Friday, March 21, 2014

Carina Nebula Texture -Candy Activity

Have you ever wanted to make a nebula out of candy? Here's how:

Purpose: This activity illustrates that The Carina Nebula is a three-dimensional object in space. Since students are using materials that are familiar to them to make the nebula, they will be more likely to remember what each item represents. The activity is multi-sensory, so students will also be more engaged.


Tactile version of the Carina Nebula
Text – A Guided Tour of the Carina Nebula –(large print version, Braille version, online audio as needed)
Large black construction paper
Zip-Lok bags

Candy Needed

Cotton Candy – Main Nebula Materials
Pixie Sticks sprinkled – Bright Gasses
Mike & Ikes – Stars
2 Peach Rings (twisted together to form figure-eight) – Eta Carinae
Gummy worms – dust pillars
Malted Milk Balls – partial bubbles—when bitten in half--& complete bubbles—when left whole
twizzlers – Jets from starbirth
dots/gummy poppers – bright globules
raisenettes – dark globules
hot chocolate sprinkled – dusty areas


1.   Familiarize participants with Tactile version of the Carina Nebula and the Legend (2-5 min)
2.   Read through A Guided Tour of the Carina Nebula as participants follow along, feeling the symbols that represent various parts of the nebula (20-30 min)
3.   Walk participants through making their own nebula using candies to represent elements [Use construction paper as place-mat] (10-20 min)
4.   Ask participants to explain the elements of their nebula (10-20 min)
5.   Pour nebulae into Zip-Lok bags for participants to take home.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Solar System in Your Pocket

Purpose: To demonstrate the distances between the planets in our solar system.

For each model:
• 1 meter length of cash register tape
• 10 round stickers: five large and five small (Use textured stickers if you are doing this activity for people who are blind or visually impaired.)
• pencil or marker (If possible, make Braille labels with sticky tape, using short-hand for names of planets.)

Procedure: First, guess where you think the planets are in relation to each other on the tape, marking the spaces with pencil. Then, flip the tape over and follow the steps below.

1. Place a sticker on each end of the tape, one large and one small, right at the edge. Label the large one Sun and the small one Pluto.
2. Fold the tape in half, crease it, unfold and lay flat. Place a large sticker at the half-way
point. Label the sticker Uranus.
3. Fold the tape back in half, then in half again. Unfold and lay flat. Place large stickers at the quarter mark and 3/4 marks and
label as Saturn (closer to the Sun) and Neptune (closer to Pluto).
4. Fold back into quarters, then in half one more time. This will give you eighths. Unfold
and lay flat again. Place a large sticker for Jupiter at the 1/8 mark (between the Sun and
Saturn), and label.
5. There is no need to fold the whole thing up again, because the 4 gas giants and Pluto are all on the tape already. For the remaining terrestrial planets, you’ll only need 1/2 of the first 1/8th! That’s the inner 1/16th of your meter. Fold the Sun out to meet Jupiter to mark the 1/16th spot. A planet does not go here, but the Asteroid Belt does.
6. Fold the remaining 1/16th in half and crease at the 1/32nd spot. Place a small
sticker for the Earth just inside this fold (between the Sun and Asteroid Belt) and a small
sticker for Mars just outside the fold (closer to the Asteroid Belt) and label them.
7. Place small stickers for Mercury and Venus, between the Earth and Sun, dividing the space into 1/3rds and label them as Mercury closest to the Sun and Venus
closest to the Earth.

Here are some thoughts from an Astronomy Club leader about the effects of this project:

"After last week and the demonstration of a pocket solar system, I had my astronomy club members make one. Their placement of the planets was,for a couple of the younger students, way off from the correct location. None of them had all planets located correctly, though they were in the right order. The folding and placement of the planets went well, and the discussion of the large spaces between planets was questioned( my students do that a lot). So, they then researched distances to the planets and decided that maybe the tape placement was correct. They used their chromebooks-an awesome way to get kids to research in the classroom(gives them confidence to investigate on their own). They did division problems using the distance to each planet divided by distance to Earth(their decision) to see if it was 'twice' as far, or how many times as far-so spaced like the tape. I listened and learned as they decided themselves that the tape was pretty accurate. They were surprised that the first four planets were as close as the tape and divisions showed.--cool!"
--Kathleen Roper
Hoyleton Astronomy Club
Hoyleton Public School Dist 29
Hoyleton IL, 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Family Nights at Yerkes Observatory are a Great way to Learn About Astronomy, say Participants

