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Summer School with Live Science: Project the Stars

Project the Stars in the Summer School with Live Science.
(Image credit: Diana Whitcroft for Live Science.)

This Friday (June 25), we will explore the wondrous world of constellations in our new kids video series: Summer School with Live Science.

In this week's installment, Live Science producer, Diana Whitcroft, will teach you how to construct a constellation projector using simple materials found in just about every household. Each family member can choose their favorite constellation and, through these simple instructions, create a device that will bring these star structures to life in your own home!

Every Friday at 3 p.m. EDT (12 p.m. PDT), Diana will host Summer School with Live Science, which you can find live on Live Science's Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages. Every week, the series will explore a different field of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through simple hands-on experiments that you and your child can follow along with at home. 

Disclaimer: It is strongly advised that all science experiments, recipes and methods be attempted only under adult supervision. Adults are required to handle or assist with any potentially harmful utensils and ingredients. Always wash hands thoroughly after trying any experiment. Avoid touching your face and eyes when performing any experiments, and if possible, wear glasses or safety goggles. Do not ingest any of the ingredients during or after performing this experiment.

Project the Stars: Objective

Age range: 4-10 years

Create a projector that will illuminate and cast your star constellation of choice upon a wall or ceiling.

Project the Stars: Materials

  • 3"x3" square aluminum foil
  • Empty toilet paper roll
  • Ballpoint pen, (or toothpick for more intricate designs)
  • Rag
  • Tape
  • Marker
  • Pocket flashlight

Step One: Select Your Constellation

There are 88 recognized star constellations from which to choose. Pick one you'd like to cast through your projector, keeping in mind that you'll be working in a very limited space to replicate this star structure. So, try a simpler constellation to start.

To get a better sense of your canvas, gently press the rim of one end of your toilet paper roll at the center of your aluminum foil square. This will create a circle indentation and within that circle is where you will be poking holes to replicate your star constellation. 

You can sketch out your constellation by hand for reference, or use your phone or computer to look up your many stellar options. 

Step Two: Poke Away

Using your ballpoint pen or toothpick, poke through the aluminum foil, (again, within the circle indentation you've made), to form the pattern of stars that defines your desired constellation. Do not make the holes too big, as the light intended to shine through will spill too widely and diffuse your constellation pattern.

Step Three: Assemble your Projector

Place your aluminum foil over one end of the toilet paper roll, ensuring that your pattern of holes rests within the roll's circular boundaries, and fold down the excess foil. Tape the overhanging foil to the roll for a snug fit. Using your marker, label the roll with your constellation of choice.

Step Four: Illuminate

Using your pocket flashlight or smartphone light, cast your light inside the toilet paper tube and simply marvel at your creation.

Document this experience and send images to us either on social media or to community@livescience.com. We'd love to see your results so that we can feature them in a photo gallery!

Why constellations?

Constellations are shapes connecting stars in the sky to stories from cultures throughout time and around the globe. In the video demonstration provided, Diana makes a Leo constellation projector. Leo the Lion is one of the earliest recognized constellations. The constellation is observable in the Northern Hemisphere around the spring equinox through May. The constellation is easily found by looking for the head of the lion known as the "sickle." In Greek mythology, Leo represents the Nemean Lion slaughtered by the divine Hercules. 

These are tales worth telling as bedtime stories, (of course, after some alterations to make them a bit more G-rated). Besides acting as great history lessons of fables and tales from civilizations past, this fun activity allows kids the opportunity to become amateur stargazers themselves. With the help of a telescope or binoculars, adults can then draw youngsters out into the field to see these wondrous star structures in the night sky with their own eyes. They'll gain an understanding of seasonal changes in the night sky as well as star identification. 

Check out these other science experiments: 

Summer School with Live Science: Lemon volcanoes

Summer School with Live Science: Egg drop challenge

Originally published on Live Science.