This week in the News: August 26, 2007
For ancient humans, gazing up at the night sky prompted stories of mythical gods and legends. Explaining the night sky scientifically was beyond their comprehension. But over generations, patterns in the moon and stars were noticed and recorded. From these observations, humans got better at tracking seasonal changes. Less predictable events, such as a meteor shower or lunar eclipse, often instilled fear and awe.
Today, telescopes have helped reveal the true nature of some of these mysteries. As telescope technology advances, scientists are better able to understand the patterns of the cosmos. Meteor showers and lunar eclipses have become predictable. Even amateur astronomers—with or without a telescope—are able to follow and appreciate movements in the night sky.
One of those events takes place on August 28, 2007: the year's second lunar eclipse. This time around, people living in the Americas (especially near the Pacific Ocean), Australia and east Asia will get the best views. Thousands of people will get up very early in the morning just to catch a glimpse of the moon darkening in the Earth's shadow.
Such events influence aspects of our modern culture, just as they shaped the cultures of ancient peoples. One big difference, of course, is that science plays a big role in explaining what the planets and stars are and how they behave.
During this week's lesson, you will journey through the history of understanding the sky. You will also learn the names of star constellations and where to find them.
Understanding the Sky
As you will soon discover, Understanding the Sky has been a human pursuit for thousands of years. Mythology surrounds the cosmos and permeates our ancient cultures. In this section, read the introduction and explore how art and stories tried to explain the unknown world above them.
Here, you will learn about how the Solar System, along with the Sky, Constellations, and Stars, influenced cultures across the globe's continents and islands. Click underlined keywords to learn more about those; click your browser's Back button to return where you left off.
As you read about these myths, write down a summary of each instance by culture (e.g., Egyptian, Aztec, Mayan, Chinese, etc.). Compare and contrast how different cultures perceived each type of cosmic body. Are any characteristics of the same body similar across several cultures? What elements of the culture's more familiar Earth-bound world were used to help explain the celestial? If you have time, play Mythology Hangman to test your skills in sky myths.
Now, move beyond the myths and take a look at the Constellations themselves. Why do the constellation shapes depend on your point of view? Browse through the sets of Northern Hemisphere Constellations and the Southern Hemisphere Constellations.
What does circumpolar mean? Make a list of constellations you think you would you see during summer, and a second list of which you would see in the winter. Do you remember ever recognizing any of these constellations, when you have looked at the night sky?
To finish at this site, check out the Sky Maps. Click on the city name that lies closest to you. Next, click the month and date closest to your current date. Open and view the map; print it out, if possible. Repeat for several maps in the future. Compare the maps with each other and notice how the positions of the constellations shift.
You will find similar sky maps, along some instructions on how to use them at the Stargazing Network's Observational Astronomy site. Go to the All Sky Maps page to find the right month, instructions on how to use the star maps, and other helpful advice.
Follow the Stars
To wrap up your sky tour, visit Hubblesite's Explore Astronomy section. Watch the movie about Piercing the Sky. This will give you an overview about the Hubble Telescope—a space telescope that has provided some amazing photos of our universe, answered some old questions, and prompted new questions.
Next, take a look at Tonight's Sky. See events are happening during this month. Visit this section regularly to get a glimpse into what to look for every month. Also review the 2006 Archive and the 2005 Archive movies. Compare and contrast featured events between years. What kinds of patterns do you notice?
If your computer includes Google Earth, then you can use the GSky Browser. To learn more about eclipses, visit NASA's Eclipse Home Page; to see some amazing images of our universe, check out Hubble Discoveries.
Use current issues of The Sacramento Bee to follow your local weather and sunset times. This will help you schedule a good night for stargazing. Try to get outside for stargazing at least once every two weeks. On your first night out, based on what you see, draw two of your own constellations—sets of stars that, to you, stand out and look like something familiar that you can describe. On subsequent outlings, locate the same constellations—from the same viewpoint and at about the same time—so you can track them as they move across the sky. Record your observations in a journal; do not forget to include the date, time, viewing location, and time of sunset. Draw the constellations in your journal entry, using reference points on the horizon. Write a myth about your constellations, and create a poster that shows how your constellations moved across the sky during the observation period. Share your story with classmates.
You may also wish to read through your community events calendar to find any local groups who get together to stargaze on a regular basis. As you read your newspaper, keep an eye out for any celestial events that your newspaper says are good viewing opportunities for local residents.
Weekly News Topics
Each week The Bee publishes a new weekly news topic for students who use the Internet and newspaper as learning resources. The weekly news topic are tied to current events in the news and help students extend their knowledge on a wide range of subjects. Click here to return to the table of contents.
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