Good Astronomy Activities on the World Wide Web

by Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College & A.S.P.)

© copyright 2000 Project ASTRO, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390 Ashton Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112
Reproduction of any kind without express written permission is forbidden. Contact the author at: fraknoiandrew {at}

This resource list includes a small selection of especially effective astronomy activities designed for K-12 classes and science projects. We focus on those activities that are either hands-on, or at least encourage students to think for themselves, and not merely follow a cookbook recipe or fill in a few blanks. Each listing has a brief summary and comments; note that these comments are the opinion of the list's compiler and are not the "official policy" of Project ASTRO or the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Another person in astronomy education may have selected a different list of activities and may have had different things to say about them. Additions or suggestions for future editions of this list are most welcome.

The Web is now a huge, and mostly unorganized, repository of information, and we make no claim that our list is complete. Instead, we simply hope that it can introduce you to the wide range of organizations and institutions that are working to put astronomy activities on the web, and to give you leads for activities that contain reasonable astronomy and emphasize hands-on, inquiry-based learning.

Several large collections of astronomy activities on the Web (mostly sponsored by NASA) that can be printed out as entire books are summarized in the last section.


Table of Contents:

1.  General Astronomy
2.  Moon Phases and Eclipses
3.  The Seasons and the Sun in the Sky
4.  Constellations and Sky Observing
5.  The Scale of the Solar System
6.  Planets and Satellites: General
7.  Planets and Satellites: Specific Worlds
8.  Comets, Asteroids, Meteors, and Meteorites
9.  The Sun
10. Stars and Stellar Evolution
11. Galaxies
12. Cosmology
13. Light and Color
14. Telescopes, Observing, and Instrumentation
15. The Universe at Many Wavelengths
16. The Search for Life Elsewhere
17. Debunking Pseudo-science
18. Interdisciplinary Approaches to Astronomy
19. Appendix: Some Activity Books That Can be Printed Out

General Astronomy

Astronomy in the Marketplace:

In this classic activity by Dennis Schatz, groups of students are asked to come up with a list of astronomical terms that are used in business and commerce, such as Saturn cars, and Mars candy bars. You must scroll down past the main article to get to the activity. [a]

Cosmic Calendar:

Students learn to scale the history of the universe since the big bang to a one-year calendar, noting where significant events (such as the formation of the Earth or the rise of humans) would fall in that year. Based on a suggestion by Carl Sagan. [m,h]

Educator's Guide to Spotting Satellites:

White satellite tracking is not really astronomy, we like the way this site provides background information and links to other sites and databases to help beginners get started in finding the Shuttle and satellites in the night-time sky. [m,h]

How Would You Spend the Government's Money:

Short exercise by Ken Edgett comparing how students would suggest dividing up the main categories of the federal budget with reality. Good launch-pad for discussions of NASA or NSF funding and whether our society can afford large science programs.

Image Really Works!:

Astronomer Elizabeth Roettger introduces and gives basic instructions for the use of a free program called Image, for image processing. She suggests both terrestrial and celestial images to play with and demonstrates a few simple techniques. [h]

Picture an Astronomer:

Students are asked to imagine an astronomer and then to draw a picture. No clues are given about the astronomer's race, sex, or age. Students discuss why they drew the pictures they drew and why they have the mental images of scientists that they have. [a]

Stellar Travel Times:

Students learn to understand the concept of a light year by calculating distances to the stars in other units, such as bike years, car years, and Space Shuttle years. Part of the SETI Institute Life in the Universe curriculum. [m,h]

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Moon Phases and Eclipses

Birthday Moons:

Students use web-based lunar-phase displays to find the phase of the Moon for their birthday this year and in other years. They then place their birthday moon in the context of the pattern of moon phases. Good beginning activity for younger students, but should be followed by encouraging students to observe the Moon in the real sky, not just the computer. [e]

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The Seasons and the Sun in the Sky

How Many Days are in a Year?:

This calculational activity by Evan Manning helps familiarize students with the Gregorian calendar, and then asks them to come up with a calendar system for another planet where the year is also not an integer multiple of days. [m,h]

Length of the Day:

In this advanced observing activity by Steven Edberg, students observe the transit time of the Sun and the stars and discover that the solar day is not equal to the sidereal day. [h]

Making a Sun Clock:

Instructions for building a sun-clock, using their print-out and a compass, to measure local solar time. [e, m]

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Constellations and Sky Observing

Create a Constellation:

To help students see how different cultures invented different visual interpretations of the same groups of stars, they are given a "new" star constellations and asked to draw a figure connecting many of the stars and then to invent a legend to go with it. Comes with a nice resource sheet showing how Ursa Major was seen by many different cultures. Part of the "Astro Adventures" book by Dennis Schatz and Doug Cooper. [e,m]

Find That Planet:

Alan Gould guides students on how to use the Web to find the location (ephemeris) of a planet in the sky for their location on Earth and their selected observing time and then to plot the positions they obtain on a sky map. [m,h]

Pinhole Protractor:

This activity, by Gene Byrd and Renato Dupke, teaches students to build and use an inexpensive device for estimating the angular sizes of objects. You need to scroll down past the main article to get to the activity. [m,h]

Sighting Angular Size:

Brief plans to help students construct a simple quadrant for measuring angular size and altitude in the sky. [m,h]

Sky Paths: Studying the Movement of Celestial Objects:

Basic, open-ended observing activity for young children, in which they learn awareness of motions in the day and night sky, and discuss how sky-related myths might come about. [e]

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The Scale of the Solar System

Build a Solar System:

Offers a spreadsheet to make a scale model of the solar system and beyond. Lets you scale things to the unit of a sheet of toilet paper, so students can measure scale by unrolling a roll of it. [a]

Cosmic Wheels: Measuring the Orbits of Planets:

Out in the playground, students make a model of the orbits of the planets and their orbital periods. Suggests using part of a videotape to give clues, but can easily be done without the video. Part of the SETI Institute Life in the Universe curriculum. [e]

Grapefruit Saturn:

Students construct a scale model of Saturn and its ring system. [m,h]

How High Up is Space?

Students construct a scale model of the Earth's atmosphere, where
the height of Mt. Everest is equal to the width of a pencil.  Then they
see where different things (airplane flights, the beginning of space,
the Hubble) fit on that scale. Most students are quite surprised by the

Scale in the Solar System:

Students make a scale solar system, a scale Saturn system, and a scale model of a comet. These not original, but they are clearly explained by Mary Urquhart, who worked with several NASA projects. [m.h]

Scale Model Saturn:

Students construct a 3-D scale model of Saturn, its rings, and Titan from everyday materials in this activity by Mary Urquhart. [e,m]

Scrunch the Universe:

Very basic activity, building a scale model of the Earth-Moon system; also teaches the simple math of ratios and scaling. [e, m]

The Thousand-Yard Model: The Earth as a Peppercorn:

Making a scale model of the sizes and spacings of the planets using common household materials. A classic activity by Guy Ottewell. [a]

Toilet Paper Solar System:

A classic activity by the late Gerald Mallon is redone by Elizabeth Roettger. Students use rolls of toilet paper to measure of the scale of the solar system. [e,m]

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Planets and Satellites: General

Changing Faces: Solar & Planetary Rotation:

Students model and explore how we tell a body in space is rotating. First they simulate rotation in the school yard, and then they watch movies on the internet that show both planetary features and sun-spots rotate. [e,m]

Crazy Craters:

In this nice activity from the book Moons of Jupiter from the GEMS Program at the Lawrence Hall of Science, students do a variety of activities to simulate how cratering occurs by dropping and throwing objects at a chocolate-powder surface on top of flour. This is perhaps the most thorough version of a classic activity (see the "Impact Cratering" ones later in this section.) [a]

Exploring the Planets: Using Images:

Students examine some intriguing images from planetary exploration and try figure out what they are seeing. Dennis Schatz' "Planet Picking" activity does this better, but this one is on the Web. [a]

Flexing Muscles and Moons:

Students measure the effect of gravitational flexing (which keeps Io and Europa's interior warm) by taking the temperature of some flexible rubber balls. They also do calculations about the force of gravity. [m]

How Much Would You Weigh on Distant Planets:

Students view Web movies of astronauts on the Moon and discuss what they can learn about one's lunar weight; a calculator is provided to get their weight on other planets; a discussion of the causes of weight and gravity is then suggested with different hypotheses. [m]

How Old Are You [On Different Planets]:

Simple calculation activity to figure out your age on worlds with different orbital periods. [e,m]

Invent an Alien:

This classic activity by Dennis Schatz asks students to invent a more-or-less plausible life form that could survive on one of the moons and planets in our solar system. [a]

Impact Cratering:

Students drop projectiles into a tray of sand, make craters on various types of surfaces, and measure their results in this set of projects by Ron Greeley. [m,h] (A similar activity, with more detail, is at: eis/jpl/

Impact Craters:

Students simulate planetary impacts by throwing hard objects onto a simulated lunar surface. Good as far as it goes, but fails to point out a crucial difference with the real world: on the planets, the impacting bodies explode making craters much bigger and rounder than the ones the students will obtain. [m,h]

Lift the Planets:

Students get a sense of the mass of the planets by asking: if the Earth's mass were 1 penny, how many pennies for the other worlds. Gives the answers in a table, but the best thing would be to let students calculate for themselves. [m,h]

Making Months:

A horrible web address hides a cute little calculation activity by Evan Manning that emphasizes the difficulty of making calendars from unconnected astronomical periods, by asking students to come up with a calendar that will work for an imaginary planet. [m.h]

Mapping the Topography of Unknown Surfaces:

Teams of students making a martian landscape (from contour maps) inside a shoe box, while other teams use probing rods to figure out the topography without looking (much as a radar altimeter in a spacecraft helps scientists do). This is an adaptation of the Venus Topography box activity (see next section) that can be used for any world. [m,h]

Playground Ellipse Activity:

Very basic activity in which students construct an ellipse, using rope and two stakes in the ground. [e, m]

Robots from Junk:

Student teams design a simple "rover" that can explore its environment, using suggestions and easy-to-find materials (simulating how the Mars Pathfinder rover was designed.) More engineering than science, this activity is included here as a placeholder for dozens of such activities found around NASA sites. [h]

Search for Ice and Snow:

In this cute activity by Alan Gould, students pretend they are alien visitor desperate for snow and ice, and use a web-based selection of Earth images (from space) to figure where the ice and snow are on our planet. The technique has applications in finding icy regions on other worlds. [e,m]

Solar System Trading Cards:

Simple web-based interactive game in which students answer factual questions about the solar system and collect "solar system trading cards". It's no threat to Pokemon, but if you teach solar system factoids to young kids, this may be a fun review. [e]

Sun's Impact on Earth's (and Other Planets') Temperatures:

Use data from the internet to examine planetary temperatures and weather patterns, and then to test hyptheses about the Sun's effects on planetary climate [m,h]

Take A Spin Through the Solar System:

Students use the internet to gather information and images to help determine the rotation rate of bodies in the solar system.

Toilet Paper Geologic Time Scale:

Elizabeth Roettger's activity uses a roll of toilet paper to measure out the 4.6-billion year time span since the Earth formed to scale. Includes a list of major events in biology and geology over that span. [h]

Your Weight on Other Worlds:

Presents a behind-the-scenes calculator to help students figure out what they would weigh on other planets, moons, and stars. Some teachers may prefer to have students do the calculations on their own. [e,m]

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Planets and Satellites: Specific Worlds

Detecting Patterns and Movement in Saturn's Rings:

Students make a flip-book of images showing the "spokes" in Saturn's B ring. Requires a good printer to make images with reasonable resolution. [e,m]

Europa Wedges Activity:

This activity is basically such a clever idea, we are recommending it despite the fact that the presentation of it on the Web is much more cumbersome and difficult to use than it has to be. Part of the evidence that has convinced many planetary scientists that Jupiter's moon Europa has a global ocean under its icy crust is that wedges of this crust seem to have rotated and slipped out of their original position. Here, students are encouraged to learn more about the Europa images, and then to rotate the wedges on one picture back to their original position (as in a jigsaw puzzle) to show how the jumbled structure we see might have originated. Requires various plug-ins to your browser to work right. [m,h] (A simpler version of this activity, to be done with printed paper versions of the image, can be found at:

Exploring Mars: Geography & Mission Planning:

Students are asked to research what martian explorers might find on Earth at the latitudes and longitudes where we landed spacecraft on Mars. [m,h]

Exploring Mars: Old, Relatively:

Students examine an image of part of the Mariner Valley complex on Mars with craters and landslides, to see which features formed in what order. The web-based image has the property that students can click on any part of it to get more information. [m,h] (A similar activity using an image with outflow channels and craters is found at:

Graphing Stratospheric Ozone:

Downloading and making graphs from satellite data about concentrations of ozone in the Earth's atmosphere; encourages discussion of social issues involved. [h]

How Does Flowing Water Shape a Planet's Surface:

