Moths & Super Moons: Night Science for Families

Have you ever looked at the night sky and been amazed by all the stars? Have you ever seen bats darting above your head when your sitting by the campfire roasting marshmallows?

The warmer evenings are the perfect time to get outdoors and observe nature after the sun has set. There are tremendous opportunities for night science activities throughout the summer months.
moths_moons

Biology

National Moth Week

National Moth Week offers everyone, everywhere a unique opportunity to become a Citizen Scientist and contribute scientific data about moths. Through partnerships with major online biological data depositories, National Moth Week participants can help map moth distribution and provide needed information on other life history aspects around the globe.

Mothing can be done anywhere- at parks, nature centers, backyards and even in towns and cities. Events are taking place around the world – join up or host an event of your own. Learn more at National Moth Week.

Astronomy

Super Moons

The summer of 2014 also provides wonderful opportunities to learn more about our nearest celestial neighbor.  The earth will be bathed in moonlight as three perigee “supermoons” occur in consecutive months: July 12, August 10, and September 9. The scientific term for the phenomenon is Perigee Moon, the point in the Moon’s elliptical orbit closest to Earth. 

Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side (“perigee”) about 50,000 km closer than the other (“apogee”).  Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon’s orbit seem extra big and bright.

On July 12th and Sept 9th the Moon becomes full on the same day as perigee.  On August 10th it becomes full during the same hour as perigee—arguably making it an extra-super Moon.”

Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid meteor shower, one of the brighter meteor showers of the year, occur every August, peaking around August 9-13. The 2014 Perseid meteor shower will peak between August 10 and August 13. However, a waning Gibbous Moon (the Moon’s phase after a full moon) may make it harder for observers to see the shower.

Consisting of tiny space debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are named after the constellation, Perseus. This is because, their radiant or the direction of which the shower seems to come from lies in the same direction as Perseus. The constellation lies in the north-eastern part of the sky.

Radiant of the Perseid metoer shower. Illustration credit: NASA

Radiant of the Perseid metoer shower. Illustration credit: NASA

Check with local astronomy clubs and park centers in your local area to learn more about public astronomy events.

Just for Fun

Some activities you might also want to consider are:

  • Join up with a park ranger for a guided moonlight kayak tour.
  • Lay on beach or lake shore and enjoy gazing at the stars. How many constellations can you name?
  • Go for a nature walk on the night of a full moon. Can you find bats or other nocturnal animals?
  • Observe the moon each night for a month and record your observations in a moon journal. Get creative and include art and poetry as you feel inspired.

Sun Prints & Moon Journals – Collage Friday

It has been a great week!  We have managed to squeeze in so much learning that it’s hard to believe we have also had quality time with friends and family.  Our endeavors and opportunities this week provided us with a greater understanding of the moon’s phases as we began a year-long moon journal project.  In addition, we explored chemical changes and solubility with ultraviolet light.

sun prints

Sun Prints

My girlfriend brought over a package of large sun print paper so we took advantage of the beautiful day to sneak in a little science.  Sun Prints were originally developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science in 1975 and have been popular in art and science classrooms ever since.  The magic behind this classic activity involves a little chemistry – specifically chemical changes and water solubility.

In the presence of ultra-violet light, two molecules embedded in the paper interact to form a new molecule. Their interaction is initiated by the specific wavelengths of ultra-violet light. The new molecule is colorless so that as the blue molecules are converted, the white of the paper base begins to show through. As the chemical reaction takes place, the areas of the paper exposed to the sun will fade from blue to white.

Areas of the paper covered by objects still contain the original blue molecule, so they remain blue.  According to package directions, when you see most of the color disappear from the paper,  the print has been fully exposed and you are to put the paper into water. This does two things …

First, the original blue compound is water soluble, thus when you immerse it in the water, the blue compound is carried away, leaving only the white paper base. Second, the new colorless compound is not water soluble, and therefore does not wash away. However, water stimulates another chemical change … an oxidation reaction that turns the colorless compound into the deep blue of a finished sun print.

The result is a cool piece of art.  I love that Sweetie did organic items (leaves, seeds, shells, a bird skull, etc.) whereas Buddy used his new Boeing 747 model.

moon jounals

Moon Journals

As we got underway with the World MOON Project earlier this month, the kids have been joyfully pointing the moon out every night. To be honest, it took us a few weeks to get into the habit, but now they delightedly point it out.

Presently, they are recording their observations on a simple sheet I printed out from the curriculum, but as we sat down this week for the first descriptive writing assignment (an essay requirement for the project), they both stated they’d like a special nature journal for the moon. “I’d like to put a poem I wrote about the moon in it and do some special art projects about the moon,” Sweetie exclaimed.

I have been wanting to start year-long moon journals for a long time.  They didn’t have to twist my arm. We will be purchasing a new journal this weekend.  In fact, I have the perfect art project already in mind. You can see some of my moon journal ideas pinned on my Nature Study & Journaling board.

Extras

  • We prepared three of our favorite meals this week – it was all about comfort food: corned beef and cabbage, meatloaf, and meat biscuits.
  • I made homemade vegetable broth with the left over veggie scraps.
  • The kids performed well as their fall recital.
  • Even better, my mom (Grandma R) was able to drive down to see the recital.
  • Mom taught me how to can tuna!!
Homegrown Learners