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Early Observations, from Telescopes to Spacecraft: Ancient Astronomers / Modern Tools

Color image showing ancient obnservatories
Cultures around the world have studied the sky, using a variety of tools over time. Image Credit: Sun Earth Day

The focus on ancient history and ancient civilizations provides an opportunity for cross-curricular activities this month, as well as technology and history of science components. This broad theme can be taught at multiple levels.

Be sure to submit photographs, artwork, music, or words of students enjoying these activities to Share Your Stories.


Grades K-4
At this level, students can conduct the same types of observations made throughout history by examining motions in the sky and shadows. Social studies lessons can incorporate information about ancient observatories without much detail about the alignments that they observed. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
What Makes Shadows? Observing and Drawing Shadows Students learn about shadows as they observe and draw the shadow of a classmate.
What Makes Day and Night? The Earth's Rotation In this demonstration of day and night, students learn kinesthetically as they take on the role of the Earth orbiting the rotating Sun.

Grades 5-9
Students in middle school can continue to make their own observations of the objects in the sky; they can also explore how our technology has changed through time and make their own telescopic observations of the Moon and other bright objects. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Strange New Planet (PDF, 42 KB) This activity demonstrates how planetary features are discovered through a sequence of observations, from naked eye, to telescopic, to fly-by, orbiting, and sample missions. Students make multi-sensory observations, gather data and simulate spacecraft missions.
Making a Sun Clock Let the Exploratorium show you how to build a working "Sun Clock."
Observing Where the Sun Sets This activity is for students to do at home. When they complete it, they will have created a horizon Sun calendar much like ones that were used in many Native American tribes.
Make a Mission Design your own cosmic bridges, as you build a spacecraft to explore the planet Mercury.
Mars Pathfinder Egg Drop and Landing One important tool used by modern planetary scientists is a lander. In this activity, students model a mechanism for safely delivering a lander to the surface of another world.

Grades 9-14
At this level, students may be able to describe the astronomical alignments of ancient observatories, build simple tools for making observations and analyze simple data from ground-based or space observatories. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Make the Itty Bitty Radio Telescope This requires a variety of equipment and a fair amount of oversight.
Student Observation Network: Tracking A Solar Storm Students learn about and examine the Sun's features and its affect on our world, by observing sunspots, storm signals, the Earth's magnetic field, and auroras; each subtopic has opportunities for students to build their own detectors, use observatory data or use satellite data.
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Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014