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A sheet of stars

Work together to make a glow-in-the-dark map of the stars, and discover what stars can be seen all over the world.
Plan a session with this activity

You will need

  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Compass
  • Access to the internet
  • Pens or pencils
  • Craft materials, including paintbrushes, scissors, black paper/card and glow-in-the-dark paints
  • Painting trays
  • Re-purposed materials, including old toothbrushes, black bed sheets/pillowcases and newspaper
  • A red bicycle light or head-torch light
  • A map of the local area

Before you begin

The sky at night changes throughout the year as the world rotates and orbits around the sun. Depending on where we live in the world different stars can be seen. This activity allows everyone to discover star maps, different constellations and how the patterns of the stars change by creating their own star maps. 

  • Make sure you have enough black bed sheets, pillowcases and glow-in-the-dark paint to share between small groups. Each group needs two ‘sheets.’
  • Have a look at Astronomy Now or Sky Map Online for some star maps. Each group needs two different star maps, from different locations at different times, so that it’s clear what factors affect the stars we can see. Print off the chosen maps, making a note of the times and locations they were taken from.
  • Before the session, encourage everyone to come to the meeting in old clothes that they don’t mind getting some paint on.
  • Set up the meeting place. Set out tables and chairs and put out two star maps and two sheets, as well as paints, brushes and trays. Put newspaper on the table to protect them whilst painting.
  • Split everyone into small groups and get them to wait at a table

Maps at the ready

  1. Before getting started on the maps, talk with everyone about the differences between star maps and a map of the local area.
  1. Everyone should take turns to try and read one of their star maps using a compass, while the discussion of maps is going on. Orientate the star maps and mark north with a pencil. While one group uses the compass, another should look at their star map with a red light, which helps you see in the dark. If possible, they could try this in a darkened room.
  2. Now, each group should use paint brushes to paint a large circle on each of their sheets. This needs to be big enough to fit all the stars on their maps in.
  1. Have everyone begin painting the stars from each of their maps onto a circle. Groups should divide up the work evenly.
  1. When everyone’s finished painting their maps, the sheets should be left to dry.
  1. As the paint dries, have each group prepare to present their maps to everyone. They should be able to say when each map was from, where the stars could be seen from and which familiar stars and constellations are visible.

Lights out

  1. When all the paint has dried, move aside the tables and chairs, so that there’s floor space. Lay out the sheets on the floor and turn off any lights.
  2. Everyone should look at the maps in the dark. The paint should make the stars and constellations visible.
  3. Have groups take turns to point out the time, location and features of their maps. Allow some time for questions after if anyone has any and then move onto the next group.

Reflection

The sky at night changes all the time as the world rotates and orbits the sun. Depending on where we live in the world different stars can be seen. This activity allowed everyone to look at star maps, find different constellations and see how the patterns of the stars change by creating their own star maps. With all this in mind, ask the group this. Why might an astronomer in Australia see a different set of stars to an astronomer in the UK? Remember, Australia is in a different hemisphere and time-zone.

People used to use the stars to navigate. Stars like the North Star and constellations like the Southern Cross were important beacons that helped people find their way home. Why might it still be useful to know about these stars and constellations? Bear in mind that you don’t always have a map and compass with you, but the stars are always there in the night sky.

Safety

Outdoor activities

You must have permission to use the location. Always check the weather forecast and inform parents and carers of any change in venue.

Scissors

Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using scissors. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people

Rubbish and recycling

All items should be clean and suitable for this activity.

Dark

Provide some light, so the environment isn’t completely dark. Everyone must be able to see others and move around the area safely.

All activities must be safely managed. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.