Students will observe and record the location of various constellations over time.
Using large pieces of black paper, lay out the background for a large star map on a bulletin board. Make an overhead transparency of a star finder such as Uncle Al 's Star Wheel (see Materials) to project an enlarged image on the wall. The size you use will depend on the space available. Using the transparency as a pattern, construct three simple, easy-to-recognize circumpolar constellations: the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and Cassiopeia. Put each constellation on a single piece of black paper so that they can be moved throughout the year. Use glow-in-the-dark stars, star stickers, or fluorescent markers or paint to make the stars. Label each constellation and Polaris. (Polaris is the North Star --it will be the last star in the handle of Ursa Minor.)
Use the star finder as a guide to determine where you will place the constellations
in their approximate correct positions for 8:00-9:00 p.m. in the current month,
but do not put the constellations on the bulletin board yet. Plan to place Polaris
in the upper center part of the star map (see star finder). Plan to change the
position of the constellations each month. Also have enough room to
add other constellations as they appear throughout the year.
Heifetz Planisphere. Sturdy plastic star finder, principles and instructions printed on back. Available from Learning Technologies, Inc., 59 Walden Street, Cambridge, MA, 02140, (800) 537-8703, $9.95.
Night Star, advanced star map, soft, movable rubber, for more dedicated star gazers.1334 Brommer Street, Santa Cruz, CA, 95062.
Star and Planet Locator, Edmunds Scientific, (800) 728-6999
Dickinson, Terence. Exploring the Night Sky.1998. Good description of light time and relating it to objects in space, star distances, and constellations. Good pictures and photos. Text covers about half the pages. 72 pages.
Hinz, Joan. Dot to Dot in the Sky: Stories in the Stars. 2001. Excellent resource material for constellations. Describes fifteen common constellations; how to locate them, a myth that goes with each, interesting highlights, and scientific "space notes." 64 pages. $12.95.
National Audubon Society. First Field Guide: Night Sky .1999. Nice overview of all astronomy topics. About half the book focuses on finding objects in the night sky, 160 pages, pocket size paperback. $8.95.
Rey, H.A. Find the Constellations.1976. Excellent beginners guide to finding the constellations in the northern hemisphere. Well-illustrated, extensive index, glossary and timetable for sky viewing. A classic. 72 pages.
Rey, H.A. The Stars: A New Way to See Them.1976. "Clear, vivid, text with charts and maps showing the positions of the constellations the year round. One of the best books available for its purpose." It gives thorough descriptions and directions for locating constellations and their positions relative to each other. Many drawings and diagrams.160 pages.
Thompson, C.E. Glow in the Dark Constellations: A Field Guide for Young Stargazers.1989. Simplified guide to constellations, describes how to find twelve common constellations throughout the year, includes a myth for each constellation. Illustrations have glow-in-the-dark ink to distinguish the constellation in the sky.32 pages.
There are many amateur astronomy associations throughout Utah. Please check Hansen Planetarium 's website for the most up-to-date information on the club nearest you.
Constellations are patterns of stars visible from Earth in the sky at night. The stars in any given constellation form a pattern only as they appear from Earth and are usually many light years apart from each other. Although the positions of the constellations as they appear in the sky change over the course of a year, they are constant and predictable from year to year.
Many ancient civilizations organized the sky into constellation patterns. They associated these star patterns with stories or images of mythological creatures and heroes. The particular stars grouped into an individual constellation varied from one civilization to another. More than half of the constellations recognized today were identified by the ancient Greeks.
Constellations were more than just interesting patterns in the sky. The rising or setting of particular constellations was used to determine both the time of night and the season of the year. They were used to determine when to plant crops. Seafaring people used stars for navigation. Using stars for navigation continues today. As Earth revolves around the sun, the visible constellations change from season to season. Particular constellations are associated with the various seasons. Circumpolar constellations such as Ursa Major (Big Dipper) are visible throughout the year as they appear to revolve around Polaris (North Star).
Constellations are used as reference points on a star map to help people communicate with each other concerning the location of various objects in the night sky such as the moon, planets, stars, comets, meteor showers, etc. In 1930, the International Astronomical Union established eighty-eight constellations with precise boundaries.
1-Use science process and thinking skills
2-Manifest scientific attitudes and interests
3-Understand science concepts and principles
4-Communicate effectively using science language and reasoning
6-Understand the nature of science
Invitation to Learn:
Several days before you begin this activity place the replica of the constellation Cassiopeia (without its name) and the title “Mystery Constellation ” in a conspicuous place in your classroom. Ask your students if any of them know what this constellation is, or where it can be found. Suggest that they try to locate it in the next few nights.
