Make a Constellation Finder
In this science activity, kids will make a tool to help them find constellations in the night sky.
A constellation is a group of stars that, when connected with imaginary lines, creates something that looks like a picture in the night sky. People first started finding and naming constellations in the ancient Middle East; today, there are 88 official constellations recognized by astronomers. Examples include Orion, Leo the Lion, Hercules and Taurus the Bull.
The constellations that we can see change throughout the year because the earth’s position changes as it orbits around the sun. But the constellations themselves don't really change. In fact, the orientation of stars changes so slowly that sailors have used them for thousands of years as a reliable way to navigate.
Just because stars appear to be next to each other doesn't mean they are anywhere near each other in space. For example, the star in the middle of Orion's belt is much farther away than the stars on either side.
- Printout of NASA's starfinder for the current month (see procedure below) - 1 per student
- Construction paper
- Glue or tape
Print out and cut out a constellation finder that correlates to the current time of year from NASA's website for kids: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov. (Search for "starfinder." Note: the starfinder will only be helpful if you are stargazing in the northern hemisphere.)
Cut a sheet of construction paper in half to provide a border around the constellation finder. Glue the constellation printout to the construction paper and decorate.
When you are ready to use your constellation finder, walk outside after dark and orient yourself to a particular direction. If you are facing north for instance, hold the finder over your head and turn the constellation finder so that the northern horizon is matched up with the real northern horizon. The finder will show you exactly what you should see overhead in the night sky.
You will need to print and make a different star finder for each month, as the constellations you can see change as the earth orbits the sun.