Interact! Astronomy Teaching Modules/Kits | Sky-Skan

By: Sky-skan  11-11-2011
Keywords: Planetarium

Our Very Own Star

This program encourages students to view the Sun in a variety of ways. It has a symmetry starting out with direct Earth-based observation, then with observations through telescopes and spacecraft instruments, and finally back to Earth-based views again. This is also the first PASS program to have an extensive audio narration version of the script. Although we still strongly encourage live presentation of the entire program, with audience activities, we realize that some planetariums like to have pre-recorded programs and a number of facilities prefer to have hybrid shows: part pre-recorded and part live. For this reason, we have made the program as modular as possible, each section of the program having a recorded narration with visuals, so that your planetarium can create a custom program from the some or all of the different modules. We give here a brief overview of the sections of the show (modules).

Introduction to Our Very Own Star

The program starts with beautiful views of the optical effects of sunlight in Earth’s atmosphere (rainbows, halos, sun dogs). There is no explanation for cause of these phenomena given, only the names. In the reference section, To Learn More About the Sun, there are resources given that have more about sunlight-atmosphere effects and their causes. For the program, these images are simply an artful, visually pleasing way to “get in the mood” for a show about the Sun.

The Sun as a Time Keeper

This section focuses on views of the Sun for Earth, without instruments, and how the apparent paths of movement of the Sun change from season to season. Activity: The audience keeps track of where along the eastern horizon it rises, how high it gets in the sky at noon, and where along the western horizon it sets at different times of year. We realize that there are other PASS planetarium programs that have a similar audience activity, but this one is different in that it entails a very fast time machine effect to see movements rapidly. Also, the audience measures how high the Sun gets at noon, which is not done in any other PASS program. The section concludes with a diagram that summarizes the findings, showing a winter path with sunrise in southeast, a “low noon” position, and sunset in southwest; a summer path with sunrise in northeast, a “high noon” position, and sunset in northwest; and an equinox path midway between the summer and winter paths.

Different Views of the Sun

In this section, we jump from sketches of the Sun by Galileo to the view of the Sun from from the vicinity of Pluto—an artist’s conception from the New Horizons mission and an actual image from Voyager. The audience then sees spectacular TRACE and SOHO spacecraft images of the Sun.


The audience sees sunspots and learns that the numbers of sunspots can vary in cyclical patterns.

Differential Rotation

Activity: Students use time-lapse movie sequences of magnetogram images of the Sun to measure its rotation rate. By tracking sunspot clusters at different latitudes on the Sun and noticing that the rotation rates are not all the same, students can conclude that the Sun is not a solid body, but giant spinning ball of gas.

A Magnetic Earth Around a Magnetic Sun

Students either watch and/or use models of Earth and Sun with magnets embedded to create magnetic fields. Magnets in the Sun models are arranged in sunspot pairs. Students see how the Earth’s magnetism affects space around Earth using (a) a simple magnetic field detector consisting of a specially-bent piece of paper clip loosely fastened to the eraser end of a pencil with a push pin, and (b) tiny washers that act as magnetic field indicators. They see the difference between the structure of the magnetic field around the Earth (magnetic dipole) and the magnetic field of the Sun (loops associated with sunspot clusters).


The program concludes with some discussion of solar storms, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and then a return to Earth views of sunlight-atmosphere phenomena.

Customizing "Our Very Own Star"

Depending on demands of school districts in your area, state science education standards, and target age/grade audience, you can select a subset of show sections to create a custom show. Also, if you have a larger size planetarium (more than a 30-foot(10m) dome), you may elect to either not do the hands-on activity about magnetic fields, or do it as a pre- or post-activity in classroom space if that is available in proximity to the planetarium. In either case, you can still use the narrated video for the section that illustrates the field models.

Keywords: Planetarium

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