Fifty things to do before you’re 11 and three quarters. This is the title of a bucket list for children by the UK’s National Trust (@nationaltrust). Besides being a great inspiration for kids at an age that they never know what to do, it serves as a signal for parents that many children are raised as couch potatoes. Children lose touch with the outdoors, don’t know where their food comes from, and become afraid to get their hands dirty. So with a list of 1) climbing a tree, 2) running down a really big hill, 3) camp out in the wild and 47 other cool activities, kids are stimulated to get out there and be inspired by nature.
Inspired by space
Personally I think space and science suffer a similar fate as the great outdoors. For some reason the beforementioned young couch potatoes are out of touch with science and space. So where @nationaltrust is luring kids to get out there and do 50 cool things in the outdoors, us spacetweeps should make an effort to get them to experience 11 cool things in space and science.
11 Space and Science things to do before you’re 11
So here is a new bucket list for your kids (or grankids, or neighbor kids, or schoolkids):
1. Watch a rocket launch
You may think that without space shuttles there is no more space exploration going on. Not true! We live in one of the most exciting eras in space discoveries, with new spacecraft being launched almost weekly. And the neat thing is that almost all can be watched live at home over the internet! Check out the launch calendar here to find out when the next viewing opportunity is.
2. See the ISS fly over your head
Did you know that you can see the International Space Station from your own back yard? Almost every day it passes your location. Usually at dusk and dawn, the ISS is one of the brightest objects in the sky! Like a very bright star, but then moving at 17,000 miles per hour. Just follow @twisst on Twitter, or check Heavens Above for the next viewing opportunity in your street!
3. Find Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky
When you watch the sky at night you will see hundreds of stars. But some of these stars are actually the planets of our own solar system. At the time of writing you can see four planets in the evening sky above your head. Venus is particularly bright now, but you can also easily spot the orange-red glow of Mars, and with a little more searching you can also see Jupiter and Saturn.
4. See a falling star (and know what it is)
I am sure you have all seen a falling star. But in reality stars don’t fall. All kinds of things may happen to stars, but falling is not one of them. Most of the time when you see a flashing trail through the sky for a split second you are seeing a small sand or pebble-size meteorite that burns in our own atmosphere, well below the stars. If it lasts longer than a split second it is larger than a pebble. When it is a larger rock, sometimes meteorites make it all the way to the ground. Take cover!
5. Visit your public observatory to watch the Jovian Moons
Once you have found the planets in the night sky, it is time to take a closer look. Most cities have a public observatory with a telescope. Just google the words observatory and your city name to find the nearest to you. Often they have special hours for kids to watch cool things in the solar system. Jupiter is particularly cool to see, with its colored bands around its surface. And I am sure you will see at least 4 of the 16 Jovian (Jupiter’s) moons too!
6. See the sunspots
Okay, here is one for the advanced skywatcher. Did you know the sun has cool-zones on its surface? These are known as sunspots, that appear as dark spots on the blazing bright and hot surface of the sun. There is no way you can see these with the naked eye, but with a few simple tools you can. This one is a little dangerous, so make sure you find someone knowledgeable to help you out. Your local observatory would be your best bet, but also a pair of good solar eclipse glasses will do the trick. When filtering out the bright sunlight with a special filter or eclipse glasses you will see the sunspots. Warning: never look into the sun with the naked eye, as this may cause eye damage.
7. Meet an astronaut
Through the use of social media it is nowadays not so difficult to get in touch with a real astronaut. You can follow them on Twitter or through the Facebook account of your parents or older siblings. Many of them are happy to answer your questions online. You can even get in touch with the astronauts on board the International Space Station that way! With a little more effort you can also look for nearby events visited or hosted by astronauts. Kennedy Space Center in the USA has this on a weekly basis, but science museums, observatories and sometimes schools also organize events where you can meet one of the more than 500 astronauts in the world (and counting).
8. Visit a science or space museum
Sounds boring huh? Well, give it a chance. Museums are usually no longer those dusty displays of rusty items or (even worse) paintings from long forgotten times. Science museums are actually pretty cool hands-on playgrounds for kids your age. Play realistic computer games to dock spacecraft to the ISS, launch rockets or zoom past planets. Also make sure you ask about special activities for kids. You could sleep over at the museum, get a behind-the-scenes tour or follow a real astronaut training. And yes, you can touch the rockets!
9. Touch the moon
During the Apollo program the astronauts brought a lot of souvenirs with them back to Earth. Much of the dirt and rocks collected on the moon is now on display at a wide variety of places in the world. You can touch the moon at @ExploreSpaceKSC, @AirAndSpace and @SpaceExpo, and I am sure many more places.
10. Use a GPS or satnav system
Did you know that you are in direct contact with several satellites as soon as you turn on a GPS device or car satellite navigation system? Even your smartphone most likely has a built-in GPS receiver. Most GPS devices have a setting where you can see how many satellites you are tracking. With the help of these satellites you know exactly where you are, at any moment!
11. Launch your own rocket
You don’t need to build a Space Shuttle to be a rocket engineer. Trust me, rocket science is a lot less complex and nerdy than people will make you believe. A rocket is actually no more than a big tube driven by a lot of horse power! The simlest rockets are fuelled by something you can find in your own home: water! Here are instructions for a simple water rocket, or for a school project, a slightly more complex water rocket. I hope you’re not afraid to get wet.