ASTRONOMY FOR KIDS
Time to stare
USHA KRIS introduces young readers
to the joys of star gazing
A time to stop and stare is what sky watching is all about. Out in the
open, everyone occasionally looks up at the sky, and wonders what star
that one -- pointing in some direction -- is. Most often it is one of the
brightest stars in the sky, as those are what catch our eye.
To progress into a serious star gazer, you have to come out every evening
at the same time so that you can familiarize yourself with patterns.
For instance, if you go out at 8 P.M. now, clear skies permitting, you
will see the Orion (pronounced O-ryan) constellation at the 10 O’clock
position (i.e., if right overhead is 12 O’clock, then 1, 2 and 3 O’clock
are the right hand positions, and 9, 10, and 11 are the left hand
positions. Make sure you are facing North). Now if you do not know Orion,
you will think that the very bright star that you can see is probably
Venus. “But it does not twinkle,” some may argue. But that does not make
it Venus or any other planet.
If you know astronomy is a science, you will realize that various
constellations can be identified, and the stars named with the help of
some point of reference. For instance, Venus can never be high up in the
sky, so no matter how bright an object, if it is high up, it is not Venus.
Being close to the sun, it is either a morning or evening planet. Right
now I suspect it is rising and setting with the sun so you neither see it
in the wee hours nor as night falls.
So what is that bright star you see? You have to recognize one of the most
dramatic constellations overhead, Orion, by spotting three stars in a
slant that forms the belt, three stars to the side downward, the sword, as
Orion is a hunter. (My grandson saw a gun next to the hunter! Of course
such things are left to one’s own imagination. Two stars above form the
arms and two stars below the legs (actually a part of it, but that doesn’t
Once Orion has become your favourite, as it is with Shalini, then ah! To
the left and slightly down is this bright object. It is none other than
Sirius (in the constellation Canis Major or the Big Dog.) Are you ready
Now, the next thing to remember is that as many as eight of the brightest
stars are in and around Orion. So what do we look at next? You can scroll
down from Sirius toward the horizon, stopping when you see another bright
star. That is Canopus in Capella, the second brightest star.
As you look up, still at 8 p.m., the red giant to the top and right of Orion
is Alfa Tauri, or the star Alderbaron in Taurus the constellation. Further
to the right of Alderbaron, you see a cluster which will be faint if you
are in a polluted city, and spectacular when under clear skies. It is Plaides,
or seven sisters, or sapta rishi as they are known. If you have got this
far with me, then you are in great shape to move with the stars in
You see, the city lights confuse not only baby turtles, but also amateur
astronomers like you and me by making the night sky dull and hazy.
The Gemini twins are to the left of Orion, with the position of 11
O’clock. The two stars of almost equal magnitude are recognizable by their
proximity to each other. Saturn is now like the third eye close to the 2
stars, but much brighter. We, my grandson and I, saw the rings of Saturn
and one moon when viewed through our newly acquired 5 inch telescope built
by Prof. Devdas, a prominent amateur astronomer.
Anyone can go to the Birla planetarium on the second Saturday of the
month, and view the sky, with guidance, and see amazing patterns in the
sky. Like in all interests, perseverance pays. You have to be at it, and not
expect to know the sky in one night.
Now for the big killing. If you stay up after ten at night, magnificent
Jupiter rises. Through the telescope we saw four moons, maybe Io, Calisto,
Europa and Galemede, and two bands across the planet. It is a WOW
Uaha Kris was awarded the Bharat Nirman for artistic photography and can be contacted at