Just for some evening fun, try some of these "experiments" - almost all of us learn better by doing - and if you are an adult without little ones around, I bet you'll have fun! See if you know junior high astronomy!
Gather up a globe or ball to simulate a globe, a white balloon or ball smaller than your globe, and a lamp for a sun!
I didn't include any "answers." If you need some clarification, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some warm-ups:
1. Use the lamp and Earth to demonstrate why the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. (You can use a bit of masking tape to mark the eastern seaboard in the U.S. to help remind children of their directions.)
Got the globe spinning? What direction?
2. Keep your Earth rotating. Look down at the North Pole. What direction is it spinning? Clockwise or counterclockwise?
3. Keep the Earth rotating the same direction. Look up at the South Pole. What direction is it spinning? Clockwise or counterclockwise?
So when we talk about the direction of planets, we have to use a reference point!
A little bit more complicated now. . .
4. Now, did you know the Earth is closer to the Sun in the Winter! (We're going to be referencing Winter and Summer for the Northern Hemisphere.) So, the seasons are not caused by the distance from the Sun. Maybe you've heard about the tilt. To help understand, hold your globe close to your Sun - level with in the same plane as the Sun. Look at the angle of "rays" hitting the Northern Hemisphere. Tilt the Northern Hemisphere away from the Sun. Tilt it toward the Sun.
So, does the Earth rock back and forth?
Hopefully, you can walk around your Sun. If not, designate an object you an walk around as the Sun. (It doesn't need to be a light for this.)
5. Hold the Earth at a "winter" angle - so the Northern Hemisphere is tilted back from the Sun. Note where in the room the North Pole is aimed. Keeping the North Pole aimed there - not changing the tilt of the Earth - walk half way around the Sun. How is the Earth now oriented with respect to the Sun? How long does it take the Earth to revolve around the Sun? Can you revolve your Earth around your Sun and note what season it would be in each quadrant?
Stick with it; this next part is cool!
6. Now, get rid of your globe. Your head is now the Earth! Let the Sun shine on it! Use your Moon and find where the Moon would have to be for the folks on Earth to see a full moon and a new moon. Where would the Moon need to be to see a quarter moon? Crescent? Gibbous?
Look up a moon phase chart if you need it - you can also record the moon phase each night.
7. Go through the phases of the moon around your head. (Wax on, wax off. You start with your right hand, correct? If the lit part of the moon is on the right, it is waxing - getting bigger. The waning moon is lit on the left.)
How long does it take the Moon to orbit the Earth?
Which direction is it orbiting? Remember to use a reference point!
8. We only see one side of the Moon. Put a sticker or mark on one side of your Moon. Taking it through all the phases around the Earth (your head), keep the mark facing the Earth. Does the Moon rotate on its axis? How often? What direction? (Remember to use a reference point!)
9. The Moon rises about an hour later each night. Why?
10. What arrangement of the Earth, Moon, and Sun causes a solar eclipse?
11. What arrangement of the Earth, Moon, and Sun causes a lunar eclipse?
Look up a schedule of eclipses.
12. Can you explain the schedule with your model? (Scientific theories are often called models. Remember theories are the best explanation of a phenomenon. They are not "little laws" - laws are the mathematical relationships of the universe.)