06 August 2010

Planets for kids

A friend came over this evening, with his two sons. They were a bit bored, and I'd just noticed that Venus was incredibly bright, so I thought I'd take them out to see the planets. I found Venus - looking gibbous - and then what I thought was going to be Mars, but turned out to be Saturn, and a moon. (J found Mars later - I hadn't tracked far enough, because my rigel is dead.)

They weren't really as impressed as I had expected? hoped? grown used to? I don't know whether this was because it's Friday night and they were a bit hyper, or whether they're just totally disinterested, or what. They seemed more interested in fiddling with the focus, to make the blob of light get bigger or smaller! Which is interesting enough, I guess, when you're under 10.

It got me thinking about why I expect children to be interested in astronomy, or at least hope they will be. I don't remember when I first got interested in astronomy. I know I'd never looked through a telescope before about the age of 15; I was dead keen on the planets etc well before that, though. It seems trite and a bit like an excuse to say that kids these days have access to things ranging from awesome docos about the planets, including footage from the Cassini missions and so on, right through to simulations on computers - so why should they be interested in seeing things 'for real' when in some ways, that doesn't compare to what they've seen through other means? There are going to be some people who infinitely prefer the computer versions, or the up-close versions on docos, and I guess I have to accept that that's ok; I'd much rather see Mt Everest on the screen than in real life, at least up close. But I do hope that seeing 'mediated' versions will inspire at least a few kids to want to see things personally, because realising that you can see the rings of Saturn and the Galilean moons of Jupiter with your own eyes is a most amazing experience. And not just for the astronomy of it.

Their dad was way keen, though - had never seen Saturn in a telescope, and said he hadn't realised you could. So that was gratifying.