When I was a kid, we lived in Jamaica… and yes, it was a phenomenal experience. My Dad has always been intrigued with the cosmos (it’s worth reading the origin of that word, in my opinion), and so I thought it was common during childhood to be pulled from bed in the middle of the night to observe some sky-event.
In fact, we lived there when Halley’s Comet was last visible in 1986, and I remember viewing it through Dad’s telescope in front of our house, which sat on top of Stony Hill and overlooked the capital city of Kingston as well as the harbor. My grandmother Lillian and her sister, my great aunt Earline, where with us. I distinctly remember my Dad saying that I was the only one of the four of us who might possibly have the opportunity to see (and remember) Halley’s Comet twice in a lifetime. Its orbit is roughly 75 – 76 years, so it was visible in 1910, 1986 and will next be visible from earth in mid-2061. Pretty interesting stuff.
As an adult, I’ve made a little less fun of my Dad and have adopted a lot of his habits. My oldest daughter – who is about the age I was when we saw Halley’s Comet – has been pulled from bed in the middle of the night more than a few times to stare into the night sky for an eclipse, a special planet sighting or a clear view of constellations. Fortunately, I married a man who is far more adept than I am at recalling some of these details… and he has a killer smart phone night sky app. Speaking of which, here’s a New York Times list of apps for the night sky if you’re in the market. They’re great tools to share with kids, since you can point them skyward and see an outline of constellations or identify stars and planets.
If all that seems a little too lofty, do this one thing: plan a Perseid Picnic with your family for this Saturday night, August 11.
It’s one of the last weekends before many kids start school, and a great way to wrap up the summer as a family. You’ll need to identify (in advance!) a spot out away from town where you can see the night sky clearly without the distraction of city light pollution and vehicles. The middle of a soccer field or a city park won’t usually work – if there are lights nearby, you won’t be able to see the show. I’d share our spot with you – but then it wouldn’t be a secret!
On Saturday night, the Perseids will be at their peak. This is the most reliable annual meteor shower visible, occurring each August. Up to 80 meteors will be visible per hour! There is a fantastic article from Astronomy Magazine with plenty of details and tips, such as the rendering below by Roen Kelly. While you’re exploring the Astronomy.com website, sign up for emails about other night-sky events that you might want to pull your kids out of bed to experience!
Astronomy is a great activity for kids. The Star Atlas maps on Astronomy.com have plenty of details on constellations such as Andromeda the Princess, Perseus the Hero and the Bear’s realm. Sounds pretty interesting, doesn’t it? Here are just a few of the intriguing resources on the Astronomy.com website:
We usually put the kids in PJs and pack some snacks – my husband makes some mean kettle corn that we put in brown paper bags, and we usually take some cookies, sparkling cider for the kids and a little champagne for ourselves. Make it a celebratory evening and forget about bedtimes, or plan ahead for some well-timed naps. The later you go into the night and the early morning hours, the better the show.
Check out the Astronomy Magazine article and plan to enjoy this experience this as a family. You’ll never forget laying in a field with the people you love most as your own private fireworks burst above your head. You’ll hear the excitement in their voices – “there’s one!” And you might even have a chance to tell them about Halley’s Comet – 2061 will be here before we know it.