Activity: Star Darts
60 to 90 minutes or longer
For each group of 3 or 4 children:
- Phosphorescent paint (purchased at an art supply store; ”fluorescent” paint does not usually glow in the dark)
- Non-bendable straws
- Self adhesive Velcro with large loops (about 1 linear inch per dart)
- White cardstock
- A small paintbrush or Q-tip
- A pencil
- Standard paperclips
- Double-sided tape
- A large piece of felt (approximately 3' x 4'), or several smaller pieces (1½' x 2') — one for each group
- Magnets or masking tape to attach felt boards
- Butcher paper for drawings
- Colored markers or paints
- Images of constellations
By creating and naming their own constellations using “StarDarts,” children learn how constellations were named and how stars can appear so close together, yet be light years apart.
Before you start:
Hang the piece(s) of felt on the wall
Introduce the children to the activity thorugh a discussion about constellations.
- What is a constellation? (A grouping of stars that appear to form a pattern or picture. There are 88 “officially” designated constellations.)
- How did the constellations get their names? (Many of them were named long ago by different cultures. Many were given names of gods and goddesses by the Greeks.)
- Do the constellations really look like what they are named to you?(Probably not! If you “connect the dots” with the stars in some constellations, you may be able to see the animals or mythical people they are named after)
- Are all stars part of a constellation? (No. There are billions of stars, and only a fraction of them make up our constellations.)
- Are all the stars in a constellation the same distance from Earth? (No. In most cases each of the stars in a constellation are very different distances from us.)
Divide the children into groups and distribute the materials. Invite them to make Star Darts. Have each group draw and cut out 6–8 cardstock stars, each about one and a half inches across. Have them paint their stars with phosphorescent paint (but don’t tell them what this paint does!).
On one end of the straw, insert a small paperclip until it is flush with the end. At this end, attach a 1-inch “hook” piece of Velcro to the splays. Tape a star to the splays on the other end of the straw.
Invite each group of children to take turns tossing their Star Darts at the felt boards (the Velcro hooks will stick to the felt). A distance of 4-5 feet is recommended.
Turn off the lights and have them view their glowing star patterns (12–15 feet is optimal viewing distance).
- Do the stars appear to be more or less in an even plane? (Yes, from far away)
- What do they observe when the constellation is viewed from the side? (Like the stars that make up the constellations, the Star Darts are not in the same plane. Some are on long straws [closer to the viewer] and some are on short straws [farther away]. When viewed from the side, it is easy to see that the Star Darts vary in distance, When viewed from their front at a distance, however, hey appear to be in a single plane. Real stars also are located at different distances from the viewer.)
Ask the children to draw the random design made by their Star Darts. Challenge them to use their imaginations to connect the stars to form a picture or pattern, thus creating a constellation around the stars. Have them name their constellation and create a story about the animal, person, or object.
Connections to the National Science Standard(s)
Standard E (grades 5–8): Communicates ideas with illustrations.