Lunar and Planetary Institute






Constellations

Activity: Star Gazing


Observe!

Children ages 5 and older and their families explore the night sky to find star groups and constellations.

The Activity

Invite children and their families to go outside and view the sky on a clear night every hour for three or four hours.

Recommend that they obtain a sky chart for their local area; this will display a view, as observed with the naked eye, of the night sky. Sky and Telescope offers an interactive Sky Chart that can be generated and printed easily using a local zip code.

Can the children find Polaris? Draco the dragon? Lyra, the lyre? Pegasus, the winged horse? Orion, the great hunter? What about other constellations? Have the children return to the same location and viewing position each time.

  • Did any of the stars or constellations appear to travel across the sky?(Yes, all the stars in the sky — except Polaris —appeared to move)
  • In which direction did they appear to travel?(They appeared to move in a counterclockwise motion)
  • Why? (Because the Earth spins counterclockwise)

Our closest star — besides our Sun! — is Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light years away, located in the constellation of Centaurus, the CentaurNext, invite the children and their families to view the night sky once every 10 days over the course of a month. During each viewing, make sure to stand in the same place and direction, and to observe at the same time each night. Ask the children to note the locations of familiar constellations like The Big or Little Dipper or Orion, by drawing and dating them on a piece of paper.

  • Do the constellations appear to be in different places at different times of the month, even though it is at the same time of night?(Yes, the Earth’s revolution around the Sun causes the constellations to appear to traverse the night sky over the period of a year, although this is caused by the Earth’s movement, not the movement of the constellations.

Extensions

Have the children to do a little exploring on line or at the library to find out how different constellations were named.

 

 

Who?
Ages 5 and up

How Long?
30 minutes or longer

What's Needed?

• Sky chart
• Clear, dark viewing sky
• Mosquito repellent
• Flashlight
• Pencil and paper
• Snacks

Connections to the
National Science Standard(s)

Standards A, B&D (grades K–4): Observe the night sky and identify star locations and groupings. The position of objects in the sky can be described by locating them relative to another object or the background.Understand that objects in the sky, such as stars, have patterns of predictable movement.

Standards A&D (grades 5–8): Develop the ability to make systematic observations, using evidence from those observations to generate explanations about the apparent movement of stars in the night sky, and understand that most objects in the solar system are in regular and predictable motion, which explains this phenomenon.