Constellation Viewer

  • Optics
  • Astronomy

  • Introduction

    People have been looking at the night sky for tens of thousands of years, and making constellations out of the patterns they see in the stars. The most well-known constellations are from the Ancient Greeks, but many cultures have their own as well. For example, Australian Aboriginal Astronomy uses the spaces between the stars as the constellations, instead of connecting the stars to make a picture, as is common in Western Culture. There are currently 88 constellations that are recognized by the International Astronomical Union, which you can look up if you are curious.

  • Background

    People have been using the stars as storytelling devices, navigational aids, and seasonal markers since we have been able to observe the sky. In this activity, you will learn about some new constellations, and create a projector to show them off.

  • Preparation

    To make the constellation viewer:

    • Trace the tube on your index card so you know how big of a circle you will have, or use one of the constellations from the template provided.
    • Place the index card on top of one end of the tube so the circle is aligned with the edges of the tube.
    • Fold down and tape the sides of the index card so that no light can escape. You are making a cap for the tube.
    • Take your thumbtack or sharp pencil, and poke holes where the stars are drawn.
  • Procedure

    1. Make a prediction: What will happen when you shine the flashlight through the tube?
    2. Take the flashlight and shine it into the open end of the tube.
    3. Adjust the distance from the surface you are looking at until the stars come into focus.
    4. Enjoy your constellation!
  • Observations and Results

    You should see the pattern that you poked out with the thumbtack or sharp pencil appear on the surface. If you want, you can try looking through the tube at a lightbulb or out a window (don’t look at the sun, you can hurt your eyes!). If you try looking through the tube, your constellation will be backwards!

  • Clean Up

    Be sure to clean up when you are done. Throw away or recycle any trash or paper scraps, and put your tools back where you found them.

  • More to Explore

    Try looking up other constellations and making projectors for those as well. Could you make something that projects the whole night sky? Can you look at a star map and create your own constellation? The sky’s the limit!

  • Safety First & Adult Supervision

    • Follow the experiment’s instructions carefully.
    • A responsible adult should assist with each experiment.
    • While science experiments at home are exciting ways to learn about science hands-on, please note that some may require participants to take extra safety precautions and/or make a mess.
    • Adults should handle or assist with potentially harmful materials or sharp objects.
    • Adult should review each experiment and determine what the appropriate age is for the student’s participation in each activity before conducting any experiment.

Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS) Supported – Disciplinary Core

This experiment was selected for Science at Home because it teaches NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas, which have broad importance within or across multiple science or engineering disciplines.

Learn more about how this experiment is based in NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas.

Disciplinary Core Ideas in Engineering Design & Physical Science

Earth and Space Science (ESS)1: Earth’s Place in the Universe

Grades K-2

  • 1-ESS1-1. Patterns of the stars in the sky can be observed and described.