Exploring space and astronomy free unit study for multiple ages is a fascinating study. It’s a glimpse into the sun, moon, stars, galaxy, and structure of the universe.
Astronomy is a study of the universe beyond the earth. The universe is huge and whether you’re gazing at the starry heavens or watching a moonlight night, it’s staggering to the human mind. The universe is complex and immense.
There are many reasons why we find it fascinating to study about space and astronomy:
- to find our place in the universe,
- to learn how natural disasters like comets and meteorites impacts our earth,
- to understand how to mark the passing of days, months, and years,
- and to explore out of natural curiosity.
Look at some of these topics to explore with your kids as you do this space and astronomy free unit study.
Space and Astronomy Free Unit Study Ideas
- Define eclipses and learn their ancient mystery.
- Investigate space objects and how they’re formed.
- Recognize famous constellations, their names, and shapes.
- Name some famous men and women astronomers.
- Learn what is an asteroid.
- To understand what is a planet.
- Gather information about the moon and the importance in our solar system.
- Discuss Kepler’s Laws and how they affect our understanding of astronomy.
- Appreciate the history and achievements in astronomy.
- What are stars, their colors, birth of stars, life expectancy, and patterns?
- Analyze the origin of the universe.
- Explain what is the Milky Way.
- Investigate about black holes, their meaning, and how they’re formed.
- Describe the solar system.
- Tell why seasons change.
- Summarize Einstein’s Theories and explain how they affect our increased understanding of the heavens.
- Compare and contrast dwarf planets with planets.
- Examine the meaning of terms like orbit, rotation, and revolution.
First, let’s jump into exploring space and astronomy free unit study by learning the history of astronomy at a quick glance.
History of Astronomy
Navigators were able to find their way on the seas through compasses and landmarks, like lighthouses, but the earliest was through celestial objects. The sun, moon, and stars served as the earliest guides.
Today, few people really spend much time looking at the night sky. In ancient days, before electric lights robbed so many people of the beauty of the sky, the stars and planets were an important aspect of everyone’s daily life.
All the records that we have—on paper and in stone—show that ancient civilizations around the world noticed, worshipped, and tried to understand the lights in the sky and fit them into their own view of the world. These ancient observers found both majestic regularity and never-ending surprise in the motions of the heavens.
Through their careful study of the planets, the Greeks and later the Romans laid the foundation of the science of astronomy.
Aristotle, who was a Greek philosopher, believed the earth was the center of the universe and that the earth was surrounded by water, fire, and air.
Then, Aristarchus believed the sun was the center of the universe and he was the first to measure the distance to the sun and moon. He was a Greek astronomer who maintained that the earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun.
Furthermore, interest in the fascinating heavens continued from ancient times to medieval times.
Here is part of a medieval manuscript on astronomy.
This image is the front piece of a book covering topics like the movement of the planets, distances between stars, signs of the zodiac, the nature of the moon, and the art of reading minds.
Astronomy Free Unit Study
Moreover, there is an astrolabe in the picture above. This is an instrument formerly used to make astronomical measurements, typically of the altitudes of celestial bodies, and in navigation for calculating latitude, before the development of the sextant.
In its basic form (known from classical times), it consists of a disk with the edge marked in degrees and a pivoted pointer. Medieval scientists in the Middle East used this device to solve problems related to time and the positions of heavenly bodies.
While the astrolabe was a Greek invention, it was greatly improved upon by Arabic astronomers. For example, the most important reason for science innovation by the Arabs was for their religion Islam worship. If they perfected the astrolabe, they could find out the time of day and direction for prayers toward Mecca.
Astronomy was used by the Egyptians, Mayans, Aztecs, Europeans, and the native Americans. Look at this site Star Date and the information it has about the Milky Way. Read what different cultures thought was this glowing strip of light across the sky.
By the early ninth century, in Baghdad, the study of astronomy was part of every scholar’s education.
