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"Exploring the Cosmos: A Guide to Using Stellarium-Web Online Star Map"

This year, we added Astronomy back into the program of studies. The last time I taught astronomy was during the "COVID years" and all of my students were remote! Now that it is back into the rotation of courses, I have been rapidly updating ALL my cobbled-together lessons and reworking them for in-person versus online learning. I have used the program Stellarium, throughout the years, but now that I am teaching astronomy in person again, I am using it much more purposefully.

Each day, I start class with an Astronomy Picture of the Day. I don't always use the current photo posted. I often go through the archive to find photos that relate to the concept we are learning in class. Once students have a chance to view the photo and comment on "What do you notice?" "What do you wonder?", "What does it remind you of?", we discuss the image and search for its location using Stellarium. As the semester progresses students become much more adept at recognizing the differences and identifying patterns and they are exposed to so many of the wonderous sites in the universe that we will never be able to learn about in a semester-long introduction to astronomy course. I have begun to add a short Stellarium activity to all my astronomy activities. I recently revamped my "Precession and the North Star" student activity to have students collect the right ascension and declination coordinates from Stellarium instead of just handing them a table to plot.

Stellarium is a fantastic tool to add to lessons on events of the past. The browser version is limited to common-era (CE) events. I use prompts such as "An interesting event occurred in August 2017, adjust the time and date to see if you can identify the event." and when students navigate the program, they can watch the moon eclipse the Sun, identify the point of totality, the length of the eclipse, and by toggling on and off the atmosphere, can see a brief dimming of the image. Some other great events to search in Stellarium include:

  • past lunar and solar eclipses;

  • conjunctions of planets (12/21/20, 7/16/1623, Medieval Islamic astronomers, Al Battani, Al-Khazini, and Al-Fahhad, predicted the Conjunction of planets, navigate back in time to November 1166, and see who was the closest prediction to the actual eclipse. (see Dr. Vassilios Spathopoulos's activity here)

  • student's birthdate to find the zodiac constellation the sun was without on their birthday [leads to discussions of the validity of astrology and your "sign"];

  • Search for Polaris and change the date to watch how Polaris moves into the position as the north star and another moves in to take its place;

  • Supernovas (7/3/1054, 5/1/1006,etc)

  • Helical rising of Sirius;

  • Transits of Venus and Mercury

Here is a short tutorial on this fantastic open-source astronomy software I have used for labs, Stellarium.

Take a look through my astronomy lessons that use Stellarium below!


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