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Getting your kids into Astronomy on a budget

10 Aug

Every modern parent today wants what’s best for their kids.

The best clothes, the best cars to drive them to school in, and, speaking of which, the best education.

But let’s face it, with the condition of public schools in this country today, that education is gonna need a home team advantage.

By which I mean, we need to get our kids excited about school.

In particular, the Sciences.

Because not enough kids are into the Sciences these days, which means if your kids pursue it now, they’ll be running things tomorrow, when you need a rich and powerful child who can afford to put you in a nice rest home instead of one of those scary, bed-sore ridden ones.

This looks like another case of backyard Astronomy to the rescue!

Except good backyard Astronomy, like good schools, costs money.

And time. But I’m more worried about the money right now.

What about the parents on a budget?

The parents who can’t afford the high-end, trendy Armani or Coach telescope?

The parents who have the money, but are too cheap to spend it, even on an entry-level Meade or Celestron telescope?

Well, I found a solution. Here’s what you need:

  • 1 (Brawny-brand) paper towel roll
  • 1 pencil
  • 1 computer with monitor
  • 1 internet connection
  • 1 image viewing program
  • 1 extension cord (optional)

Here’s how it works:

1) Take an empty (Brawny) paper towel roll. (It is recommended, but not absolutely required, that there be no paper towels on the roll). This is your optical tube.

2) Stab a pencil through the middle of the roll.

3) Stick the extruding end of the pencil into the ground in your backyard. Make sure one end of the (Brawny) paper towel roll is pointed up towards the sky. This is your tripod.

4) Stick one end of the extension cord into the lower end of the (Brawny) paper towel roll. Run the other end to your computer, shoving it into a port or something to make it look like it’s connected to the computer.
(Now I said the extension cord was optional, but seriously, if you’re too cheap to buy a real telescope, do you really think your kids will believe you ‘opted’ for a wireless (Brawny) paper towel roll? Yeah, me neither.)

5) Go onto the internet and download a bunch of pictures from outer space. You know, planets and stars and black holes and stuff.

6) Make a big production of showing your kids the ‘new’, ‘computer-controlled’ ‘telescope’.

7) Gather them around the computer and start paging through the space pictures you downloaded, ooh-ing and ahh-ing with each one. Click on arrow keys a bunch of times in-between pictures, to ‘drive’ the ‘telescope’ to the next ‘celestial object’.

8) Have a few facts for each picture handy so you can lecture the kiddos on what they’re supposed to be learning from the Sciences.

Here’s a screenshot of my approach in action. The window on the left is my ‘live’ ‘telescope’ ‘feed’.

So far, they're still more bad than good.

When the kiddos see this one, I tell ’em, “That’s Santa’s orbital observation station, where he watches you 24/7 to make sure you’re being good. So be good for goodness sake!”

Now your kids think they’re doing real Astronomy, and it looks so good (assuming you downloaded nice pictures) they’ll actually get excited about it. Trust me, this approach looks way better than using a real telescope in your backyard.

As an added advantage, this is the sort of astronomy you can do during the day! If your kids are smart enough to question this, tell them it’s a radio telescope, or an electron telescope. They’ll be so awe-struck about the impending Science that they’ll buy it.

If you really want to get them jazzed, get all fancy and neatly print ‘TELESCOPE’ or ‘AWESOME TELESCOPE’ on the (Brawny) paper towel roll before you start. Heck, if you’re artistically inclined, add some flames or starbursts or something sciency along the side.

Even if you can't afford toilet paper, you probably know someone who can

Can’t afford paper towels? What about toilet paper? Just remember to remove all traces of the original purpose.

It’ll totally psych your kids.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Geez, that’s brilliant, Ian, your are a certified uber-genius, but what happens when my kids get a little older and try this out for themselves? Won’t they be bitterly disappointed, and maybe even a tiny bit mad at me when they stab a paper towel roll on a pencil and it doesn’t work as a telescope?”

Relax, it’s covered, if you used a Brawny paper towel roll. Take a moment to inspect their rig, and then nod knowingly and say, “Ah, I see the problem. You used a cheap store-brand paper towel. Their tubes aren’t designed to be used as telescopes. Not like Brawny-brand paper towels. It’s a classic amateur blunder. Don’t feel too stupid, everyone who’s dumb makes this mistake.”

I guarantee, they will feel so lame that they won’t try again for weeks, which gives you time to come up with some sort of fancy lens system you can cram into a paper towel tube.

You’re welcome, future Astronomers and Scientists of America.

You’re welcome.

One could argue I pulled this one out of my arse.

You wouldn’t believe the amazing images this telescope captures.

And now, a word from our sponsor: me! I may not be available as I pretend to operate a telescope, but my books are under no such disadvantage.
 

The Santa Claus Gang:

The Santa Claus Gang: A Marlowe and the Spacewoman short story

Marlowe and the Spacewoman:

Marlowe and the Spacewoman

Kleencut (FREE, and totally appropriate for demon-spawn toddlers!):

So bad it won a Voidy for the next THREE consecutive years (would have been FOUR, but 2012 was a leap year)

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Posted by on 10 August 2013 in Astronomy!, Parenting, Science!

 

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