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Supported by Walker Books

Eyes to the skies

Wrap up warm then head outside to explore the night sky. What can you spot high above you?

You will need

  • Weather appropriate clothing
  • Torch or phone
  • Snacks
  • Warm drinks
  • Binoculars

Our pick for the February and March Scouts Book Club is Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good by Louie Stowell. Packed with doodles and cartoons, this is the wry, witty and very funny diary of Norse god Loki and the trials of being trapped on Earth as an eleven-year-old school boy. If you enjoy this activity, you’ll love reading the book. 

Learn more about our partnership with Walker Books
The silhouettes of four Scouts filled with the magical wonders the night sky has to offer; including stars, moons and planets.

Before you begin

  • Decide when you’ll go for your 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 walk. 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 or dietary requirements.
  • Decide how you’ll identify what you see. For example, you could use a website, such as In the Sky.

Space walk

  1. To begin with, 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.
  1. Everyone should travel to the stargazing spot. The group should stay together and use torches to light the way if they need to.

Stargaze together

  1. 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, such as trees or each other’s faces.
  2. Once everyone’s used to the dark, they should look up at the sky. What can you 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. Try to be as quiet as possible so that people can have better focus.
  3. Everyone should find a partner. Each person should try and spot a constellation and point it out to their partner.
  4. 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.
  5. Everyone should gather back together and share what they have discovered. What stories could people see in the stars above them? The person leading the activity could help everyone spot anything they may have missed.
  6. Your group could choose to enjoy a warm drink and snack together before they head back indoors.

Celestial superstars

Orion and Taurus

An animated mapping of the constellations Taurus and Orion.

Ursa Major, Ursa Minor and the North Star

An animated mapping of the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

Start by looking for the three stars that make Orion’s belt. Orion’s belt was known as 'Fiskikarlar', or the fishermen, in Norse mythology. 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). In Norse mythology Ursa Major was known as 'Karlsvagn', or the Man’s Chariot, and Ursa Minor was known as 'Kvennavagn', or the Woman’s Chariot. It is thought that these were representative of the Norse God, Thor, and the Queen of Asgard, Freya, riding their chariots. The North Star is also known as Polaris.

Swoon at the Moon

The eight key phases of the Moon.

Reflection

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.

Safety

All activities must be safely managed. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Outdoor activities

You must have permission to use the location. Always check the weather forecast and inform parents and carers of any change in venue.

Hiking and walking

Follow the guidance for activities in Terrain Zero, or the guidance from the adventure page.

Dark

Provide some light, so the environment isn’t completely dark. Everyone must be able to see others and move around the area safely.

Visits away from your meeting place

Do a risk assessment and include hazards such as roads, woodland, bodies of water (for example, rivers, ponds, lakes, and seas), plants, and animals.

You’ll probably need more adult helpers than usual. Your risk assessment should include how many adults you need. The young people to adult ratios are a minimum requirement; when you do your risk assessment, you might decide that you need more adults than the ratio specifies.

Think about extra equipment that you may need to take with you, for example, a first aid kit, water, and waterproofs.

Throughout the activity, watch out for changes in the weather and do regular headcounts.