By our guest author Samantha Lord
For all intents and purposes, the night sky is unchanged since the very first human beings walked on the Earth. Celestial objects have looked down on every event that has affected humanity; times of conflict or celebration, times of famine or plenty, times of disease or vitality. In this way, astronomy connects us to our earliest ancestors, who would have looked up and started to wonder about the shining points of light overhead.
When we gaze at the moon tonight, we all observe the same object; no matter where we are on Earth. In these uncertain times, when we may be physically distant from some friends and family members, we can experience a sense of connection by simply gazing at the same night sky.
This time away from our usual routines is a great opportunity to reconnect with ourselves, our personal interests, and our closest family. We are lucky to live in an age where we have access to many powerful resources at the click of a button.
These are a few ideas of how we can take advantage of the resources at our disposal that allow us to use astronomy to help make a connection during the lockdown period:
Read It seems like an obvious suggestion, and there are countless awesome astronomy books out there (see the great article by Holly McClelland for some examples), however we often might not have enough time to dig as far down the ‘curiosity’ rabbit hole as we’d like. Now is our chance! Or maybe this is an opportunity to cultivate the naturally inquisitive minds of our children by helping them research and answer an unwittingly difficult and complex question they’ve been posing (children always ask the trickiest questions!!)
Backyard stargazing – there are loads of resources available online to help you navigate the night sky for yourself. Stellarium is a great open source software that is free to download to your PC. Why not pick a constellation that you can see from your back garden, research the story or mythology behind it, and spend some quality time helping your family understand how historic cultures engaged with those very same stars. Perhaps dig out the telescope you bought 5 years ago from the depths of the garage!
Citizen science – one of the reasons astronomy is such an amazing science is that you don’t even have to be a professional! There are many resources online, such as Zooniverse, where you can greatly help researchers by reviewing data and maybe even become involved in a discovery of your own.
Many of us have heard the story of Sir Isaac Newton, isolated during the black death plague; during which time he just happened to be hit on the head by an apple. The rest is history.
We can all take this opportunity to use astronomy to help shape the piece of history that we’re living through right now.