This article was originally published in October 2015. It has been updated in November 2021 for relevance and accuracy.
Home learning activities come in all forms and subjects. It can supplement a homeschool curriculum, mix up the afternoon or weekend for a traditional brick-and-mortar student, or it can be a part of your accredited curriculum at a virtual school like Connections Academy.
When it comes to studying the sciences from home, you have so many science activities for kids to choose from. You can:
- Study chemistry using common household supplies to make a lemon fruit battery or a lava lamp
- Venture into STEM learning and design a 3D robot
- Tackle physics by building your own Rube Goldberg Machine
- And learn astronomy by stargazing at a park or your backyard on a clear night, triggering questions about constellations
What is Astronomy?
Astronomy is the study of celestial objects and phenomena, including the stars, planets, and moons. It can be a great subject to explore with your elementary or middle school-age child to pique his or her interest in science.
Astronomy for Kids
If your child loves asking thousands of questions, promote that curiosity. Let them ask questions about stars—but then let them find the answers. Answering their questions about constellations might begin an early hobby or interest in astronomy. Which would include eventually an interest in science and math.
According to NASA’s website, “Think of the universe as a puzzle that has to be pieced together. Every new discovery made is fitted to another piece of the puzzle.”
Below we’ve provided common questions about constellations, and astronomy learning activities.
4 Science Activities to Spark an Interest in Astronomy
Science Activity #1: 7 Constellation Questions and Answers
Get the discussion started with these seven questions about stars in our Milky Way galaxy. We've provided the answers! Download a copy of these constellation questions and answers for your next stargazing outing.
1. What is a star?
Stars are formed from clusters of gas (mostly hydrogen and helium) and dust, which give off heat and light from the churning nuclear forges inside their cores.
2. Why are some stars different colors?
The different colors of stars indicate how much heat a star gives off.
- Red stars are the coolest of the stars.
- Yellow stars, like our sun, are medium-heat stars.
- White and blue stars are the hottest.
3. How large is our sun?
The diameter of the sun is about 864,938 miles. You could line up 109 earths—each with a diameter of 7,917.5 miles—across the face of the sun. That’s huge! But the sun is just a medium-sized star among the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Every star you see in the night sky is bigger and brighter than our sun.
Our sun is referred to as a "dwarf star," which, in comparison to "giants" and "supergiants," is a very small star. Supergiants may be a thousand times larger than our own sun. The sun appears larger than the rest of the stars only because it is so close to our planet.
4. How many stars can we see?
On a clear night, and with very good eyesight, a person may only be able to see 2,000 to 2,500 stars at one time, even though it may look like more. Astronomers estimate that in our Milky Way galaxy alone, there are about 300 billion stars.
5. What is a constellation?
Constellations are groups of stars that you can connect like a dot-to-dot puzzle. By connecting these specific imaginary lines, you can see outlines that represent animals, people or objects. Some fun constellations to find are:
- Aquila, “the eagle,” from Greek mythology. It is the keeper of Zeus’ lightning bolts and has the ability to make rain. Aquila can be seen through the glowing band of the Milky Way.
- Gemini, which refers to the fraternal twins Pollux and Castor in ancient Greek mythology. The constellation is located in the Geminid meteor shows, which peaks in mid-December.
- Pisces, translated as “the fishes.” Another ancient Greek constellation, it comes from the story of Aphrodite and her son, Eros. This is the 14th largest constellation today.
- Scorpius, “the scorpion,” was sent to battle Orion, a hunter in ancient Greek mythology. Scorpius can be seen in the southern summer sky.
6. Who made up the constellations?
Of the 88 constellations recognized today, most originated with the ancient Greeks, although the true “inventors” of constellations are not known. Archaeological studies have found cave paintings in France that might depict astronomical symbols. Some scientists believe the Sumerians (c. 4500–c. 1900 BC) and Babylonians (1895 BC–539 BC) were the originators and passed along their knowledge of constellations to the ancient Greeks (700-480 BC).
7. What are constellations used for?
Constellations have served many different purposes throughout the years. Because they appear in the sky at specific locations during different times of the year, constellations have been used to:
- Remind farmers to plant and harvest crops.
- Help travelers navigate through deserts and across oceans.
- Used to represent heroes and mythical creatures that have been the subjects of folk tales down through the generations.
There is also a constellation for each sign of the zodiac, which tracks the Earth's orbit around the sun as it is experienced in the Northern Hemisphere. The 12 constellations of the zodiac lie along the path of the orbit, which is known as the ecliptic.
As you know, it takes the earth a year to circle the sun, and each zodiac sign or constellation of the zodiac corresponds to a monthlong portion of the calendar year. Ophiuchus, the 13th constellation on the ecliptic, is not part of the zodiac because when the signs were first described, the stars were not in the same position as they are today!
Science Activity #2: Build Your Own Constellation Projector
Too cold to go outside? You can still keep the astronomy fun going. Turn your child’s bedroom into a planetarium for stargazing in the winter or rainy month with this astronomy activity. We’ve provided the constellation templates. All the additional supplies you’ll need are common, household items.
Science Activity #3: Plan a Stargazing Experience
Plan your next stargazing experience with your child with NASA’s Night Sky Planner, a fun resource that lets you know when certain stars and planets will be visible in your geographical location on any given day. Learning astronomy firsthand doesn’t mean you need to be an expert. Bring our 7 Questions on Constellations with you!
Science Activity #4: Take a Virtual Field Trip to the Moon
Why should stars get all the fun? Check out our resources for virtually exploring the moon. When you come back down to earth, this resource will show you how to track the moon with supplies from your kitchen as a bonus astronomy activity.
How Virtual School Can Help
An interest in astronomy (or any STEM field) will likely prepare your child for the known (and unknown) jobs of the future. In this age of school choice, is your child’s school properly set up to allow your child to fully explore all of their passions and career options?
Our alumni include Olympians, business owners, ballerinas, teachers, and more. Whatever their reasons for attending a virtual school, our flexible school schedules and personalized approach was exactly what they needed. Perhaps it might be a bit for you and your family. Learn more today!