     Each month, the staff and scientists at Yerkes Observatory host a night of activities based on a theme, geared toward students in grades three through eight and their families. Past themes have ranged from Arduino’s, to snap circuits, to comets.
     Some of the activities completed during the night about comets on January 16 included making a “Comet on a Stick,” which is a three-dimensional model of a comet using Play-Doh, tongue depressors and other materials, as well as demonstrating how the tails of a comet move in relation to the Sun by using a hair dryer to represent the Sun. One of the participants moved the Play-Doh model of the comet around the hair dryer, and the parts of the “comet” representing the tails moved in correspondence with the way the hair dryer was blowing. Students also heard a lecture about comets, asteroids and their orbits given by Dr. Richard Kron, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. (Kron was the director of Yerkes Observatory from 1989-1991.)
     Participants say the themes and activities presented at the Yerkes Observatory Family Nights encourage them to study astronomy at home.
     “I think we liked the Snap Circuits the best,” said fourth-grader Connor Pecht.
     “I agree,” Connor’s father, Herb Pecht, said. ”We liked them so much we got a large set for Christmas.”
     Chuck and Sue Ruehle are both amateur astronomers who teach astronomy in Tanzania, as well as to their five grandchildren. “We learn new things,” Sue said. “[Family Nights give us] new things to take with us when we go teach. It’s a great resource.”
     Later in 2014, Yerkes Observatory will unveil the Skynet Junior Scholars program, which is a program enabling middle- and high-school students to request images from telescopes all over the world using an online telescope network called Skynet. Family Night coordinator Brittnay Strubel said parents seemed excited about the idea when they were told about it at the January 16th event.
     “They were all actually pretty excited to eventually do the program,” Strubel said. “Some of the parents did ask more about it, like, ‘What exactly is Skynet?’ and where the different telescopes are located. They all seemed really interested in it.”
     The next Family Night takes place March 11, and the topic will be SOFIA, which stands for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. This is a modified 747 jet, with a 100-inch telescope built into the back of it. One of the cameras on SOFIA was constructed at Yerkes Observatory.
Visit the Yerkes Observatory homepage at to sign up for Family Night programs.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lakeshore Library Star Party

Lakeshore Library System’s ‘Dream Big: READ’ Star Party
Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Approximately 200 members of the Lakeshore Library System participated in the Dream Big READ program and were rewarded by coming to Yerkes Observatory for a private star party! There were several different telescopes set up with knowledgeable people eager to explain what was up in the sky and answer any questions.  In addition to the many telescopes, activities were set up all over Yerkes for families to take part in.

It was a beautiful, clear night for stargazing!  Among the telescopes on the south lawn were a few Dobsonians, an i-Optron, a 12” Meade LX200, a Celestron, a Questar, ‘Sirius B’ which is Yerkes 8” telescope in the white dome, and several more. Some of the celestial objects observed that night were Saturn, the Moon, double stars and nebulae.


Family Sun Craft- Family members worked together to trace out their hands on construction paper and attach them to a paper plate to create a cute sun! They decorated it, looped on a string, and brought it with them to hang up at home.

Crater Demo- One of our high school students, Raki, demonstrated how craters form and disappear on planets.  He had kids use rocks to create craters in a sand pile.  Then he explained how a planet with an atmosphere has weather (rain, wind, etc.) to slowly wear down craters.  He demonstrated this with a watering can and a fan.

Story Reading- Kids of all ages gathered around Rhonda in the Yerkes library to hear her read exciting stories about space.

Skynet- We had several computers set up in the Morgan room for everyone to explore Skynet. Skynet is a network of telescopes that can be controlled remotely.  Families were able to ask a telescope in Chile to take a picture of the celestial object of their choice and send it directly to their email!

Tour- Richard Dreisser gave 3 of his very entertaining and informative tours of the history of the building and the famous 40” telescope.

24” Tour- Teenagers ages 12 and up and their parent were able to go up the spiral staircase in the north tower and look through the 24” telescope.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

School Field Trip - 8th Grade

May 8th, 2012 - School Field Trip
Among the many things offered at Yerkes is the School Outreach Program. Schools are invited to bring their students to Yerkes to learn about astronomy through different line ups of exciting activities.
Recently a school group came to Yerkes and we did some exciting activities with them. The first thing the students did when they got here was set up cameras in the south lawn for star trails.
Star Trails: A time-lapse photograph showing the movement of the stars in the night sky.
Example of a Star Trail at Yerkes
Students were also given a grand tour of the observatory. During this tour they were taken to our 40 inch refracting telescope. At this telescope they took pictures and reviewed concepts about the night sky and the difference between refracting and reflecting telescopes.
Students visited the 40inch
Refracting Telescopes: Uses lenses to magnify an image. Often skews the colors of an image.
Reflecting Telescopes: Uses mirrors to magnify an image. Does not skew the colors of an image.

