Autumn Astronomy Activities for Middle School

Have you ever looked at the night sky and been amazed by all the stars? Though the nights are cool, I love stargazing in autumn. There are tremendous opportunities for night science activities throughout the fall months.

Misconceptions creep into the science of astronomy perhaps more than any other science. Would you believe that many college graduates have wildly incorrect ideas about the phases of the moon or the cause of the seasons?

You can help dispel these misconceptions by reading quality non-fiction materials and providing opportunities to engage in hands-on experiments or demonstrations designed to test hypotheses. With the help of DK Publishing, I’ve created an in-depth unit study around our autumn night skies utilizing two DK books as my spine. I hope to release the complete curriculum by years end.

Autumn Astronomy: Activities for Middle School @EvaVarga.netMany thanks to DK Publishing for providing these books to us for review. Please see my full Disclosure Policy for more details.

Most objects you can see in the night sky are within our own spiral, disc-shaped galaxy. Did you know that when you’re looking at the Milky Way, you’re looking into the heart of the galaxy from Earth’s position on the outer fringes of one of the spiral arms? The Milky Way is at least 100,000 light years across, and contains perhaps 200 billion stars. The milky band you see in the sky is a layer of dust, gas and stars that is closer to the “galactic center”. The dust is so thick, no one has seen beyond it to the dark side of the galaxy. There’s probably a humungous Black Hole at the heart of the Milky Way, but astronomers can’t be 100 percent sure. Turns out we know more about deep space objects than we do about the center of our own little spiral, disc-shaped galaxy.

The Practical Astronomer takes you on a step-by-step journey from the basics of what can be seen with the naked eye, to how you can view more distant objects such as the planets of the solar system, and even galaxies far, far away-all in your own backyard. It is the perfect spine for a homeschool astronomy study. It provides maps of the constellations and detailed information on the planets and stars of our own galaxy.

With this book as a guide, you will be able to find planets, identify stars, track movements, find constellations, and even begin star hopping from one constellation to another. The first part of the book explains the kinds of objects you will be looking for such as planets, stars, and nebulae. Additionally, with a spherical shape in mind, it details how to navigate around the night sky. The second part of the book provides practical information regarding telescopes and keeping a log of your observations.

During the course of the year, our view of the night sky changes from month to month. Some constellations are always in the sky, while others appear and disappear over different regions.  The Night Sky Month by Month by Will Gater and Giles Sparrow shows the sky as it is seen around the world in both the northern and southern hemispheres. It is the perfect guide for amateur astronomers – the illustrated pictures and monthly sky guides will help you recognize patterns and track changes in the each hemisphere.

Astronomical Events 2015

A brilliant double planet: October 26

For the second time in 2015, Venus and Jupiter will engage in a close conjunction, this time separated by just over 1 degree, Venus passing to the southwest (lower right) of Jupiter and shining more than 10 times brighter than the huge gas giant.

  • Full Moon, Supermoon: October 27

    The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at 12:05 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Hunters Moon because at this time of year the leaves are falling and the game is fat and ready to hunt. This moon has also been known as the Travel Moon and the Blood Moon. This is also the last of three supermoons for 2015. The Moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.

  • Conjunction of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter: October 28

    A rare, 3-planet conjunction will be visible on the morning of October 28. The planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter will all form a triangle in the early morning sky. Jupiter and Venus will be only one degree apart with Mars just a few degrees to the east. Look to the east just before sunrise for this spectacular event.

  • Taurid meteor shower ‘fireballs’: October & November

    The Taurid meteors, sometimes called the “Halloween fireballs,” show up each year between mid-October and mid-November. The shower should peak from Nov. 5 to Nov. 12 in 2015. Meteor expert David Asher has also discovered that Earth can periodically encounter swarms of larger particles, which can produce fireball meteors in certain years, and 2015 is predicted to be one of those years.

  • Geminid meteor shower: December 13-14

    If there is one meteor display guaranteed to put on a very entertaining show it is the Geminids. Considered by most meteor experts to be at the top of the list, surpassing in brilliance and reliability even the August Perseids. The moon will be a narrow crescent and will set early in the evening, leaving the sky dark all through the rest of the night – perfect conditions for watching shooting stars.

Autumn Astronomy: Activities for Middle School @EvaVarga.net

Expand Your Horizons

Hands-on activities encourage children to explore astronomy concepts in a way that is fun, yet meaningful, and to broaden their awareness of astronomy as they develop and apply new skills in other subject areas. Carefully selected demonstrations are one way of helping students overcome misconceptions, and there are a variety of resources available.

Check out the many activities and lesson plans provided by the University of Texas McDonald Observatory to get started.

Approximate the relative size of the earth and the moon with my free, Balloon Moon activity

Explore how misconceptions creep into the science of astronomy 

Take part in the Global Moon Project and learn how the moon and tides are interlinked

Gather with fellow astronomy enthusiasts for the Annular Lunar Eclipse, the Perseid Meteor Shower, or a Super Moon Viewing Party

Get to know the autumn night sky in the northern hemisphere with stargazing tips from BBC’s Sir Patrick Moore and his guests on The Sky at Night.

Focus your study around the contributions of Women in Space 

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