Universe Cycle - Universe (2)
Lab 

   
OBJECTIVES:
  • Comparing and contrasting constellations.
  • Analyzing the geometric patterns of constellations.
VOCABULARY:
  • constellation
  • galaxy
  • star
MATERIALS:

Students make a constellation telescope

BACKGROUND:

Recognizing the constellations in the night sky usually requires one person pointing out the geometric configuration to another. Few people can see all the constellations because they cannot find some of the key stars. For example, the key star group in Orion is to locate the three stars of Orion’s belt.   The Big Dipper (an asterism or a part of the Ursa Major constellation), the four points of the bucket help locate it in the sky.

Students should understand that constellations are not scientific groupings, but are a way astronomers can locate celestial objects from Earth. Not all the points of light in constellations are stars; some are far away galaxies.

Describe galaxies as a big bunch of stars. The Milky Way is the galaxy that we are in and contains all the stars we can see. The faint streak across the night sky (a purple streak on the Inflatable Celestial Globes) is caused by looking into the center of the Milky Way.

PROCEDURE:

  1. This activity concentrates on two constellations in the night sky, Orion and the Big Dipper. These two constellations were chosen because they are visible in the night sky if you are doing these labs in the later part of the school year. Note that the Big Dipper is not a constellation, but part of the Ursa Major constellation, as shown on the dot to dot exercise. Increasing students geometric recognition of patterns can help them see the patterns in the night sky. However, the night sky is not available during the day so you need to make Constellation Tubes, which bring the night sky to the classroom.

    Direct students to complete the dot to dot exercise on Orion and Ursa Major. This will guide them to see the objects in the constellation tubes.
     

  2. The instructions below guide you in making Constellation Tubes with the students.
      
    CONSTELLATION STATIONARY TUBE

    MATERIALS:

         long cans with plastic lids (e.g., potato chip or tennis ball cans)
         matte black paint (optional)
         tag board
         margarine tub with lid
       
    Cut both ends of the can, making a tube that you can look through. Paint the tube inside and out with matte black spray paint. Cut circles the size of the ends of the tube from the black tag board or heavy cardboard. The plastic lid should be used to keep the cardboard in place.

    Punch holes to create the constellations Orion and Big Dipper (Ursa Major) as shown below.


          Orion                                                  Big Dipper (Ursa Major)                                                 

Note that you can make any constellation by punching different patterns in the tag board.

Assemble the materials together as shown above. You have now made a child's telescope of the constellations.

  1. Let children look into the open end of the Constellation Tube, and point the end with the tag board circles towards a window or light. They should see the star pattern in their "telescope".
      
  2. Give the students either a paper "geoboard" (see enclosed master) or real geoboards. Have the students trace the patterns of the stars onto paper or the geoboards in the correct geometric relationship. You may want to demonstrate how to trace objects by putting 2 dots on the board and tell the students to copy them, as shown in the diagram to the right. Tell the students to make sure they place the dots in a similar pattern. Add a third dot and have them place the dot position on their paper. Again make sure they see the position. Give them only the two templates of Orion and the Big Dipper. You may want to add other templates but do not give them too many at a time. The goal is for them to be able to recognize Orion and the Big Dipper in the night sky. Please remember this only works in the Northern Hemisphere.

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