See Five Planets At Once! (6, If You Count Earth)

January 24, 2016

Tony Berendsen told me there is an opportunity to meet with Tony and other astronomers at the UNR Redfield campus on Mt Rose Highway & Wedge Parkway across from the Raley’s shopping center in Reno, NV, around 5:30 in the morning on Wednesday, January 27, 2016. Mercury should come up over the horizon and into view around 6:20. It will be followed by the other planets.


Star Guide: See 5 planets at once! (6, if you count Earth)
by Tony Berendsen

Five naked-eye planets ride the early morning sky in late January and early February. They are recast, like the characters of a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western “A Fistful of Dollars,” where Sergio portrayed western cowboys in a realistic fashion, rather than the traditional “villain wears black, hero wears white” structure of early Hollywood. As we gaze at the original five naked-eye planets over the next few weeks, we see them in new light,and with a depth of knowledge.

No longer do the planets represent mythological gods, nor does our understanding of them suffer from the crude blurry telescopic images of early planetary ground-based exploration that left many to imagine canals, vegetation, and alien civilizations. Instead the planets are cast in the stark realism of modern science. We have been to all of these planets; some of them many times. We have gone to them via robots sending back a Robert Ballard-style telepresence to our computer monitors, TVs and periodicals. Our children know them as “other worlds,” and in the near future some of them will set foot on at least one of them.

In comparison to the Earth, the planets vary wildly in size and environment. The only planet similar to our home is Mars, but even though it was once wet, it’s a very different and hostile place. Dusty, arid and cold, with almost no magnetic field to keep harmful cosmic rays and high energy particles from hitting its surface, we would not survive its surface without spacesuits and enclosed habitats.

Venus, the brightest of the naked-eye planets, is the most similar in size to the Earth. It is our closest neighbor and is even more hostile than Mars, with atmospheric pressures similar to ocean depths, lots of carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid rain, and surface temperatures so high lead would melt! The surface of Venus is completely obscured by clouds. We have only see the surface by Russian landers and radar mapping.

Mercury is the nearest planet to the Sun, and only sightly larger than our Moon. It it is a dense barren globe of rock and iron with the thinnest atmosphere of all the planets. Daytime temperatures can be as high as 800 F and because of the thin atmosphere the temperature can drop to -280 F at night.

Jupiter is the largest and second-brightest naked-eye planet. It is tremendously larger than the Earth and big enough that it could fit within its volume all the planets and the asteroids too. Jupiter is a gas giant with an atmosphere so thick that pressures would be greater than the bottom of Earth’s oceans before finding solid ground.

Saturn is the most distant of the five at almost 900 million miles from the Sun. It takes light about 8.3 minutes to travel from the Sun to the Earth, but almost 80 minutes to reach Saturn. Saturn’s rings make it the most distinctive-looking planet in the solar system. It has a low density too — so much so that if you had a cosmic ocean large enough it would float like a ringed fishing bobber.

The early morning “fistful of planets” lineup begins the last week of January and continues for the first couple weeks in February. On Jan. 29, 2016 at 6:30 AM, check out the view: Mercury on the eastern horizon, then Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter all strung along the ecliptic toward the west with the Moon in between Jupiter and Mars. Mercury can be the most difficult to find, so I suggest loading up the SkyPortal astronomy app to help. Find a vantage point with a clear view of the eastern horizon and arrive a little early to find your bearings and enjoy a rare glimpse into the solar system.

Reprinted with permission from Tony Berendsen, aka Tony the Star Guide. He runs Tahoe Star Tours. He can be reached at 775-232-0844 or


2014 Pumpkin Palooza Harvest Festival

October 19, 2014

On Sunday, October 26, 2014, at the Victorian Square in downtown Sparks, Nevada, there will be a Pumpkin Palooza festival from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Take the kiddies to play carnival games, show off their Halloween costumes in the costume parade, race pumpkins in the pumpkin derby, compete in the pumpkin pie eating contest or the pumpkin seed spitting contest or the mummy wrapping contest, enjoy the live music and food vendors. There will be a marshmallow shooting range. Storytelling will take place in the ‘haunted’ Glendale Schoolhouse. Get your fortune told.

From the Pumpkin Palooza website:
“Last year, downtown Sparks played host to more than 5,000 people, enjoying good family time. And a heckuva lot of pumpkins! Please join us in thanking the sponsors who made this all possible! And mark your calendar for Sunday, October 26 for an even more exciting time!”

Admission to the festival is free, but you’ll need pocket money for many of the activities. See more details, derby rules, and photos from last year’s festival at the Pumpkin Palooza website.

Pumpkin Palooza is a harvest festival that benefits the Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living.

Check out my blogs about things to do with kids on by the author of the award-winning children’s book Grandpa, Do It! I Do It, Too!

Kids can do the Great Backyard Bird Count for 2014

January 26, 2014

Kids can count the birds in the backyard! The Great Backyard Bird Count is to be held February 14–17, 2014. Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings at This would be a great classroom or family activity! Here is an instructional video all about what you would need to do from the website of the GBBC (Great Backyard Bird Count). Here’s How to Participate. Here’s GBBC for Kids!

