Stars and Galaxies Workshop
Discover how astronomers study the stars, nebulae, and galaxies that make up the Universe! Create classification diagrams, explore the properties of light, and model the scale of our Galaxy through a variety of hands-on activities.
One of the fundamental misconceptions that needs to be addressed is that the Solar System is the same as our galaxy, or as our universe.
- Solar System: consists of everything that orbits our Sun (8 planets, many moons, comets, asteroids) but does not include any other stars aside from our Sun.
- Galaxy: a “city” of stars (and their planets) as well as large clouds of gas and dust. These come in many shapes and sizes, but in general, galaxies have billions to trillions of stars.
- Universe: includes all of the space, time, galaxies, solar systems, etc that we can see, examine, or detect.
Discuss our place in the universe
- Cosmic Survey
One tool for assessing your classes’ prior knowledge is to invite students to organize objects according to distance and according to size.
Examining Scale and Distance
- The Incredible 2 inch Universe
Use this 4-step scale model to imagine some of the distances involved in astronomy; the scales include the Earth and Moon, the Sun, the solar system, and the galaxies.
- Modeling Parallax
In this kinesthetic activity, students model the motion of the Earth around the Sun and observe the parallax motion of objects relative to a background. There is an option for older grade levels to measure the distance of the objects by measuring the angle with their hands and performing a trigonometric function.
Discussion of the components of our Universe
- Mapping the Galaxy
This activity, modified from one of a series of college astronomy lab activities
- Where is M13?
This free downloadable application helps you visualize the locations and physical properties of deep sky objects in and around the Galaxy. It works well in conjunction with an activity about our Milky Way.
- Observing a spectrum (using an overhead and diffraction grating) from Active Astronomy
The activities in "Active Astronomy: Classroom Activities for Learning about Infrared Light" focus on improving student understanding of infrared light, which occupies the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum between visible light and microwaves, the shortest of the radio waves.
- Sorting Spectra
Working in groups, students compare stellar spectra for patterns and sort them accordingly, then report out their observations to the class. This prepares them to understand stellar classification.
- TERC Astrobiology: What Types of Stars Are in Our Universe?
(Chapter 2 - Worlds in Our Universe, Activity 3) Students produce an Hertzsprung-Russell diagram of 100 stars to study color, temperature, and age relationships between stars as well as their frequency in stellar populations.
Characteristics of Galaxies
- Galaxy Sorting
Take 20 colorful images of galaxies and try to find the patterns in them. Download the backgrounder handout and the answer key separately.
The Universe’s Expansion
- Build a Doppler Buzzer Ball
This site provides some background information about the Doppler effect and directions on building a Doppler Buzzer Ball.
- How Fast Do Galaxies Move?
By examining the spectrum of light from a galaxy, students determine whether the galaxy is moving towards or away from Earth, and how fast.PDF version.
- Where is the center of the Universe?
This online activity models the Universe’s expansion in all directions, and demonstrates that any point can be the “center.” We’ve created a pdf version.