Stand outside on a sunny day or in a room with only one light. If you are inside the light should be at eye level when you are standing up. This will be your Sun.
Stand up, make sure there is space around you – things might get messy if you start spinning like the earth and there are things to bump into.
Turn to the left and begin a slow leftward spin. This is the direction that the Earth rotates (as “seen” from above the north pole).
Your head is like the earth. Your eyes are like two different people on the surface of the earth. They are looking straight out from the earth toward the sun.
As you spin in your leftward rotation, wink your left eye shut. Observe how your left eye can see the light before your right eye. This is like the east and west coasts of the USA. The east coast is a few hours ahead. Observe how when you continue to spin and your eyes turn away from the light source it is like night.
Spin a few times more to feel yourself as the Earth model. 29-31 spins makes a month. 365 spins makes a year. Multiply your age in years by 400 and that’s about how many days you’ve been riding on the earth – give or take a few hundred.
One Day of Observation: the Sun rises and the Sun sets
Let’s start with a few easy observations about daytime. These are things you can notice just by waking up early one day before the Sun brightens the night.
The Sun starts the day for us on one side of the sky and ends the day on another side. At both of these times (sunrise and sunset), the Sun appears near to the ground – at the horizon.
During the middle of the day, the Sun appears to move “up” and across the sky and then back “down” again. In the middle of the day – at noon time – the Sun is high up in the sky, away from the ground.
Shadows change during the day
In the morning the Sun makes long shadows. At noon the Sun makes short shadows. At the end of the day, the Sun makes long shadows again.
With a few simple tools you can measure the Sun’s position and shadows.
The Sun moves east to west
Over the course of one day, the Sun appears to move across the sky from east to west, rising to the highest point at noon. The Sun’s light shines on the Earth and makes shadows that move and change position and size. As the Sun “moves” through the sky, the shadows move on the ground.
Build a simple sundial, track the Sun
A sundial tracks the shadow of the Sun with an object that casts a shadow and time markings. For the simple sundial you can use a stick. The shadow of the stick (the stick on a sundial is called a gnomon) moves across the sundial. The shadow of the stick points to the time markings.
The simplest sundial is just a stick stuck in the ground with time markers nearby. The location of the stick’s shadow moves across the time markers throughout the day.
Mark the shadow’s position with any object (chalk drawing, a rock or another stick is a good choice). In the morning, the Sun appears low in the east and the shadow is long. The morning shadow points toward the west. At midday (noon) the Sun is at the highest point so the shadow falls in the middle and becomes short. At sunset, the shadow becomes long again – pointing to the east.
Paper Plate Sundial
A paper plate with a pencil stuck through the middle makes a great moveable sundial! (Remember, when you move a paper plate sundial, you have to be careful to place it in perfect north-south alignment.)
Take this outside on a sunny day, then make a mark on the paper plate at the top of each hour. The shadow will move slightly each hour. The mark should go at the middle of the pencil shadow.
When you have completed this during one sunny day, you have made a sundial that can tell the time – roughly speaking!
An indoor sundial – the Sun Tracker
Most people think of sundials as something that you place outside. But, the Sun shines inside through windows. You can track the Sun through a window.
An indoor sundial can help you track the Sun from the comfort of your own home! Do you have a sunny (or partly sunny) window? You can track the Sun and reveal the secrets of the Earth’s motion.
The Sun Tracker is an easy-to-use indoor sundial. Place the glistening window cling on any sunny window and then mark the position of the window cling’s shadow using one of the included stickers.
Repeat the next day or the next week at the same time of day. You will see a pattern emerging: the shadow cast by the Sun moves quite a bit each day.
If you are extra precise with recording the shadow at the same time of day, and you are able to do it for an entire year… you will see the Analemma.
The Sun Tracker is like a little bit of Stonehenge for your window.
Track the Sun with simple tools and you will reveal the motion of the Earth. There are two main motions of Earth, daily rotation and yearly orbit. Earth spins under the Sun each day and around the Sun in an orbit each year.