Free Ancient Astronomy Notebooking Pages
Additionally, I’ve created these fun Ancient Astronomy notebooking pages for your middle or high school kids. It’s a fun way to add history with science because it’s inextricably linked.
A budding astronomer can’t fully appreciate today’s advancements unless he understands the pains ancient astronomers went through to understand celestial objects.
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How Did Ancient People View Astronomy
To help your student in their research about ancient astronomy and to use the notebooking pages above, look at a few of these helpful sites.
- This post, 7 Ancient Cultures and How They Shaped Astronomy, at the office of Astronomy Development gives background information about the Babylonian Astronomy, Greek Astronomy, Indian Astronomy, and Mayan Astronomy to name a few, and how they shaped astronomy.
- Too, look at this free pdf about Medicine Wheels and Cultural Connections. They’re not about medicine at all.
To go along with the notebooking pages look at this fun idea for a hands-on project. Build Your Own Stonehenge (Mega Mini Kit).
The Solar System
Earth is only one of eight planets that revolve around the Sun. These planets, along with their moons and
swarms of smaller bodies such as dwarf planets, make up the solar system.
A planet is defined as a body of significant size that orbits a star and does not produce its own light. If a large body consistently produces its own light, it is then called a star.
We are able to see the nearby planets in our skies only because they reflect the light of our local star, the Sun.
If the planets were much farther away, the tiny amount of light they reflect would usually not be visible to us. The Sun is our local star, and all the other stars are also enormous balls of glowing gas that generate vast amounts of energy by nuclear reactions deep within.
When you look up at a star-filled sky on a clear night, all the stars visible to the unaided eye are part of a
single collection of stars we call the Milky Way Galaxy. The Sun is one of hundreds of billions of stars that make up the Milky Way Galaxy.
However, the Sun is not the only object that moves among the fixed stars. The Moon and each of the planets that are visible to the unaided eye—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus (although just barely)—also change their positions slowly from day to day.
During a single day, the Moon and planets all rise and set as Earth turns, just as the Sun and stars do. But like the Sun, they have independent motions among the stars, superimposed on the daily rotation of the celestial sphere.
Noticing these motions, the Greeks of 2000 years ago distinguished between what they called the fixed stars—those that maintain fixed patterns among themselves through many generations—and the wandering stars, or planets. The word “planet,” in fact, means “wanderer” in ancient Greek.
The backdrop for the motions of the “wanderers” in the sky is the canopy of stars. If there were no clouds in the sky and we were on a flat plain with nothing to obstruct our view, we could see about 3000 stars with the unaided eye.
To find their way around such a multitude, the ancients found groupings of stars that made some familiar geometric pattern or (more rarely) resembled something they knew.
Each civilization found its own patterns in the stars, much like a modern Rorschach test in which you are asked to discern patterns or pictures in a set of inkblots.
The ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and Greeks, among others, found their own groupings—or constellations—of stars. These were helpful in navigating among the stars and in passing their star lore on to their children.
You may be familiar with some of the old star patterns we still use today, such as the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and Orion the hunter, with his distinctive belt of three stars. However, many of the stars we see are not part of a distinctive star pattern at all, and a telescope reveals millions of stars too faint for the eye to see.
Therefore, during the early decades of the 20th century, astronomers from many countries decided to establish a more formal system for organizing the sky.
Today, we use the term constellation to mean one of 88 sectors into which we divide the sky, much as the United States is divided into 50 states.
The modern boundaries between the constellations are imaginary lines in the sky running north–south and east–west, so that each point in the sky falls in a specific constellation, although, like the states, not all constellations are the same size.
Famous Men Astronomers
Then, introduce your students to some famous men astronomers.
For example, Johannes Kepler was a German astronomer of the 16th/17th centuries. Kepler discovered the three principles to govern planetary motion. Consequently, they became known as “Kepler’s Laws.”
More famous astronomers were Ptolemy, Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, and Carl Sagan.
