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Find That Planet!

Using Internet resources, students learn about celestial coordinates, and how to use an emphemeris to locate planets on a horizon sky map. The sky maps are then used for outdoor observing. A more advanced application has students draw maps in celestial coordinates.

Key Questions
1. How do astronomers locate objects in the sky?

2. What kind of system do they use for recording their locations?

3. What is an ephemeris?

Learning Objectives
1. Students will know how to use star maps for finding a planet.

2. Students will be able to plot a planet path on star maps with coordinate grids.

3. Students will be able to find out when a planet is visible.

General Subject Areas
Astronomy, Planets, Comets

Author: Alan Gould


Student Activities
Students learn about the celestial coordinate system astronomers use. Using instructions, they generate a position, or ephemeris, for a planet at a certain time on a certain night. Then they plot that position on an appropriate sky map, choosing from a set provided. The final step is to go out and find the planet in the sky using the sky map.

Student Prerequisites
Ability to read maps; understanding of the latitude and longitude.

Sky Party: If possible, take students out at night and see if they can find the planets using their maps. As an alternative, assign as homework. Portfolio: students maps with planets positions/motion plotted.

Extended Learning

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Time Requirements
Approximately 1 hour preparation time and 2 hours class time, plus evening observing time.

Materials Required
-Internet-connected computers with browsers.
-Star Maps with coordinate grids (mid-northern latitudes).

Required Plugins

Additional Resources
Teaching Strategies
Vocab, Homework, etc

Best For Grades
middle school

National Science Education Standards (NSES)
grades 5-8
grades 9-12

State Science Standards
Grade 8 Physical Science
Grades 9-12 Earth Sciences

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