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Star Gazer

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It’s time for you to feel like a star! Make a Star Gazer to see constellations. Learn about the stories behind the constellations and find constellations in the night sky.

What you need

  • shoebox with lid
  • pencil
  • ruler
  • scissors
  • white paper
  • black cardboard
  • thumbtack
  • nail
  • coloured cellophane (blue, red and yellow)
  • sticky tape
  • Blu-tack
  • pictures of constellations and stories about constellations

What to do

Safety: This activity requires adult supervision or assistance to use the thumbtack and nail.

  1. Before constructing your Star Gazer, use books or the internet to look at pictures of constellations such as Orion, Scorpius, Taurus, the Southern Cross, Centaurus and Canis Major. For each constellation, find out the meaning of its name, what picture the stars make and whether there is a story about the picture (e.g. Greek mythology or Aboriginal sky stories).
  2. On one end of the shoe box, draw a circle about 3 cm in diameter, making sure the circle is not covered by the lid.
  3. Cut out the circle to make an eye-hole.
  4. On the other end of the shoe box, use a ruler to draw a rectangle that is almost as big as the end of the box. (Hint: The sides of the rectangle should be about 1 cm from each edge and from the lid.)
  5. Cut out the rectangle.
  6. Place the rectangle of cardboard from the box on a piece of black cardboard and trace a line around it.
  7. Remove the rectangle of cardboard from the box and use the ruler to draw a bigger rectangle around the one you have just drawn (it should be about 1 cm out from each side).
  8. Cut out the big rectangle of black cardboard.
  9. Decide which constellation you would like to make in your Star Gazer.
  10. On the white paper, draw a pattern for your constellation (like the pattern of Orion shown here) so it will fit inside the small rectangle on the black cardboard.
    a white background with black and blue dots on it.
  11. Place the pattern over the black rectangle and hold it in place with Blu-tack.
  12. Use the thumbtack to make a hole (through the white paper and the black cardboard) for each star. Use the nail to make bigger holes for brighter stars.
  13. If there are any coloured stars in your constellation, tape coloured cellophane over the appropriate holes.
  14. Inside the shoe box, place Blu-tack around the rectangular hole. Attach the black cardboard to the Blu-tack so that it covers the hole.
  15. Put the lid on the box, hold the box up to a light and look through the eye-hole to see your constellation.

What's happening?

A constellation is a group of stars. Farmers, astronomers and poets have been making constellations for the past 6000 years. They often used pictures of animals, people or objects to make a constellation. Today there are 88 official constellations. The official constellations were determined in 1929 by the International Astronomical Union.

People group stars together to form constellations to help us work out where particular stars are in the night’s sky. They also help break the sky up into smaller parts so that it’s easier to understand and remember where stars are located.

Because different constellations are visible to us at different times of the year, you can use constellations to work out which month it is. This was helpful to farmers many years ago. Farmers used the sky as a calendar to know when to plant or harvest their crops. It also helped people know when the seasons would be changing and when to celebrate annual events.

Orion, ‘The Hunter’, is an amazing constellation. It’s located on the celestial equator, which means that unlike most constellations it can be seen by all parts of the world at some time or another. The ‘Saucepan’ you may have seen while looking at the night sky is the belt and sword of Orion. The stars of Orion’s belt and sword look like a saucepan to those of us looking at them from the Southern Hemisphere.

Investigate!

Get some help from books, the internet, a friend or an adult to locate the constellations you’ve made in your Star Gazer in the real night sky!

Did you know?

Cultures all over the world have stories and myths about the stars. Indigenous Australians have long studied astronomy and have many stories related to astronomy. The Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory call the constellation of Orion ‘Julpan’. Julpan is a canoe. The story associated with Julpan is that two brothers went fishing and caught and ate a fish forbidden under law. When the Sun saw this, the Sun sent a waterspout that carried the two brothers and their canoe up into the sky where they became the Julpan constellation.