Activities

The astro department gets a number of requests from the community and is second only to geology for putting in hours of community service. At a loss for an activity or talk? You’ve come to the right place. If you find a mistake or have a suggestion to improve any of these, please let the webmaster know! Supplies for outreach activities are stored in the copier room in a cardboard box labeled “Scale Solar System.” This box also has two blue tablecloths for any table setups, as well as a banner for our department.

General Astro (Talk)

Time: ~45 minutes
Volunteers: 1
Materials: projector and computer
Optional Materials: sorting cards

Use the general astronomy presentation (53MB PowerPoint, 8.3MB OpenOffice, 1.7MB PDF) developed by Cat and passed among the grad students.You can also use the DPS Discoveries in Planetary Science series. There are about a dozen or so topics listed; for each topic, you can download a 4-slide file (PowerPoint or PDF). The first slide describes the new discovery, the second slide provides some more detailed information, the third slide puts the discovery into a Big Picture context, and the fourth slide provides links for more information. These are put out by the DPS Education committee and thus have been vetted for scientific content as well as educational impact. They are intended for use in public events or intro astronomy lectures.

You can also break up the talk with sorting activities. Jillian created 6 sets of three different kinds of sorting cards:

  • object sizes in the solar system: good for messing with people’s idea of sizes (especially Ganymede and Mercury). Includes Pluto, our Moon, Mercury, Ganymede, Mars, the Earth, Jupiter, and the Sun. Second page with the answers is setup to print on the back of the appropriate card.
  • distances in the solar system and galaxy: good for messing with people’s idea of distances even within our solar system. Includes the HST, the Moon, the Sun, a comet, the nearest star, the nearest imaged exoplanet (Fomalhaut), the Pleiades, the distance through the Milky Way disk, the distance to the Milky Way center, and the distances to M31. Second page with the answers is setup to print on the back of the appropriate card.
  • types of galaxies: like a little galaxy morphology lab (give a galaxy to each student, have them “find a friend with the same galaxy”). Includes 4 ellipticals, 4 spirals, and 4 irregulars.

Career Day (Talk)

Time: ~35 minutes
Volunteers: 1
Materials: projector and computer
Some schools ask us to do talks for Career Day. This presentation (24MB PPT + 120MB movies, 21MB ODP + 120MB movies, 3MB PDF + 120MB movies) covers the basics of life as an astronomer and includes a few examples of neat research (like Martian dust devils, solar activity, exoplanets, galaxy simulation, and the Bolshoi simulation). Since these presentations include movies, please check that they will play on the computer you’re using.

Table/Booth (Activity)

Time: ~5 minute activities
Volunteers: 2
Materials: folding table, tripod/easel, pretty poster, demo equipment, sorting cards, flyers

Some events are conducive to setting up a table with short activities and handouts. The easy part is grabbing the extra folded up table (from the conference room), covering it with the tablecloth (in the Outreach Supplies box in the copier room), and attaching the Astro Dept banner (also in the Outreach Supplies box) with the provided magnets. What do you put on this gorgeous blank slate? We’ve found a good combination of stuff, posters, and demonstrations:

  • make printouts with the next Open House and Sky Safari events
  • ask Ofelia if she has any astronomy-related items (bookmarks, brochures for APO, pens) to hand out
  • have kids play with Jillian’s sizes, distances, and galaxies sorting cards
  • show off the APO 3.5m telescope model from Office 107
  • let kids pick up the big meteorites (in metal toolbox in Ofelia’s office), and Chas even made high-quality cardboard display pads for them (in the Outreach Supplies box in the copier room)
  • use the tripod (in the Outreach Supplies box in the copier room) to display the general astronomy montage poster (a copy is in the Outreach Supplies box in the copier room) and/or…
  • display the LCROSS (simple version) poster made by Chas and Ryan and do the cratering demo using the Comet Lab supplies (tub of flour, flashlight, metal ball, magnet, block of wood, haircomb)
  • you could also show the Open House poster, if you have extra space (doubtful)
  • Liz has a pretty painted styrofoam scale model of the Pluto-Charon system, which you can use to demo center of mass … and it also looks awesome
  • if you know you’ll have power, bring a laptop and show some cool astro photos (USB stick in the Outreach Supplies in the copier room) either with a slideshow or screensaver

