Solar System Resources


Today we started what feels like the annual whirl-wind astronomy lessons. With the CST/STAR testing 100% of the information 80% of the way through the year, some of the fun stuff unfortunately seems to get a little condensed. Space is just one of the areas where I wish we could spend a little more time! With that being said, here are a few digital sources I have found quite handy for teaching my kids 8th grade astronomy.

  1. Celestia: An extremely powerful free piece of software that allows you to tour the galaxy and view animations of planets orbiting the Sun. This open source solar system viewer is so powerful that I know for a fact I have only touched the surface of what you can do with it. Ironically one of the things I find most useful as an instructional tool is the demo video built in to the software. Celestia v 1.5 was released in January. Look here for some enticing screen shots.
  2. Google Sky: Similar to Celestia, but minus the animations (I think…there was just an update, so who know for sure). Google Sky can be found inside of Google Earth by clicking on the Saturn-looking icon in the upper part of the screen. One nice advantage to Google Sky over Celestia is that the built-in layers have fantastic imagery. Check out Our Solar System and the Hubble Showcase found in the Featured Observatory folder. Once again, though, I feel like I am just touching the surface. I wonder if anyone puts on Google Sky classes?
  3. Planet Quest: This website is produced NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory coordinates all the latest information on the search for other planets. It even has a widget you can download to your computer for the latest planet count. The site came in quite handy today for #6 on Space Introduction Open Laptop Quiz – “How many solar systems are known to exist? ” As of today, 248 or 27 depending how you define a solar system. PlanetQuest has a fantastic multimedia gallery. The 3D Galaxy Viewer and the Interstellar Trip Planner are quite handy for explaining the size, shape, and layout of the Milky Way galaxy. While creating this post I also discovered the New Worlds Atlas for more information about all the newly discovered planets.
  4. Solar System Exploration: Another JPL website I find myself returning to each year, Solar System Exploration is collection of information and resources about our solar system. The Multimedia and Planets pages are helpful for any upcoming solar system project your students might be undertaking after the STAR test.
  5. Google Maps Moon & Mars: We’re all familiar with Google Maps, but did you know there are also Moon and Mars editions? The Moon version is kind of neat because there are place marks for all of the Apollo missions that landed there.
  6. Ask an Astronomer: I know this is one of Lisa’s favorites. Ask an Astronomer is a video podcast that can be found here or on iTunes. In either location you have access to short videos on very specific astronomy topics presented in a manner which students can easily understand.

Give one of these a try. If you have any other favorites (Mr. Zambo…) definitely share with the rest of us by posting a comment or two.


Photo: Sunspots by NASA

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