your imagination going.

* Work it into an evening in the backyard.  If you know the night sky will be particularly exciting the night of a big family barbecue, plan to have some blankets out there.  Then as everybody else is playing Frisbee, just lay out a blanket, lay flat on your back and start staring up into the sky with a binoculars.  Like the old prank of staring at a far away spot to get people’s interest, your kids will see what you are doing and what to know what is going on.  As you let them take a peek, their curiosity will take off like a wild fire and they are hooked.

* A surprise visit to the country.  Sometimes it is hard to see the vast display of stars from within the city.  So if you announce that you are going to show them a surprise one night and have them pile into the car, their curiosity will be going wild as you leave the city.  When you find that quiet park, field or lake side spot, all you have to do is point up and say “just look” and the magnificence of the night sky will do the rest.

* A special Christmas gift.  You can buy your children an affordable and durable beginner’s telescope along with some easy star maps written just for kids.  Imagine when they open this exciting gift and want to know how to use it.  Don’t be surprised if you are setting up the new telescope in the snow to show them the great things they will see in the cosmos with the gift that Santa wanted them to have.  The gift of astronomy.

* Unleash the power of a meteor shower on them.  You can keep your eye on the events that are predicted for the sky watchers in your area.  When the next big meteor shower is about to explode over your area, watch the weather for a clear night and get your kids excited about what they are about to see.  As the lights begin to go off over head and you create fun and interesting narration to this dramatic display, the children will be addicts for life for the great experiences that can be had as students of astronomy.

* Plan a surprise event in with something you are already doing.  For example, on vacation, you can plan your route on a cross country trip to bring you within visiting distance of one of the great multimillion dollar telescopes in this country.  By contacting them ahead of time, you can be sure they are conducting a tour that coincides with your visit.  Just imagine if they can look up at a telescope that is bigger than their house and maybe look through the eyepiece as some amazing cosmic sight, it will be the hit of the vacation.

Astronomy is a great activity to introduce on a family camping trip.  As the family sits around the fire after a fun night of camping, all you have to do is just look up and go “Wow, look at that!” When those little heads look up, they will look back down changed children, children in love with the stars.

Astronomy is a healthy passion for your kids and one they can grow with their entire lives.  And there is probably no better gift you can give them than the love of the stars, of science and of nature that is all wrapped up together when your kids bond with the universe through astronomy.

Comets - Visitors From Beyond.

The one thing we love the most in the world of astronomy is a good mystery.  And if there was ever a mysterious and yet very powerful force of nature that we witness in the night skies, it is the coming of the mighty comet.

The arrival of a comet within view of Earth is an event of international importance.  Witness the huge media attention that the Haley or Hale-Bopp have had when they have come within view The sight of these amazing space objects is simultaneously frightening and awe inspiring.  

Above all, it is during these comet viewings that the astronomer comes out in all of us.  But what is a comet?  Where did it come from?  And how does it get that magnificent tail?

We should never confuse comets with asteroids.  Asteroids are small space rocks that come from an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  While still quite stunning to see, they pale in comparison to the arrival of a comet.  Asteroids also have received considerable study by the scientific community.  

Not as much is known about comets.  As a rule, comets are considerably larger than asteroids.  The composition of a comet is a mixture of nebulous, gasses, ice, dust and space debris.  One scientist called the composition of a comet as similar to a “dirty snowball” because the composition is so diverse and changeable.  The center or nucleus of a comet is usually quiet solid but the “snowball” materials often create a “cloud” around that nucleus that can become quite large and that extends at great lengths behind the comet as it moves through space.  That trailing plume is what makes up the comet’s magnificent tail that makes it so exciting to watch when a comet comes within view of Earth.

The origins of comets is similarly mysterious.  There are a number of theories about where they come from but it is clear that they originate from outside our solar system, somewhere in deep space.  Some have speculated they are fragments left over from the organization of planets that get loose from whatever gravitational pull and are sent flying across space to eventually get caught up in the gravity of our sun bringing them into our solar system.  

Another theory is that they come from a gaseous cloud called the Oort cloud which is cooling out there after the organization of the sun.  As this space debris cools, it gets organized into one body which then gathers sufficient mass to be attracted into the gravity of our solar system turning into a fast moving comet plummeting toward our sun.  However, because of the strong gravitational orbits of the many planets in our solar system, the comet does not always immediately collide with the sun and often takes on an orbit of its own.  

The life expectancy of comets varies widely.  Scientists refer to a comet that is expected to burn out or impact the sun within two hundred years as a short period comet whereas a long period comet has a life expectancy of over two hundred years.  That may seem long to us as earth dwellers but in terms of stars and planets, this is a very short life as a space object indeed.  

Scientists across the globe have put together some pretty impressive probes to learn more about comets to aid our understanding of these visitors from beyond.  In 1985, for example, the United States put a probe into the path of the comet Giacobini-Zinner which passed through the comets tail gathering tremendous scientific knowledge about comets.  Then in 1986, an international collation of scientists were able to launch a probe that was able to fly close to Haley’s comet as it passed near Earth and continue the research.

While science fiction writers and tabloid newspapers like to alarm us with the possibility of a comet impacting the earth, scientists who understand the orbits of comets and what changes their paths tell us this is unlikely.  That is good because some comets reach sizes that are as big as a planet so that impact would be devastating.  For now, we can enjoy the fun of seeing comets make their rare visits to our night sky and marvel at the spectacular shows that these visitors from beyond put on when they are visible in the cosmos.

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