RSPB Saltholme puts on great activities for families. Just as BBC Stargazing Live returned to our screens they held two live stargazing events on the reserve. Both events were fully booked well in advance so it is worth pre-booking early.
Volunteers from the Cleveland and Darlington Astronomical Society helped out for the evening. They generally meet monthly at the Wynyard Planetarium.
There were 3 activities to keep everyone busy. We took our two nephews and were lucky to have a clear night.
We were at capacity and split into two groups.
Our group went outside first. The volunteers had telescopes set up. There was a small one pointed at the moon’s craters – well within reach of little ones. There were also step-ladders to reach the eyepieces on larger telescopes.
We could see Jupiter and its rings with four moons, a yellow star near a blue star, and given a historical eye test. The telescopes needed to be readjusted all the time as the stars moved due to the Earth’s constant rotation.
A great tip from the volunteers was that an amateur would do well with a pair of binoculars rather than a telescope as it would have a wider field of vision that wouldn’t have to constantly be readjusted.
It was a bit chilly so we went inside to have a warming cup of delicious vegetable soup and a bun and take part in activity 2 to make planispheres.
It was then time to swap with the other group and go upstairs for activity 3. A star dome, a portable planetarium was set up from Teesside University. You have to crawl into it, it looks like an inflated igloo. There is a moment when the tunnel is pitch black. I was concerned my younger nephew would panic and freak out (flashbacks of his former 5-year-old self at The Forbidden Corner shrieking and crying). Happily he pushed past his initial fear :o) One of the volunteers then showed us different constellations inside the dome, telling stories with drawings overlaid on the stars.
As we left they handed out the BBC Stargazing calendar for 2014 – available online as a pdf.
A great early evening activity with the boys at “the bird place” who are now looking forward to the Big Garden Birdwatch
More star resources linked to from the BBC website:
60 Second Adventures in Astronomy