“From bar to the stars” (Fargo Forum article)

From my astronomy club’s blog, about the outreach one member has been doing. He has been keeping up the Junkyard Brewing telescope nights, and he has also started setting up at a local outdoor ice cream shop on some evenings in order to reach more kids.


Fargo-Moorhead Astronomy Club member Jay Bjerke has been actively promoting the joys of stargazing with his sidewalk astronomy nights at Junkyard Brewing Co. in Moorhead,  MN. One of the first nights was April 10, 2015, when Junkyard was releasing a new brew called “Big Kahuna.” Since Jay’s big telescope had been nicknamed “Big Bertha,” they thought the result sounded like a bad ’50’s sci-fi movie, and a tradition of using ’50s sci-fi images to advertise their astronomy nights was born:

Big Bertha Big KahunaStargazing

Stargazing on the patio

The following story about Jay Bjerke’s sidewalk astronomy nights at Junkyard Brewing was featured in the Fargo Forum home page on June 1, 2015.

From bar to the stars: Sidewalk astronomy brings the heavens to the street

By John Lamb, June 1, 2015.

0B5lEslrS81BkVDNHTldyY2pDc00MOORHEAD – A late night in a bar can lead to some revelers seeing stars the next morning. But step outside Moorhead’s Junkyard Brewing Co. on a clear…

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Saturn ornament

I just saw this picture online, and now I’m getting ideas for some spacey Christmas ornament crafts.

saturn ornament

Do you have any favorite spacey ornaments? Please share a pic!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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New Horizons at Pluto!

The countdown reads about 5 hours and 30 minutes until the closest approach to Pluto by the New Horizons space probe. I am excited. In about 19 hours we should be able to see images from that close approach. If you haven’t been following it, I hope you’ll take a look at the mission pages and look at the pictures as they come in. This is the first probe thPluto image timelineat has visited Pluto. Our images of Pluto prior to this year were indistinct blurs, and the increasing resolution of the new images has been fun to see. Maybe you can find a Pluto Palooza event near you and watch with a group of like-minded folk as the close approach images come in!

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Space Games

Educational space board games!

Moon Mission Family Astro game

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s shop has an assortment of space games like

  • Moon Mission (“Learn about conditions on the Moon and teach your children teamwork with this cooperative family board game”);
  • Race to the Planets (“This exciting game for the whole family encourages exploration of the many intriguing worlds in our solar system. Players have fun getting to know the best ‘tourist’ sights on each planet. Use the ‘secret decoder’ to check your answer.”); and
  • Cosmic Decoders (“features a deck of 72 cards with beautiful color images of cosmic objects from the Hubble Space Telescope and other major telescopes in space and around the world, with which you can play four different games”). Linkology solar system

Learning Resources has a Linkology Solar System card game with word cards and photo cards to create connections and build content vocabulary and classification skills.

Teacher Created Resources has a Space Voyage game in which “students master essential reading skills as they voyage to a distant galaxy. When they respond correctly to questions about Main Idea or Noting Details, they collect cards they need to win. An engaging game board comes with 50 Main Idea cards, 50 Noting Details cards, 6 player pieces, and a die. For 2-6 players.” space voyage game

I have not tried Space Voyage nor Cosmic Decoders, but I have copies of the other three. My astronomonsters aren’t quite old enough to play with them yet, and my only play tests have been with adults, but I think they’re all decent games for elementary school kids who can read. I especially like the collaborative, non-competitive style of Moon Mission. (If we leave the idea of astronomy games for kids and focus on collaborative strategy games for older players for a second, one of my favorites is Pandemic from Z-Man Games in which you work together to find cures for viruses and battle outbreaks across the world. Another decent one with a science fiction theme is Star Trek Expeditions.)

In recreational space games for kids, there is Race Through Space from Ravensburger which is kind of different with its moving board mechanic, and Robot Explorers by eeBoo which I haven’t been too excited to play with my kids–the board design needs some work. However, my kids like to play with the pieces and make up their own game of it, so that’s a bonus.

I know there are a lot of space-themed games for kids and adults out there. Do you have any favorites? Let me know–we like games 🙂

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Diffraction grating pumpkins


From Halloween, our jack-o-lanterns as seen through diffraction grating glasses.


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My Weight on Other Worlds Worksheet

Here is a PDF you can download and print: a worksheet for calculating your weight on other worlds. There are some neat web pages with automatic calculators–type in your Earth weight and voila!–but this is an alternative, to sit down with a calculator and, if you printed it in color, have a neat poster when you’re done.

Link to PDF: My weight on other worlds2

A preview of the worksheet.

A preview of the worksheet.

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Astronomommy Update

Hello, everyone. I apologize for not posting new astronomy items for a while. I’ve had a few things going on which have been keeping me busy: I started a new job in grants coordination at a research university, and I’ve had local astronomy outreach events going on, including organizing a Pop-Up STEAM Museum to take place at my local public library in July. 

I’ll do a new post soon, but in the meantime, won’t you tell me if there are any topics you would like to see me write about? Just leave a note in the comments. Thanks!


