Night sky mapping is a great activity to introduce children to the wonders of the universe that we are able to see, but also about the motion of the Earth. Sky mapping gives kids the chance to take a look at the sky for themselves, later with the help of binoculars or a telescope, ask questions about the differences between objects and then to notice that everything is not static. Perfect activity for spring break or summer learning.
Night Sky Mapping:
Objectives: Identify obvious objects in the night sky including, moon, bright stars and brighter planets. Recognize that the Earth is constantly moving, so our view of the sky is always changing.
Construction Paper, any color will do, but dark blue or black are fun. Gel pens, white crayons or colored pencils, scissors, stapler, comfortable outdoor chairs and blankets. Optional: Binoculars, telescope, Sky Map for Android.
What to do:
Help children large round circles out of a couple pieces of construction paper, this will act as their paper sky. Clip their paper sky to a clipboard and take a seat outside to take a good long view at the night sky. After determining which direction you are facing, have children mark of N,S,W and E on four points of their circle sky. Tell children to draw the brightest objects that they are able to see onto their paper sky, in the same positions, creating a map.
To help children understand that the Earth is moving repeat this activity throughout a single night-- creating a new map every 2 hours-- or a single night each month for several months. Better yet, spend one night giving kids the chance to create 2-3 maps and then one night a month creating a single map will give them the best idea. Make sure that the monthly mapping is done at the same hour.
After several sky map sessions have taken place, have children take a look at their map to see if they can point out any obvious differences. Did the moon stay in the same place? Was the moon the same shape every day/month? Did they see the same bright stars out each night, or did they notice movement?
Explain to children how the Earth spins around in a circle, on its axis while also circling the sun (use a globe to demonstrate). As the earth turns, the objects in the sky go in and out of our view, or appear to move across the sky. Staple together the series of sky maps created for a single night session, or for monthly sessions so children are able to flip through and quickly realize that the objects they noted are in different positions for each sky map.
Cluster: A group of nearby objects in the sky
Constellation: A group of stars that form objects in the sky that we are able to recognize
Milky Way: Bright band of stars that stretches across the night sky, galaxy in which we reside
Moon: Large round object that circles the Earth, natural satellite
Star: A bright object in the sky that we see because of the energy it releases
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