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Frequently Asked Questions 

BSA Astronomy Merit Badge Requirements

Here are the requirements for the Boy Scouts of America Astronomy Merit badge

1. Do the following:

  • Sketch the face of the moon, indicating on it the locations of at least five seas and five craters.
  • Within a single week sketch the position of the moon in the sky at the same hour on three different evenings. Explain the changes observed.
  • Tell what factors keep the moon in orbit around the earth.

2. Do ONE of the following:

  • Photograph or locate on a map of the sky a planet at approximately weekly intervals at the same time of night for at least 4 weeks. Explain any changes noticed on the photographs or map.
  • Find out when each of the five visible planets will be observable in the evening sky during the next 12 months and compile this information in the form of a chart or table.

3. Do ONE of the following:

  • In a sketch show the position of Venus, Mars, or Jupiter in the sky at approximately weekly intervals at the same time for at least 4 weeks.
  • Using a compass, record the direction to the sun at sunset at approximately weekly intervals for at least 4 weeks in spring or fall (for 6 to 8 weeks in summer or winter) and relate this information to the seasons of the earth.
  • With the aid of diagrams explain the relative positions of sun, earth, and moon at the times of lunar and solar eclipses and at the times of New, First Quarter, Full, and Last Quarter phases of the moon.

4. Using the shadow of a vertical pole in sunshine, lay out a true north-south line (a meridian). Then, using the line and the pole on another day, measure the altitude of the noontime sun and determine your latitude.

5. Identify in the sky at least 10 constellations, four of which are in the Zodiac. Identify at least eight conspicuous stars, five of which are of first magnitude. Then do the following:

  • Show in a sketch the position of the Big Dipper and its relation to the North Star and the horizon early some evening and again 6 hours later the same night. Record the date and time of making each sketch.
  • Explain what we see when we look at the Milky Way.

6. With the aid of diagrams (or real telescopes if available) explain the differences between reflecting and refracting telescopes. Describe the basic purpose of a telescope, and list at least three other instruments used with telescopes.

7. Do the following:

  • Describe the composition of the sun, its relationship to other stars, and some effects of its radiation on the Earth's weather. Define sunspots and describe some of the effects they may have on this radiation.
  • Identify at least one star that is red, one that is blue, and one that is yellow, and explain the meaning of these colors.

8. Do ONE of the following:

  • Visit a planetarium or observatory and submit a report to your counselor both on the activities occurring there and on the exhibits of instruments and other astronomical objects you observed.
  • Spend at least 3 hours observing celestial objects through a telescope or fieldglass, and write a report for your counselor on what you observed.

9. Name different career opportunities in astronomy. Explain how to prepare for one of them. List the high school courses most useful in beginning such preparation.

BSA Merit Badge Tips

I've been doing this merit badge for about three years now and really enjoy it. I have been involved with scouting for about seven years now and have a couple of "tips" for you to keep in mind.

First, and most important, make sure you're registered and that the council has your name on the list, or the boys will not be able to get the badge regardless of what they do. Registration as a counselor doesn't cost anything, and some councils will let you register to work with just one troop. Others require that you register for the entire council.

Second, for your own protection, you must never be alone with a scout. This is a BSA rule and all the boys know that they are supposed to have a partner when meeting with a counselor.

Third, you may not modify or change any of the requirements! If you have a scout with a disability that is not capable of doing one of the requirements, they will have a doctor's note and you will need to discuss it with the scoutmaster and the council to come up with an alternative task.

Fourth, don't be disappointed when a large number of scouts don't come back to finish. A lot of younger scouts think astronomy would be neat and they start, but when they realize how difficult it really is, they lose interest. This isn't your fault. The scoutmaster should be working with the boys to decide if they are ready to take on the challenge.

Most importantly, try to make it fun.

Bill Bahus
Calumet Astronomical Society

A Look at the Requirements

I also have been teaching this merit badge for quite a while (up to a little over 100 Scouts and counting...)  While, yes, it is vital that you make sure you are registered with the Council and that there is always a second adult on hand, let's talk about the merit badge itself.  First off, get yourself a copy of the merit badge pamphlet.  They are available (or can be ordered) through your local Boy Scout Service Center or Scout Shop.  Next, read it, because this is what the Scouts will be using as well.  Merit Badge.com has only the requirements.  They are the same as in the book (at least as of a few months ago they were). 

Remember your audience...11-17 year old  boys.  They have a SHORT ATTENTION SPAN! Also, if you are doing this as part of a troop program, you will have some of the boys who don't want to be there...I use discussion, a laptop computer for a planetarium program, and my own personal telescope as the main aides.  I also grouped the requirements, as opposed to going from #1 to #9.  Some requirements are "do A, B, or C" that sort of thing.  If you are doing a large group (troop), you pick the optional requirement.  Remember, the object here is to get the boys interested in astronomy, not teach an Astronomy 101 course.  Pick the interesting ones.  Also, requirement #4 is the hardest one of all.  Bring the Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader into the action by making them responsible for the planning and carrying out of this requirement (it involves making a plot of a N-S meridian and determining your latitude by using angular measurements of the sun...yes, this was the one that scared me away from earning this badge)! 

As for the observing part of the badge (requirement #8), it too, has options. I personally felt that the observing one was the one that would spark the most imagination.  When I taught this at summer camp, I picked 5 objects (Moon, Mars, M57, M13, and beta Cygni).  I wanted to give them a variety of  easy targets.  I also call beta cygni "The Cub Scout Double" because one star is bright blue and the other bright gold...the colors of Cub Scouting.  And it really stuck.  I taught on Tuesday and Thursday nights...and each Thursday night at dinner (yes, they fed me at camp), I heard excited Scouts from my class at other tables telling their friends, "...and then we saw the CUB SCOUT DOUBLE!  It was WAY COOL!

Lastly, go back to the short attention span thing...for a troop program, I split the badge into 3 troop meetings.  At camp, it was 2 nights.  Also, I was teaching right at the time of the Leonids, so I gave the kids credit for observing if they came to our club's public observing function.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I gave the boys credit for the observing session (the book says 3 hrs) if we got 1.5hrs in.  I don't believe in penalizing the boys for lousy weather during a tight schedule...

Happy Scouting and Clear Skies,

Eric Shalita
Alamogordo Astronomy Club
Training Chairman, White Sands District
Yucca Council, BSA

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