Archive for the ‘astronomy’ Category

Solar Eclipse

November 14, 2012

I was stuck in a meeting this morning.  All I could do was glance wistfully out of the window and note that the light was definitely dimmer than it had been a few minutes before, and later note that it was brighter again.

But the children were more fortunate – the older ones, anyway.

Fainjin’s class took turns looking through special viewing glasses and “it was so cool Mum, you could see the moon going in front of the sun!” He agreed that it got dim during the eclipse – a partial eclipse, in NZ – and found it all very exciting.

Pearl’s class also took turns looking through glasses, and had a pinhole camera as well.  She got two turns, she told me, and was fascinated by how quickly the moon had moved across the sun.

Babess looked regretful.  “We missed out.  It’s so sad.  We had a card with a hole in it, on the window, and we were going to watch the moon, but we were too late.  But we could still see the sun with it!”

The next total solar eclipse visible in NZ will be in 2028, I understand.  I hope we can make a family trip to the South Island to see it!

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

An overflowing sun

September 10, 2012

Fainjin was talking astronomy (again) this evening over dinner.

“Did you know,” this is his favourite way to start a question to which he is going to tell you the answer anyway, “that you could fit one million Earths into the Sun?”

We all professed amazement and admiration.

“And one hundred Jupiters!”

“One thousand Jupiters in the Sun?!” asked Babess.

“Nooo!” he scoffed.  “That’s too much! Some would stick out!  One hundred!”

The Dad and I were much amused at the mental image of extraneous Jupiters sticking out of the Sun.

(PS – Babess was right, you could fit about 1,000 Jupiters into the Sun).

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

A full day

July 4, 2012

Yesterday we left the house early-ish: after a school day would have started, but not by much.  We went for a long walk and scooter-ride, 90 minutes around to the next village.  There we stopped for morning tea before getting on a bus into Wellington to spend the rest of the day.

We went to Carter Observatory, to Fainjin’s delight.  He is very interested in the solar system since studying space at school and at Boys’ Brigade last term.  He bounced around the museum exhibits, while Pearl & I followed at a more sedate pace.  There were some school holiday activities there too, so they fished for “knowledge” about Matariki and made paper baskets to carry their knowledge home in.

Being at the observatory always reminds me of Susan, and of the Science Fair Stimey organised in her honour.  We saw a planetarium show about weather systems on different planets (and some moons), which was fascinating.  Fainjin confided later that he thought we were “going to die” because the film took us so close to the sun, but I held him in my lap for most of the show and he eventually peeked out from between his fingers and enjoyed most of it.

I wish I could remember whether it was on Neptune or Uranus that it rains diamonds.  Susan would know.  That sounded much cooler than seasonal cryovolcanic eruptions (although I have to say those are pretty amazing too!).  Pearl pouted because they didn’t mention Pluto then Fainjin started arguing with her that Pluto’s too small to be a planet and I had to hush them even though I was impressed by their level of debate because we were in a theatre.

Soon enough it was time to catch a series of busses home again.  The kids were happy but exhausted – as was I!  I put together a scrappy dinner of whatever-I-could-think-of that they might eat.  They went to bed fairly promptly and were soon asleep (only to be woken later by the earthquake).

This morning Fainjin told me all about the things he had learned and kept asking to go back to the observatory.  I’m sure we will.

© UpsideBackwards 2012.


June 9, 2012

There’s a rocket ride outside the supermarket.  “Can we ride in the rocket?  Can we? Can we?” it’s a chorus, Fainjin and Babess falling over themselves in excitement.  Pearl glances at me ruefully, she knows she is too big for the ride but I can see she would really like one too.

“OK then,” I agree.  We’re on holiday, in a different town, and it’s a holiday sort of thing to do.  They climb in, pleased to find there’s a steering wheel each, almost tumbling over each other like young puppies.  “Ready?” I ask, as I drop a dollar in the slot.  Theyshriek with laughter as the rocket rocks.

“We’re going to the moon!” they cry.   “Have you got your spacesuit on Babess?”  “Yes I have Fainjin! I can see Venus!” “And I can see Saturn!” they try to outdo each other with astronomical knowledge.

It’s all giggles and smiles for a few minutes, and then the ride slows and stops.  “Out you get,” we say, and they happily climb out.  We continue along the street, but now we’re on the moon, so Fainjin and Babess take giant, jumping steps.

Just as well they were wearing their spacesuits!

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

The Sun

June 1, 2012

Fainjin has been learning about day and night at school – what makes day and night, what makes the moon shine, why is the sun hot, and so on.  I recommended a song, “Why does the sun shine?” (sung by They Might Be Giants) to his teacher, and she liked it so much that the children have all been learning the words.

Fainjin loves it and sings it a lot at home (and on the way home from school, and in the car, and …).  I love it too and sometimes sing along with him.

Pearl finds this excruciating.  I don’t think it’s because I’m a bad singer, I think she just doesn’t like me to sing where her friends might hear her.  I tell her it’s my job as a mother to embarrass her, but she’s not convinced.  So any time she hears the song – including when Fainjin is singing by himself – she dramatically covers her ears and begs for it to stop.  Mostly we ignore her.

Today Fainjin and I were going into town on the bus, and he asked if he could sing it.  “OK, but really quietly,” I advised, “because there are other people on the bus and they might not want to be sung to.”

He sang it VERY quietly to himself – I could barely hear him myself.  Then he turned to me and said very seriously, “Pearl hates that song.”

“Yes, she does,” I had to agree.

“So I won’t sing it near her.”

Awww.  That is true brotherly love.  I wonder if he’ll stick to it?

© UpsideBackwards 2012.


