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The Night Sky and Beyond

Have you ever had your Scouts on a camping trip and looked at the night sky? With a little help from the orienteering instructors, you can probably locate the North Star and the Big Dipper (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), the Little Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Orion, at the right time of year. The farther you get from the city, the more awesome the night sky becomes.

Unless you have studied astronomy a little bit, the questions the Scouts ask after you pointed out these first few constellations get a little harder to answer. Where is the Milky Way? What is a black hole? Is that bright star really a star or is it a planet? Where do stars come from?

I have just downloaded software that might be able to help you answer those and many more questions. It is the Microsoft World Wide Telescope. The software says that it is a beta copy but it is amazing. If you thought Google Maps was something, wait until you see this.

After downloading the software you might want to take a couple of tours. I have taken several. If there is an interest in the planets in our solar system, there is a tour that starts with Mt St. Helens on earth then looks at Venus, Mars, and some of the other planets and their moons. With another Mars expedition underway, your Scouts might like to see a panoramic view of what Mars looks like from a craft sitting on the Martian surface. While you are looking around, go to the bottom of the screen and change the imagery to see a different perspective or color rendition. To answer the question of the Milky Way, take that tour and learn about the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

Had enough of the local guided tours? Try taking the tour of seven top galaxies. Not only will you get a look at the galaxies, but you will find out how to locate them and which can be seen with an unaided eye and which require a telescope. It really is great.

Our challenge as leaders is to take all the interesting information available on the computer and translate it into a useful learning tool. Seeing the images on the screen is great, but if you can relate the material to something Scouts can see on a campout, the learning experience will be much more intense.


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