What’s That in the Sky?

NASA-The-Andromeda-GalaxyAir pollution, light pollution, and frequent cloudy weather make many urban areas, including New York City not very supportive places to live for a budding astronomer. However, even in New York the mysteries of space, and the science of astronomy never fail to capture the imaginations of some in each generation. In fact, Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, grew up in the Bronx. So, in the hope of encouraging one of our students to be prepared to step in when Dr. Tyson is ready to retire, here are a few of resources that will support her or his space fever:


  • Astronomy for Kids – a “free astronomy resource designed to teach children about the exciting world of
    outer space.”
  • Stellarium – a free downloadable planetarium for your home computer. “It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.”
  • NASA Education – NASA commits loads of resources to educating the public about space exploration. Of special interest at this site are the links, For EducatorsFor Students, and NASA Kid’s Club.

Devonian?!! You Don’t Look a Day Over Jurassic!

Time, both geologic and instantaneous, and distances, both vast and sub-atomic, are difficult to comprehend for most of us and even more difficult for teachers to help their students understand.

Visualizing Geologic Time

Multiple ways of thinking about these concepts may help to surround these difficult issues of time and space with meaning, and provide reference points that enable more of us to make sense of them.

In 1968 Ray and Charles Eames produced a groundbreaking short film, Powers of Ten, narrated by Philip Morison, that presented the distances between structures in the universe in a way that most of us can appreciate. The film also offered insights into the ideas of orders of magnitude and logarithmic scale. Since that time, many have added to the multimedia library of scale (large and small) and have helped many of us to grasp ideas too far outside of our own experience to fully comprehend.  Here are some more resources for us to use in our capacities as teachers and as learners:

Scale of the Universe – a beautiful, interactive visualization of scale in the universe from the very smallest to the very largest. Click here for alternate version.

The Eames’s Powers of Ten video – The classic video based on the 1957 book takes us from a park in Chicago to the outer reaches of the universe and back again.

An interactive version of Powers of Ten lets the user step through the frames of the video manually.

The Universe Solved – a 67-step, user-controlled version of Powers of Ten

Cosmic Zoom – another user-controlled look at size and scale

Exploring Earth – An animated trip from the Sun to Pluto at 300+ times the speed of light

Cosmic Zoom video by Eva Szasz – an 8:00 animated trip “from the farthest conceivable point of the universe to the tiniest particle of existence…”  Math-free and word-free–from the National Film Board of Canada