Astronomy, Gr. 5-8

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Astronomy is the science that studies the Earth, the Moon and other objects in space. It has helped us discover our place in the physical universe. It is still making discoveries.

In 2006, members of the International Astronomical Union agreed on a definition of what a planet is, something that had not been done before. They needed to do this because new discoveries were adding so many planets in our solar system that a new classification system seemed necessary. The new definition took Pluto off the list of planets and put it on the short list of newly defined dwarf planets.

Astronomy has helped people make sense of what they see around them, things like the phases of the moon. Astronomy has also helped us understand why the Earth has seasons. Seasons are not caused by how close we are to the Sun. Seasonal changes come from the tilt of Earth's axis affecting how much sunlight different parts of the Earth receive at different times of the year.

Astronomy opens our eyes to the beauty of outer space. So go into the night and observe the stars.

Stellarium is a freeware program available for computers running Windows, Macintosh or Linux operating systems. Download it and the user's guide. Set it for your location to become familiar with the night sky and to build your astronomy knowledge and skills. The user's guide has a lot of good information and use tips.

The Latitude lesson suggests making a sundial as an extension. There is a very useful calculator online that figures the hour angles for a horizontal sundial if you put in your latitude. It also has simple directions for making the sundial as does this site.

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