Look below to see a few facts about each of the astronomer’s discoveries.
Ptolemy. The Greek astronomer Ptolemy made a summary of the astronomical knowledge of his time. This summary, entitled Almagest, contains a list of 48 constellations. His ideas were accepted for the next 1000 years or so.
Nicholas Copernicus. His ideas caused religious and scientific controversy; he wrote a book published in 1543 entitled On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. His evidence supported the idea that the earth was not the stationary center of the universe but, in fact, moved around the sun.
Galileo Galilei. He used the telescope to sketch pictures of the moon and Saturn’s rings. He heard that a Dutch inventor had invented something called a spyglass. Galileo decided to work on one of his own.
Within 24 hours, he had invented a telescope. It could magnify things to make them appear ten times larger than real life. He pointed his telescope toward the sky. He made his first of many space observations. Everyone thought the moon was smooth. Galileo saw that it wasn’t. The moon was covered in bumps and craters.
Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein was a physicist who developed the general theory of relativity.
Edwin Hubble. Hubble proved that many objects previously thought to be clouds of dust and gas and classified as “nebulae” were actually galaxies beyond the Milky Way.
Carl Sagan. He wrote several books about astronomy and is a popular scientist.
Famous Women Astronomers
Next, learn about women astronomers who are making a difference or have made a difference in the past.
For example, one woman who made a difference is Henrietta Leavitt.
Henrietta Swan Leavitt was an American astronomer. A graduate of Radcliffe College, she worked at the Harvard College Observatory as a “computer”, tasked with examining photographic plates in order to measure and catalog the brightness of stars. Watch this YouTube video Henrietta Leavitt & the Human Computers: Great Minds.
In addition, look at the list of women astronomers below.
Your student could research about one or two of them. It’s not an exhaustive list, but your kids will build an appreciation for these science shakers.
- Annie Jump Cannon
- Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
- Williamina Fleming
- Helen Sawyer Hogg
- Carolyn Herschel
- Margaret Burbidge
- Mildred Shapley Matthews
- Maria Mitchell
- Antonia Maury
- Jocelyn Bell Burnell
- Adelaide Ames
- Evelyn Leland
Also, look at a few books about women and astronomy. This first one Astronomy: Cool Women in Space (Girls in Science), is published by one of my favorite publishers for unit studies which is Nomad Press.
Living Books about Astronomy
In addition, I love the online self-paced language arts courses by Literary Adventures which uses living books. Look at these fun books about space and rocks to add to this astronomy course:
Astronomy Vocabulary Words
Next, add some basic astronomy vocabulary words. Here are some ideas below:
- Astronomy – It is the study of everything in the universe beyond Earth’s atmosphere. It includes objects we can see with our naked eyes, like the Sun , the Moon , the planets, and the stars . It also includes objects we can only see with telescopes or other instruments.
- Star – A giant ball of hot gas that emits light and energy created through nuclear fusion at its core. The Sun is a star.
- Aurora Borealis – The aurora in the Northern Hemisphere, also known as the Northern Lights.
- Meteorite – It is a fragment of matter from outer space that strikes the surface of a planet or the Moon.
- Telescope – An instrument for directly viewing distant objects, using lenses or mirrors or both to make the object appear nearer and larger.
- Magnetosphere – The region around the Earth, or any other planet, within which its natural magnetic field is constrained by the solar wind.
- Shooting star – A small meteor that has the brief appearance of a darting, starlike object.
- Astro – A prefix that refers to the meaning of a star or stars, a celestial body or outer space to the name. “Astro” is derived from the Greek word “astron” meaning star.
- Galaxy – A group of millions or billions of stars, together with gas and dust, held together by gravitational attraction. There are millions of galaxies in the universe.
- Crater – A hole caused by an object hitting the surface of a planet or moon.
- Moon – A natural satellite that orbits a
- larger object.
