Astronomy
David L. Thorn

ASTRONOMY INTERPRETIVE PROGRAM
General overview:
Since mankind walked on this earth, they have looked to the night sky with wonder, and the stars that you
see today are the same ones that our ancestors saw in their night sky.  As our ancestors watched the stars,
they noticed a consistent pattern that the stars followed.  They noted how certain stars were always in a
certain position in the sky during the same time of the year.  This knowledge gave the people a calendar to
live by.
They could look at the stars and tell what season of the year it was, they knew if it was time to plant the
crops, or if the rains would soon be coming.  This consistency in life gave the people a lot of comfort and
security.  It didn’t matter where they were at, they could look to the night sky, and see the familiar stars that
told them what they needed to be doing, and it is still true to this day.

BASIC FACTS:
1.        THE EARTH IS ROUND: The earth is round and it spins on it’s axis.  The axis is like an imaginary
stick that runs through the center of the earth from the North Pole to the South Pole.  The earth is spinning
from West to East at a very fast rate of speed.
2.        HOW FAST DO YOU THINK THE EARTH IS SPINNING?  At the equator, which is the circle around the
middle of the earth, the earth is spinning at 1,036 MPH.  The reason we do not feel the earth spinning is
that everything is spinning together at the same speed.  Us, the trees, the air, the clouds, everything.
3.        HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT TAKES FOR THE EARTH TO SPIN AROUND ONE TIME?  It takes the
earth 24 hours to spin around one time.  This is what gives us our day and night.  The stars, planets, and
sun do not move in the sky, they stay in the same place all the time.  Because the earth is spinning from
West to East, it appears that the stars, sun and moon all cross the sky from East to West.  For a long time
people believed that the earth was the center of the Universe, and that everything revolved around us.  It
was not until 1851, that a French scientist preformed an experiment using a pendulum hanging inside a
dome, to prove that the earth was the one spinning and not the other way around.
4.        WHY DOES THE MOON CHANGE SHAPE?  It does not.  The parts you can not see are still there,
but they are just in the shade.  The sun lights half of the moon at all times.  Depending on earth’s location in
relation to the moon, at times, we can only see part of the lit area.  When you look at the moon, you can see
two distinct color differences.  You have a dark area and a light area.  The dark areas are seas, they do not
have water in them, but they are large flat areas on the surface.  The bright areas are mountain ranges.  
The moon is also covered with craters caused by meteors crashing into it.  During the course of a month,
the moon goes through a series of changes called phases.
5.        DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE PHASES OF THE MOON ARE?  The moon seems to go through a
transformation during the month.  At first, it seems there is no moon in the sky at all, this is called the new
moon.  Then, night after night you begin to see a crescent, and this crescent gradually grows until you can
see half of the moon.  Each night the moon gets a little bigger until it becomes a full moon.  At this point, the
full moon will shine all night long, but gradually the moon is only visible for half the night, until finally the new
moon appears again.  The whole cycle takes about 29 1/2 days.
6.        WHERE DO THE STARS GO DURING THE DAY?  During the day, the stars are in the same place as
they are at night.  Remember, the stars never move.  During the day, the sun is so bright that it out shines
the stars and we cannot see them.
7.        WHY CAN YOU SEE MORE STARS IN THE COUNTRY?  Just like during the day, the sun is so bright
it out shines the stars so we can not see them.  The lights from our houses, and the streetlights, and the big
city lights, out shine some of the stars making it hard to see them.  Actually, in the days of our ancestors,
before there were lights, the people could see a lot more stars then we do now.  It is estimated that we can
only see about half as many stars as our ancestors did.  There are so many lights all over the world now,
that we have what astronomers call light pollution.  So the farther away you get from the light pollution, the
better your view of the stars will be.
8.        NATIVE AMERICAN FOLKLORE: The Indians used to look up at the sky at night, and to them the
shapes and movement of the stars had meanings which became part of their culture.  Two of my favorite
stories both involve the Big Dipper.  The first story comes from the Musquakie tribe who live up around
Wisconsin.  When the Musquakie look at the Big Dipper, they say that the four stars that make up the cup
of the dipper are a big bear.  The three stars that make up the handle of the dipper are hunters with their
spears, and the hunters chase the bear across the night sky every night.  In the autumn, The Big Dipper is
located low on the horizon and at an angle to the earth.  It is said that at this time the blood from the spear
wounds drips down on the trees and turns them red and brown.  The second story is from the Kiowa tribe
who live mainly in the Wyoming area.  One day seven little girls and a boy were out playing together in the
field.  All of a sudden the boy began to get sick and fell down on his hands and knees.  The boy began to
crawl around on his hands and knees and as he did, his fingers turned into claws, and he began to grow
hair all over his body.  The terrified sisters watched as the little boy kept changing until he had turned into a
bear.  The seven sisters were scared and started to run away, but the bear chased after them.  As the girls
ran they came upon a giant tree stump on the trail, and the spirit inside the tree stump called out to the
girls.  The spirit told the girls to climb up on top of the stump, and it would protect them.  The sisters did like
the spirit said and when they did, the stump began to grow up towards the sky lifting the sisters out of the
reach of the bear.  The bear became very angry and began clawing at the stump, and trying to climb it.  
The more the bear tried to claw the stump the higher the stump grew, until finally the seven sisters were
lifted up into the heavens where they turned into stars which form the Big Dipper.  For the Kiowa Indians, it
does not matter where on earth they are, they can look up into the night sky and see the seven sisters
looking down on them.
The giant stump that lifted the sisters up to the heavens turned to stone, and can still be seen today.  
Today the stump is called Devil’s Tower, and if you ever see it, you will see the claw marks of the bear that
are still visible down the sides of the stump.
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