Interesting activity, in which students use an inexpensive "stream tray" to simulate the flow of water on sandy terrain, compare their results to features seen in martian images, and then try to replicate some of the features seen on Mars. Has good instructions and background material. [m,h]

How Thick is the Earth's Atmosphere?:

Just a quick calculation activity to show students how thick the Earth's atmosphere is compared to the radius of the solid Earth. [m,h] Incredible Light Bulb/Egg Drop Challenge:

To simulate the dropping of the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft on Mars using airbags, teams of students are challenged to find a way to drop an egg or lightbulb with enough cushioning to prevent them from breaking. Fun! [m,h]

Investigating the Martian Polar Caps:

Students use internet resources and image processing to measure and compare the martian and terrestrial polar caps at different seasons, and analyze their results. [m,h]

Jovian System:

Simple graphing activity, in which students plot the mass, radius, orbital period, and density of the Galilean satellites versus their distance from Jupiter and are led to think about their results. [m,h] (see also at:

Jovian System Scale Model:

A brief activity for younger children to make a human scale model of the Jupiter system and to act out how the Galileo probe and orbiter entered the system. [e]

Looking for Young Features on Europa:

This is an image processing activity (using a free program called NIH Image) in which students analyze an intriguing image of Europa sent back by the Galileo spacecraft and learn how to tell the relative ages of the features on that satellite's surface. [m.h]

Mars Landform Identification:

Straightforward activity by Peter Mouginis-Mark, in which students are given definitions of various geological landforms that can be seen on Mars and are then shown Viking orbiter images and asked to identify which types of landforms can be seen on each image. Comes with a visual identification key. [m,h]

Mars Quest:

A collaborative group activity in which teams of students use internet resources to develop a traveler's guide for martian explorers. [m,h]

Martian Sun-Times:

An interesting activity by two teachers at the University of Chicago Laboratory School in which students become reporters for a martian newspaper, and have to do stories about the weather on the red planet. Students get martian weather information from the Web and then make deductions about current weather, seasons, climate, dust storms, etc. [m.h]

Observing Changes in Saturn's Atmosphere:

Students study atmospheric patterns on Saturn, and then make a convection cell in a coffee maker to simulate what happens in Saturn's atmosphere. [m,h]

Venus Topography Box:

This classic activity, developed by Larry Lebofsky and his collaborators, simulates the exploration of a cloud-shrouded world with radar. You set up a "terrain" inside a closed box, and then students explore it with long probes (such as chopsticks) through holes in the box cover. Fun and instructive. (There is a good print version of this in Universe at Your Fingertips. See also "Mapping the Topography of Unknown Surfaces" in the previous section.) [a]

What Can Craters Tell Us about a Planet?:

This activity is very similar to the "Crazy Craters" and the two impact crater activities listed in the previous section, but is fleshed out with specific information about martian craters. Students brainstorm about craters seen on images sent back from Mars, try to replicate them by making their own craters, and then are challenged to explain more complex landforms on the red planet. [m.h]

What Can Sand Indicate About How and Where Water Flowed:

Students examine different kinds of sand and apply what they learn to analysis of martian sand samples. The teacher has to go out and find a variety of sand samples for the whole class, which may deter some teachers. [m,h]

What is So Special about Pathfinder's Landing Site:

Students look at images of the Ares Valley region of Mars, where Pathfinder landed, and try to see what they can learn from them about the geology and geological history of the region. Unfortunately, the activity was written before Pathfinder landed, and has not been updated with what the mission actually discovered. [m,h]

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Comets, Asteroids, Meteors, and Meteorites

Asteroid Angles:

This activity is mostly just calculations, but students will enjoy figuring out the angle by which an asteroid headed for Earth needs to be deflected to miss our planet.[h]

The Comet Dance:

Students are encouraged to play out the motion and positions of a comet and the Earth, relative to the Sun. Gives specific information for Comet Hale-Bopp, but can be applied to others. [e,m]

Edible Rocks:

Fun activity, part of the excellent Meteorite Mysteries package (see the last category in this listing), to show students how the internal structure of meteorites is analyzed. Students get or make a variety of dessert bars that have internal structure and make field notes about them using geologic vocabulary. Recipes are included. [e,m]

Making a Comet in the Classroom:

Using some dry ice and common materials to make a model comet that can be seen to sublime. A classic activity by Dennis Schatz. [a] (also available at:

Measuring the Motion of a Close-Approach Comet:

