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Stars on your ceiling.

Here are ways to enjoy astronomy at home

Astronomy is looking up, and it's more fun when you know what you're looking at. The ancients found patterns in the stars, interpreting them as constellations. The science toys and gifts you see here make it easy to locate all those bears, dragons, hunters, and other mythical creatures that parade across the night sky. And any of these devices can help turn a child or adult into an amateur astronomer.

You'll find these and other items at toy stores, science-oriented stores such as museum gift shops, and through catalogs. They range in price from $5 for stick-on, glow-in-the-dark stars up to about $70 or more for some illuminated star finders.

Projectors. To study the stars indoors, you can cast a starry image on your ceiling. Projectors adjust for time of year, time of night, and latitude you're viewing from (the sky changes as you move from north to south).

The more expensive the projector, the better the quality and brightness of the stars-and the more precise and varied the adjustments. Some contain overlays that point out specific constellations; used with a guidebook or cassette (included), they help you identify what's visible at different times of the year.

Paint the skies. You can put up a permanent night sky, virtually invisible by day, with the stencil you see above left. Sheets of craft paper, prepunched with an accurate pattern of the northern winter or summer sky (you can buy either), mount in sequence to your ceiling with small chunks of sticky putty You dab each hole with phosphorescent paint (included), then remove stencils and putty.

Leave the lights on in the evening. When you turn them off, your ceiling' "stars" will glow for about 20 minutes-long enough to lull you peacefully to sleep.

Sheets of self-stick, glow-in -the-dark stars are widely available. These you put up for fun; they're not as accurate as the painton stencils. Plot the stars. Outside, what helps most is a map of what you're looking at. The bowl shown at top adjusts for time of year and time of night. A tiny built-in light illuminates the constellation patterns printed on the inside of the bowl. Holding it over your head and moving it closer or farther from your eyes, you can bring the map into scale with the stars overhead, then identify what you see.

Just as easy to use, but more compact and less expensive, is the telescope-like unit above right. You calibrate the two parts of the tube, matching time of night with the date. Look through the tube facing up (with its side aligned with north) and you'll see a likeness of the sky above, with constellations called out by lines connecting the stars' dots. Then find the same features in the real sky; look back and forth to compare.

Celestial guides. There are many map and guide books, geared for readers from beginner to expert. Though flat charts in a book may be a little harder to use than star bowls or tubes, the extra information a book can provide may compensate for the inconvenience. A very useful feature of most guides is a description of astronomical phenomena that may be happening on a specific day, such as heavy meteor activity, movement of planets, or changing of seasons.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jan 1, 1989
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