How Can We Use the Sky to Navigate?

How Can We Use the Sky to Navigate?

This module is currently being field tested and is not yet available for purchase.

How Can We Use the Sky to Navigate? is part of Smithsonian Science for the Classroom, a curriculum series by the Smithsonian Science Education Center. It is designed to address a bundle of grade 5 earth and space science and engineering standards. In this module, students:

  • Use data to evaluate claims about the cause of a ball dropped in Antarctica falling to the ground.
  • Use evidence from a model and observations of the sky to support a claim that Earth rotates on an axis to cause day and night.
  • Design a tool that uses the Sun’s daily shadow pattern to measure time.
  • Analyze the time it takes light to travel from the Sun and other stars to both the Earth and Pluto in order to make sense of an image showing the sky from Pluto.
  • Represent the amount of time a constellation is visible throughout the year in both a table and a graph in order to reveal patterns.
  • Use the daily patterns of the Sun and daily and annual patterns of other stars to support an argument that ancient Polynesians could have used objects in the sky to navigate.

Below are digital resources that support teaching of this module.

Lesson 1: Gravity around the World

Family Letter
Download the Family Letter PDF
Before starting How Can We Use the Sky to Navigate?, share the Family Letter with students’ caregivers. Indicate how they should submit responses to the letter.

Ball Drop around the World
Download video from Antarctica (0:07)
Download video from Arizona (0:02)
Download video from Australia (0:13)
Download video from England (0:09)
Download video from New Zealand (0:18)
Download video from Singapore (0:10)
Download video from Tanzania (0:35)
Download video from Tokyo (0:12)
These videos show people dropping balls from different locations around the world.

Lesson 2: Set Sail

Download the Horizon PDF
This image shows the horizon.

Cargo Ship at the Horizon (1:42 minutes)
Download the Cargo Ship at the Horizon video
This video shows a cargo ship so far away that only part of the ship is visible.

Lesson 3: Shadows around the World

Download the Shadows PDF
This file has questions about shadows.

Testing Shadows Model
Download the Shadows Model PDF
This file gives students guidance about how to develop and test models.

Lesson 4: Sunset

Sunset (0:20 minutes)
Download the Sunset video
This time-lapsed video shows the Sun setting.

Earth-Sun Model
Download the Earth-Sun Model PDF
This file has directions to develop the Earth-Sun model.

Lesson 5: Pictures in the Sky

Sky Viewing software
This website is the web version of Stellarium, which is a planetarium for your computer.  It shows a realistic sky.

Sky Viewing Explainer (4:55 minutes)
Download the Sky Viewing Explainer
This video shows how to use the Stellarium web version.

Downloadable Sky Viewing Software
Stellarium Astronomy Software
This website provides files to download Stellarium onto different operating systems.

Standard and Military Time
Download the Standard and Millitary Time PDF
This file shows the relationship between standard and military time.

Sunlight on the National Mall
This simulation shows 360-degree photos taken on the National Mall at five different times of one day in the winter, spring, summer, and fall. Sunlight on the National Mall is available as a website for use on computers. Download the application for use on tablets or mobile devices.

Lesson 6: Telling Time with the Sun

Coming Home on Time
Download Coming Home on Time PDF
This file describes the situation of being able to play outside with friends if you come home on time.

Lesson 8: Distances Can Be Deceiving

Sky Image
Download the Sky Image PDF
This image shows a realistic model of the sky.

Lesson 9: What’s Your Perspective?

Distances Based on Light Travel Time
Download the Distances Based on Light Travel Time PDF
This file has information about the time it takes light to travel between Earth and Pluto from the Sun and the next closest star. 

Lesson 11: Missing Constellations

Constellation Locations
Download Constellation Locations PDF
This file shows the location of eight constellations relative to Earth’s Solar system.

Lesson 13: Sky Navigation – Part 1

Brightness of Objects in the Sky
Download the Brightness of Objects in the Sky PDF
This file shows the brightness of objects in the sky and their distance from Earth.

Lesson 14: Sky Navigation – Part 2

Download the Compass PDF
This file shows how to name directions between north, east, south, and west.

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