The Night Sky and Wishing Upon a Star with the Grands

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star never gets old. The magic of the night sky lasts a lifetime. Many of us witnessed that “First giant step for mankind,” but a recent survey by Lego discovered more of today’s kids would rather be Youtubers or Vloggers than an astronaut! Here are a few ways to sharing that magic of space with the newest generation. There is always something new under the sun – we have ways to stay involved with your grandchild’s interest as they grow and learn. We have included apps, fun websites, ten stellar books, best telescopes for kids, and tips for stargazing in Minnesota.

Send your grandchild’s name to Mars!

NASA's Mars 2020 Rover is heading to the Red Planet. Submit your grandchild’s name to this NASA site by Sept. 30, 2019, 11:59 p.m. ET, and their name will fly along! Learn more about the Moon to Mars Initiative HERE.

Night Sky App

Learn to use this planetarium in your pocket that makes it easy to discover the wonders of space wherever you go. Impress the Grands day or night - just aim your Apple device skyward to show them a live 3D map of the heavens, complete with beautifully illustrated constellations, stars, planets, and satellites. A special night mode helps you read the map in the dark, while integrated weather reports show the best times for stargazing. You can even have notifications alert you to future astronomical events.

Ten Stellar Children’s Books

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The Ultimate Book of Space by Anne-Sophie Baumann, illus. by Olivier Latyck. Yes, pop-up books can get destroyed, but consider it a lesson in teaching the "treasure" in books, and, when there are missing parts after a while, know that it was well-loved. Bursting with 40 flaps, pop-ups, pull tabs, and movable parts, The Ultimate Book of Space provides a richly illustrated, hands-on exploration of space travel, the Earth's place in our galaxy, the solar system, and so much more! Sure to encourage curious young readers to venture deeper into space, this is a must-have book for any budding scientist's library. Some “Ultimate” books have been spotted at Costco! Ages 5-8, though Jack got these at 3.

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Find the Constellations by H. A. Rey. Containing star charts, a guide to the constellations, and details about seasons and the movement of the objects we see in the sky, this magical classic makes H. A. Rey’s passion for astronomy evident on every page. New updates concentrate on the planetary and solar system information in the latter part of the book. Facts and figures for each planet have been revised, and new scientific information has been added, such as Pluto’s reclassification as a dwarf planet. There's also a brand-new online resource that allows readers to track the positions of the planets in the night sky till the year 2100! Ages 10-12.

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The Stars: a New Way to See Them by H. A. Rey. This classic (1954) is still the best beginner (i.e. non-astronomer) star chart book out there - a great beginner guide to astronomy. Ages 12-18.

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National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Space by Catherine Hughes. These colorful pages introduce young children to the wonders of space, with colorful illustrations by David Aguilar and simple text perfect for beginning readers or for reading aloud. The book explains basic concepts of space, beginning with what is most familiar to kids and expanding out into the universe. Ages 4-9.

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Mousetronaut by Mark Kelly, illus. by C. F. Payne. Astronaut Mark Kelly flew with “mice-tronauts” on his first spaceflight aboard space shuttle Endeavour in 2001. Mousetronaut tells the story of a small mouse that wants nothing more than to travel to outer space. The little mouse works as hard as the bigger mice to show readiness for the mission . . . and is chosen for the flight! While in space, the astronauts are busy with their mission when disaster strikes—and only the smallest member of the crew can save the day. With lively illustrations by award-winning artist C. F. Payne, Mousetronaut is a charming tale of perseverance, courage, and the importance of the small! Ages 5-8. There is also a Mousetronaut Goes to Mars.

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Go For The Moon: A Rocket, A Boy, and the First Moon Landing by Chris Gall. Does this seven-year-old boy, who excitedly witnessed the Apollo 11 flight to the moon, grow up to become an astronaut, an astrophysicist, or and author? Young readers will engage in all the same details of the historic event that inspired this young man. He is not just obsessed with observation and facts, he also launches a water rocket with his younger brother, drinks Tang in his cardboard Columbia, lands a model moon lander by sliding it down a string, and jumps around his yard while practicing his "giant leaps." Ages 5-8.

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If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas, Jaime Kim. Aren’t all astronomer poets?! Combining spare, imaginative text with denser scientific explanations, this book can be a lovely bedtime book and a great introduction to the solar system. The moon uses playful analogies to invite children to imagine its activities. If you were the moon, "Catch and throw. Catch and throw," a reference to the moon's glow being caused by light "caught" from the sun and "thrown" back to Earth. The right side of each spread offers a scientific explanation of lunar phenomenon, such as cycles and gravity, or a glimpse of how humans and animals experience the moon. Ages 5-8.

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A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman, illus. by Isabel Greenberg.  This fun, amazing tally of humongous figures—beginning with the estimated population of stars in the universe and going on to an "entire world" that is "filled with crazy numbers" strays from astronomy to other mind-blowing numbers like sharks having 300 teeth, but who is complaining?! Math, science, and interesting stuff for ages 4-9.

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You are the First Kid on Mars by Patrick O’Brien. A starred review by Booklist describes it as “answering the questions on many kids’ minds when imagining life in space, this book will tell you what would happen, and what you would do, if you were the first kid on Mars. O’Brien takes readers through every step of the four-month trip from Earth to Mars: aboard space elevators, orbital stations, transport rockets, landing modules, and more. These descriptions help give a speculatively scientific feel to the proceedings, full of technology that isn’t that far off. By involving the reader directly in the story, O’Brien helps ensure that they won’t even realize they’re learning all sorts of wonderful things about gravity, distance, geology, and life along the way.” Engaging, photorealistic illustrations of space travel and planetary exploration. Ages 5-8.

