Family Activities

Enjoying the night sky is a great family activity. Use the ideas below to learn more about astronomy and dark skies.

Make a Star Wheel
A Star Wheel (sometimes called a planisphere) is an easy-to-use tool to help locate stars in the night sky. Because the Earth turns on its axis, the stars appear to rise in the east and set in the west just like the sun. You select the date and hour on the wheel and go outside to view the sky. 

Materials: printouts of circular map and sleeve, scissors, stapler

Read the article Make a Star Wheel from Sky & Telescope. A quick overview is found below (adapted from website article):
  • Download the circular map (PDF) and the outer sleeve (PDF).
  • Cut them out. Be sure to leave the white rectangle at the bottom of the sleeve page.
  • To assemble your Star Wheel, fold the white rectangle at the bottom of the outer sleeve so it's underneath the front. Staple on the marked short lines. Slip in the circular sky map.
  • Pick the date and hour you wish to observe and set the Star Wheel. 
  • Hold the Star Wheel in front of you and look at the "Facing" labels. Turn the entire wheel so the yellow label for the direction you're facing is at the bottom with the lettering right-side up.
  • The stars above the map's horizon should match the real stars in front of you.
For more resources to learn about locating stars in the night sky, download Build It Yourself Star Finder.
You can also view the night sky using the online Starry Night Chart.
You can also buy a star wheel at Sky & Telescope.
The photograph is from the online article at Sky & Telescope.

Night Vision
To enjoy the night sky, you need a dark area for viewing. You'll want a little light to read your Star Wheel, however a white flashlight is too bright. Red light has less impact on your night vision. You can adapt your regular flashlight with a red paper or plastic.

Materials: flash light, red paper or plastic wrap (holiday paper works), rubber band or electrical tape, or red balloon
  • Fold plastic/paper wrap over itself until you have a piece 1/8 inch thick. A thick filter will be durable and reusable. If you have a bright light, create a thicker cover.
  • Cut a square shape a couple inches wider than the flash light lens.
  • Place the red material over the front of a normal flashlight.
  • Secure the paper with a rubber band or tape.
Another approach is to cover your flashlight with a red balloon.
You can also buy a flashlight that contains a red LED light.

Star Finder Game
Turn your quest for stars into a game, try the Make a Star Finder finger fold game.

Sun Clock
Looking for a daylight activity? Create a sun clock!
Download the Pocket Sunclock directions.

Lunar Phases
The best time to view the night sky is on a clear, moonless night. However it's also fun to enjoy the moon itself by following the phases of the moon.
Download the Observing Lunar Phases directions and activities.

It's exciting to view comets in the night sky.
Download the directions to Make Your Own Comet.

How do rockets fly? Find out with a straw, string, balloon, and tape. 
Go to How Do Rockets Fly? to try the experiment.

The night sky is filled with stars. For thousand of years, people have created characters and stories from the patterns of stars in the night skies.
Download the Create-A-Constellation lesson for directions on creating your own constellation.

Night Sky Art
If you like art, try some of the following activities:

Heritage Starfest Created 2/2010. Updated 2/2011.