Moon in Action
In this 30-minute activity, children, ages 7 and up, and their families go outside on a clear evening and view the sky to see the Moon for themselves. Using sky charts and other resources, and possibly in partnership with a local astronomical society, children navigate the Moon's impact craters, flat plains (maria), and mountains with the naked eye and binoculars or telescopes.
This outdoor night viewing can be combined with the indoor stations activity, Growing Up Moon. In addition, Mirror Moon offers a quick demonstration about how the Moon reflects sunlight; it is most effective when conducted in a dark area — such as at a table set up off to the side and near the telescopes!
What's the Point?
- The Moon's familiar face offers impact craters, dark, flat plains (maria), and mountains for closer inspection through binoculars or a telescope.
- Telescopes are scientific tools; they offered our first glimpses of other worlds when Galileo first used his telescope to study the Moon over 400 years ago. Telescope optics have improved over time, allowing scientists to make more detailed observations of objects in the night sky.
- Flashlights for staff, preferably with red plastic wrap or red paper taped over the light
- Optional: access to electricity for telescopes and a well-marked extension cord, secured so that it won't be a hazard in the dark
- Glow sticks to mark cords
- Access to drinking water
- Access to bathrooms
For each group of approximately 20 visitors:
- Optional: 1 telescope manned by an amateur astronomer
- 1 or more small step-stools for children to stand on to reach high telescope eyepieces
- Optional: 1 pair of binoculars
- Optional: 1 camera tripod and binocular adapter (adapters are available through retailers such as Amazon.com and Walmart)
- Tables set up indoors or outside, in a well-lit area and out of the path of traffic
- Art supplies such as colored pencils, crayons, and markers
- Books about observing the Moon
For each child:
- 1 An Earth-based Tour of the Moon
- Optional: 1 Earth's Moon Lithograph (NASA educational product number LG-2005-12-568-HQ), printed double-sided and preferably in color
- Optional: 1 Skywatcher's Guide to the Moon
- 1 pencil or pen
- Moon in Action comic panel
- His/her Marvel Moon comic book and binder clip
- Optional: sky map of the current night (monthly sky charts or simple sky wheels are available free from a variety of websites, including the links offered here; note that the sky wheels require assembly but work year-round)
For the facilitator:
- Background information
- Shopping list
- Throw a Star Party
- Optional: Night Sky Network's Observing the Moon "Moon Map Guide"
- Plan your event using the Throw a Star Party! tips. The best viewing of the Moon is when it is a crescent or in first quarter.
- Set out the step-stool(s) where needed.
- Set up the tables and art materials in a well-lit area nearby for the children to complete their Moon in Action comic panels.
- If you are also conducting Growing Up Moon and/or Mirror Moon, provide additional space for these activities and signs directing visitors to their locations.
- If desired, have a copy of the Observing the Moon "Moon Map Guide" to help point out features on the Moon to visitors.
Facilitator's Notes: Refer to An Earth–based Tour of the Moon as a guide to major features on the Moon. Observing the Moon while its near side is only partially lit, as in the crescent and first quarter phases, causes the terrain to cast longer shadows. The shadows make the features much easier to see! A full Moon is unpleasantly dazzling to view through a telescope — even the crescent Moon is bright.
Telescopes are not necessary to enjoy the Moon. The basalt-filled impact basins and plains — maria — and ancient lunar highlands are easily seen with the naked eye. Binoculars reveal the Apennine Mountains, Copernicus Crater, and Tycho Crater.
The Moon may appear "flipped" — as in a mirror image — through some kinds of telescopes.
1. Invite the children and their families to line up in front of the different telescopes.
- Ask each child to put his hands behind his back when it's his turn to look through the telescope (which will reduce the chances of moving the telescope.)
- As the families line up, point out where the planets are in the sky, and which one they will see through the telescope. Ask the children to share what they know about the object before they view it.
- How do scientists use telescopes? Do the children think that telescopes have been improved as tools since Galileo first observed our Moon with a telescope 400 years ago? Scientists study the surfaces of planets and their moons through telescopes. Telescope optics have improved over time, allowing scientists to make more detailed observations of objects in the night sky.
- How can scientists learn more about the Moon? By sending spacecraft to fly by or orbit the Moon. Astronauts brought back samples for scientists to study in laboratories.
Provide some information about NASA's current robotic explorations: The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is currently orbiting the Moon and collecting detailed information about the Moon's environment. The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, is scheduled to launch and begin orbiting the Moon in 2011. It will collect data to help scientists better understand the Moon's interior. Later, in 2013, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, will orbit the Moon in 2013. Its main objective is to characterize the atmosphere and lunar dust environment.
2. Ask the children to describe what they see:
- What color was it? What shape? What features did you see?
- Do they recall from previous activities how far away the Moon is from Earth? If the Earth was a blueberry and the Moon was a peppercorn, they would be 15 inches apart.
- Why does the Moon appear bright? It is reflecting sunlight. How can it do this if Sun is not up?
- Why is the Sun not up? The Earth has spun (rotated), carrying our part of its surface away from the Sun.
- Over the length of the event, how has the Moon moved through the night sky? It has moved toward the west.
- How do they think the Moon will appear in the sky in a few days? Will its shape and location be different at this same time of night?
- How many of the stars they see are in our solar system? The Sun is the only star in our solar system; the others we see at night are much more distant than even Pluto.
3. Have the families consider what it would be like if there was no Moon.
- Does the light of the full Moon allow your family to take walks or play sports later into the evening than you could otherwise? Would your family miss those opportunities if there was no Moon?
- Do the parents the parents remember any favorite books about the Moon? Do they have any memories of observing the Moon during their own childhoods?
- Do they have any cultural stories about the Moon?
4. Invite the children to use the pencils or crayons to record their evening's discoveries on their Moon in Action comic panels. Direct them to the tables set up for this purpose. Instruct the children to add the Moon in Action comic panel as the next page in the Marvel Moon comic book by clipping the book together at the upper left corner.
Invite the children to return for the next activities, where they will further consider the question: What if there was no Moon? They will begin by exploring how Earth would be different without it in Earth's Bright Neighbor.
At the beginning of the next children's activity, invite the children to report on what they saw. Did they discover any features on the Moon that they had not noticed before?