- Andromeda Galaxy – The nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. The Andromeda Galaxy is approximately 2.2 million light years away and is very similar in appearance to our galaxy.
- Twilight – An intermediate period of illumination of the sky before sunrise and after sunset.
- Polar Aurora – The most intense of the several lights emitted by the Earth’s upper atmosphere, seen most often along the outer realms of the Arctic and Antarctic, where it is called aurora borealis and aurora australis.
- Solar System – The sun and all the planets that orbit it.
- Comet – A frozen mass of gas and dust which have a definite orbit through the solar system.
- Nova – A cataclysmic nuclear explosion caused by the accretion of hydrogen onto the surface of a white dwarf star.
Fun Hands-on Exploring Astronomy Ideas for Younger Kids
Also, the best kind of science unit study includes many hands-on ideas. Science is about investigating, exploring, and pondering how things work.
Look at couple of these hands-on fun ideas Mr. Munch King did.
So, whether you’re looking for sensory ideas or just fun space themed ideas, look at these ideas for younger kids.
- Cloud Dough Recipe – Moon And Space Sensory Bin
- How to Make Galaxy Slime Recipe
- Simple & Fun Rocket Craft For Kids [Free Template]
- I Spy Printable Count the Planets
- Yarn Wrapped Planets Craft
- DIY Cardboard Space Shuttle + More Fun Space Activities for Kids
- Astronaut Toilet Paper Roll Craft With Free Printable Template
- Moon Activities for Preschoolers
- Moon Rock Hunt
- How to Make a Moon Phase Flip Book with Printable
- Puffy Paint Planets. A Solar system space craft!
- Amazing Solar System Activity with Free Cootie Catcher
- Make Marshmallow Constellations
- Galaxy Ice Cream Recipe
- Fingerprint Solar System Craft Activity for Kids
- Paper Plate Space Craft For Kids
- Galaxy Glitter Jars
- Handprint Art Space Rocket Craft
- Felt Spaceship Toy Sewing Tutorial
- Printable Space Spinner Craft : Outer Space Craft For Kids
- Diy Glow-In-The-Dark Stars
- Story Time From Space
- Man on the Moon (Pie) Space Snacks + Printable Astronauts
- Free Printable Solar System Bingo
- Cook constellation cookies
- Easy moon salt drawings
- Quick And Easy Solar System Art For Kids
- Enjoy Special Science Fun with Free Constellation Cards
- Design a moon rover
Then Mr. Munch King really loved this Epic Space Adventures (LEGO Star Wars: Activity Book with Minifigure). Some of the Lego activity books come with press outs for play learning.
Space and Astronomy Hands-on Ideas for Older Kids
Again, including astronomy and space hands-on ideas for older kids makes learning come alive even for your older kids. Grab one of these ideas.
- How is a Star Born worksheet
- Pinhole Camera activity with a milk carton
- DIY Moon Phase Wall Hanging
- Solar Mason Jar Lights
- Whip Up a Moon-Like Crater
- Create a model of the universe for your serious students. You’ll love using this Modeling Universe Guide with questions and how -tos.
- Grab this download which has a Light, Color, and Astronomy, Filters Puzzler, Modeling the Earth-Moon System, Moon Phases Activity, Cosmic Survey, and Cosmic Cast of Characters as hands-on fun activities.
- YouTube – How to Make a Pinhole Camera
- 4 Ingredient Galaxy Fudge Recipe
- Solar System Slime Recipe- Planet Slime in 3D!
- Challenge your older kids to create a list of astronomy related words used by us today. Think: Dis-aster (star), Cars like the Ford Taurus, Chevy Nova, etc. Cleaning Products: Comet, Food: Sun Chips, Milky Way, etc.
- Hands-on telescopic activity. Contact a local amateur astronomer through the online Night-sky Network to give your kids/group a tour of his or her telescope.
Astronomy Learning Toys and Games
Next, you’ll love these fun items either for a serious star gazer or just for fun.
