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Engaging with the Universe from Home
Here are a few ways to stay informed and entertained as you pass the time at home. As a bonus, they’re all great activities even after the restrictions are lifted.
WATCH THE SKY
McDonald Observatory is offering special activities online in addition to our regular star parties and some daytime activities.
We also have listings of other locations where you can attend outdoor star parties, watch online presentations, or keep up with the universe in other ways.
One free and easy activity is to sit in your yard and watch the universe wheel past. Even under light-polluted skies, several bright planets and stars are visible to the unaided eye. And as the travel restrictions are lifted, you might want to visit a dark-sky park. Dozens of state and national parks in the U.S. have dark-sky certification. They offer unobstructed views of space while giving you the space to spread out.
Many organizations offer lectures and other presentations online. Here are a few. Keep up with additional events.
Marshal Martz Memorial Astronomical Association
Robin Elgart, NASA; radiation in human space flight
March 17, 2021, 7:30 p.m. EST
Las Cruces Space Festival
A celebration of space-related activity in southern New Mexico and beyond
April 9-12, 2021
Air & Space Live Chat: The Space Shuttle
April 15, 2021, 1 p.m. EST
NASA offers a catalog of e-books available for free download.
The National Academies offers many e-books at no charge, although registration is required.
BOOKS FOR YOUNGER READERS
Keep up with what’s in the night sky through our own StarDate radio program. You can listen to the next-day audio at no charge or sign up for premium same-day service.
NASA and other organizations offer free space-related podcasts as well.
For those with children, NASA and others offer downloadable models of several important spacecraft, including Hubble Space Telescope and the current Juno mission to Jupiter. Print them on card stock, then cut, fold, and paste.
NASA also provides models that move!
Make A Paper Mars Helicopter
Roving on the Moon
And it provides models for 3D printers, including an Apollo Lunar Module, the six Apollo lunar landing sites, the Cassini mission to Saturn, the Curiosity Mars rover, several asteroids, and hundreds more.
Other modeling activities:
Design a Space Robot
Try your hand at docking the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.
Dozens of scientific projects are looking for help. You can sift through images and other data to help scientists find asteroids, map the surface of Mars, track daytime meteors, and characterize galaxies. Other projects include cataloging historic sky images and transcribing the work of early women astronomers. You also can work on projects in marine science, botany, history, and many other topics — advancing science while staying (safely) entertained.
NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter allows the public to download raw images from the spacecraft, process and enhance them, then post them on the mission website for the rest of the world to view. Many of these images are published on websites, in magazines and newspapers, in videos, and elsewhere.
Most nights, you can see satellites passing overhead in the dawn and dusk twilight. One of the easiest to spot is the International Space Station, which can be as bright as Venus. Websites and smartphone apps allow you to sign up for a tracking service that tells you when the station will be visible from your location.
NASA: Spot the Station
Satellites on iPhone
FIND THE ANSWERS
FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS
From StarDate and McDonald Observatory
Many of these activities can be handled through virtual classroom settings, or with the assistance of parents at home. In fact, some of these can make good family activities as well.
These simple activities can be performed at home just for fun!