Observing Plan for Boy Scout and Cub Scout Astronomy requirements, customized for mid April 2008

This is a plan for a star party for 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.

This observing plan concentrates on easy, appealing objects that will help complete requirements of the astronomy-related Scout awards. I have assumed:

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 a telescope.

Star-forming nebulas

Young star clusters

Older groups of stars

Galaxies - larger groupings of stars

Bright Stars

The Astronomy Merit Badge requires identifying 8 conspicuous stars, 5 of them magnitude 1.

All 1st Magnitude Stars

In descending order of brightness. Includes all 1st magnitude stars in both northern and southern hemispheres.

Star Designation Constellation Best Season
Sirius 9, Alpha CMa Winter
Canopus Alpha Carina Southern Hemisphere
Rigil Kent Alpha Cen Fall - never much above the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere
Arcturus 16, Alpha Boo Summer
Vega 3, Alpha Lyr Summer
Capella 13, Alpha Aur Winter
Rigel 19, Beta Ori Winter
Procyon 10, Alpha CMi Winter
Achernar Alpha Eridanus Winter - never much above the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere
Betelgeuse 58, Alpha Ori Winter
Agena or Hadar Beta Cen Fall - never much above the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere
Altair 53, Alpha Aql Summer
Acrux Alpha Cru Southern Hemisphere
Aldebaran 87, Alpha Tau Winter
Spica 67, Alpha Vir Spring
Antares 21, Alpha Sco Summer
Pollux 78, Beta Gem Winter
Fomalhaut 24, Alpha PsA SummerFall - never much above the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere
Beta Crucis Beta Cru Southern Hemisphere
Deneb 50, Alpha Cyg Summer
Regulus 32, Alpha Leo Spring

Spring 1st Magnitude Stars

Colored Stars

Double Stars


The Cub Scout awards require knowing only three constellations. Here are a few of the easiest to recognize and learn:

Spring constellations

Winter constellations

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:

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.

Zodiacal constellations

Constellation Best Season
Aires Winter
Taurus Winter
Gemini Winter
Cancer (faint) Spring
Leo Spring
Virgo Spring
Libra Summer
Scorpius (low on horizon) Summer
Sagittarius Summer
Capricornus Fall
Aquarius Fall
Pisces Fall

Solar System

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.


I suggest a brief discussion of the current controversy about the definition of a planet.


Artificial Satellites

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 asteroids, but they are difficult targets and will appear to children the same as dim stars.

Planetary nebulas - Stars that have lost something

Supernovas - stars that have died

Supernovas are very bright when they explode. They leave clouds of gas behind that are much harder to see. The most famous is M1, in Taurus. Requires large aperture and magnification to see much.

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.

Black Hole

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 in summer.



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.

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