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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Google Sky is an outer space version of Google Maps. It’s not live; what you see is compiled from data and images from sources like Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Hubble Space Telescope, and NASA’s Chandra satellite. Google Sky has something for every age. Younger kids can see pictures of planets, galaxies, and exploding stars while older kids can use tools to click around the cosmos, search for celestial objects, and read or listen to podcasts to learn about space.
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What's it about?
Drag the star map in all directions and zoom in on objects of interest. Kids can use the search box to find stuff like planets or stars, and then drag and zoom around those, too. For different views, click the infrared, microwave, and historical layers -- one at a time or all at once. Kids can explore showcases listed at the bottom of the page; the Chandra X-Ray, Galex Ultraviolet, Spitzer Infrared, and Hubble Space Telescope showcases are the most useful as they display images and information right on the map.
Is it any good?
The hundreds of bright dots against GOOGLE SKY’s dark expanse of space beg to be explored. Zoom in and the whole thing loses gas like a dying white dwarf star. A bright blue dot becomes a bigger, fuzzy blue dot and Google Sky doesn’t say what it is, where it is, or if you can see it in your backyard sky (kids will ask). Linked sky-gazing podcasts from Earth & Sky could help, but the most recent is from 2008. Showcases from reputable sources like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey supply stunning pictures -- also from 2008 -- but the information pop-ups may be too advanced for most kids. Try visiting the sources directly; Earth & Sky still publishes daily podcasts and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey continues today. But neither beats a peek through a telescope at the real thing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about timeliness and websites. If a website is one year out of date, do you trust its information? What about five years or 10? Does it depend on the topic? Are there types of websites for which timeliness don't matter?
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