News Release:
January 16, 2014
New York, New York
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, bird watchers from more than 100 countries are expected to participate in the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), February 14–17, 2014. Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings at The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.

“People who care about birds can change the world,” said Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham. “Technology has made it possible for people everywhere to unite around a shared love of birds and a commitment to protecting them.”

In North America, GBBC participants will add their data to help define the magnitude of a dramatic irruption of magnificent Snowy Owls. Bird watchers will also be on the lookout for the invasive Eurasian Collared-Dove to see if it has expanded its range again. GBBC observations may help show whether or not numbers of American Crows will continue to rebound after being hit hard by the West Nile virus and whether more insect-eating species are showing up in new areas, possibly because of changing climate.

Last year’s Great Backyard Bird Count shattered records after going global for the first time, thanks to integration with the eBird online checklist program launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab and Audubon. Participants reported their bird sightings from all 7 continents, including 111 countries and independent territories. More than 34.5 million birds and 3,610 species were recorded—nearly one-third of the world’s total bird species documented in just four days.

“This is a milestone for citizen science in so many respects—number of species, diversity of countries involved, total participants, and number of individual birds recorded. We hope this is just the start of something far larger, engaging the whole world in creating a detailed annual snapshot of how all our planet’s birds are faring as the years go by,” said Cornell Lab director Dr. John Fitzpatrick.

“Canadian participation in the Great Backyard Bird Count has increased tremendously in recent years, and it’s wonderful to see this program growing globally,” said Bird Studies Canada President Dr. George Finney. “The count is introducing unprecedented numbers of people to the exciting field of bird watching.”

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with nature and make a difference for birds. It’s free and easy. To learn more about how to join the count visit and view the winning photos from the 2013 GBBC photo contest.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

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Grandpa Ron and I had a Red-tailed Hawk perch on the wall outside a window. I captured 2 pictures of it before he had enough of me and flew off.

… and we always have quail, unless they are hiding…

Check out other ideas and activities to do with kids on by the author of the award-winning children’s book Grandpa, Do It! I Do It, Too!

Wonder of Learning: Portland Children’s Museum and Red Tricycle Portland

February 4, 2012

Tomorrow, Feb 5, 2012 at 10 AM, the Portland Children’s Museum‘s newest traveling exhibit, The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children Exhibit from Reggio Emilia, Italy, will be open to the public. Those of you who know me well also know that I’m big on education and languages. This exhibit captured my interest immediately! Do click on the link to explore the thought behind the new, more museum-traditional (hands-off) type of exhibit, along with concepts, questions and answers.

“Exploring education through multi-media galleries that speak to how young children imagine, invent and create, this exhibit expands the potential to support creative thinking and collaboration in our schools and communities.”

Viewing The Wonder of Learning exhibit is included in your Museum admission price as well as all membership levels. Guests who ONLY wish to view The Wonder of Learning exhibit may do so free of charge by checking in with Guest Services. Guests who wish to visit The Wonder of Learning exhibit AND the rest of the Museum must purchase admission.

The Portland Children’s Museum newsletter also mentioned that they have partnered with Red Tricycle Portland to feature local giveaways, news, and family fun! Red Tricycle Portland is a great resource for those of you in the Portland, Oregon, area for fun activities to do with your children or grandchildren! Red Tricycle provides Portland parents with five fresh picks a week for fun things to see, eat, and do with your kids in your neighborhood. On the website you can sign up for a free email newsletter.

Red Tricycle also has pages for Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Check out my other blogs about things to do with kids on by the author of the award-winning children’s book Grandpa, Do It! I Do It, Too!

Costumes, Dressing Up and Role Playing

October 30, 2011

One more time the website has an interesting article about costumes called Why Costumes Are Good for Kids during this Halloween season and why role-playing is good…..

Check out other ideas and activities to do with kids on by the author of the award-winning children’s book Grandpa, Do It! I Do It, Too!

Aquarium of the Pacific Blue Whale Watch Tour

October 22, 2011

Grandpa Ron and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary all weekend long by revisiting places we went just before our wedding. On Sunday, 10/09/11, we went through the Aquarium of the Pacific. My favorite exhibit is the one containing the Leafy Seadragons. Here are a few photos:

After we finished touring the aquarium we boarded one of their Blue Whale Watching Tours. It was great! We saw many whales – mainly blues but a few others. The trip was great! The aquarium docent was excellent and I think everyone had a great time trying to spot whales first! Here are a few of our photos!

Check out other ideas and activities to do with kids on by the author of the award-winning children’s book Grandpa, Do It! I Do It, Too!

LA Zoo Carousel of Endangered Animals

October 22, 2011

The Los Angeles Zoo will open their new Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel to the pubic on October 27, 2011. Jerry Moss (A&M Records cofounder) and his wife Ann Moss are the carousel’s major donors. Here are some LA Times Carousel Photos. There are some common animals as well as the endangered ones – and a unicorn! All the animals have friendly faces on purpose. Some have funny stories about their inclusion – like the skunk because there are so many of them “freeloading” at the zoo. If you are looking for something-not-so-scary for the family to enjoy around this Halloween or any time, check out the new carousel from Oct 27 on!

Check out other ideas and activities to do with kids on by the author of the award-winning children’s book Grandpa, Do It! I Do It, Too!

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