You are encouraged to download the software Stellarium (get students involved if possible) and look for astronomical objects visible in the night sky at a given time, date and location. - Print the sky chart, one per student, and note down the objects you would like to identify with your students. To help to identify the constellations and planets visible, you are encouraged to use a sky chart app on your smartphone. This helps identify what you are seeing just by pointing your phone to the sky. - Before going outside, explain some of the objects that the students may see in the night sky. Please refer to the background information section.
Activity (description for students):
Go outside and look at the sky on a clear night. Before identifying any objects, list five objects you can see and write down what you know, think and feel about these objects.
Using the sky chart, identify a few objects. Next, select one object on which to base your poem. This topic is what you want the reader to know more about after reading the poem. You can use the websites suggested in the background Information section or books to research the object selected. To most accurately portray your selection, you should have a basic understanding of what it is you are trying to depict through poetry.
To get some ideas flowing, write an adjective (describing word, e.g. beautiful, large, distant) before five to ten of the nouns below (the leader of the activity may choose to exclude or add objects from the list below as desired to fit the student audience):
_____________________ red giant
_____________________ white dwarf
_____________________ open star cluster
_____________________ globular star cluster
_____________________ planet (select any of the 8 planets)
_____________________ shooting star / meteor
_____________________ Kuiper Belt
_____________________ Planetary Nebula
_____________________ spiral galaxy
_____________________ barred galaxy
_____________________ elliptical galaxy
_____________________ black hole
_____________________ neutron star
Write down three words to describe how looking at the night sky makes you think or feel.
Talk about different ways to tie together the facts you know about the astronomical object or topic and the things that you know, think or feel about the topic. For this step, you do not need to write the ideas as poetry, but focus on getting your ideas down on paper so that you can then reinterpret the ideas into a poem.
For example, watching the stars move across the sky above at night makes me think about how fast the Earth is rotating with me on it, and thinking about those speeds makes me realize how amazing it is that gravity lets us stay on the Earth and how small we truly are.
Using what you have done above as inspiration, now write a poem about the night sky.
The poem can be in any style you like and on any topic you like as long as it is related to astronomy. You can think of the poem as taking the reader on a journey through space and in the process he or she is learning about the amazing objects zooming by. Be creative!
Present your poem to other participants. Discuss your poem and what it means. How do the sky and the objects impact you? What is your object and how is it related to astronomy.
Good to know
For some inspiration you may choose to share some historical and famous poems with your students. A select few are given below.
The great Overdog,
That heavenly beast
With a star in one eye,
Gives a leap in the east.
He dances upright
All the way to the west,
And never once drops
On his forefeet to rest.
I'm a poor underdog,
But tonight I will bark
With the great Overdog
That romps through the dark.
Robert Frost, 1928
The Oxford Anthology of American Literature, Volume II, (C) 1938 by Oxford University Press, New York, Inc.
WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN'D ASTRONOMER
When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired, and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
Walt Whitman, 1865 http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174747
Astropoetry may be found at the online:
Literary journal called Astropoetica http://astropoetica.com/
Astronomers Without Borders: https://my.astronomerswithoutborders.org/programs/astroarts/astropoetry