Whether it’s a 3D Glow-in-the-Dark Solar System Mobile, 70mm Travel Scope – Portable Refractor Telescope -Ideal Telescope for Beginners or a 3D Solar System Model Crystal Ball Engraved Hologram with Light Up Base Planet Model your kids will love them.
There are so many fun things to get for your astronomy lover. Look below at this cool Solar Robots Toy, 190 Pcs Stem Science Project Kit 12 in 1, Kids Educational Science Experiments Building robotics Kit for Boy and Girls Aged 8-12 and the planet bracelet.
Free Astronomy High School Book, Free Lesson Plans and Background Information
Then, below I have gathered some of the best free astronomy curriculum and lesson plans.
- Free Online Curriculum for Earth & Space Science.
- What a fantastic free Astronomy book. If you can download the pdf so you have it. It has so much information. It is high school level and some information looks a bit beyond, however, it’s used as a high school resource.
- Origin of the Constellations
- On the Moon Activity Guide
- Great site from Nasa Space Place. It has fun hands-on activities, free posters, games, and crafts.
- A Star Is Born lesson plan.
- Free Earth Science and Astronomy Lesson Plans
- The Milky Way
- Texas Native Skies. Look at the connection Native Americans made between the sky and their every day life.
- The 88 Recognized Constellations
- Worldwide Telescope. Download and run on your computer. Cool.
- How fun. Astronomy Tell it Again Flip Book
- A teacher’s guide to the universe.
Add in more hands-on easy astronomy experiments and you’ll have no shortage of topics to discover about our universe.
Books for Kids About Astronomy
Look at theses books, Janice VanCleave’s Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments that Really Work, and Seeing the Sky: 100 Projects, Activities & Explorations in Astronomy (Dover Children’s Science Books) for even more hands-on space unit study ideas.
Also, I’m particular about books which make awesome spines. One thing I learned while doing this unit study is that there is no shortage of wonderful books which serve as a spine.
What is a Homeschool Unit Study Spine
A homeschool unit study spine can be a living book, magazine, mentor, reference book or chart, art or art object, play, musical piece, brochure, movie, encyclopedia, or any other type of book, object, or person which is the main reference or authority for your unit study topic
With that being said, there were a few books which helped to put this massive subject into smaller bites.
One book is The Usborne Book of Astronomy and Space and the other is The Usborne Complete Book of Astronomy and Space (Complete Books Series). The point is there is a plethora of books for this topic.
Astronomy High School Lab Ideas
In addition, the best part ever to any astronomy and space free unit study is being able to count high school credit for science.
These astronomy high school lab ideas below will keep the topic fun for budding astronomers or those who want to get serious about it as a career.
Look at this list: Skynet and IRSA Nebula lab, Constructing 3-Color Astronomical Images, Discover the mass of a star using its exoplanets and a spreadsheet, Moon & Mercury crater counting, Hour of Code – Making Astronomical Images, Hour of Code – Making Astronomical Images, and ideas for using Stellarium.
Grab the above astronomy lab ideas and MORE activities here.
Careers in Astronomy
In addition, have your kids research about careers. Here are a few ideas:
- Space Engineer – Space engineers design and monitor probes used to explore space. They also study the data collected.
- Planetarium director
- Research scientist
Next, your kids will love this fun lapbook. Many activities exist for younger kids, so I gear my lapbooks toward older kids.
This lapbook is aimed for upper elementary to middle school. However, this lapbook comes two ways – one which has minibooks with facts filled in and the other one with blank minibooks. So, this lapbook can be used for ANY age even high school because I do not use baby-ish or goofy looking clip art.
Awesome Features of the Astronomy Lapbook:
- The same lapbook comes two different ways in this one download. One lapbook has a few facts filled in each minibook and the other lapbook has minibooks with all blank inside pages.
