Astronomy Merit Badge

Astronomy Merit Badge Information

This short booklet contains all the information to date to complete the Astronomy Merit Badge.

Each boy should have a copy of the Astronomy Merit Badge workbook. If not, there is a copy attached here that you can print out.

In order to complete the merit badge you must fill in the worksheet to show you meet the requirements.

We covered most of the material in our merit badge roundup sessions. These pages offer a summary of that information, to assist you in completing the requirements.

There are a few requirements that we could not complete in our sessions, because it requires observing time we didn't have. Those requirements are as follows:

4c. Make two sketches of the Big Dipper. This you can do at home on any clear night.

6. At approximately weekly intervals, sketch the position of Venus, Mars or Jupiter in relation to the stars. Do this for at least four weeks and at
the same time of night. This requirement is too difficult to do right now. The only visible planet on the lsit is Venus, which is in Pisces. Our NJ skies are so light polluted that Pisces simply can't be seen at all. Completing this is TBD.

7. Do the following:
   a. Sketch the face of the moon and indicate at least five seas and five craters. Label these landmarks. This can be done at home any time in the next 2 weeks. After that you will have to wait until the next lunar cycle. A map of the moon (for labeling/sketching help) can be found at
   b. Sketch the phase and the daily position of the Moon at the same hour and place, for a week. Include landmarks on the horizon such
as hills, trees, and buildings. This can be done from home. I realize it's hard to find 7 days in a row with clear weather, but do the best you can. This week is an excellent time as the moon is up right around dinner time. If you miss the opportubity you will either have to get up at an odd hour or wait another month to get your merit badge.

9b. Plan and participate in a three hour observation session that includes using binoculars or a telescope. We are attempting to do this on 3/20 (cloud date 3/21). Please try to make it, and hope for good weather. If you can't make it let me know and we can work out another date or another requirement for you.

Check the pages below for the information for each week so far...

PDF icon Astronomy Merit Badge Workbook.pdf266.95 KB

Astronomy Merit Badge 1

Here's what we did week 1:

- It gets cold at night, and observing is not a physically strenuous activity, so you need to dress more warmly than you think!

- You should have snacks and drinks when observing. Stay hydrated.

- Keep a first aid kit handy. Use insect repellant when necessary.

- NEVER look directly at the sun with a telescope or binoculars! You can either use the telescope to project an image of the sun onto a piece of paper, or use an approved solar observing filter that coveres the entire front of the telescoep or binoculars!

- To observe objects near the sun safely the sun must be blocked. The best way would be to look just after sunset or before sunrise.

- Light pollution is unwanted or unneeded light. It happens when people shine lights where they are not doing any good (like at the sky). Aside from wasting energy, it can adversely affect wildlife and people's health. Light pollution can drown out the stars. Air pollution also makes it difficult to see by causing clouds or by reflecting ground lights more.

- We talked about the 3 different kinds of optical telescopes:
    1. refractor - lens
    2. reflector - mirror
    3. catadioptric - lens + mirror
  As well as other kinds (radio telescopes, solar telescopes, X ray telescopes).

- We talked about 3 different kinds of astronomical instruments:
    1. camera - records images
    2. spectroscope - records colors of light, which can tell us what a star is made of and how it is moving
    3. interferometer - lets us combine light from multiple telescopes to find more detailed information than we can with a single telescope.


Astronomy Merit Badge 2

To reiterate what we covered Tuesday, we learned how to find 10 constellations
and 8 bright star names:

Orion (hunter) - easily find by 3 belt stars. Includes the stars
   - Betelgeuse (left shoulder) - bright red star
   - Bellatrix (right shoulder)
   - Rigel (right knee)
Canis Major (big dog) - following Orion, Includes the star
   - Sirius (brightest star in the sky - called the dog star)
Canis Minor (little dog) - following Orion bove Canis Major, Includes the star
   - Procyon
Gemini (twins) - above Orion's left shoulder, Includes the stars
   - Castor
   - Pollox (the two heads of the twins)
Taurus (bull) - horns make a triangle above Orion's right shoulder
Cancer (crab) - no bright stars, but between Gemini and Leo
Leo (lion) - head looks like a backwards question mark. Includes the star
   - Regulus - called the king star
Ursa Major (big bear) - its tail is the handle of the big dipper. Follow the stars in the end of the dipper to find
Ursa Minor (little bear) - its tail is the handle of the little dipper. The only bright star you'll see in ursa minor is
   - Polaris - AKA the North star
Cassiopeia (queen on her throne) - looks like a "W" towards the north

Yes, that's 9 stars I named, but you only have to know 8.

Taurus, Gemini, Cancer and Leo are in the Zodiac. The zodiac is the name given to the area of the sky through which the planets and sun appear to move when seen from Earth.


Astronomy Merit Badge 3

Here's what we covered last time (week 3):

- The Earth rotates and revolves around the sun. The apparent motion of the sun, moon and stars each day is due primarily to rotation. If you look north at night, you will see the stars slowly rotate around the axis of the Earth's rotation (which is the point of requirement 4c, which was your homework last week).

- Our revolution around the sun causes the stars to be shifted a little each night, so we see different parts of the universe at different times of the year.

- One of the things we see in the summer sky is the milky way. It is actually the center of the galaxy we live in (the milky way galaxy).

- The moon revolves around the Earth, which gives it the appearance of "phases". When the moon and sun are on opposite sides we see a full moon, when they are on the same side it's a new moon.

- When the new moon is directly between Earth and the sun it can cast a shadow on the Earth, which is a solar eclipse. Since the moon is relatively small, it's shadow only falls on a small part of the Earth's surface, so not everyone gets to soo an eclipse. An eclipse lasts jsut a few minutes.

- When the Earth is directly between the Moon and the Sun it can cast a shadow on the Moon, which is lunar eclipse. Since the Earth is much bigger than the moon, it's shadow covers the entire moon, for hours. Everyone on the night-time side of Earth during a lunar eclipse can see it.

- There are 8 officially recognized planets. There are 5 (excluding Earth) that are visible to the naked eye:
The other two can only be seen with a telescope, which is why they were discovered so late:
    Uranus (discovered in 1781)
    Neptune (discovered in 1846)

- Requirement 5b says to list the times when the 5 most visible planets are visible. That information can be found on the web at

- The sun is a star.

- Our sun provides us with heat and light. The difference in weather from summer to winter is caused by the fact that the Earth is tilted. When we are tilted away from the sun, the sun is lower in the sky and not up for as long, so we get less heat and light, while the southern hemisphere gets more (so they have warmer weather in the winter). In the summer the opposite is true.

- Stars like our sun are made mostly of hydrogen and get energy by coverting the hydrogen into helium.

- Sunspots are cool spots (relatively cool, only 7000 degrees!) on the surface of the sun.

- Our sun is a yellow star. Other stars can be different colors, depeding on their temperature. Blue stars (like Rigel) are the hottest. Yellow stars (like our sun or Capella) are cooler, and red stars (like Betelgeuse) are the coolest.