Backyard stargazing introduces the whole family to a much bigger universe

On a clear winter night, the sky over your own backyard comes alive with a special kind of magic. Overhead, uncounted billions of stars, planets, and satellites swirl, creating a heavenly light show that changes every night, and it's one the entire family can share.

Not everyone will discover a comet or witness a never-before-seen celestial event, but it just might feel that way the first time you introduce yourself and your children to the wonder of the stars.

"When a child first recognizes that bright point of light as a whole other planet, or spots his first meteor, or see that first eclipse, it's a moment like no other. As far as children are concerned, their first time is the first time. And it's something you can share, right in your own backyard," says Russell Sipe, board member and past president of California's Orange County Astronomers. Sipe helped develop the group's Explore the Stars seminar for beginners (find out more about it at Sipe says you don't need a telescope to see planets, constellations, meteor showers, and more. All you need is a bit of patience and a few hints. So open your eyes and take yourself on a tour to the stars.

As the leaders of this stellar expedition, it falls to parents to do a little scouting before taking the kids out for a look at the heavens.

"You don't want the kids to be frustrated because morn or dad can't find the planet or the constellation they came out to see. So I recommend that parents take a few minutes to get their bearings," says Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. Pitts offers a simple 3-step plan.

FIRST. Just after sunset, but before full dark, look toward the light side of the horizon. "That's west," says Pitts. "From there you can pretty quickly orient yourself." Just remember: south is left, north is right, east is behind you.

© Copyright All rights reserved.
Unauthorized duplication in part or whole strictly prohibited by international copyright law.