Comets and Meteors (Talk and Activity)

Time: ~1 hour
Volunteers: 4 can keep an eye on 25 fourth graders and make setup/cleanup easier
Materials: projector and computer; comet lab supplies (dry ice, water, dirt, ammonia, buckets, bags, spoons, gloves)
Optional Materials: department meteorites, solar telescopes
Takes ~20 minutes to build and play with comets. This works well with a short intro on comets (1.3MB PPT, 1.3MB ODP, 1.1MB PDF) or a longer talk using part of the general astro presentation. It might be cool to bring one or two of the department meteorites to show the students. They should be in Ofelia’s office in a large metal toolbox. Also, you can bring the solar telescopes so that kids can look through those while waiting to make comets.
Make sure to contact Chemistry department for ice a few days in advance, and charge it to account 100245. As of May 2010, Jaime E. Rodriguez was the contact person. If you can’t get it from the Chemistry department in time, some stores in town such as Albertson’s also sell dry ice. Make sure to save your receipt to get reimbursed. The rule of thumb for how much ice to get is 6-7 pounds per 30 people.

Tidal Heating (Talk & Activity)

Time: ~1 hour
Volunteers: 1
Materials: projector and computer; printouts of activity and solutions, plastic hairbands (Goody brand “bright and bold plastic hairbands” from Walmart seems to work really well)
This neat talk and demo give people a good understanding of tidal heating and possibly a slight understanding of tidal forces. The talk (4MB PPT, 2.3MB ODP, 1.1MB PDF +1.9MB notes PDF + animated gif) introduces tidal forces, has an intermission for the activity, and then introduces the effects of tidal heating (Io’s volcanoes, Europa’s surface, icy jets on Enceladus and Triton).  The tidal definition is currently not completely accurate and needs to be updated.
Elastic bands for this activity are are stored in the copier room in a cardboard box labeled “Outreach Supplies.”

The Sun (Talk & Activity)

Time: ~1 hour
Volunteers: 2 volunteers
Materials: projector and computer; solar telescopes
Optional Materials: handheld spectrographs
The talks go over the basics of the Sun and show how crazy it can be when it’s active. We split up the talks so the kids wouldn’t have to sit still as long. First you give the Quiet Sun talk (5.3MB PPT+movies, 1.9MB ODP, 800KB PDF + 530KB notes PDF), then look at the Sun through the solar telescopes, and then give the Active Sun talk (187MB PPT+movies, 187MB ODP+movies, 240KB PDF). Since these presentations include movies, please check that they will play on the computer you’re using. Check out SpaceWeather to see if there will be any cool sunspots that day.
An activity is mentioned at the end of the Quiet Sun talk. We could only handle a few kids at a time at the solar telescopes, so we occupied the rest of the kids by having them draw spectra. We gave them the handheld spectrographs and asked them to draw the different kinds of spectra they could find (sunlight reflecting off a railing, the fluorescent lights, etc.) with crayons.

Scale Model of the Solar System (Activity)

Time: ~1 hour
Volunteers: 2
Materials: planet flags (12.3MB tarball of PDFs), pinwheels/flashlights, small rocks
Optional Materials: printouts of football field solar system worksheet (1.3MB PDF); printouts of planet cards (4.2MB PDF); sidewalk chalk
Quick Guide

