For my birthday, my family gave me an Orion 90 mm tabletop telescope. During the winter, I worked my way up the learning curve, and now I was ready to share the fun with my kids and their buddies.
With Saturn and a crescent moon, this week would have been perfect - except for ever-present cloudy skies. Last night, finally, a clear night was forecasted. In the afternoon, we called my kids’ buddies and invited them over for our first-ever Backyard Star Party. My kids - who have long since given up naps - both took afternoon naps so that they could stay up late for the festivities.
We met in my kitchen at 10 pm for an overview of how to use a telescope. The group included my two children, John and Katy (both age 6), and their friends, Lars (6), Margaret (9), Jake (6), and Tyler (8).
After explaining the basics of the telescope and how to best see through it ("one hand covers one eye, the other hand blocks your side vision, find the prick of light and move to it slowly") and checking out Starry Night’s view of the sky on my computer, it was time to quit talking and head out to the backyard to see what we could see.
I set the telescope at "kids’ height" and got comfortable on my knees. : We started by viewing Saturn with a low power lens (50x), then moved to a high power (125x). As each kid had their turn, the "oohs," "aahs," and "I can see it!" confirmed that they were indeed seeing the rings of Saturn with their own eyes! Margaret summed it up perfectly, "Awesome!"
After everyone had the chance to view Saturn a number of times, we shifted to the easily found, always fantastic, moon. "Will we see the man on the moon?" asked Lars, with a smile. "You just never know what you’ll see, buddy," I replied. And see they did. And the comments followed: "Wow, look at those craters!" "That is really bright." "Cool, Daddy!"
We finished the evening by star gazing on blankets. Since my kids and I had visited the Adler Planetarium that morning, John and Katy were proud to point out the Big Dipper and explain how it was a "circumpolar constellation" and could always be seen. My daughter added, "Hey, I can see the Big Bear!" Hmm, I’m not so sure about that, honey...
We finished up with a bunch of super sleepy, happy little kiddos. My daughter, Katy, took my head in both hands, planted a big kiss on my face, and said, "You’re awesome, Daddy! Thanks!!" And as we headed upstairs for bed, my son, John, added sleepily, "Daddy, I’m probably sure that was the best viewing of Saturn... EVER!"
"Yes," I thought, as I lay in bed, replaying the evening in my head, "I’m probably sure that was the best viewing of Saturn... EVER!"
Attached pictures drawn by each child the next morning
Katy’s drawing of our family star gazing on a blanket.
Tyler’s drawing of the kids "enjoying the looks of the stars."
John’s drawing of the kids lining up to look at Saturn through the telescope.
Margaret’s drawing of what she saw through the Orion telescope.
Jake’s drawing of his brother, Tyler, and him at our Backyard Star Party.
Lars’ drawing of what he saw: Saturn, its rings, and its moons.