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Sam and the Night Sky

On all of these Pages


Sam and his Mum and Dad and brother and sister live in an old lighthouse, twenty eight metres tall. It has lots of rooms but they are all on different floors and there is no lift so they are all very fit.

Sam is very interested in astronomy. He has his own astronomical telescope but he is most interested in naked-eye astronomy, what you can see in the Night Sky without a telescope (or a pair of binoculars). To Sam and many other people the Night Sky is the most wonderful sight in the world.

Sam is very sad that at School today you can learn about the Sun and Moon, the stars, the planets, galaxies and black holes and lots of other things without ever actually looking at the Night Sky.

When his friends come round he often explains the Night Sky to them by showing them what they can see from the old helicopter pad on top of the lighthouse (now with safety railings round it of course!) or playing games with them.

These Pages are about Sam’s ways of helping his friends to understand the wonderful things they can see in the Night Sky. You should read the Page on the size of the Solar System and the distance to the stars first because that is the key to everything that follows, but sadly very few children are taught about this at school in a way which makes it real. Then you can read the other Pages, one at a time, and in any order. I have put them in this order because this is the order in which many children just starting to look at the Night Sky become curious about it - but I am sure you are not a typical child so feel free to read them in your order of curiosity.

On these Pages sometimes words like North and South, or Winter and Summer, or Spring and Autumn and longest and shortest are written in bold. This is because Sam, and most of the young people who are telling me they are using these Pages, live North of the Equator and this is their view of the sky. If you live South of the Equator just reverse them. East and West are never reversed, the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West wherever you are, in fact one of the words we often translate as East actually means In the direction of the rising Sun.

Some Pages may use ideas which are more fully explained on other Pages, but there is always a link to the Page where it is explained more fully. But I do suggest that the first time you are reading a Page you do not follow links to other Pages unless you really need to, because you can easily lose the thread. Links marked FTPO are really intended for teachers and parents and older children.

There are not many pictures of the Night Sky on these Pages because what you see in the sky depends upon where you are on the surface of the Earth and the date and time for where you are, so by far the best way of finding about what you can see is to use a Night Sky App for your tablet or phone - you do not even have to tell your device where you are and the date and time! Then it shows you all the different objects you can see and tells you about them - no printed book can do this. There are lots of different apps, like most things on the Web some very good and some very bad, so do ask an adult to help you to find the one which is right for you - here are some starters.

Sam probably knows more about the Night Sky than most other children of his age, and these Pages are written mostly for children of about his own age, or a few years older or younger, but I have added links to some of my own Pages for teachers and parents and older children if the maths or science or history gets a little too difficult for Sam to explain - after all he is only twelve! - such a Page is marked FTPO.

These Pages are really only about naked-eye astronomy, that is, astronomy without a telescope. If you are a budding astronomer or astronaut who wants to know more about the things we have discovered in the sky since the telescope was first used (in about 1600 CE) you will not find them here, but there are lots of other wonderful web sites for you to explore. (On these Pages I use CE for Common Era rather than AD and BCE for Before Common Era rather than BC, for reasons explained here FTPO

Today most people believe that the Earth goes round the Sun, but until about four hundred years ago most people believed that the Sun went round the Earth - after all this is what everyone who is alive today or has ever lived can actually see happening! Sam asked me what happened four hundred years ago to make people change their minds and here is my explanation. You do not need to read it to understand about the Night Sky, but you do need to know about the Night Sky to understand the explanation - which is, whatever you have been told, nothing whatever to do with either Galileo or his telescope!

Sam and his Mum and Dad (and also real astronomers) sometimes get cross or upset when people get muddled up between astronomy and astrology, but they are not the same at all, for example both astronomers and astrologers can say “Mars is in Gemini” but when they say it they mean totally different things. If you are in any doubt about the difference here is a Page for parents and children to read together.

© Barry Gray October 2023
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