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Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh. A rare perspective on a story we only thought we knew.  Apollo 11 and the first moon landing is a story that belongs to many, not just the few and famous. It belongs to the seamstress who put together twenty-two layers of fabric for each space suit. To the engineers who created a special heat shield to protect the capsule during its fiery reentry. It belongs to the flight directors, camera designers, software experts, suit testers, telescope crew, aerospace technicians, photo developers, engineers, and navigators. Culling NASA transcripts, national archives, and stunning NASA photos from Apollo 11, Catherine Thimmesh captures not only the sheer magnitude of this feat but also the dedication, ingenuity, and perseverance of the greatest team ever by direct quotes from some of these folks who worked behind the scenes, revealing their very human worries and concerns. 10 and up.

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OK, this is eleven, and more philosophical than astronomical, but I wanted you to know about The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illus. by Ekua Holmes. It is a Coretta Scott King Award winner and a poetic, seamless blend of science and art revealing the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all created and made of “the stuff of stars.” Beautiful.

Fun Websites

Did you know that NASA made all its star and galaxy images available on their website copyright free?! NASA's new image library consolidates imagery spread across 60 collections into one searchable location. Users can embed content in their own sites and choose from multiple resolutions, including the original size, to download.

The kids would have fun with the NASA selfies app which lets you generate snapshots of yourself in a virtual spacesuit, posing in front of gorgeous cosmic locations, like the Orion Nebula or the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The simple interface means you just snap a photo of yourself, pick your background, and share on social media.

The Astronomy Magazine site has a page of Astronomy for Kids full of the latest planet info.

Explore “We are a Go For Launch” with Science Friday and Google Earth about NASA’s storied launchpads and efforts being made to upgrade and preserve them.

My son and I were glued to every radio episode of Science Friday on the way home from school. They have a lot of entertaining Space Stories just for you!

Choosing the Right Telescope for a Grandchild 2019

There are many details to consider in purchasing a telescope, but here are the top ones recommended for kids by with our Amazon Affiliate shopping links. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. These links add no cost to your shopping, and automatically list the best price.

For kids 6 and up:

Best Viewing Celestron 21024 FirstScope Telescope

Best Long-term Value Orion FunScope Astro Dazzle, 4.5in is unavailable at the moment, but a blue version is HERE.

For kids 10 and up:

Best for viewing GeoSafari Omega Reflector Telescope

Best for Learning Celestron Astro Fi90 WiFi Refractor Telescope

Adam, the astronomer from offers a free guide after asking you some questions about age and interests, and a free Kids Astronomy Starter video.

Exploring the Night Sky in Minnesota

This link has four tips for local sky exploration including local planetariums, clubs and bloggers to follow, and where you can find telescope rentals before you buy. Check out the Minnesota Astronomical Society - one of the largest and most active amateur astronomy organizations in the United States!

The Science Museum of Minnesota covers all science, but you can find some amount of planet fun. Check their website for Omnimax films and special exhibits.

The Bell Museum site has a page for Minnesota’s night sky by the month, including meteor showers, a planetary showcase, and a calendar of Night Sky Events. Here is the link for Jul/Aug 2019. Here is a great info sample

The Milky Way, Observing method: Naked eye, binoculars, telescope

Get away from city lights and spend a few hours under dark skies, tracing the line of our galactic home in the sky. Despite the short nights, summer is the best time for viewing the Milky Way. You can find the bright core to the south between Scorpius and Sagittarius and then move upward along the long neck of Cygnus, past the royal Cepheus and through vain Cassiopeia, finally ending to the north at the heroic Perseus. Follow up this naked-eye observation with binoculars or a telescope and you’ll find a variety of named objects including open star clusters (M11, M22, Double Cluster), planetary nebulas (M27, M57), dark nebulae (where cool galactic gas and dust blocks light) and even a few (million) stars.

 We are fortunate, in the Twin Cities, to have a new, state-of-the art 120-seat MacMillan Planetarium in the neighborhood! From the comfort of a plush reclining seat, you’ll feel like you’re flying through Earth’s atmosphere to the far reaches of the universe, delving inside plant life and the human body, or swimming the deep sea. A 16-meter aluminum dome, constructed using the latest “seamless” technology (first in the world!), surrounds you in our new digital theater, offering larger-than-life views in front, above, and behind. 5.1 digital surround sound audio and theatrical lighting provide the finishing touches. HERE is our post with a little more info and ticket prices.

Featured productions are grounded in current science issues and combine fast-paced storytelling and beautiful visuals. Each production will engage general audiences while also meeting PreK–12 curricular objectives. Museum educators host Q&A sessions following the show.

For live presentations, Planetarium staff guide “fly-throughs” of scientific phenomena or locations with real-time software, while providing commentary and answering audience questions. Using this format, they can quickly respond to current events such as eclipses and space missions, drawing on productions from NASA, the Space Telescope Science Institute, U.S. Geologic Survey, National Weather Service, and other agencies. Planetarium software will be updated with the latest astronomy findings, including new exoplanet and galaxy discoveries.

The Bell Museum also offers Skynet Scholars, a program for middle and high school students that puts them in the driver’s seat to conduct their own scientific explorations of the universe. Scholars learn how to access a global network of research-grade telescopes that serve professional astronomers and students alike over the internet. They will get to experience hands-on astronomy and STEM based activities including the use of robotic telescopes to take their own astronomical images. There is a fee per semester – membership would be a great gift!