Find That Comet! Activity Profile:


Goals of
Find That Comet!

Objectives for
Find That Comet!

  1. Students will learn to use star maps for finding a comet.
  2. Advanced students will plot the comet's path on star maps with coordinate grids.
  3. Students be able to find out when the comet is visible.
  4. Students will be able to describe the difference between a comet and a meteor

Materials Required For This Activity:

  1. Computer(s) connected to Internet
  2. Constellation Posters-->(how to make them)
  3. Star Maps (download)--choose from 3 different levels of complexity.


  1. Decide if you can have students print out star maps during the activity, or if you should print them before hand and make photocopies for each student.
  2. You can recreate the night sky, at least the near-horizon part of it, with posters of the constellations that will be visible at each of the cardinal directions at the particular time that you would like students to practice finding the comet. This classroom "Horizon Planetarium" idea is from the GEMS guide Earth, Moon, and Stars from Lawrence Hall of Science

Classroom Strategies

Depending on grade level, you should select the easiest star maps (Horizon Maps); the intermediate star maps (Whole Sky Maps); or, for more advanced students, have them plot the comet on advanced star maps with coordinate grids.

For younger students, you can make a game:

Have each student make a paper cutout in the shape of a comet and have them tape it to the proper poster in the classroom--a sort of "Pin the Comet on the Horizon" game.

Older students should simply come to consensus on which poster is the one where the comet will be seen.

It is interesting to ask older students why they think the comet is visible at the times when it is visible. This has to do with the orbit of the comet--the tail is brightens when it approaches close to the Sun, and at that time would be visible when two conditions are satisfied: the sky is fairly dark and the comet is above the horizon. You can have students discuss and try drawing diagrams of a comet orbit to explain why the comet is visible only at particular times and always near the horizon.

Comet Homepage | What's a Comet? | When Visible? | Horizon Map | Whole Sky Map | Making Map

(Last Update: 2/18/97)

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