Exploring Astronomy with Online Planetariums

Exploring Astronomy with Online Planetariums

Spark curiosity about the universe through online planetarium experiences! We will introduce online planetariums, then offer a few tips on teaching astronomy effectively.

Why Teach Astronomy?

Astronomy was included in classical education for eons. The stars and planets shaped everything from how we measure time to the mythology of many cultures. Even now, astronomy remains tied to mathematical and technological advances that keep the study of the discipline as far-reaching as the galaxies into which it peers.

Another consideration is that unlike many other scientific disciplines, astronomy can easily be enjoyed by amateurs as a hobby. Even if your students don’t find a career in astronomy, they may well develop a love for stargazing from your class.

Online Planetariums

Online planetariums do a lot more than address the time-based challenges of teaching astronomy to students who need to be in bed by 8p.m. They offer a great deal of flexibility in viewing the stars from different places in the world and at different times of the year. Online planetariums also contain a great deal of additional information to explore and overlay on top of the basic star charts.

Web-Based Online Planetariums



The Sky Live

Google Sky

Sky Map

Online Planetarium Videos

Virtual Planetarium: Sun Moon Stars

Constellations: Connect the Dots in the Sky!

Planetarium Online: The Galaxy Show

Navigating Virtual Stargazing

Click around! Interactive maps are notorious for having more data available when you zoom in and/or click on different parts of the image.

When navigating online planetariums, it’s best not to explore too many features all at once. Try overlaying only one or two sets of data or measurement tools at a time.

If anyone wanders too far off course when navigating their virtual planetarium, don’t forget you always have the option of refreshing the page (or restarting the app) to reset things.

Bonus Tip! Technology for Physical Stargazing

Have a chance to offer your students some tips on physical stargazing, or booking some time for celestial study yourself? Check out why you should use red light flashlights for astronomy when you’re out taking notes under the stars.

Exploring Astronomy with Online Planetariums

Tips for Teaching Astronomy

Preparing to Teach

Astronomy isn’t often taught. A a result, it isn’t usually safe to assume students have much prior knowledge. However, don’t be fooled into thinking a lack of education means a lack of intelligence. Be sure to start with the basics, but don’t underestimate how far your students can go!

Since astronomy education is frequently overlooked, make sure your own knowledge on the subject is up to snuff. Do a little research to ensure that the curriculum you select or individual astronomy lessons you deliver are scientifically accurate.

If you are at the high school that wants to include an astronomy class, an in-service training on the topic for the science teachers and instructional aids would be advisable. Conversely, many higher education institutions have astronomy classes taught by professors who know a lot about astronomy, but very little about pedagogy. See if you can set up a reciprocal relationship with a nearby college to improve each other’s astronomy education!

Teaching Methods

Inquiry-based learning is activity-based and hands-on method of teaching. As with many other sciences, this approach proves far more effective in teaching astronomy than depending solely on the more classical lecture and textbooks.

Do not expect students to understand the vast difference in scale unless you first provide them with a contextual framework that helps them understand the vastness of the universe.

Finally, there are many misconceptions in astronomy, even among adults. When addressing these with your students, try to pose questions that will help them recognize internal inconsistencies in their thinking on their own. This is often much more effective than simply telling students that they are wrong. For example, many believe the moon’s surface to be very reflective (really, it’s just appears to be so in contrast with the blackness of space). Try asking students whether light or dark colors are more reflective, and then ask them to identify the color of the moon. Once they realize these facts are at odds, they become receptive to learning new things.

Lesson Ideas

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA) celebrated the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s development and first use of the astronomical telescope. Astronomical “trading cards” with images of astronomical objects, and instructions on how to get one’s name launched into space were an IYA project of the Canadian Space Agency. Replicating this endeavor would make a fabulous class project!

Einstein’s theory of relativity, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and black holes are important parts of modern astronomy, yet most teachers dismiss this content as “too hard” for their students. Many students have heard of these concepts, and are curious about what they mean. If you present them at an appropriate level and focus on key ideas that are relevant to astronomical topics, there’s no reason why you should skip them entirely. You’ll probably find your students will be fascinated despite the challenging nature of the concepts, and willing to work hard to understand them as a result. Use simple language, and steer clear of undefined acronyms. Include diagrams that are simple, readable, and appropriately captioned. Keep your delivery clear and engaging.

More Resources

Other materials for astronomy education include the on-line journal Astronomy Education Review, the AAVSO’s Education and Outreach Committee, and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. You can also check out these 9 Free Space Virtual Field Trips You Need To Take for even more ways to explore the skies.

My Astronomy Resources

Solar System Virtual Classroom

CODING IN SCIENCE – Planets and Space

Moon Phases Presentation Projects

More Technology in Science Education

NASA Kids’ Club

NASA Kids’ Club is an excellent platform for young learners to explore the wonders of space, learn about the latest space missions and research, and engage in interactive games and activities. It’s the perfect site for inspiring a love of science in young learners.

Animate Scientific Concepts Digitally

Try ABCYa’s Animate to Integrate Science and Technology by illustrating scientific ideas, such as moon phases or identifying constellations.

Online Science Games

10 Science Online Game Collections Kids Can Play in Their Free Time offer websites that all include games for multiple science topics. Games are a great way to engage students as well as reinforce basic concepts.


Online planetariums are a great way to complete celestial explorations with your students. With all these digital tools under your belt, your astronomy lessons are sure to sparkle.

Exploring Astronomy with Online Planetariums

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