Astronomy Science Projects for Middle School Students

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One fun way to get kids interested in astronomy is to show them the sun. The sun being the most easily accessible object in the sky during the day. During the solar maximum one can view dozens of sunspots.

Now it is important to stress that one should never look directly at the sun as its intensity will damage your eyes. A safe way to view it is to project it onto a wall. This can be done very easily and cheaply by using a mirror. All you need is a table or some other support structure, some tape to secure the mirror and a two or three inch mirror. Go outside and place the desk about thirty yards away from a shaded wall. using a book or some other prop position the small mirror so that it reflects an image of the sun onto the wall.

You only need to use a mirror that is about two inches in diameter though the larger shaving mirrors will do it as well.The larger the mirror the bigger the image, but also the further back from the wall you need to position it. A two inch mirror will project an image about the size of your hand. this image is big enough to show planetary transits and eclipses of the sun. If your sun image isn't sharp enough either take it farther from the wall or use some cardboard and tape to mask the mirror down. thou the first method is best.

Even thou a round mirror is preferred it will work with a square mirror also. And this is fascinating because the kids will wonder how you got a round reflection off a square mirror. which proves that it must be an image of the sun and not of the mirror. If there are clouds around and they pass in-front of the sun you can see them also.

The advantage with this setup is that everyone can see the sun at the same time without damaging their eyes. you should be able to see sun spots.

A few exercises that can be done with is is to take a piece of paper and trace an outline of the sun and draw any sun spots that can be seen. Come back the next day and see how they have changed.

permanently set the projector up on a post and track the path of the sun from day to day.

mark the position of the sun at the same time everyday for one year. (you will trace the analemma)

Use this to explain the obit of the earth and the tilt of the earth and the seasons.

There are some good websites that discus the sun. the NASA SOHO website is good. and there is an excellent project on there STEREO website. there is also some very good free open sauce astronomy software available on the net. If you are running Linux, check out Kstars. (available at this program is a fully fledged planetarium program designed for educational use. it has links to all major astronomy websites. So you can use it as a database. As a class project the students could be assigned a different astronomical object to research and then all their articles could be stored as links in the class copy of Kstars thus building up your own class astronomy database.

If you are running windows try Stelerium. A photo realistic rendering of the night sky.

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