Getting Started

Astronomy is a fantastic area of science for teachers and students alike because it combines many different fields of science and still leaves a lot of room for wonder and exploration.

Astronomers study celestial objects (stars, planets, moon, asteroids, comets, galaxies, etc) that exist outside our planet’s atmosphere. Its the one field that combines most science, engineering and technology areas in one fell swoop. Astronomy is also one of the oldest sciences on the planet.

Originally, astronomy was used as celestial navigation and involved with the making of calendars, but nowadays is mostly classified in the field called astrophysics.

Early astronomers tracked the movement of the stars so accurately that in most cases, we’ve only made minor adjustments to their data. Although Galileo wasn’t the first person to look through a telescope, he was the first to point it at the stars. 

There are different types of astronomers, some of which have never looked through a telescope. Amateur astronomers usually have smaller telescopes, and they don’t get paid to do astronomy – they just do it for the love of it. Many amateur astronomers have discovered new objects based on their raw knowledge of the sky. Professional observational astronomers mostly use expensive scientific instruments to look through their massive telescopes. They spend a lot of time taking data and crunching numbers. Professional theoretical astronomers think up new ideas for getting the data to make sense. (Albert Einstein was theoretical – he hated to do experiments.)

Here are the scientific concepts:

  • Objects in the sky move in regular and predictable patterns. The patterns of stars stay the same, although they appear to move across the sky nightly, and different stars can be seen in different seasons.
  • The position of the Moon changes during the course of the day and from season to season.
  • The phases of the Moon and the lunar cycle.
  • The tilt of the Earth and its location in orbit are the reasons for the seasons.
  • The Earth is one of several planets that orbit the Sun, and the Moon orbits the Earth.
  • The solar system consists of planets and other bodies that orbit the Sun in predictable paths.

By the end of the labs in this unit, students will be able to:

  • Design and build a telescope using lenses.
  • Know how to demonstrate how the position of objects in the sky changes over time.
  • Know the celestial objects in the solar system and how they relate and interact with each other.
  • Differentiate observation from inference (interpretation) and know scientists’ explanations come partly from what they observe and partly from how they interpret their observations.
  • Measure and estimate the length and volume of objects.
  • Formulate and justify predictions based on cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Conduct multiple trials to test a prediction and draw conclusions about the relationships between predictions and results.
  • Construct and interpret graphs from measurements.
  • Follow a set of written instructions for a scientific investigation.

Select a Lesson

Special Science Teleclass: Astronomy
This is a recording of a recent live teleclass I did with thousands of kids from all over the world. I’ve included it here so you can participate and learn, too Our solar system includes rocky terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn), ice giants (Uranus and Neptune), and assorted …Continue reading”Special Science Teleclass: Astronomy”
Special Science Teleclass: Black Holes
This is a recording of a recent live teleclass I did with thousands of kids from all over the world. I’ve included it here so you can participate and learn, too! We’re ready to deal with the topic you’ve all been waiting for! Join me as we find out what happens to stars that wander …Continue reading”Special Science Teleclass: Black Holes”
Planetarium and Star Show
Greetings and welcome to the study of astronomy! This first lesson is simply to get you excited and interested in astronomy so you can decide what it is that you want to learn about astronomy later on. We’re going to cover a lot in this presentation, including: the Sun, an average star, is the central …Continue reading”Planetarium and Star Show”
Solar System Treasure Hunt
After you’ve participated in the Planetarium Star Show (either live or by listening to the MP3 download), treat your kids to a Solar System Treasure Hunt!  You’ll need some sort of treasure (I recommend astronomy books or a pair of my favorite binoculars, but you can also use ‘Mars’ candy bars or home made chocolate …Continue reading”Solar System Treasure Hunt”
Build a REAL Scale Model of the Solar System
Ever wonder exactly how far away the planets really are?  Here’s the reason they usually don’t how the planets and their orbits to scale – they would need a sheet of paper nearly a mile long! To really get the hang of how big and far away celestial objects really are, find a long stretch …Continue reading”Build a REAL Scale Model of the Solar System”
Magnetic Tornadoes
This lab is a physical model of what happens on Mercury when two magnetic fields collide and form magnetic tornadoes. You’ll get to investigate what an invisible magnetic tornado looks like when it sweeps across Mercury. Materials Two clear plastic bottles (2 liter soda bottles work best) Steel washer with a 3/8 inch hole Ruler …Continue reading”Magnetic Tornadoes”
Sky in a Jar
Have you ever wondered why the sky is blue? Or why the sunset is red? Or what color our sunset would be if we had a blue giant instead of a white star? This lab will answer those questions by showing how light is scattered by the atmosphere. Particles in the atmosphere determine the color …Continue reading”Sky in a Jar”
Planetary Magnetic Fields
You’re going to use a compass to figure out the magnetic lines of force from a magnet by mapping the two different poles and how the lines of force connect the two. A magnetic field must come from a north pole of a magnet and go to a south pole of a magnet (or atoms …Continue reading”Planetary Magnetic Fields”
Seasons
One common misconception is that the seasons are caused by how close the Earth is to the Sun. Today you get to do an experiment that shows how seasons are affected by axis tilt, not by distance from the Sun. And you also find out which planet doesn’t have sunlight for 42 years. The seasons …Continue reading”Seasons”
Making Clouds
Indoor Rain Clouds Making indoor rain clouds demonstrates the idea of temperature, the measure of how hot or cold something is. Here’s how to do it: Take two clear glasses that fit snugly together when stacked. (Cylindrical glasses with straight sides work well.) Fill one glass half-full with ice water and the other half-full with …Continue reading”Making Clouds”
Volcanoes
If you’ve ever wanted to make your own version of a volcano that burps and spit all over the place, then this is the experiment for you.  We used to teach kids how to make genuine Fire & Flame volcanoes, but parents weren’t too happy about the shower of sparks that hit the ceiling and …Continue reading”Volcanoes”