Bright sparks enjoy ‘out of this world’ holiday programs at Sydney Observatory

Sydney Observatory tour guide Kirsten Banks says the school holiday program usually attracts hundreds of families. Photo: Cole Bennetts From January 20 to February 20, the planets Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter will all appear visible to the naked eye.

Quirk of stellar positioning will put the five planets closest to earth in a straight line visible to the naked eye. Photo: NASA

With five planets and the international space station visible this week, the planets have clearly aligned for Sydney Observatory’s school holiday program.

Bright sparks of the future have participated in a summer holiday program at the Observatory this week, where they have learnt about astronomy and made their own computer games in coding classes.

Nine-year-old Keira from Menai, who one day hopes to be an astrophysicist, is excited by the possibilities of space exploration.

“I think that there are so many things out there in space,” she said.

“I find it disappointing that we can’t actually go into other solar systems. There is a whole universe to explore.”

The Observatory will host its annual “Kids Extravaganza” day on Thursday, when young families are invited to come to the grounds and learn about space and science in a wide range of stellar activities.

Kirsten Banks, a tour guide at the Observatory, said that the day usually attracts hundreds of young families.

Ryan, 11, said he wanted to do a summer program for enjoyment and learning programming as well as “other tools of the trade.”

“I just like to know what’s up out there and what we could use from its knowledge,” he said.

The young space enthusiast said his favourite planet is Saturn because we could use its asteroids in the future for minerals, and because of its rings.

Twelve-year-old William found coding his own Space Invaders-style computer game to be the most enjoyable part of the program.

“I just wanted to learn how to code and how to make a game.

“I thought it was a good opportunity and I didn’t really want to go to my Mum’s work – it’s kind of boring,” he said.

Stargazers are getting excited to see the International Space station for three minutes on Tuesday night from 8.36pm and five planets in the early morning sky over the coming week.

From January 20 to February 20, the planets Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter will all appear visible to the naked eye in the early morning sky for the first time since 2005.

The best view of the alignment will be available from 5.30am to 5.40am (Australian Eastern Daylight Time) starting January 20, and should follow a straight line from Mercury on the horizon to brightly shining Jupiter up top. The line of planets will appear between the horizon and the Moon.

To ensure the best chance of viewing the alignment, stargazers should find the flattest plane they can and a dark sky away from the city.

Speaking to Australian Geographic, Melbourne Planetarium’s senior curator Dr Tanya Hill said there will be another chance to see the alignment in August, but then not again until October 2016.

Sydney Observatory’s Kids Extravaganza will be held on Thursday, January 21 from 10:30am-1:30pm.

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