Since the positions of constellations and the particular constellations that are visible change through the seasons, students will gain a better understanding about the constellations if they are studied throughout the school year. This lesson describes activities that begin in the fall (when it is dark enough at 9:00 MDT and 8:00 MST to see stars) and continue throughout the school year. If that is not possible, the lessons may be taught in a shorter period with some adaptations.
COMMON NORTHERN HEMISPHERE CONSTELLATIONS
The constellations are listed in the months when they appear high in the sky at around 9:00 p.m. Bright stars are in parentheses. For more constellations visit Michigan State website (see Additional Resources.) Many of these constellations are also visible in other months as well. Consult a star map for details. Circumpolar constellations such as Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Draco are visible throughout the year as they appear to revolve around the North Star.
August -September October -November December -January
Lyra (Vega)*Pegasus Orion (Betelgeuse and Rigel)
Cygnus (Deneb)*Andromeda Canis Major (Sirius)
Cepheus Cassiopeia Taurus*(Aldebaran) Perseus
February -March April -May June -July
Gemini (Pollux and Castor)Ursa Major Bootes (Arcturus)
Canis Major (Sirius) Leo Ursa Minor
Ursa Major Virgo (Spica) Corona Borealis
*Another common star formation is the Summer Triangle including the stars of Vega, Deneb, and Altair. Pleiades is a star cluster and part of the constellation Taurus.
Students make and use a star finder to help them locate constellations and stars in the night sky. This activity reinforces the idea that the apparent movement of constellations is caused as the Earth rotates on its axis, and that different constellations become visible during the year because the Earth revolves around the Sun.
Plan for a star finder for each student. They may be purchased (See Materials) or made from a star finder patterns on cardstock. A good source is Uncle Al's Star Finder (See Materials). This activity may be used before Activity 1,if you choose, but it might be easier for students to do if they have some background knowledge about constellations.
Questions to ask:
||Blue||8.6 light years|
||37 light years|
||25 light years|
||42 light years|
||773 light years|
|Procyon||Canis Minor||White||11 light years|
|Betelgeuse||Orion||Red||522 light years|
|Altair||Aquila||White||17 light years|
|Aldebaran||Taurus||Red||65 light years|
|Antares||Scorpius||Red||197 light years|
|Spica||Virgo||White||262 light years|
||Yellow||31 light years|
||White||25 light years|
|Deneb||Cygnus||White||1467 light years|
|Regulus||Leo||White||77 light years|
|Castor||Gemini||White||49 light years|
Have students make constellation viewers using film canisters. The constellation viewer will have pinholes in the bottom to simulate seeing the constellation. These constellation viewers could be made and/or used at a star party.
Prepare constellation patterns that will fit within the circumference of a film canister lid. To do this, isolate constellation patterns on a star finder (see Materials). Reduce or enlarge the pattern if necessary. Next make reverse images of the constellations. Students cut out constellation patterns, place the reverse image pattern on the outside bottom of film canister, and tape it in place. Using a pushpin, students poke holes through the stars on the pattern and the film canister bottom. Students can view the constellations by holding the canister toward a light source and looking through the open canister.
Another option is to have students research and complete an information box about the constellation on the viewer. The information box is taped around the outside of the canister or rolled up and put inside the canister for easy reference. The box should be a rectangle that measures "height by circumference" of the canister. Information could include how to find the constellation, when it appears in the sky, a description, myths associated with it, etc. Students may either wrap the information box around the outside of the canister and tape it in place, or roll up the information box and place it inside the film canister.
Sample Information Box
One version of a Greek legend says that Zeus ' wife Hera was jealous
of Callisto and changed her into a bear. Native Americans saw a bear (the
dipper) being chased by three hunters (the handle). The second hunter
is carrying a pot (a double star) for cooking the meat.
This lesson is part of the Sixth Grade Science Teacher Resource Book (TRB3) http://www.usoe.org/curr/science/core/6th/TRB6/. The TRB3 is designed to be your textbook in teaching science curriculum to your students. This book covers all the objectives of each standard and benchmark. If taught efficiently, a student should do well on the End-of-Level (CRT) tests. The TRB3 is designed for teachers who know very little about science, as well as for teachers who have a broad understanding of science.