Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Afterschool Astronomy, Easy and Interesting

In case you missed it, there is something very interesting happening in the sky. A comet named Holmes is in the middle of an outburst, making it easily visible - even in urban areas. It went from magnitude 17 (fainter than Pluto and not visible with binoculars) to magnitude 2.5 (among the brighter stars). This type of astronomical event can be very engaging for kids, if someone reminds them to look up!

There are a number of tools online that can help with amateur astronomy. Each month, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab posts video podcasts highlighting the most interesting things to see in the sky. Google Earth now includes Google Sky, so you can look up as well as down. If you want a free program that takes you even further, Celestia is great!

If you are actually planning to include astronomy in an after-school program, there are several resources that may help. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) is a leader in the field of astronomy education and serves as a professional association for many space science educators. ASP sponsors Project ASTRO, which links astronomers with educators, and Astronomy from the Ground Up, workshops for informal educators. NASA has numerous resources, including those collected at the Afterschool Astronomy site and a new "Beyond Einstein Explorers Program" being tested in Washington DC after-school programs that will soon be widely available. Finally, anyone working with high school students and with access to computers might want to learn about the MIT After School Astronomy Program, in which youth participate in actual astronomy research.

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