You can set up a scale solar system on the sidewalk from the observatory to Williams St. The walkway is a little over 100 yards. Setting up a solar system out to Pluto means 1 AU is 2.5 yards. We’ve found it best to mark certain distances: 1 AU, 2 AU, 3 AU, 4 AU, 5 AU, and then 5 AU intervals until you reach 40 AU (should be close to the last little tree on the walkway, near the street light). There are pinwheels and planet markers (stick with picture of planet on one side and information on the other side). Supplies are stored in the copier room in a cardboard box labeled “Outreach Supplies.”
Kids this age love to participate, so you can give each kid something to hold: a planet marker (or flashlights for twilight activities), some rocks for the asteroid belt, and pinwheels for the Kuiper Belt. Start at the Sun and try to prompt kids to get into the spirit of the scale model: ask them how big the Sun should be and how big they think the planets will be. Get them to tell you what planet is next and where the planet marker should go. Ask the kids what they know about each planet as you “visit” it. Optionally, you can print out cards to hand out at each planet. As more fun trivia, for a football-field scaled solar system the nearest star is north of Taos and the nearest galaxy is 2.5 times the distance to the sun (this might confuse them if they lose track of the fact that that’s still using the football field as the size of the solar system, but 105 kids seem to understand it, and that’s saying something).
If you visit a school that is more lenient, you can have the kids create a scale solar system by drawing with sidewalk chalk. You can pace out the proper distances for rough orbit locations. Bring handouts with a picture of a planet (to be used as a template for drawing) and a fun fact. Assign each kid a planet, give them the handout for that planet, and show them where to draw it. When done drawing, do a walking tour of the solar system and have the kids read their fun facts out loud.
For a less lenient school, you can do the football-field scale solar system like the 105 lab students do. The football field scale solar system worksheet shows which planet is at what yard line and gives an idea of scale of each of the planets.

Self-guided Tour of the Solar System (Activity)

Time: n/a
Volunteers: 0
Materials: planet sheets
The self-guided solar system tour is intended to be something neat for people to read while walking around or waiting in line. Each sheet has a picture of the object, the size compared to Earth, and its location in the solar system. The back of each sheet has some quick facts and short paragraphs covering some interesting features. Attached the sheets to chairs/rope/walls in whatever kind of distance scale fits your space.

Glitter Galaxies (Activity)

Time: ~20 minutes
Volunteers: 1
Materials: glitter (red, blue, gold), small clear plastic plates, craft glue
Quick Guide
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a quick crafting activity to teach a basic concept. This activity is fun, somewhat messy, and introduces kids to different kinds of galaxies (and stars). Supplies are stored in the copier room in a cardboard box labeled “Outreach Supplies.”
Show the kids examples of galaxies, either by borrowing Galaxy Morphology Lab Binders from Bx102 or Jillian’s galaxy cards. Have them pick their favorite and make it on a plastic plate with glue and glitter. Since the plates are clear, you can use their shadows to show the effects of inclination. Kids like having something they can take home, too.

Saturn Model (Activity)

Time: ~30 minutes
Volunteers: 1
Materials: glitter (gold, silver), 2″ styrofoam balls, small clear plastic plates (or spare CDs), craft glue, toothpicks, paperclips, string, paintbrush, scissors, 2 bowls (one to catch silver glitter, one to catch gold glitter)
Quick Guide
Everyone loves Saturn’s rings, so this activity lets kids build their own model of Saturn. First cut the styrofoam ball in half and stick a toothpick through the center of the flat side of each half. Decorate the ball by ‘painting’ glue in stripes and sprinkling glitter on it. Wash the brush in between glue application so it doesn’t get stiff. While you wait for Saturn to dry, decorate the plastic plate as rings in the same manner but leave a 2″ circle in the center where you’ll attach the balls. Don’t use too much glue so it dries in a reasonable amount of time. When the planet and the rings are dry, you’re ready to assemble them. Remove the toothpick from the half-balls, put glue on the center of the plastic plate on both sides, and attach a half-ball to each side of the plate. If you’re using CDs, this is trickier since you’ll remove one half-ball’s paperclip and make a Saturn shish-ka-bob with the other (one half-ball, CD, other half-ball all speared on one toothpick). Open a paperclip to form a long-handled hook, and poke the long handle into one of the half-balls about 3/4″ from the pole to simulate Saturn’s 28o axial tilt. Tie some string to the paperclip hook so the kids can hang up their awesome planet.