Children are naturally interested in astronomy, and espeically about the celestial bodies that appear with unfailing regularity. A star chart, which is a pictorial representation of the night sky, can come in handy while introducing stars and constellations to children. In essence, it's like a map, so it helps children identify the starts.
What Do You See on a Star Chart?
A star chart lets you see the whole starry sky at a glance. It allows you to relate positions of constellations with each other, and can help you identify common stars and constellations. Depending on the detail, it may also help you see other celestial bodies in the night sky.
Brightness of the Stars
The stars are depicted in the star chart as different-sized dots, their size depending on how bright they appear in the sky, (not how large they are). The size of the dot on a star chart corresponds to the brightness of the star only. A star that is smaller than the others around it may appear brighter in comparison if it is closer to earth. A giant star may be just a tiny dot in the chart if it looks small in the sky due to its greater distance from our planet. Children should be made aware of this fact.
Constellations and Position of Stars
Star charts may show groups of stars as constellations too, marking their outlines with dots representing the stars, and with lines connecting them. However, children should be taught that the constellations are not natural groupings occurring in nature, but rather were identified as groups by ancient astronomers. They gave names to these groups according to the shapes of objects they seemed to resemble. It may take quite a bit of imagination to relate the outlines of the constellations to the shapes they are supposed to represent.
Tips on Using a Star Chart
While star charts are not difficult to use, there are a few tricks to the trade that will help you and your child identify the most constellations.
- Use the chart on a clear night where there are no clouds and not a lot of light.
- It is easier to identify constellations if you hold the chart above your head.
- It's best if you can find a constellation in the sky that you are familiar with, and then use the map to find nearby constellations. For example, if you see the Big Dipper in the sky, find the Big Dipper on your map, and then find a nearby constellation in your map. Follow the map in your hands in the sky to find your next constellation.
- Make sure you know what direction you are facing.
- Have your kids observe the sky over several months and note how the positions of constellations change. You can do this either by watching the constellations from the same spot every time you go star gazing, or looking at a single constellation over several months.
- Star charts are designed to be used with the naked eye. A telescope may come in handy, but is not necessary to learn the positions of the constellations.
Printable Star Wheel
To use the printable star wheel below, you will need Adobe Reader. Click on the chart to view the star wheel, download it and print it. There is both a wheel for the northern and southern hemisphere. Note that the sky is going to be distorted the further away you are from the latitude noted on the chart, however, it should be close enough to follow throughout most of the northern and southern hemispheres respectively.
More Printable Star Charts for Every Season
The star formations we see change throughout the year as the earth rotates. Here are some free resources for printable star charts:
- Get detailed evening sky maps every month that show you the stars viewed around the world at different locations. Check out the southern hemisphere, equator, and northern hemisphere stars with this helpful site.
- Kids Astronomy has printable maps that show the constellations by time and month.
- Teacher vision has printable charts, such as Autumn sky for grades 3-7 and Zodiac constellations for grade 3-5
Benefits of Star Gazing for Children
It is exciting for children to learn the names of the prominent stars in the sky, and to be able to identify them. Once they learn to locate the different constellations, they can track their east to west movement across the sky, compare their relative sizes by measuring the angular distance from earth, and learn to identify the cardinal directions as ancient mariners did before the invention of a compass. They can also see how different months get Zodiac signs assigned to them. A couple great lessons on star gazing can be a lifelong memory that demystifies the night sky and brings kids closer to nature. Star gazing is a wonderful family activity that everyone can enjoy.