Astronomical Scale of Stellar Distances Using 3-D Modelsby: Chuck Fidler and Sharon Dotger

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One of the largest challenges of teaching astronomy is bringing the infinite scale of the universe into the four walls of a classroom. However, concepts of astronomy are often the most interesting to students. This article focuses on an alternative method for learning about stars by exploring visible characteristics of the constellation Orion and applying these observations to an inquiry-based modeling project.

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Reviews (4)
  • on Fri Feb 01, 2013 10:46 AM

This article presents a lesson to student the relative distances of stars in the constellation Orion that takes approximately 80 minutes if students are able to understand conversions and basic geometry. The activity starts with a preassessment, an optical illusion, understanding of the use of scales, and the building of a 3-D model. All aspects of the activity are presented including an assessment piece. All of this leads to a better understanding of astronomical scale of stellar distances.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

  • on Wed Jun 15, 2011 3:56 PM

One of the challenges that teachers face when teaching astronomy is how to get students to conceptualize the size and scope of space. When looking up at the night sky, a student sees a two dimensional plane, where depth does not exist. That is why I enjoyed the article from Dotger and Fidler, who try to give their students a better understanding of space; by having them build a three dimensional model of the constellation Orion. This activity challenges some students’ misconceptions of astronomy, such as the distances of stars and their respective sizes. For instance, when looking up at the night sky, the stars on Orion’s belt look like next-door neighbors. In reality, however, those stars are light years apart. What the students learn form this activity is that star brightness does not determine the proximity of the star nor its size. They also get a firm grasp as to just how far apart stars are from each other. In another activity students compare the size of our sun to Betelgeuse. This was a great way to help students conceptualize the magnitudes of some of the stars in our universe. This particular activity might be perfect for an introduction to astronomy, because it presents many more questions that students might wonder about, such as: What makes stars brighter? Why are some stars red, white, blue or yellow? These are just a few of a countless number of opportunities for further discussions that this article provides.

Michael Reigner
Michael Reigner

  • on Tue Nov 09, 2010 7:05 PM

It is hard enough to grasp the astronomical distances between stars that are of similar distances from Earth. Many students have even greater difficulty understanding the depth of their night sky when they are taught about constellations using 2-dimensional models. Sometimes the models used in a science classroom create new student misconceptions. This article helps students understand that the vast distances between stars extend out in three dimensions. The authors begin with the Moon's apparent varying diameters when comparing two different photos. This launches a discussion as to why objects in the sky might look the way they do. Using the familiar constellation, Orion the Hunter, students are provided instructions in how to create a 3-D model. By manipulating their models they can easily see why constellations appear lacking in depth when students look out at the night sky. This is a an excellent integration of math skills to create a science scale model. However, teache

Carolyn Mohr  (Buffalo Grove, IL)
Carolyn Mohr (Buffalo Grove, IL)

  • on Tue Dec 27, 2011 1:02 AM

A troubling part of teaching astronomy for me is the lack of hands on activities that we have in that unit. This is a good starting point to have students create a map of a constellation, but also show the distances from the Earth. A difficulty point is that it requires the students to cut the skewers sticks at certain measurements. I find some difficulty in having that with the scissors that we have in the classroom. Also each group needs posterboard and that can be quite expensive unless you find it at a discount store.

Julianne Cotta  (Los Angeles, CA)
Julianne Cotta (Los Angeles, CA)

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