Book your trip to the stars today!

I had a chance to talk with a number of educators last week at MACUL about a project I was doing with my students using the before-mentioned Stellarium software. Since my students are almost finished I thought I’d share the project concept with everyone as you may be wondering what to do once you’ve downloaded Stellarium.

Usually 6th graders at my school just complete a simple research paper on a constellation of their choice while we are studying outer space. Not wanting to give them a tired paper, I pointed them towards the articles about Space Ship One, the privately built reuseable spacecraft that won the X-prize two years ago, making it the first privately-funded spacecraft to break the 100 km altitude barrier. Basically, private companies will soon be capable of sending ordinary citizens (well, ordinary citizens with a large bankroll) on short flights into the weightlessness of space. After reading a few CNN articles about it online, I asked my students to imagine what type of space travel might be possible in 50 years, when they’re older, and encouraged them to imagine being able to travel to any star as easily as traveling to Disney World for Spring Break (alright, so it was a BIG stretch of the imagination).

The task I gave them was creating a sales/travel brochure to the constellation of their choice (don’t, worry, we talked about the fact that the stars in each constellation are millions of miles apart), looked at a few travel brochures readily available, and took off with MS Publisher. We talked about how to fill in personal and business information using the template wizard, and then how to go about editing and changing a template to meet their needs. They were required to create their own commercial starliner business, complete with a web address, e-mail, phone number, etc. They were also given the option of adding prices for other trips as well as the one they were trying to sell. Of course, they had to provide some background about the constellations themselves, wrapping potential customers in the mythology of the constellation, the size of the stars that make it up, and if there were any scenic points of interests (nebulas, quasars, galaxies) nearby. Stellarium came in quite handy for those bits of information. So far the results have been pretty good; they’re enjoying creating their own starliner business, and are actually doing a good job of “selling” trips to the stars, complete with info from Stellarium and Internet sites. I’ll put some examples up later when I’m feeling better if there’s any demand for them.


  1. There is another great program for astronomy called Celestia you might want to check out. It is free and may add to your assignemnet. Unlike Stellarium where you are viewing stars and planets from earth you get to fly through a 3D space up to the planets, stars, or nebulae.

    I’ve contemplated having students chart and perform screen captures (done within Celestia) of tours through the solar system and then bring them into MovieMaker and narate them as if they were a tour guide.

    If you decide to mess around with Celestia you’ll aslo want to visit the Celestia Motherload. Which has all sorts of extra user created resources including complete educational units.

  2. I downloaded Celestia at your suggestion Steve and it’s a really fabulous program. It’s a bit more difficult to navigate through space with Celestia’s controls than Stellarium’s, but I enjoyed being able to view stars up close and personal that are outside of our solar system. It was nice to get up close to a red giant and then compare it to our own yellow sun. It’s definitely going to take a lot more practice to figure out all of the features and functions of the program, but it looks like it would be really useful in studying the solar system like you said, specifically studying the satellites of some of the outer planets.

    I really like your idea of taking screen captures and using them to create a “fly through” of the solar system in Moviemaker or PowerPoint.

  3. Have you tried the educational units on the Celestia Motherlode? They include documents that have lots of good text and then links to click that load up Celestia and drive you to specific points automatically. This removes the need to master all of the controls.

    Sudents go back and forth between Celestia and the documents during the lesson. I haven’t played much with it since last spring, so I can’t really remember all the details. I think they were Word documents.

    I didn’t actually use Celestia with my students. I don’t do much with the Solar System, but if I did I think Celestia would be quite helpful.

    One of the other fun things I played with was standing on the surface of various planets and seeing what the sun (or night sky) looked like (it’s pretty small when seen from Pluto). I can’t remember exactly how to do this, but the instructions were somewhere on the Celestia home page.

  4. I haven’t had a chance to look at the Celestia Motherload site yet as I’ve been busy fiddling with the differences between the MAC and PC version. I love the idea of being to stand on the surface of another planet and view the stars, so I know I’ll hit the site eventually and figure out some of the tricks. Thanks again for sharing this site Steve.

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