May 22, 2012

Fainjin is learning about space at both school and Boys’ Brigade, and he is very taken with it.  This has led to interesting breakfast-time exercises such as naming all the planets in decreasing distance from the sun, speculating how close you could get to the sun without being burnt up, and saying how many moons each planet has.  Needless to say, these are questions the children put to me, in full confidence that I will have all the answers at my fingertips.  (Oh my, I do miss Susan, who did!!!).  Still, it’s a good thing to start the day thinking about where we can find the answers.

Fainjin is eager to share his new knowledge, too.  He finds it fascinating that it is the sun that makes the moon shine – and it is pretty amazing, when you think about it.  But this morning’s factoid gave me pause.  “The craters on the moon are made by astronauts crashing into it!”

I have had a cartoon image in my head all day since: little spacemen in their white suits and opaque visors, spinning helplessly through space until they hurtle into the moon, raising little clouds of dust and leaving pockmarks on the face of our satellite.


“Do you perhaps mean asteroids?” I ventured, and sure enough that was it.  “Yes!  And they look like falling rocks!”

The moon wasn’t up tonight when we went out, but we found the Southern Cross and Orion’s Belt, and he was a happy little man.

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

School trip

May 9, 2012

Fainjin had his first ever school trip today.  As they are learning about space, they went to the local planetarium.  They saw a film, “Tycho to the Moon”, about a dog who goes to the moon.  “Guess how he gets to the moon, Dad!” challenged Fainjin.  “Um, in a rocket?” hazarded The Dad.  “No, in his space-kennel!” Fainjin was delighted to know more than Dad.

On the way home and throughout dinner we heard all about Tycho and his trip to the moon and how he found a baseball left behind by an astronaut.  We discussed why dogs might need spacesuits on the moon, and which planets you have to pass to get to the sun.

Fainjin described some constellations to his awed little sister, and we promised that on a clear night (sadly, no chance tonight) we would all go outside and look at the stars again, as we sometimes do.

Babess was very disappointed to hear that Pearl and I actually saw a dog spacesuit when we visited the Air and Space Museum in Washington last year.  “You should take me there, because I haven’t seen it,” she said sadly.

As good a reason as any to travel, I suppose!

© UpsideBackwards 2012.


Space cadets

April 26, 2012

Fainjin is getting a double-dose of “space stuff” at the moment.  They’re investigating “where the sun goes at night” at school (“behind the hill” says Fainjin, logically and more-or-less correctly), and learning about space at Boys’ Brigade too.

When he found out about Boys’ Brigade, Fainjin was a little bit concerned.  “Will we go into space, or just learn about space?”  He looked relieved when I scuttled the go-into-space idea.  Perhaps he was worried about getting home in time for tea.

Babess has seized on the idea, though, and asked a couple of times, “Can we go into space?” and tonight, “When are we going into space?!” as if it was a long-promised outing we have been unreasonably delaying.

“We’re not going into space…” I informed her, and Fainjin leapt in, “Babess, we can’t go to space! It’s above the clouds!”

One day they might be astronauts.

© UpsideBackwards 2012.


April 12, 2012

Susan Niebur, 1973 - 2012 (photo credit: Kristen, @mommy4cocktails)

Every time I look at the stars, I think of Susan.  We used to talk about the different constellations we could see in our different parts of the world.  She longed to see the Southern Cross one day.  When I look up and see it, I like to imagine her standing next me, looking up too.

Every time I read about advances in cancer research, I think of Susan.  How she tirelessly advocated for new, better, different research, especially into metastatic cancers.  How she participated in clinical trials, and encouraged women to join the Army of Women for further research.

Every time we read a “The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That!” book, I think of Susan.  Her love of science, and her skill for communicating that, especially to children, and how she inspired so many mothers to encourage their children’s questions and help them find the answers.  She gave my kids a Cat in The Hat book, and it’s one of our family favourites.

Every time I hear of a new planet being discovered, I think of Susan.  For all my own interest in science and astronomy, I hadn’t really thought about what a planetary scientist might be or do until she taught me.  And now I can’t think of a more fascinating job.

Every time I taste Whittaker’s Dark Caramel, I remember the first day we met, when I gave her a block as a gift.  She offered to share it, but I told her to taste it first – after all, I can have it any time at home, but it’s not readily available in the US.  She did, and the most incredible look came over her face.  “You’re right,” she declared, “this is not for sharing!” and she tucked it into her handbag.  We both laughed.  I sent her a couple of “care parcels” later, and I know she did share them.

Every time I see a beagle, I think of Susan.  She loved beagles, and fostered rescued beagles.  If I ever get a dog (which admittedly is unlikely), I think I’d like to call it Kepler, after her beloved pet.

Every time I write a blog post, I think of Susan.  She was my very first, and closest, blog-friend.  She wrote a guest post for Kelley which sums up the sort of relationship brilliantly.  She also introduced me to lots of my other blog-friends, including Kelley, Stimey, Jenny, Marty and plenty more.

Goodbye, dear friend.  Thank you for all you taught me, and the friendships you have gifted me with.  You are always in my heart and mind, and I will never forget you.

© UpsideBackwards 2012.


February 25, 2012

We had a family dinner last night.  Fainjin took along a school book especially, and read it to Nana and Poppa, Auntie B and his cousins.  They all listened with appropriate attentiveness and there was applause at the end.

His face glowed so much with pride that it lit up the room.

It was dark by the time we got home.  I got out of the car, and said, “Come out and look at the stars, kids!” – as much to get them out of the car and moving as to encourage them to look up and appreciate the view.

Babess stepped away from the car and looked up and gasped.  “So many stars!  Wow, Mummy!  You found lots!”

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

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