Student looking at 40 in
Student looking at 40 in

After looking at the 40inch telescope the students went to one of the smaller telescopes on our property. They used the 24 inch reflecting telescope to do some observing of their own.

With the 24 inch telescope the students each got a chance to operate the telescopes controls. Whether they moved the scope or raised the floor, each student had a chance to use the control paddle. Students observed with the telescope were Saturn, Mars and a Globular Cluster.
View of Saturn through a telescope
On the tour the students were shown the HAWC project. This is the big project happening at Yerkes right now. Yerkes is making a large Infra-red camera for the NASA Sofia airplane. 
HAWC Infra-Red Telescope
Students then went to the library and used the computer to request images though SkyNet. SkyNet is operated through the PROMPT telescope in Chile. With SkyNet you can request a picture taken at the observatory there!
Image of the Eagle Nebula taken by PROMPT
After all of this the students took some pictures with the Education Outreach Coordinator, Vivian Hoette and went home with some new astronomy experience under their belts.

Students and guide Vivian pose by the 40in
Students and guide Vivian pose in the Library

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SolarScope Instructions

WARNING! Do NOT look directly at the sun or put your head in the box. Look ONLY at the projected image.

1.) Point the scope (long, metal tube that goes through the outside of the box) at the sun. There is no shadow (of the tube) on the top of the box when this is pointed directly at the sun.
Position the Solarscope
2.) Adjust the box up or down until a small, white dot appears on the wood panel with the mirror (small, metal piece).
Small white dot is the image of the sun to be projected
3.) Continue to adjust the box to the left or right until the small white dot is on the mirror.
Small, bright white dot should be moved to the center of mirror
4.) Look for the sun to appear on the top white panel.
5.) Look for Sunspots.
Example of SunSpots with the SolarScope

Do NOT look directly at the sun or put your head in the box. Look only at the projected image.

**Sunspots: On the image Sunspots will appear as small, black splotches. These are areas of large magnetic storms on the surface of the sun.
Transit of Venus with the SolarScope

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Transit of Venus 2012

Who: Hundreds of people and amateur astronomers
Where: Yerkes Observatory and Big Foot Beach State Park
When: Tuesday, June 5th.  5:04pm Central Time

Visitors standing outside the 8" telescope, Sirius B.

What is a transit?
Venus is on an orbit that lies in between the Sun and the Earth. Since the plane of Earth’s orbit is tilted about 7 degrees and Venus’s orbital plane is tilted about 3 degrees, Venus rarely passes in front of the Sun as seen from Earth.  Transits of Venus occur in pairs 8 years apart with a gap of 120 or 105 years until the next pair! In our lifetime, we were only able to see the 2004 and 2012 transits.

How did we see it?

There were a lot of different instruments set up to view the transit including telescopes, solarscopes, binoculars, and a live feed from the observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii!

Looking at the transit through the solarscopes. 

Included in the large collection of telescopes set up were a few provided by amateur astronomers in the area.  All of them were equipped with solar filters because it is very dangerous to look directly at the sun, especially through a telescope.

Viewing the transit through a sun funnel.

Viewing the transit just above the treetops.

Family Activities:
We had several family activity tables where kids of all ages and their parents participated and learned some cool, new astronomy facts in the process. 

UV Bead Bracelets:
At one table, everyone learned about the Sun’s strong UV (ultraviolet) rays.  We tested how well different household items blocked UV light. To do that, we used beads that changed color when UV light hit them.  We tried to block the sunlight with sunglasses, clothing, and sunblock. After we figured out what works best, we fashioned the beads into a fun bracelet to take home!

Making UV Bead Bracelets!

Stained Glass Coloring:
At the coloring table, there was a really cool picture of Jeremiah Horrocks watching the Transit of Venus in 1639!  This historic event was remembered in a stained glass window that everyone was able to recreate by coloring his or her own picture.

Everyone was also able to learn how astronomers use parallax to figure out how far a celestial object, such as a star or galaxy, is from the Earth.  Parallax is the phenomenon where an object appears to move in the sky depending on when we look at it. Using some fancy math, astronomers can use the distance the object appeared to move to determine how far away it is! We learned how parallax works in our everyday life by trying a few simple tricks. For example, we held our thumb out in front of us, closed one eye at a time and watched as our thumb appeared to move!

Plasma Demonstration:
Francis Dellutri gave a presentation with several cool demos about what plasma is and where we can find it. Plasma, which makes up our Sun, is the “fourth state of matter” and occurs when very energetic gas causes electrons to break free of their nucleus.  She had hands-on activities to demonstrate the effect different elements have on the plasma gas.

Overall, we spent a wonderful afternoon with the people of our community viewing something amazing that we won’t have a chance to see again!