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.
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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.

National Moth Week 2014

The annual National Moth Week is coming up in just a few months. Coordinators are now planning events and working together to make this year’s mothing event one to remember.

National Moth Week’s main goal is to promote moths, and more generally, biodiversity, by encouraging interested parties to organize events at their local park, environmental education center, university, or homes.  Moth Week will be held worldwide July 19-27th.

mothweekWhy Moths?

Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.  Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species – with colors and patterns so dazzling or so cryptic they define camouflage.

Moths can be important bioindicators. A bioindicator is a species or taxon that tells us about the health of an ecosystem. A greater diversity of moths typically means there is a greater diversity of plant species, which leads to a greater diversity of other species as well.  They can help us monitor food plant populations and they are important food sources for many nocturnal AND diurnal organisms.

Moths typically have a reputation of being drab, dull pests. However, that is certainly not the case. An extreme minority of moth species can cause trouble to humans, but most moths either have no impact on our lives or may serve important ecosystem functions such as pollination. Many moths are actually very interestingly patterned and colored.

Moths are a world of sphinxes, hawks, owls, and tigers, all waiting for you outside your door, or perhaps in your home. Visit the National Moth Week website to learn more about this wonderful citizen science opportunity.