Thursday, February 9, 2012

Star Struck

 The Classical Astronomy Celestial Almanack
A Visual Representation of the Sky

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? ― Psalm 8: 3-4

Did you ever wonder why February has only 28 days, while all the other months have 30 or 31 days? Did you ever ponder who came up with the idea of having a leap year anyway? Did you know that the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper are not constellations? Do you wonder what they are instead? Did you ever consider why the sky is so clear and the stars are easier to view during the winter months? Have you looked out your window lately and wish you knew what those extra bright lights you and your kids are seeing in the sky near the moon are called? What church event is on the same day as Groundhog Day? And what is classical astronomy anyway? Does it differ from modern astronomy?

We wondered all of these things and more. Thanks to the February 2012 issue of the Celestial Almanack by Jay Ryan and Fourth Day Press, we now have those answers and so much more. The 21 page monthly newsletter costs just $3 from CurrClick and is well worth the money. There is much useful and fascinating information packed into the well-designed and colorful pages. The drawings of the constellations and celestial figures are clear and easy to follow. I LOVED them...absolutely. Designed like a classic Farmer's Almanack, including some flowery speech, artful fonts, and old-fashioned clip art, the February 2012 Volume 1, Number 2 Celestial Almanack delivers all you need for a study of the stars in the month of February. 

February's issue includes: an astronomical calendar, Signs of the Seasons (with many pictures) explaining celestial events, detailed drawings of the daytime and nighttime skies in February, instructions on how to find various constellations, information about their backgrounds, and fun facts about the stars in each one, as well as explanations about the types of stars and other celestial elements in the visible sky, point values for different activities (using a one-star, two-star, etc. scale based on difficulty), phases of the moon, Dance of the Planets (more specific information on the planets and their movement), with appropriate scriptural references scattered throughout. Whew! That's a lot packed into 21 pages!!

Geared toward the upper ages (middle school and up...much of the information is very deep), the Almanack is still readable enough to be enjoyed by interested parties of all ages. I think this resource is ideal for families who have a desire to learn more about astronomy, but don't want to be tied down by a huge content load or expense. You could choose a month to do a unit study on the stars and buy the Celestial Almanack for only that month. It's also perfect for a self-motivated learner who is expressing new interest in astronomy. Furthermore, if you are using a curriculum that covers astronomy briefly, you could make that chapter study much deeper by purchasing the Almanack for that month and finding the highlighted constellations after reading the fascinating information.

The February issue we we blessed to try out gave detailed information about how our calendar was developed which our kids of all ages thought was extremely interesting. Hubby joined us the night we read through that portion of the Almanack and was quite enthusiastic about the layout and content of the publication. He plans for us to buy more issues in the future. Since the position of the stars and our planet in relation to them is constantly changing, the necessity of a monthly purchase (as opposed to a one-time investment) makes complete sense. By getting the Celestial Almanack, you will know your information is always timely and up to date!

Last week was unseasonably warm here (we had daytime temperatures up to the low 70s!), so conditions were ideal for star gazing. We read a bit about some of the easy to find constellations and then took black construction paper and white crayons outside so the kids could draw what they were able to observe. Then after identifying Orion (and Orion's belt), Cassiopeia, Taurus, the Big Dipper, the Pleiades, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Rigel, Venus, Jupiter, Sirius, Canis Major, and possibly Gemini, we headed in to label our drawings and warm up.

I have one of those rotating star charts that allows you to turn it to the correct month so you can see which constellations should be visible from your location, and while it is very helpful if you know what you are looking for, it has the limitation of only telling you the simple location of the stars and not the fascinating background information behind the stars' make up and place in history the way the Celestial Almanack does. In fact, reading the Almanack is kind of like having a star-smart friend standing next to you, pointing out all of the best stuff in the night sky.

I believe that the Celestial Almanack would complement any study of the stars, or perhaps could even become an interested family's monthly magazine subscription and a catalyst to making some happy family star gazing memories...I have always wished I was one of those people who could gaze heavenward and identify many of the constellations and other astronomical elements, but I have been somewhat limited to Orion, the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and Cassiopeia. With the help of the Celestial Almanack, I think our family has a chance at becoming astronomically literate in an entertaining and quite interesting way.

All in all, I'd give the Celestial Almanack four out of four stars!! (and so would the rest of our family).

Here are some upcoming exciting celestial events mentioned in the February issue of the Almanack:
  • Jupiter-Venus Conjunction on March 15th (once every 24 years)
  • Annular Solar Eclipse May 20th (once every 18 years)
  • Transit of Venus over the Sun on June 5th(last one until 2117!)

In the future, we might check out the complete Classical Astronomy curriculum by Mr. Ryan called Signs and Seasons. You can see a sample of it on the website. There is also a workbook to go with it.

Here are the answers to the questions at the beginning of this review: February is 28 days because both Julius and Augustus Caesar took a day from it to make the months named after them (July and August) longer (to show their greatness). Julius Caesar decreed the inclusion of an intercalculated day into the calendar to maintain proper arrival of the seasons (essential for agriculture). The Big and Little Dipper are actually asterisms. They are part of larger constellations (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor). There is less water vapor in the air during the winter months, so the skies are clearer. Venus and Jupiter are the two bright lights you see lining up with the moon in February. They are drawing closer together throughout February and will be very close in March. The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord commemorates Jesus' presentation at the Temple as recorded in Luke 2:22-40 and occurs on the same day as Groundhog Day. Classical Astronomy is traditional study and appreciation of the observable sky as opposed to modern astronomy which brings in lots of theoretical conclusions about unseen celestial events and objects.


Disclaimer: Our family received a download of the February Celestial Almanack in exchange for this review. This review expresses our opinions about this product and reflects our experiences and thoughts about it accurately and honestly. If you have any questions,  please feel free to contact me or leave a comment.

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