It is these two motions that make the Sun seem to move in the sky. Remember that the next time you are looking for the Sun – it’s where it always is… the Earth is what moves.
You can use these 8 ways to find the North Star (Polaris). These are all fun ways to find the North Star. The North Star is special because of its position in the starry sky.
8 ways to find the North Star
Look north and guess – you can find the North Star in a relatively dark region of the sky and there are not many other bright stars around it. If you are south of the equator, head north before you try to look for the North Star because you won’t be able to see it until you get the Earth out of the way.
Use the Big Dipper cup stars as pointers. This is the classic way to find the North Star. The two stars of the Big Dipper cup are known as the “pointer stars” and they show you which star is the North Star. The North Star is about 5 lengths of the pointer stars away.
Camera timelapse – ooh! I love timelapse. A great timelapse of the night sky is an unbeatable way to relax. By taking a timelapse of the starry sky you can detect the apparent motion of the stars. If your timelapse covers enough of the sky (with a wide angle view) chances are that you will be able to identify the North Star because it is the star that moves the least.
Phone app – grab a planetarium app like SkySafari. Almost every star app these days has a “Augmented Reality” view that you can use to find Polaris. Just use the AR method of holding the phoone up above your head and searching around or you can type the name of a star into the search box in the app.
Observe the sky, patiently measuring the movement of every star. The one that moves the least is Polaris. This might take a long time because the stars move pretty slowly.
Mark a known spot as your North Star viewing spot. This is easy to do with a product like the Star Spot. You can return to that spot any time of day or night to sight the star – the North Star is always in the same place in the sky.
The North Star is located in between the two easy-to-identify constellations The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia – the Queen.
Memorize its color and the stars around it – this is easier than it sounds! Polaris is a yellow supergiant and has a faint yellow tint. Also, the North Star is located in a region of the Milky Way that has fewer stars so it is surrounded by dark areas of the night sky.
A reader has suggested a 9th way! Create the Summer Diamond. Add a new triangle to the Summer Triangle asterism by using the North Star as a new point. Suggested to me in January 2023 by Peter Birren (Author of the wonderful Objects in the Heavens astronomy book) see below for an illustration. This method is most useful in the summer and early fall months because that is when the Summer Triangle is most visible.
The Standard way to find Polaris, aka the North Star
Here is the classic way to find the North Star! Use the pointer stars of the Big Dipper. This is a reliable method for finding the North Star that has been taught to generations.
Find the Big Dipper to find the North Star
Look at the two stars in the picture below. One is Dubhe – which is labeled a for alpha, and the other Merak – which is labeled b for beta. These form the outer lip of the Big Dipper’s cup. These two stars can be used to create an imaginary line to “point” at the North Star.
The distance from the pointer stars to the North Star is about 5 times the distance between Dubhe and Merak.
The North Star is shown in this image as a red dot labeled “Polaris.”
These instructions work for the 80% of people who live in the northern hemisphere – anywhere north of the equator. For the 20% of people who live in the southern hemisphere the North Star is not visible because it is blocked by the Earth. As you move south toward the equator (and eventually move past the equator), the North Star gradually sinks lower in the sky until it stays completely below the northern horizon.
Can’t see the Sun? Maybe there is something blocking it. Here is a list of 10 surprising things that can block the Sun.
Where is the Sun during the day? On a clear day, this is a very simple question. The Sun is “up there” in the sky – it’s a big, bright, fiery ball and it’s generally a yellowish orange color. You just point to it – there it is, up in the sky, the Sun.
However, many things can block the Sun. Usually, it is clouds that block the Sun, but not always. Let’s take a tour of the astonishing number of things that can block the Sun.
