This is a plan for a star party for Cub Scouts. To introduce
anybody to the night sky, you have to get out and look at the
night sky. It's more fun than listening to facts about the night
sky. It gives people the actual experience of what astronomy is
about. A Cub Scout can complete the Astronomy
Belt Loop without looking at the sky at all. In my opinion,
this is an error in the design of the award. This observing plan
will help you get them outside and looking at the stars.
Because these are children, this observing plan concentrates
on easy, appealing objects that will help complete requirements
of the astronomy-related Cub Scout awards. I have assumed:
Bright lighting, if we use this at a Scout meeting. Their
events are often held at schools and churches with outdoor lighting.
If the Scouts come to a dark sky site, you may wish to include
Young observers will not have the patience to recognize subtle
details in targets.
Young observers appreciate fun, large, colorful objects more
than small faint fuzzies. However, I suggest you mention the
joy that many people feel in finding the faint fuzzies.
You may be observing during any phase of the moon. The moon
may add to a bright sky.
Cub Scout events are held in early evening, probably as soon
as it is dark enough to observe. The boys will not stay out to
see objects that rise late at night.
Bright objects are easy to find in difficult lighting.
The most important targets are the ones the requirements
of the Cub Scout awards ask the boys to observe.
This plan is too ambitious to get through all of it in one
event. It takes time to show a large group of people each object.
You will probably want to talk through some of this material while
the boys are taking turns looking at the first couple of targets.
If you have the Orion Nebula, Saturn or Venus, and the Moon visible,
I would start with those three. You may not get beyond three targets
with a large group.
This plan is roughly organized as a story about the evolution
of cosmic objects.
One of the requirements is to show how to set up and focus
a telescope or binoculars. This requires teaching how to use the
equipment first, then giving each boy a chance to do the task.
This will take a long time. Binoculars are easier and faster for
this activity, but many boys will prefer to get their hands on
Pleiades (closest cluster to Earth, still has traces of its
formative nebula), best view in northern hemisphere in winter.
M16 (may be less than 6 million years old, found next to
its formative nebula), best view in northern hemisphere in summer.
Older groups of stars
Double Cluster (both red and blue stars visible in it), best
view in northern hemisphere in winter. Finder
M79, best view in northern hemisphere in winter. A globular
cluster is a group of old stars, but they all look like small
faint fuzzies to children. M79 may be the easiest to see. I also
use it below as a place to see white dwarfs. Finder
The Milky Way - our own galaxy. Show how the disk of the
Milky Way appears in the sky. If M24 is visible, it is a wonderful
close-up of a star-crowded segment of our galaxy. The Greeks
and the Cherokee have stories of the origin of the Milky Way.
(It was milk for the Greeks and corn meal for the Cherokees.)
Best view in northern hemisphere in summer. Finder
Andromeda Galaxy, best view in northern hemisphere in fall.
Betelgeuse (red giant), best view in northern hemisphere
in winter. Finder
Rigel (blue giant star), best view in northern hemisphere
in winter. Finder
Regulus (blue giant star), best view in northern hemisphere
La Superba, Y Canum Venaticorum (red carbon star), best view
in northern hemisphere in spring. Finder
Cor Coreli, best view in northern hemisphere in spring. Finder
The Cub Scout awards require knowing only three constellations.
Here are a few of the easiest to recognize and learn:
Orion, best view in northern hemisphere in winter. Image
Big Dipper, best view in northern hemisphere in spring. Image
Cassiopeia, best view in northern hemisphere in fall.
Taurus, best view in northern hemisphere in winter.
Pegasus, best view in northern hemisphere in fall.
Gemini, best view in northern hemisphere in winter.
Point out that although one of the Cub Scout requirements says
the boys may use a telescope to find a constellation, a telescope
is useless to look at something as big as a constellation. However,
it can be used to find pretty asterisms. Examples:
The Coat Hanger (C399), best view in northern hemisphere
in summer. Finder
There are many stories about the pictures in the skies you
could tell to the group.
A requirement for the Boy Scout Astronomy Merit Badge is to
know the zodiacal constellations. Cub Scouts have heard the names
of many of these constellations, and will enjoy finding them and
hearing their stories.
Aries (best view in fall)
Taurus (best view in winter)
Gemini (best view in winter)
Cancer (best view in spring)
Leo (best view in spring)
Virgo (best view in summer)
Libra (best view in summer)
Scorpius (best view in summer)
Sagittarius (best view in summer)
Capricornus (best view in fall)
Aquarius (best view in fall)
Pisces (best view in fall)
Describe a solar system as a star and everything orbiting it.
We can look at the Sun and the major planets. Examples of the
other objects (the asteriod belt, the Kuiper belt, and the Oort
cloud) are more difficult to show.
Earth. One of the things we learn from astronomy is more
about our own planet.
Venus. Explain its phases. In December 2006 has just changed
from Morning Star to Evening Star.
Saturn. In winter 2006 the best view is probably too late
in the evening for a Cub Scout event. Image
In winter 2006 Mars and Jupiter are best viewed before dawn.
In spring 2008 Mars and Saturn are visible at night.
I suggest a brief discussion of the current controversy about
the definition of a planet.
Earth's Moon - show mountains along the terminator, craters,
Jupiter's four largest moons
Some pass over every night. Heavens
Above has nightly predictions. If the International Space
Station is visible on the night you are out, it is the brightest
and easiest to see.
Some fall every night, but they boys will have to be patient
to see one.
It is possible to show the larger asteroid, but they are difficult
targets and will appear to children the same as dim stars.
Planetary nebulas - Stars that have lost something
Little Dumbbell Nebula (M76). This is the brightest candidate,
but may be too dim to see under high light conditions. Best view
in northern hemisphere in winter. Finder
The easiest supernova remnant to show is the Crab Nebula. However,
it requires fairly dark skies, and is not an obvious target for
children. Best view in northern hemisphere in winter. Finder
In March 2008 a gamma ray burst was detected south of gamma
Bootes. A visual glow was observable there. Though it is unknown
for how long this event will be visible, at the time of the explosion
it was briefly visible to the naked eye, and the most distant
object (approximately 7 billion light years) that was visible
to the naked eye.
You can't actually show a black hole. However, if Sagittarius
is up, you can point out the location of the one closest to us,
at the center of our own galaxy. Best view in northern hemisphere
This is an opportunity to communicate the grandeur and awe
of observing. The easy explanation of "universe" is
"everything." Whether "everything" should
mean "everything physical" is a theological question.
This age group will probably not follow a discussion of the alternate
theories that astrophysicists enjoy.
Related Observing Plans
Observing plans customized to specific event dates are at: