I feel that it is important for my family to learn about the universe and how amazing it is. For Astronomy Week 2011, I wanted to show them first-hand how awesome it really is! I have spent hours the past few months wondering what it is that we should do. Finally, it occurred to me to do something simple, so simple that it was brilliant. I would stargaze with my family in the backyard! I wanted to get back to the roots, no more of the fancy gizmos and confusing theories. Backyard stargazing is astronomy at its best, at its most basic.
Saturday could not have arrived sooner. I hauled my XT8 out into the backyard and began to setup. I debated the idea of stetting up the tent, but thought, “Why not just sleep under the stars?” I laid out the sleeping bags and soon everything was ready. At dusk, I got my two sons out of the house, and we ventured to the backyard. My oldest son, Taylor, was appalled at the idea of no tent, but once darkness fell, he quickly forgot all of his worries.
The first stop of the night was Saturn. Even after stargazing for the past 20 years, it’s perfect rings still amaze me. The first to look through the scope was my youngest son, Elliott. After a short look, he turned to to me and asked, “Is that real?”
I smiled and explained to him all about the rings, and how they were formed. By this point, I had his full attention. Next to look through the eyepiece was Taylor. He sat there for a good ten or more minutes examining the alien world.
“What are those stars around it”, he asked.
I then began to teach him all about Saturn’s many moons.
“You mean Saturn has more than one moon? I thought every planet only had one moon!”
I laughed. I took one last look at Saturn and then moved to one of my favorites, M3. I changed the eyepieces and in seconds was gazing at the beautiful globular. Everyone rallied for a peak. Before looking through the eyepiece, I showed both boys a picture of what they were about to see. Again, they had many questions.
“Mom, I think your telescopes broken, it’s all fuzzy,” Elliott said.
I then lectured my sons on “faint fuzzies.” Though M3 was nothing compared to Saturn, they were both amazed. I still wonder how something so simple can be so beautiful.
The cresent moon hung in the west, smiling back at us. Suddenly, we were exploring the lunar terrain and discussing the phases of the Moon. I was thrilled! My family was finally beginning to take an interest in the universe! We gazed up at the heavens for hours, viewing nebulas, galaxies, clusters, and anything else we could find. Eventually, we all laid down and just gazed up. It was a night none of us will ever forget.