We have lots of big machines, from fridges to washing machines to cars. But we also have a whole other set of machines flying over our heads. Not just airplanes, but smaller machines called satellites. They fly around Earth even higher than airplanes, and bounce phone calls and videos back down to our phones and computers. The International Space Station (ISS) is a really big satellite – astronauts live inside it for months. The best part is, you can see these spaceships from down here on the ground! Just click on this link and search for your state. It tells you when to go outside to see the ISS and other satellites fly over you. Just don’t run out there in your underwear – these machines can take pictures.
Wee ones: Look out the window. Do you see anything in the sky? The Sun, Moon, or stars? Or an airplane, or a bird? Count however many you can!
Little kids: If at sunset you count 4 airplanes plus 2 satellites, how many flying objects do you spot? Bonus: If you wave to 5 astronauts, and of those the 1st, 3rd and 5th wave back to you, which astronauts don’t wave back?
Big kids: If the Space Station shows up over your house at 7:52 pm, and disappears again at 8:01, how many minutes were you able to see it? Bonus: If the ISS shows up every 1 1/2 hours starting at 7:52 pm, how many more times after that will you see it before midnight?
Wee ones: Different for everyone…see how many sky objects you can count!
Little kids: 6 flying objects. Bonus: The 2nd and 4th.
Big kids: 9 minutes. Bonus: 2 more times: at 9:22 pm and 10:52 pm.
Some helpful hints: The website tells you the compass direction in which to look (e.g. north, southeast, etc.) and elevation, i.e. how many degrees up off the horizon. For compass direction, you’ll need to know which way is north, or use a compass (a lot of smartphones have them). For elevation, zero is on the horizon, 90 degrees is directly overhead. So 45 degrees is halfway up. By the way, the reason satellites don’t show up for long is because they eventually move into the Earth’s shadow; we see them only for the part of their trip when they’re lit by the sun and the background sky is getting dark. OK, have fun!
Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.