PROJECTS: A Few Ways to Explore Sunsets and Spectacular Sunrises at Home

Sunset Harbour Island, Bahamas.

We are certainly aware of the seasons – especially now during the hot summer we are experiencing in Australia or in winter when there is little sunshine and the days are shorter, but there are other magnificent aspects about time and space you may be missing out on by neglecting to observe. Take time out of your busy schedule to observe and/or investigate the relationship between the sun, the earth and the moon – just sit or stand (especially barefooted on the earth) and enjoy the passage of time and positions of the sun and moon in space. Whatever your age, here are just a few simple things you can explore. I find all these simple tasks personally satisfying and relaxing for all involved in the exercise:

Sunrise and sunset Find out from the newspaper or weather report the times of the rising and setting of the sun. Find a good place to relax and enjoy the spectacle – the sounds, the colours, the birds – bliss!

Phases of the Moon This is night time together time – watching the phases of the moon. You could do it for a lunar month – the time for the moon to complete one full orbit – is 29.5 days. Take photographs or do sketches to record your observations. You will be amazed what you see out there in space on a starry night. Find out: why does the moon change shape? How does the shape change?

The moon in the daytime What a good excuse to stop, stand and stare a moment into the sky. Choose a day when the moon can be seen in the daytime and in a place away from buildings, note the position of the moon in relation to landmarks along the horizon. It’s fun to draw the all the landmarks on the horizon and plot the position of the moon in relation to them. Make sure you always stand or sit in the same spot when observing (or recording in pictures) the position of the moon at different times of the day.

Shadows Can you tell the time from the sun? Get started by poking a stick into the ground where the sun will shine on it all day. At various times on a sunny day, mark the end of the shadow of the stick by writing the time (e.g. 11am) on a button (possibly held into the ground by a small stick). Questions for children: How do we know the sun has moved? Did the shadow stick tell us? At what time is the shadow the longest? Look at the shadow on other days throughout the year, and from it, tell the time. Smart thinking exercise!

Visit a Planetarium The fact that the earth spins on an axis and revolves around the sun may be difficult for some children to grasp. To keep up-to-date with new discoveries about our solar system and to help understand or reinforce these ideas, visit the Planetarium in your town or examine the models of the solar system in the Science Museum or investigate online.

Further possibilities: Set up a permanent sundial in the garden; make the most of your deck or balcony with drinks at sunset, breakfast at dawn or at night in the dark to view the night sky.

Jan Couper M.Ed.; M.Env.


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