Virtual Jr. Ranger Camp Week Four: Astronomy Week

July 1, 2020  |  Permalink

This week Virtual Jr. Ranger Camp headed to outer space. While space may seem far away from us here on Earth, there’s a lot to learn about our place in the solar system. From constellations to light pollution, week four of Virtual Jr. Ranger Camp was full of knowledge to help Jr. Rangers understand the relationship between humans and the celestial world.

The first day of Astronomy Week was centered around Earth’s closest star: the sun. Formed around 4.5 billion years ago, the sun plays a pivotal role in life on Earth. The sun is a massive star. To put the sun’s enormity into perspective, it is estimated that the sun is approximately 100 Earths wide! The sun also has an immense gravitational force. In fact, without the sun’s gravity, the entirety of the solar system would drift off into space. Without the sun, our solar system would fail to exist. Thankfully our sun will be around for a long time to hold the solar system together, as the sun has a lifespan of approximately 6.5 billion years!

Once Jr. Rangers were familiar with our solar system’s most important star, day two of Virtual Junior Ranger Camp explored the origins and importance of the Earth’s moon. The moon formed around 4.5 billion years ago when, according to one theory, Earth crashed into another planet. The debris from the collision eventually collected and formed what we now know as the moon. The moon has eight distinct phases that we can see from Earth. Interestingly, these phases proved to be important to early civilizations as they provided the basis for early calendars. The moon has long piqued the curiosity of scientists worldwide. While there’s still lots to be discovered about the moon, Junior Rangers were able to understand the basics of what makes the moon so interesting and sought-after as Earth’s closest celestial neighbor.

The last few days of Astronomy Week were all about stars. On Wednesday, at the weekly Zoom gathering, Jr. Rangers had the opportunity to participate in a live demonstration and discussion about constellations.  Jr. Rangers learned about the ways constellations were used to tell stories about ancient peoples and the ways stars were used for celestial navigation. They even had a chance to create their own constellations.

On Friday, Jr. Rangers learned about the detrimental effects of light pollution and the ways humans can help combat this pollution. Light pollution describes the effects that artificial light has on the natural cycles of the night sky, and is measured on the Bortle Scale. While light pollution can prevent certain areas, usually cities and suburbs, from seeing the full capacity of the night sky, there are areas where the night sky is vibrant, and the stars shine through. These areas are typically protected by the International Dark Sky Association. Luckily for us, one of our very own parks, Pickett State Park, is classified as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association! This means the night sky at Pickett State Park is the perfect place to stargaze.

All in all, Astronomy Week was out of this world! If you’re interested in more information about any of the topics in this week’s blog, or you want to know more about Virtual Jr. Ranger Camp, head to the Tennessee State Parks Conservancy Facebook page.

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