Science Projects: Astronomy
Watch and record the behavior of things in the sky, learn to read the map, the clock, and the calendar in the sky, and discover what our neighborhood in space is like, with simple projects you can do in your yard or playground.
Two thousand years before space travel, and 1500 years before the invention of the telescope, the Ancient Greeks figured out that the Earth is round, and they worked out the first non-mythological, scientifically grounded models for what our neighborhood in space might look like. They estimated how large the Earth is, and they estimated how large and how far away the sun and the moon are. And they did all of this using clues that you and I and everyone else can see in the sky. They gathered the observations and the measurements and they thought through the geometry in space, using evidence and reasoning that are available to anyone, including children.
In the modern world, we have some wonderful tools that the Greeks didn't have. We have technology that can help us to explore the skies and to discover what our neighborhood in space is like. We can make time-lapse photographs to help us show motion in the sky. We can make long-exposure photographs to show us beautiful things in the sky that are too dim for us to see with our eyes. And we have binoculars and telescopes. Professional astronomers have huge telescopes, as well as piles of fancy spectrometers and other specialized instruments. But even children can use cameras and binoculars. So thanks to technology, we have many ways to get a better look at things in the sky, to explore and record what's in outer space, and to watch how it behaves. But everyone can still look for themselves into the sky and discover interesting things by paying careful attention.
A child's education in personal astronomy should include lots of astronomical toys and instruments. Those with a little more geometric sophistication can think through the geometry in space, and discover for themselves a model of our neighborhood. They can work out how large and how far away the sun and moon are, and some possible models for the arrangement of the planets.
Many of the activities below involve paper printouts or other teaching aids I developed while teaching astronomy to schoolchildren. There are many PDF files that you can download and give to kids to be labeled, cut out, and used as the basis of some activity or other. Officially, I am making all of these works available under a Creative Commons — Attribution License, which means you may do anything you like with them, as long as you give me credit as the creator.