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Bedtime Math in Space

space mathOkay, Bedtime Math has been totally awesome with all of their space-themed math problems lately! Here are the links to the lot of them:

Cherries from Space, from 14 April 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/cherries-from-space/

So You Want to Be a Martian, from 06 April 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/so-you-want-to-be-a-martian/

Space Dodgeball, from 05 April 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/space-dodgeball/

Another Planet Past Pluto? From 30 March 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/another-planet-past-pluto/

Vote for Your Favorite Astronaut Suit! From 27 March 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/vote-for-your-favorite-astronaut-suit/

Walking around the World, from 22 March 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/walking-around-the-world/

Eggstreme Equinox, from 20 March 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/eggstreme-equinox/

Dress Like an Astronaut, from 26 February 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/dress-like-an-astronaut/

Your Turn to Be an Astronomer, from 22 February 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/your-turn-to-be-an-astronomer/

Taking out the Trash – in Space, from 20 February 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/taking-out-the-trash-in-space/

Happy Birthday, Opportunity! From 25 January 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/happy-birthday-opportunity/

When Your Town is Colder Than Mars, from 10 January 2014 – http://bedtimemath.org/when-your-town-is-colder-than-mars/

Planet Party, from 29 December 2013 – http://bedtimemath.org/planet-party/

Moon Garden, from 18 December 2013 – http://bedtimemath.org/moon-garden/

Starry-Eyed, from 03 December 2013 – http://bedtimemath.org/starry-eyed/

Giving You the Moon and Stars, from 19 November 2013 – http://bedtimemath.org/giving-you-the-moon-and-stars/

Observe the Moon Night, from 12 October 2013 – http://bedtimemath.org/observe-the-moon-night/

Digging a Hole to China, from 30 July 2013 – http://bedtimemath.org/digging-a-hole-to-china/

An 8-Hour Year, from 27 August 2013 – http://bedtimemath.org/an-8-hour-year/

3, 2, 1, Blast-off! From 25 June 2013 – http://bedtimemath.org/3-2-1-blast-off/

Pink Moon, from 25 April 2013 – http://bedtimemath.org/pink-moon/

Space Chase, from 21 April 2013 – http://bedtimemath.org/space-chase/

The Bedtime Math mission is to help kids learn to love math so they can become capable adults. It was started by Laura Bilodeau Overdeck. She and her husband John started giving math problems to their kids, and their 2-year-old wanted to be given math problems too. Each Bedtime Math unit includes three levels of problems: Wee Ones, Little Kids,, and Big Kids.  You can get daily Bedtime Math problems delivered to you by email by signing up on their “Contact Us” page.

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Planet Plates


I just found these planet plates on Think Geek. I wonder if my astronomonsters would eat all of their food so they could look at the planets, or dump them clear so they could play with them? Anyway, I love the product description and how they handle the lack of a Pluto plate:

“My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine… hey! Where’d the pizza go? The mnemonic works because your brain keeps thinking ‘there’s gonna be pizza at the end… there’s gonna be pizza at the end…’ and then blammo. Pluto’s not a planet, and there’s no more pizza. We feel cheated.

“Take back the pizza with this set of 8 Planetary Plates. See, you can set a place for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune around the table. Then put a huge pizza in the middle of the table to represent our favorite absent dwarf planet. At the end of the meal, Pluto will be gone but not forgotten, much like the pizza will be.

“Not to scale, or there would be some very sad people eating off of Mercury.”

If you don’t know about Think Geek, it’s a fun online store full of geeky things. And they make me laugh.

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Poor Mercury

scholastic solar system puzzlePoor Mercury. I’ve been thinking about poor Mercury since we got this floor puzzle of the planets that pictures them in order with their names labeled and a planet fact for each one. Can you guess what Mercury’s was?

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun.

Yes, it’s true, but obvious in the puzzle’s art. Couldn’t they have come up with a better fact than that? (PSA: This puzzle was low quality–the pieces are thin and were a little warped, so it doesn’t hold together at all well.)

An internet search, too, reveals that Mercury primarily tends to be defined by its nearness to the Sun.

poor Mercury
An internet search on the planet Mercury reveals how much it is defined by its position in relation to the Sun, shown by the red underlines.


So I figured it’s time for some Mercury appreciation. Here are some other stand-out facts about Mercury:

  • Mercury is the smallest planet in the Solar System (we’re not counting dwarf planets). Mercury is only slightly larger than Earth’s Moon.
  • A single day on Mercury lasts 59 Earth days. A year on Mercury is only 88 Earth days.
  • Mercury travels through space at nearly 31 miles (50 kilometers) per second, which is faster than any other planet.
  • Mercury has the biggest temperature change from day to night, with daytime temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 Celsius) and nighttime temperatures of -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-180 Celsius).
  • Mercury’s eccentric orbit takes the planet as close as 29 million miles (47 million kilometers) and as far as 43 million miles (70 million kilometers) from the Sun. If you could stand on Mercury’s daytime surface when it’s at its closest point to the Sun, the Sun would appear three times as large as it does when viewed from Earth.
  • Mercury has neither a moon nor rings, but it does have a wispy, comet-like tail streaming off the planet away from the sun. This is made of escaping gases, atoms blasted off the planet’s surface by the solar wind.
  • The first spacecraft to visit Mercury was Mariner 10, which imaged a little less than half of the surface. It caught an immense impact basin on Mercury, called the Caloris Basin, and on the opposite side of the planet from the Caloris Basin is a spot that has been referred to as “weird terrain” ever since, because it looks weird and different from other areas of Mercury. (A more scientific name is “The Hilly and Lineated Terrain.”) It has some hills that look a little like rectangular blocks.

Mercury's weird terrain


Of these facts, I especially like the tail and weird terrain. For more Mercury goodness, you can check out NASA’s Solar System Exploration pages about Mercury, or do your own web search to see how many articles start out with “Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun.”

By the way, did you know that in the 19th century, some folks thought that there might be another planet between Mercury and the Sun? They called it Vulcan, the name later given to Spock’s home planet in the Star Trek universe. If Vulcan existed, then Mercury would not be identified as the closest planet to the Sun.” More about the hypothetical planet Vulcan can be found here.

<3 Mercury!

❤ Mercury!

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