Outline of concepts to be presented

Expanded description:

This is a live program in which the audience interacts with the planetarium instructor in order to explore the universe around us from our home perspective--planet Earth. Students will make observations of the position of the sun (and moon if up on that day) in the sky at different times of the day. The sun's path for that day is compared to the sun's path at other seasons. This is accompanied by a sunset sequence; fast-forwarding from day to night. This sequence is designed to support the NGSS Performance Expectations 1-ESS1-1, 1-ESS1-2, 5-ESS1-1, 5-ESS1-2, and Cross Cutting Concept "Patterns".

We then explore the concept of day and night. By blasting off the Earth's surface, we explore what our home looks like from space, and we compare the flat perspective from the surface of the Earth to the way it appears from out in space.

The students are then lead through an exploration of the current night sky; finding planets, constellations, and more. The typical procedure is for the planetarium instructor to give verbal hints or directions on how to find a particular feature, and as the students search, they are assisted with a pointer "in the sky". The idea is to let them practice finding these features and discover them on their own. Hint: teachers, please resist the temptation of pointing to the features while the students are searching. Depending on time, we typically find 3-5 constellations.

The students discover and explore the seasonal changes in the constellations. Depending on the age and experience of the group, we may also test a model which would explain why there is a seasonality to the constellations.

As part of the exploration of the night sky, we pretend to travel out of the city to see a dark sky. There, we point out the fuzzy stripe of the Milky Way, and point out that the Earth, the Solar System, and all of the stars we see in the sky are part of the Milky Way galaxy.

If the moon is in the sky at a reasonable time for viewing in the daytime or nighttime sky, we'll talk about what the moon looks like, and how that might change over the next couple of days. But we don't go into what causes the change in phases.

We summarize our place in the universe by going back to the perspective of observing the Earth from space. We then zoom out farther and farther away from the Earth -- seeing the moon as our closest neighbor, the structure of the solar system, our solar neighborhood, our place in the Milky Way galaxy, and a glimpse of millions of other far away galaxies. Then we head back to home.

And lastly, we fast-forward through the rest of the night, through sunrise, and back to daytime again.

General Concepts

  • Day/night: Earth rotating (spinning); objects' changing positions in the sky.
  • Seasonal changes in the sun's path.
  • Seasonal changes occur in the constellations we see at night due to the fact that the Earth is orbiting the Sun.
  • We can see planets with the unaided eye: Earth below our feet, and the planets look like stars in the sky (students learn how to find them).
  • Observing the moon: sometimes we see the moon at night, sometimes in the day, and sometimes we can't see the moon at all; the moon doesn't always look like the same shape.
  • The Earth is 1 of 8 planets in the Solar System.
  • The Earth and the whole Solar System, and billions of other stars are in a galaxy called the Milky Way.
  • Our Milky Way galaxy is just one of billions of galaxies in the universe.

Connecting to the Classroom

Students will be able to process and recall more of the discoveries they make in the planetarium if they are introduced to some of the concepts before they come to the planetarium. Activities and discussions which raise awareness of the sky would be helpful.

After the planetarium visit, it would be helpful to discuss and review the observations the students made in the planetarium. Have your students apply their new knowledge to activities which build on those observations made in the planetarium and/or verify them in with observations in the real sky.

Activities you might consider doing in the classroom:

  • Daytime observations of the sun and moon as a class. Draw pictures or record observations as a class. Compare at different times of the day. (see also Follow the Sun below)
  • Use webcams around the world to see where it is daytime and where it is nighttime:  Weather Underground Webcam Directory
  • Use a day/night map to show where it would be daytime and where it would be nighttime (good way to check the accuracy of the webcams above):  Day and Night Map
  • Ask the students to go out with a parent and make observations at night.
  • See also the activities on our Instructional Resources page.

Vocabulary: some of the words the students will likely encounter

Ursa Major diagram

  • rotate (or spin)
  • explore
  • observe (observation)
  • space (beyond the Earth's atmosphere)
  • constellation (patch of sky with boundaries, recognized by the star pattern: see Big Dipper and Big Bear star patterns in the Ursa Major constellation, right)
  • Space Shuttle (rocket used to take people and stuff up in space)
  • International Space Station (ISS)
  • planet names
  • Solar System
  • galaxy (Milky Way is ours)
  • constellation names of the current sky
  • phases of the moon (new moon, crescent, first quarter, full moon, last quarter)
  • compass directions (north, south, east, west)

Also visit our Astro Links page. You'll find an astronomical number of great resources with the most current information (yes...pun intended).