Friday, February 11, 2011

Big Dipper Science Project

For her grade five science project, my daughter decided to take a look at the Big Dipper from a different angle.  I had been discussing with my kids how constellations only look like they do for us because of where the various stars are in relation to Earth.  To help them understand, I had put three beads on threads and hung them from the kitchen ceiling.  I arranged them so that from one angle you saw them in a straight line, and from another angle they formed an equilateral triangle.

That little teaching moment blossomed into this science project.  We discovered that the seven stars in the Big Dipper range from 78 to 124 light years distant from Earth.  Through trial and error, we scaled that down to 0.8 cm per light year, and came up with this model.  Shown here are the 'front' view, from Earth, and the view from the 'right side.' If you were plotting a course on the USS Enterprise, that would be bearing 45, mark 0, at warp factor nine for about 34 days - a distance of around 140 light years (we didn't put the Star Trek trivia in the project though).

This was a fun and educational project, both for me and for my daughter.


  1. GREAT PROJECT! I like this a lot!

  2. Great work! Perfect idea to get kids thinking about what the stars really are. Instantly made me think of this scene from Cosmos:

  3. Thanks Brad - I'll have to show that to my daughter.


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