Eight Good Resources for Space Science Lessons

Last week one of my colleagues asked if I knew of “any good websites” for space science lessons. I said of course I did and gave the suggestion to turn on the moon view in Google Earth. This post was prompted by that 90 second conversation. Here are eight (for the eight planets) good resources for space science lessons.

Celestia is a free space exploration simulation program. Celestia is a free download that works on Mac, PC, and Linux systems. The advantage of Celestia over other satellite imagery programs is that in addition to seeing the Earth’s surface, students can zoom in on moons, stars, and planets. The user controls what they see. Operating the program is easy enough to be used by students as young as six or seven. The user guides for Celestia are very thorough and available in four languages. There is a companion website to Celestia called the Celestia Motherlode that features add-ons to Celestia and educational activities that teachers can use in their classrooms.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey better known as the SkyServer is a rich website full of images from throughout the galaxy and beyond. The SkyServer aims to, in their words, “build the largest map in the history of the world.” The project is supported by NASA, the US Department of Energy, and National Science Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The galleries of famous places is one of the world’s most extensive public galleries of space imagery. To date over 50 million images have been captured.

Google Sky allows you view images of space in your web browser. Google Sky offers great images of outer space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Google Sky has images that have captured x-ray and infrared wavelengths. The Google Sky web browser also has some more basic images in a collection referred to as “backyard astronomy.” Watch the video below for a quick overview of Google Sky.

To view the moon imagery and to view tours of the moon in Google Earth simply select “moon” from the planet menu in the Google Earth toolbar.

Some of the coolest features of Google Earth moon are the layers based on different Apollo missions as well as the embedded video footage recorded at the moon. Watch the video below to learn more about “moon view” in Google Earth.

You can also view Mars in Google Earth by turning on the Mars view. See the screen capture above to see where to locate Mars view in Google Earth. Watch the video below to learn more about “Mars view” in Google Earth.

NASA has an excellent interactive timeline tracing the history of astronomy and space exploration from the Greek philosophers through today. Planet Quest is actually three timelines combined into one. The three timelines cover technology, discovery, and culture as it relates to astronomy and space exploration. Each element on the timeline is narrated. Users can select individual elements on the timeline or choose autoplay to hear the narration of each item in sequence.

Gunn Interactive has a fantastic interactive visualization of the planets in orbit. The visualization was created by Gunn Interactive. Using this interactive visualization tool students can see the different rates of orbit for all of the planets. Students can zoom in and zoom out to see more or less of the planets. Students can also adjust the speed of the orbits.

Amazing Space is a great website for teachers and students of astronomy. Amazing Space has a great collection of virtual tours and online simulations. Each simulation contains valuable lessons about an astronomy topic. The educator resource page on Amazing Space is full of great ideas and lesson plans for teaching astronomy to students in elementary school, middle school, and high school classrooms.

The WorldWide Telescope makes very detailed, high resolution images (scientific quality) from space available to anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection. The goal of the WorldWide Telescope is to enable users to use their computers as virtual telescopes. The WorldWide Telescope can be downloaded and run on Windows-based computers. Mac users will have to use the web client to access the WorldWide Telescope. The educators page on the WorldWide Telescope site has lesson resources and ideas for middle school and high school use.

Bonus Resource or Pluto:

8 Wonders of the Solar System is a Scientific American interactive feature about the solar system. In 8 Wonders of the Solar System viewers explore the sites that future “space tourists” will want to view. The sites are depicted through the artist Ron Miller’s drawings. The tour includes audio and video commentary about the featured sites. One of my favorite stops on the tour is the Peaks of Eternal Light on the Moon. The Peaks of Eternal Light are one of the few places in the solar system on which the sun never sets.


Thank You Readers for 14 Amazing Years!