Astronomy for Kids

Online Astronomy Classes for Children

Astronomy Packet:  3
Assignment # 4



The Earth is the most exciting planet of all.  Sometimes it might seem boring to study the Earth, but it is by far the most interesting, and beautiful.  From grass covered hills to moss covered sea cliffs to an ocean marina, the Earth is an incredible planet.  It is the only planet we know for sure has life.

Earth is also the planet we know the most about, and it is the tool we use to study and understand all the other planets.



The red planet is the most likely planet besides Earth where humans may one day live.  Through a process called terraforming, scientists can actually change the atmosphere of a planet so that it becomes breathable by people.  Terraforming means to change the surface of a planet so that it becomes more like Earth and its atmosphere becomes capable of sustaining life.  It would take about 10,000 years to terraform Mars.  By the time we are done people will be able to live on Mars without spacesuits, along with plants and animals.



In this astronomy packet we are going to do something very exciting.  For the first time during this class we are going to use optical equipment to help us see things which are too dim to be seen with the naked eye.


What do you need?

You need to borrow a pair of binoculars.  Any pair will do, as long as they work.  You do not need to buy new ones, however, if you do plan on buying a new pair, let me give you some advice.  You want the binoculars to have as wide a field of view as possible.  You can figure out what the field of view is by looking on the binoculars.  They will have a number which will look something like 10x50.  The first number is the field of view.  The higher that first number is the bigger the field of view is.


What is a field of view?

The field of view is how much of the sky you will be able to see at one time while looking through the binoculars.  If you have a wide field of view it is easier to find what you are looking for because you can see more of the sky at once.  If your binoculars have a smaller field of view than 10 that is ok, you don't need to buy new ones, it is just going to take you more time to find the things we are going to be looking for.


Tips on using binoculars:

The first thing you are going to notice is that everything shakes when you look through your binoculars.  This is okay, but it can get annoying.  Fortunately this problem is easy to solve.  You simply need to rest your arms on something.  Lean against a fence, or rest your arms on an outside table. 

You can also rest your arms on your windowsill and look at the sky out your bedroom window.   If you do look out your window you need to open the window.  The light traveling through the window gets distorted.  Also, you don't want to see the glare on the glass so make sure you turn off your bedroom light.

The second thing you are going to notice is that your arms get really tired.  But if you are leaning against something you can look for much longer before you get worn out.


The Heavens Through Binoculars:

Looking at the sky through a pair of binoculars is much more exciting than looking at it through a telescope.  Many amateur astronomers never even buy a telescope because they have so much fun with binoculars.  With a pair of cheap binoculars you can see nebulae, galaxies, double stars, globular clusters, asteroids, comets, and even distant moons.

Of course, you have to know where to look.  If you have not learned the constellations, or how to read a sky map, you will not have nearly as much fun because you will not be able to find anything.

In addition to the assignments below, I encourage you to have fun looking at the sky with binoculars.  Spend an hour or so scanning the sky.  Spend some time looking at the busy and compact Milky Way.  Look for double stars or fuzzy patches.  A fuzzy patch might be a galaxy or a cluster of stars.

For the purposes of this class you only need to find the following:

Jupiter's Moons:

In the early 1600s, Galileo changed the world of science when he looked at Jupiter through his small telescope.  What Galileo saw, and what you are going to see, is that Jupiter has four large moons.  It also has many smaller moons which can't be seen with binoculars. 

Your binoculars have about the same power as did Galileo's first telescope, except that you get to look with both eyes, while Galileo could only look with one. 

First, you will need to find Jupiter.  Go to to download a free sky map.  Use this map to help you determine where Jupiter is right now.  Look at Jupiter through your binoculars.

Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa, Jupiter's largest moons, are going to look like four small stars.  If you watch them long enough you will actually be able to see them move.  If you don't see all four it means that some of them are hiding behind Jupiter.  Check again in a few hours to see if the missing ones come out of hiding.  As you look at them you should think about what you are seeing; five other worlds, one planet and four of its moons. 

Click Here to see in real time where Jupiter's moons are.  This will help you identify which moon is which as you observe them through the binoculars.

Double Stars:

A Double Star, or Binary Star (binary means two), is actually two stars that are so close to each other that they look like one star to the naked eye.  The two stars in a double system orbit each other.  If the earth were in a double system we would have two suns. 

Many times it is possible to see both stars if we use a pair of binoculars.  A good example of that is the second star in the handle of Ursa Major (The Big Dipper).  If you look at it with the naked eye you usually only see only one star, unless you have really good vision then you may see two.  But when you use a pair of binoculars it becomes clear that there are two stars orbiting each other, their names are Alcor and Mizar.  If you used a powerful telescope you would discover that there are actually three stars in that system. 


Now, without your binoculars, I want you to find the constellation Cassiopeia.  This constellation looks like a giant W in the sky.  You can use this picture to help you find it, or better yet, go to  to download a free sky map.

Assignment # 4

Find Jupiter.  Observe its moons through a pair of binoculars.

Find and observe Alcor and Mizar through a pair of binoculars.

Find the constellation Cassiopeia.

The Children's Learning Network