Students use downloadable photos of Comet Hyakutake and a downloadable image processing program to measure the comet's motion. Mainly involves following instructions, but teaches some useful techniques, and the NIH Image Software is very powerful. [h]

Scale Model Comet:

Students construct a model of an active comet out of everyday materials. [e,m] [An excellent teacher's guide with lesson plans and activities about comets, from the NASA Stardust Mission, can be downloaded and printed out in pdf format at:]

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The Sun

Are Sunspots Really on the Sun:

Encourages students to use solar images with sunspots to help decide whether sunspots are really on the Sun or the shadows of objects circling the Sun. Would be even better if it encouraged students to think the method through for themselves. [m,h]

Interview Mr. Sol:

Cute little activity in which younger students "interview" the Sun as a way of encouraging them to research various topics on the Stanford Solar Center web site. [e]

Magnetism and the Sun:

A guided tutorial, with activities, for high school students who are taking pre-calculus math, on basic aspects of magnetism (and the applications of those ideas for the Sun.) [h]

Motion of a Coronal Mass Ejection:

A quick calculation activity in which student measure SOHO images to obtain the size and speed of material ejected by the Sun. [m,h]

Observing the Sun Safely:

John Percy gives viewing instructions, techniques for projecting an image of the Sun, and some solar observing projects. You need to scroll down past the main article to get to the activity on this site. [m,h]

Reflections of a Star: How to Find the Angular Diameter of the Sun:

Use a mirror in a water bottle and a screen to see a safe image of the Sun, and then figure out the sun's angular diameter from the way the Earth's spin causes the image to move across the screen. [m,h]

Retrieving Solar Images:

Instructions on how to retrieve images of the Sun taken by spacecraft for plotting the numbers and motions of sunspots. This basic activity precedes many of the other activities found on the useful Stanford Solar Center site. [a]

Solar Brightness:

Use a grease spot photometer to compare the brightness of the Sun to that of a lamp and then estimate the power output of our Sun. [h]

Solar Music & Helioseismology:

Students discover how you can learn about an object by listening to its vibrations; in this case, by playing with musical triangles, bottle harmonicas, and slinky's. Interesting, even if you don't think elementary students need to know about helioseismology. [e]

Sun's Impact on Earth's Temperature:

Use data from the internet to examine planetary temperatures and weather patterns, and then to test hyptheses about the Sun's effects on planetary climate [m,h].

See also the Changing Faces activity under planets.

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Stars and Stellar Evolution

Black Hole Scale Model:

Quick math activity that asks students to calculate scale models of a binary star system with a black hole in it. [h]

Guest Investigator Puzzle:

Teaches students about how research is done with astronomical satellites, about the spectra of different types of stars in the extreme ultraviolet, and then challenges them to identify the type of a star by comparing its spectrum to known examples. A complex, but interesting, set of activities, from the staff of the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer satellite. [h]

How Hot is That Star:

This is mostly an on-line tutorial on how we use radiation from the Sun and the stars to measure their temperatures and other characteristics, which encourages students to search the web. We include because there is an interactive H-R diagram activity and other touches of recognizing that students learn better if they do things for themselves.

How Old Are the Jewels of the Night:

Students make an H-R diagram of stars in a cluster, and then learn about stages in the lives of stars. Requires printing an image on a color printer. [h]

Life Cycles of Stars:

Students are given pictures of human beings and of massive stars in different stages of their lives, and are asked to discuss and assemble them in sequence. Nice review activity after studying stellar evolution. [h]

Types of Stars:

Students use a radiometer and a light bulb with a dimmer switch to make connections between the temperature, color, and radiation output of a star. Part of the SETI Institute Life in the Universe curriculum. [e,m]

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Classifying Galaxies:

Students become familiar with Hubble's (somewhat dated) galaxy classification scheme and then try to fit galaxy images into that scheme. (A better version is in More Universe at Your Fingertips.) [h]

Galactic Inquiry:

Similar to the one above, this is another web-based galaxy sorting activity. It too suffers from using Hubble's outdated system, and not bringing in more modern views of galaxy evolution. But it's a good starting point for beginners. [h]

Galaxies Galore:can only be accessed from this top page

In this basic web-based activity, students build a galaxy like our own out of components, learn to identify different types of galaxies, and then play matching and other "card games" with galaxy images. [e]

Hubble Deep Field Academy:

Students work with real images from the "Hubble Deep Field" - a long exposure view of the most distant galaxies - as they learn about galaxy classification and estimating galaxy distances. (Good use of real data!) Some of the "too-cute" web features may discourage older students, but hard-copy versions are available and can be down-loaded. [m,h]

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The Expanding Universe:

An activity on the Hubble Law, where students measure the separation of dots on an expanding balloon and derive the relationship. Involves learning about cepheids and cosmic distance measurement. [h]

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Light and Color

Electromagnetic Radiation on Trial:

Amongst some more routine suggestions for investigating radiation, there is a gem of an idea to stage a trial about whether one or more bands of the electro-magnetic spectrum have done more good or more harm for humanity. [h]

Fingerprints for Light Sources:

Very basic introduction to spectra, using a homemade box to hold a diffraction grating. [m,h]

Inverse Square Law:

Students measure how light from a source spreads out using graph paper or a perf board. [m,h]

Making a Rainbow:

Students make a color spectrum in the classroom and then use simple color filters to examine their own ideas about color. [a]

Persistence of Vision:

Use a cardboard tube with a narrow slit to show how your eye adds together strips of light to give you the impression of a larger image. Can be applied to television or to the way information from space probes is added together strip by strip. [a]

Star Light, Star Bright:

This is an interactive tutorial on the electromagnetic spectrum, and how we use radiation to measure the temperature of stars. What makes this hands-on is that students can put in different parameters and see the effect on the screen. At the end students apply what they have learned to visual data from the Hubble. Requires a reasonably modern computer and modem. [m,h]

What's the Frequency, Roy G. Biv:

Basic activity in which students pull adding machine tape marked with wave cycles through a portal and keep track of frequencies. [m]

Why the Sky is Blue:

This demonstration for showing why the sky is blue can be converted to an activity where students show the effect of scattering for themselves. [m,h]

Why the Sky is Blue:

This demonstration, similar to the above, from the Exploratorium Snack-book of science activities, lets students demonstrate how molecules scatter light and change the colors of the beam. [m,h]

Your Pupil Changes Size:

Use a magnifying glass and a mirror to examine how the pupil of your eye changes size in response to varying light levels. [a]

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Telescopes, Observing, and Instrumentation

Astronaut Challenge: Servicing the Hubble:

This is more about space technology than astronomy, but in this interactive module, students simulate what the astronauts go through when they go up to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Includes warm-up activities (such as simulating working in space by wearing thick gloves and trying to manipulate objects behind a screen), on-screen interactions, and follow-up activities that include writing tasks. [m]

Every Picture Tells a Story:

Younger students are shown a drawing that can be interpreted in two ways and then apply what they learn to planetary images. (A middle school version is at: [e,m]

Mountain Quest:

Students organize into research teams to recommend locations and characteristics for a new ground-based observatory; develops web-based research skills and teaches about requirements for a modern astronomical observatory. [m,h]

Name That Angle:

An activity by Scott Hildreth that explores the idea of angular resolution, helps develop math skills, guides students to doing analogies, and explains the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope. [m,h]

Remember the Egg:

Students train their ability to look for subtle features while observing through telescopes by closely examining a carton of eggs and trying to distinguish among the eggs with drawings good enough so another group can tell which egg is which. Very clever. [a]

Astrophotography for Teachers & Students:

Some hints and activities for beginning photography of the night sky. Scroll down a bit to get to the write-up. [m,h]

Digital Images: From Satellites to the Internet:

This activity shows students how images are converted into digital bits, and how they can communicate simple information using black and white squares. [m]

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The Universe at Many Wavelengths

About Once A Day:

Uses the timing of gamma-ray burst discoveries with the Compton Observatory to teach students basic statistical concepts by looking at the data for 20 bursts. We only wish the statistical operators needed had been defined in the activity itself. [m,h]

Herschel's Infrared Experiment:

Instructions for recreating the 1800 experiment with which William Herschel discovered the existence of infrared radiation, using thermometers and the spectrum of sunlight. [h]

Infrared Light and Your TV Remote Control:

Some simple experiments students can do comparing the radiation from the remote control of a TV with that from a flashlight.

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The Search for Life Elsewhere

Inventing Life Forms:

Teams of students roll dice to pick some characteristics of an imaginary species on another world and then have to design an life-form with the characteristics the dice have assigned to them. Involves a great deal of thinking about how other species on Earth differ from us and each other. Part of the SETI Institute Life in the Universe curriculum. [m,h]

Lotto or Life:

Compares estimating one's chances of winning the lottery to estimating the chances of the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence (using the Drake Equation). Assumes some background in statistics and the Drake Equation. [h]

See also "Invent an Alien" under the Planets and Satellites category.

