Constellations: How I Wonder What You Are

From the time of infancy, we instinctively introduce our children to the brilliant stars above through the timeless song, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and the popular nursery rhyme “Star Light, Star Bright.” Within a few years, young children will eventually be caught parting their bedroom curtains and observing the brilliant stars almost every night. Once a “stargazer” is developed, it doesn’t take long before a child begins asking questions beyond the clouds and weather, and reaches the topic of space.

Seeing Clearly

The stargazer will not want to experience alone the splendor of the world above. She will want to share the moment with you, especially on a clear night while lying on a blanket in the back yard. The “teachable moment” will perhaps present itself quickly in a rush of questions. Take time to provide answers, but ask questions for your child to ponder or research. Young learners will want to know why the moon is sometimes present, and other times absent from the sky. She may find your description of a shooting star, a meteor, or the fact that the nearest star is 26 million miles away, fascinating. Not all children can handle the weight of binoculars; therefore, you may want to invest in a telescope or binoculars designed for the age of your child.

Tip: A sketch pad or notebook would be a valuable tool for a young stargazer. Writing down questions, facts, or drawing a pattern found in the sky and the season it was noticed can help children determine answers, and record additional questions.

A History of Stargazers

For as long as people could look up to the skies, the study of the stars has been a topic of great interest. Some people named the patterns in the sky after objects, such as “The Big Dipper,” or “The Great Square,” or animals, namely, “The Lion,” or “The Great Bear.” The names we still use today are derived from the Greeks and Romans, who named the constellations after the heroes in their stories. By learning about the legendary stories of mythology, today’s stargazers can have a greater appreciation of the stars by linking a story with a constellation.

  • “Ursa Major”: One of the easiest constellation to find is the “Big Dipper.” It appears in the form of a ladle, comprising seven stars, and the position changes according to the season of the year. (The ladle can be filled in summer and upside down in winter.) With the help of the Big Dipper, stargazers can find the “Great Bear’s” tail and Ursa Major (the Great Bear himself). It was believed the Queen of the Gods, Hera, was jealous of a young woman named Callisto. To keep her safe, the King of the Gods, Zeus, changed Callisto into a great bear.
  • “Orion”: More advanced stargazers will be interested to find Orion between the months of December and March. While it contains seven stars, Orion is the brightest, “Betelgeuse” is noticeably a large red star, and “Rigel” appears as a large blue star. The three stars align in the center to form “Orion’s Belt.” If stargazers can find Orion, known as “The Hunter,” they will also identify another bright star, below and to the left, called “Sirius,” the “Dog Star.” To know the significance, the story tells of a giant hunter named Orion, and his dog, Sirius. Orion chased seven sisters, hoping to make one his wife. When they asked Zeus for help, he turned them into birds, which left the hunter alone with his Sirius following at his heels.

Tip: Learning about the constellations is a scientific art. Not all stars can be seen throughout the year. With many of the constellations, stargazers will need to know how to use a compass, and in which direction to face. Children can practice using a compass by creating backyard maps with concise directions.

“Twinkle, twinkle little star.” By learning more about you, I can discover more about where you are!