The Earth is like a merry-go-round showing us seasonal constellations
That iconic childhood ride. Round and round each day we go, round and round each year we go, where we stop nobody knows! When we look out from the edge of the ride we can see the space beyond. Sometimes the Sun occupies that space, and sometimes that space is the night sky filled with stars.Click here to continue reading…
Emoji designers created a nice range of moon emoji, astronomy emojis and space emojis. My favorite emojis are the Moon Phase Emojis. Space emojis to copy and paste (these look different on each browser)
Here are the moon emojis, astronomy emojis and space emojis as real emojis that can be selected individually (or in groups) and copied. The moon emoji is my personal favorite.
New for 2019! Saturn emoji
Earth globe emojis
🌎 🌍 🌏
Moon phases emojis in order from full moon to new moon to full moon
🌕 🌖 🌗 🌘 🌑 🌒 🌓 🌔 🌕
Moon emoji, Sun emoji, and Star emoji
🌚 🌝 🌞 🌛 🌜 🌙 💫 ⭐ 🌟 ✨
Explosion emoji, Comet emoji, Sun emoji, Rainbow emoji
💥 ☄ ☀ 🌈
Spaceship emoji, Satellite emoji
Alien emoji, Space invader emoji
Map of earth emoji, moon viewing ceremony emoji (Otsukimi – in Japanese: お月見), sunrise emoji, sunset emoji, shooting star emoji, city skyline with sun emoji, city skyline with moon emoji, and milky way emoji
🗺 🎑 🌅 🌄 🌠 🌇 🌃 🌌
Astronomy tools emoji, Telescope emoji
Religions with moon and stars emoji
☪ ✡ 🔯
Abstract sun, earth, galaxy, star, and full moon emojis
Note: there is currently no official lunar eclipse emoji, nor is there a solar eclipse emoji. Until the emoji designers create real eclipse emojis, I suggest using the black versions of the Moon and Sun.
Use this emoji ☾ for a lunar eclipse (it doesn’t look like any Moon phase – it actually somewhat resembles an eclipse) and this emoji ☀ for a solar eclipse emoji – because the black spot with lines looks like a total solar eclipse showing the Sun’s corona.
Here is a screenshot of all of the moon emoji and space emojis as seen on Apple’s Mac “High Sierra” OS.
Bonus: this list shows the moon phase emojis in order – the correct order of the phases of the moon.
Did you know that Emojis look different depending on which type of device you are seeing them on?
Here is what the Full Moon Emoji looks like on Apple Macs
And here is what it looks like on Microsoft PCs
Emojipedia has a catalog of all the variations of emojis including the Full Moon Emoji
Use this technique to understand how seasons happen on the Earth. The Earth is tilted. When the northern part (your forehead and eyes) tilts away from the Sun the season is winter. When the northern part tilts toward the Sun the season is summer.
The Earth is tilted as it spins daily – it is not straight up and down like a top, but more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa (if the tower could spin!). As it goes through its yearly orbit, the Sun hits the northern and then the southern parts of the Earth.
Tilt your head to tilt the Earth
In this model, when the northern part (your forehead and eyes) tilts away from the Sun the season is winter. When the northern part tilts toward the Sun the season is summer.
Did you like this season model? Any questions? Type in the comments to send me a message.
A “Life Star” is a visible star that could host life. This is a name I came up with in February 2017 (around the time of the TRAPPIST announcement) to describe visible stars with confirmed planets orbiting in the habitable zone. “Life Star” is easier to say and explain. I hope it catches on!Click here to continue reading…
UPDATE: We now sell an astronomy gift called the Sun Tracker that teaches you the same Basic Astronomy Lesson that the Ground Hog does! You can learn all about the apparent movements of the Sun and the analemma.
Let’s do some Physical Astronomy. The experience will help you to understand the movement of the earth and sun through the seasons. You will build a scientific instrument that is also a fun garden decoration and you will be able to track the Groundhog’s Shadow all Spring!
An amazing thing is about to happen! A Star in a Star will be born.
EDIT (Nov. 19, 2021): It turns out that the underlying observation data had a timing flaw that makes it “unlikely” that the new star will be born in 2022. See this Wikipedia page about the new Star for more information.