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De-bunking Pseudo-science

Do You Remember:

Suggests an activity to demonstrate the fallibility of human memory in surprising incidents. Teacher stages a brief class disturbance, and then suggests false memories to the class through leading questions. Relevant to assessing the value of UFO incident reports. [m,h]

Sun, Shadows, Surface Structure, and the Face on Mars:

Students use modeling clay and a bright light source to explore the kinds of shadows features on another planet might cast, and then examine the shadows on Mars images to see what they can learn from them. Then they look at the infamous "Face on Mars" image to understand what role shadows play in the misinterpretation of such images. [m,h]

Testing Astrology:

A suite of activities testing astrological claims, including: charting the birthdays of US presidents, comparing horoscopes in different newspapers, and mixed-up horoscopes. (Includes a skeptical article and bibliography about astrology.) [m,h]

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Interdisciplinary Approaches to Astronomy

Cosmic Code:

Teaches younger kids about the use of binary numbers in science and technology, and then has them decode a message using a binary numbers code. [e]

A Flag for Mars:

Students discuss the symbolic meaning and history of flags on Earth, and then design a flag for planet Mars, discussing what such a flag might mean, and how has the right to "own" another planet like Mars. [m,h]

Moon Quest:

In this collaborative group activity, teams of students use the internet to find moon myths in a number of cultures and then try to discern the astronomy behind each myth. There is a section on researching moon missions that just seems tacked on to curry favor with NASA. [e,m]

A Timely Matter:

A brief calculation activity that helps students get a better feel for large numbers by calculating times of past events in hours instead of years. [e]

To Terraform or Not to Terraform:

Engages students in discussions, debates, writing projects, etc. focused on the ethics of "invading" Mars with Earth organisms or even people, especially given that Mars may at one time have developed life of its own. [m,h]

See also "Electromagnetic Radiation on Trial" in the Light and Color section, and "Mars Quest" in the Planets & Satellites: Specific Worlds section.

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Appendix: Some Activity Books That Can be Printed Out

These guides are typically in "pdf" format, which means they require Adobe's free Acrobat Reader software to print out. But this software is easy to download (each site has instructions and links on how to do it) and the books come out very nicely formatted. This is not an exhaustive list, but can introduce you to some of the types of materials that are available. Most of these were funded by NASA (and suffer a bit from "NASA chauvinism", where mostly NASA-related research and educational materials are thought worth mentioning.)

Cassini Mission Teacher Guide:

A field test version with good activities and background information about the Saturn system and the Cassini mission, which is scheduled to enter Saturn orbit in 2004.

Everyday Classroom Tools:

This excellent K-6 curriculum addresses very basic ideas about light, shadows, celestial motion, latitude and longitude, telling time, and the seasons. It was developed by astronomers and educators at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and uses hands-on inquiry-based activities.

Eyes on the Sky, Feet on the Ground:

From the same group as "Everyday Classroom Tools", this book features additional activities for kids on the Earth's motions, calendars, maps, planets, and the Moon. The activities are divided into groups by topic, and must be printed out a group at a time. A lot of thought and care has gone into this project.

Exploring Meteorite Mysteries:

Superb set of activities from NASA's Johnson Space Center, several of which are included in the ASP's More Universe at Your Fingertips.

Exploring the Moon Teacher's Guide:

Very good set of activities about the Moon and planetary geology.

Galileo Mission Activity Guide:

A booklet of 12 brief activities, including several scale activities, some physical modeling, and some calculations.

Mars Exploration Curriculum:

An extensive curriculum on missions to Mars, developed by TERC (an educational consulting firm) and Mars scientists at JPL. We have listed some of the activities from this curriculum separately in the Mars section, above.

Planetary Geology Teacher's Guide:

Good sets of activities and background information on the geology of planets and satellites and how we explore other worlds.

Solarscapes: Sunspots and Rotation:

Excellent short curriculum focusing on the Sun, with well-thought-out hands-on activities. (One of these is featured in the ASP's More Universe at Your Fingertips.)

Space Based Astronomy:

Intriguing activities and materials on space physics, and how we explore the environment between planets, for grades 5 up.

Think Small in a Big Way:

Comet related activities from the Stardust Mission (for grades 5-8).

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