You will need
- Weather appropriate clothing
- Torch or phone
- Warm drinks
Before you begin
- Decide when you’ll walk. Stars are best viewed on a clear night before or after a full Moon. Stars should start to appear around an hour after sunset.
- Decide where you’ll go on your work. It’s best to find a dark spot away from lighting such as a hillside, a clearing in a wood, or a park.
- Remind everyone to wear warm clothing – you may even want to take some blankets to keep warm under.
- Decide if you’ll take warm drinks (and snacks) to enjoy while you stargaze. Don’t forget to check for any allergies.
- Decide how you’ll identify what you see. For example, could use a website such as In the Sky.
- Everyone should talk about the sort of things they expect to see in the night sky. The person leading the activity could look online to see if any planets will be visible.
- Everyone should travel to the stargazing spot. Everyone should stay together and use torches to light the way if they need to.
- Everyone should turn off their torches, and spend some time looking around and getting used to the dark. It can take up to 10 minutes for eyes to adjust – people could start to train their eyes by looking at nearby scenery (for example, trees) or each other’s faces.
- Once everyone’s used to the dark, they should look up at the sky. What can everyone see? Stars can be different shapes, sizes, and colours. They look like they’re twinkling in the sky. Planets don’t look like they’re twinkling. Everyone should be as quiet as possible so people can focus better.
- Everyone should find a partner. Each person should try and spot a constellation and point it out to their partner.
- After a few minutes, pairs should join with another pair to make a small group of four. The pairs should show each other what they’ve discovered.
- Everyone should gather back together and share what they discovered. The person leading the activity could help everyone spot anything they may have missed.
- Everyone should enjoy a warm drink and snack together before they head back indoors.
Orion and Taurus
Ursa Major, Ursa Minor and the North Star
Orion was a hunter in Greek mythology. Start by looking for the three stars that make Orion’s belt. Up and to the right of Orion is Taurus the bull; you can spot him by looking for his big red eye, the star ‘Aldebaran’.
Ursa Major (Also known as the Great Bear, Plough, Saucepan or Big Dipper) is one of the most recognisable shapes in the night sky (which may be why it has so many names). The two stars at the far right point towards the North Star, which forms part of Ursa Minor (also known as the Little Bear). The North Star is also known as Polaris.
Swoon at the Moon
This activity was a chance to develop skills. Did anyone spot a constellation in the sky, and follow it with their eyes? Some people may have spotted Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Orion, or Taurus. Why is stargazing useful? In the past, stars helped people find where they were in the world. Now, we have maps, clocks, and apps to help us – but it can be still useful to know about the stars and phases of the Moon when we’re out camping, for example.
This activity was also about valuing the outdoors. How did everyone feel about being outside without any lights? Some people may have felt exciting, and others may have felt nervous – both are OK. Being outside in the dark helps remind everyone that our world is amazing, and that planet earth is connected to the rest of the universe.