Science activities you can try at home

Stardome runs Night Sky shows in its 360-degree planetatium theatre.
Stardome runs Night Sky shows in its 360-degree planetatium theatre.

Blame Star Wars, blame the Hubble Telescope, blame the conspiracy theorists. Space remains a powerful fascination for young and old -- that cliched final frontier that still holds so many secrets.

Kids can find out more about the universe we live in, including the latest discoveries, at Stardome these school holidays.

The planetarium at One Tree Hill is running its holiday programme on weekdays (except Anzac Day), with three sessions a day, including a planetarium show, rocket launching (weather permitting) and some hands-on experiments about light, energy and the Sun. The new show these holidays is We Are Stars, an animated feature narrated by English actor Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings) with a score by Kiwi composer Rhian Sheehan.

If you can't make it to Stardome these holidays or a trip there gets your kids' space fever rising, here are some activities you can try at home:

The night sky

With daylight saving finished, now is a good time to get outside and look up. There are lots of apps that can help you read the night sky -- just make sure you get a southern hemisphere one -- or download the free star charts on the Stardome website.

Though the Milky Way is not so bright in autumn -- Earth is facing away from the main smear of it -- zodiac constellations such as Leo and Virgo and "asterisms" (clusters of stars that make a picture), Corvus the crow and Bootes the Huntsman are visible, as well as Mars and Jupiter.

You might have to get up quite early, but the International Space Station is visible passing above New Zealand frequently during April.

Check out www.heavens-above.com for when the ISS and other satellites can be spotted.

Stardome also runs seasonal Night Sky shows in the evenings in its 360-degree planetarium theatre -- rain or shine.

If the night is clear, after the show you can take a look through the courtyard telescopes or on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, add on a Zeiss telescope experience and look into deep space.

Make your own telescope

Older kids can design and "build" their own Nasa James Webb Space Telescope online.

Once set up with a choice of instruments and optics, the telescope will supply "data" on what it can see, just like the real thing, when it is launched into space in 2018.

They can also build a physical model of the telescope by downloading the templates, or keep them quiet making their own hand-held Hubble out of a piece of PVC pipe (go to hubblesite.org and search "model").

Rocket science

Part of the attraction of space is the spaceships.

You can use the same baking Stardome runs Night Sky shows in its 360-degree planetarium theatre soda-and-vinegar reaction, which makes great sandpit "volcanoes" to power a plastic-bottle "rocket" into the air.

Take an empty water bottle and decorate it if you want, with paper fins and nose cone.

Tape three pencils or straight sticks around the "body" of the rocket, so it can be stood upright (with the opening facing down).

Fill the bottle to about a third with vinegar. Wrap one or two large spoonfuls of baking soda in a tissue and fold and wrap to make a little parcel. Post this carefully inside the bottle.

Seal the bottle with a cork or stopper (not the original lid -- it needs to blow out when the chemical reaction occurs and the rocket "blasts off").

Invert the bottle, place the rocket on its legs on a flat surface outside, and stand well clear.

When the baking soda reacts with the vinegar, it's blast-off time.

(Make sure your kids are away from other people and pets, and wearing safety glasses before letting these off.)

Adventures in cyberspace

If the weather isn't kind, you can explore space indoors, on the internet.

Space is no longer silent, with the number of tweets and Facebook and Instagram posts coming from various Nasa missions and ISS astronauts. @Nasa and @Space-Station have some cool images and links, and more than a million people follow astronaut Scott Kelly, who has recently returned from a year in orbit, on Facebook.

You can also watch a rocket launch from the comfort of your own home. American company SpaceX live-streams video of its spacecraft and satellite launches.

And you can keep an eye on upcoming launches of telecommunications and other satellites at spacexstats.com.

Adults-only stargazing

If you've never outgrown your fascination with space, Stardome runs regular R18 nights, combining astronomy and alcohol.

On the first Tuesday of every month there's a wine, cheese and astronomy night, and the other Tuesdays it's music and laser lights night, with high-resolution projections, laser beams and lighting effects, all timed to classic music from either Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin: truly the dark side of the moon.

On April 12, Stardome is hosting an adults-only salute to Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, with the planetarium show "Dawn of the Space Age", a historic reconstruction of the Sputnik programme and the highlights of Russian space exploration, with an additional presentation about Gagarin, the first human in space.

- Weekend magazine

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