Assuming you are not above the Arctic circle and not too close to the equator… if you could look right at the Sun (when the night is exactly half over) – by looking through the Earth – which cardinal direction would you be facing? East, West, North, or South?
Answer and Explanation
This quiz tests an observer’s ability to think about cardinal directions at the same time paying attention to meridian, time, and hemispherical location.
When we see the Sun “rising” in the morning at dawn we are facing the east.
When we see the Sun “setting” at the end of the day we are facing the west.
When we look at the Sun at noon in the northern hemisphere we are facing south.
SPOILER ALERT — And when we look at the Sun – as if the Earth were transparent – at midnight in the northern hemisphere we are facing north.
In the southern hemisphere sunrise and sunset appear in the same cardinal directions (East and West). But as we pretend that we can look through the Earth at the Sun… at midnight… we are facing south. See the diagram below.
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Physical Astronomy is a new way of teaching astronomy that emphasizes the human body and its relationship to other moving objects in space. The goal is to bring geometric and scientific awareness to a child’s everyday sky observations. Kids learn easily visible sky motions at a “kid’s eye level.”
The Sun does not move… we move
One of the first steps in Physical Astronomy is to forget you ever heard the words “Sunset” or “Sunrise.” These words (while rife with history, beautiful in their own right, and descriptive) are scientifically wrong. These words obscure the truth of our trip around the Sun. We are on the Earth, the Earth is spinning; the Sun appears to be moving, but it is us moving.
From the outset Physical Astronomy challenges you to reconsider long-held perceptions. It challenges you to trade them for curiosity, scientific thinking, and observation.
Foundations of Physical Astronomy
Physical Astronomy means learning basic astronomy concepts with a Kinesthetic approach: your body is on the Earth but traveling in space. While we are actually traveling in many directions at the same time the daily perception of our direction is of traveling “under the sun.” Through imagination and knowledge, you can see your place within the motions of the Earth, Sun, Moon, stars, and galaxies.
Science and the Scientific Method are the foundations of Physical Astronomy. Teaching methods, tools, and models scale Astronomy concepts to human size. Imagination transports us beyond our current understanding.
The Future of Physical Astronomy
I would like each child to get a little bit closer to understanding advanced but fundamental physical concepts like light speed, orbits, phases, star distance. The goal is to offer very early involvement with physics and motion. This early exposure to the idea of the speed of light can give a future adult a natural base of understanding.
For most of human existence we earthlings did not know that we lived on the surface of a giant sphere. My goal with this new way of teaching astronomy is to bring curious young minds fun, high-quality, experiential, developmentally tuned lessons for getting involved in the process of scientific discovery.
My intent is to build a strong and scientifically accurate conceptual foundation in a child’s mind. This will bring a passionate and articulate dedication to astronomy specifically, and science in general.
The next Halley, Herschel, Hubble, Einstein, or Hawking.
I have always been captivated by the sky. And I’ve come to realize that even though everyone has some knowledge of what’s “up there” (no matter how much absolute knowledge someone possesses) they always want to know more. The study of the sky is endless! There are so many ways to bring that sense of depth to more and more kids. Let’s continue so that we nurture the development of our next Halley, Herschel, Hubble, Einstein, or Hawking.
I have a big goal with my Physical Astronomy education programs: to encourage people to see the world from a new perspective and to transform them.
We do this by offering repeatable experiences – personal science experiences – that shape the way we perceive our particular place in the universe.
Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus, and Arzachel… the names of three massive, interlocking craters on the Moon. These three craters tell the story of the ancient Moon’s creation and evolution. It’s a story of violent bombardments and oceans of lava. We can use light and shadows to reveal the shapes and deep history of these features.
Most people think of astronomy a science of light. But, light creates shadows when it hits things. Those features that lie in the shadows, the dark parts and seemingly just-in-the-way-of-the-light parts, are just as important as those that shine brightly. These dark shadows form most of the mass of all galaxies, house stellar nurseries, reveal old lava rivers on the Moon, and create curious plays of light and dark. These can play tricks on our eyes and make patterns appear.
…no matter how long it has been traveling through space, ends its journey in your eye. The light hits your retina and is transformed into thought. As long as you let that star light stream into your view, the star itself lands in you and settles its motion.
When I was 17 years old I went on a weekend retreat run by the Christian Brothers near Melbourne, Australia. It was a weekend of spiritual teaching, introspection and reflection.
Saturday night, one of the other boys at the retreat surprised me. As we stood outside under the stars, he spoke in that matter-of-fact way typical of Australians.
Let’s do some Physical Astronomy. The experience will help you to understand the movement of the earth and sun through the seasons. You will build a scientific instrument that is also a fun garden decoration and you will be able to track the Groundhog’s Shadow all Spring!
Now, turn a little bit to the left, keeping both hands pointing at the sun.
Swing your left arm out until it is pointing in the opposite direction from the sunset. Bring your hands together again and repeat this swinging motion.
Bring your hands together again and point them both at the sun. This time, instead of swinging, bounce your left hand, leftward, some number of times… (14 is perfect if you can do it) …until it is pointing in the completely opposite direction from the Sun at sunset. Your left hand should now be pointing East.
Was the moon at any one of those 14 hand bounce spots? That is the age of the moon in days.
Memorize this mnemonic: The moon moves toward the dawn. This phrase describes the day-by-day movement of the moon. With this simple phrase, you can understand the phases of the moon. You will actually begin to see the moon’s beautiful orbit traced out in the sky.
Repeat. The moon moves toward the dawn. The moon moves toward the dawn.
The moon moves toward the dawn.
It rises higher in the dusky sky after each day. It sweeps over the hills.
It circles and rolls. It transits. It leaves the Sun, then chases the Sun.
The moon moves toward the dawn.
Look East! That’s where the moon wants to go.
Once arrived, it crosses the face of the Sun and once again moves toward the dawn.
The moon moves toward the dawn.
There are many ways to learn about Astronomy and the sky. Some people learn best by reading books or websites. Some learn best by debate and discussion. Some learn by doing.
I like to learn about Astronomy by interacting with people, places, and things. I like to listen to children’s questions and wonder along with them. I like to create immersive real-world experiences – aka “Physical Astronomy” – that help to illuminate the answers – when there are answers – and create tools for thought and imagination.
In posts and pages and links and media I am going to show you how to learn (and teach) Physical Astronomy in this unique way. We will learn about how to foster deep scientific understanding through exercising a sense of place and presence in a space.
Most importantly, I hope to share my passion for Astronomy and share the joy I feel each time someone near me says those epic words of discovery: “Wow – I never knew that before.”