- Because I use a combination of cursive and print fonts, I aim my lapbooks toward upper elementary up to high school. The lapbook could be used for high school when your student uses the lapbook with minibooks with blank inside pages. Another option for high school is to mix and match the minibooks with facts filled in with minibooks with blank inside pages.
- This is a .pdf instant downloadable product and not a physical product.
- You are paying for the printables, the lapbook.
- You can use any reference materials, books, or online resources to complete the lapbook.
- I don’t provide links in the lapbooks for filling in the information. This keeps my prices low for my products, but I do provide free links and unit studies on my site as I can.
- My printables are very flexible. You decide which topics you want your children to research. Also, you can mix and match filled in and blank minibooks of your choice.
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Astronomy YouTube Videos
Next, whether your learner wants to learn more about the solar system or a star, you’ll love these astronomy YouTube Videos.
- Introduction to Astronomy: Crash Course Astronomy #1 (Grades 6th to 12th)
- Super Stars (Constellations): Crash Course Kids #31.1 (Grades 3rd to 8th)
- Amazing History of the Telescope (Grades 3rd to 8th)
- What Do Astronauts Do? (Grades PreK to 6th)
- Nebula and Star Birth (Grades 7th to 12th)
- What Are White Dwarfs? (Grades 6th to 12th)
- The New Astronomy: Crash Course History of Science #13 (Grades 9th to 12th)
- What are Eclipses? || Solar Eclipse || Lunar Eclipse || Astronomy (Grades 6th to 12th)
- How Moon Rocks Revolutionized Astronomy (Grades 9th to 12th)
- The Sun’s Surprising Movement across the Sky (Grades 6th to 9th)
- Comets (Grades 6th to 12th)
Finally, learn about astronomical instruments like the telescope.
If you look at the sky when you are far away from city lights, there seem to be an overwhelming number of stars up there. In reality, only about 9000 stars are visible to the unaided eye (from both hemispheres of our planet).
The light from most stars is so weak that by the time it reaches Earth, it cannot be detected by the human eye.
There are three basic components of a modern system for measuring radiation from astronomical sources.
First, there is a telescope, which serves as a “bucket” for collecting visible light (or radiation at other wavelengths. Just as you can catch more rain with a garbage can than with a coffee cup, large telescopes gather much more light than your eye can.
Second, there is an instrument attached to the telescope that sorts the incoming radiation by wavelength. Sometimes the sorting is fairly crude. For example, we might simply want to separate blue light from red light so that we can determine the temperature of a star.
But at other times, we want to see individual spectral lines to determine what an object is made of, or to measure its speed.
Third, we need some type of detector, a device that senses the radiation in the wavelength regions we have chosen and permanently records the observations.
How Telescopes Work
Telescopes have come a long way since Galileo’s time. Now they tend to be huge devices; the most expensive cost hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.
The reason astronomers keep building bigger and bigger telescopes is that celestial objects—such as planets, stars, and galaxies—send much more light to Earth than any human eye (with its tiny opening) can catch, and bigger telescopes can detect fainter objects.
The most important functions of a telescope are (1) to collect the faint light from an astronomical source and (2) to focus all the light into a point or an image.
Most objects of interest to astronomers are extremely faint: the more light we can collect, the better we can study such objects. (And remember, even though we are focusing on visible light first, there are many telescopes that collect other kinds of electromagnetic radiation.)
Since most telescopes have mirrors or lenses, we can compare their light-gathering power by comparing the apertures, or diameters, of the opening through which light travels or reflects. You may be thinking about buying your own telescope.
Astronomy Free Unit Plan
Some of the factors that determine which telescope is right for you depend upon your preferences:
- Will you be setting up the telescope in one place and leaving it there, or do you want an instrument that is portable and can come with you on outdoor excursions? How portable should it be, in terms of size and weight?
- Do you want to observe the sky with your eyes only, or do you want to take photographs? (Long exposure photography, for example, requires a good clock drive to turn your telescope to compensate for Earth’s rotation.)
- What types of objects will you be observing? Are you interested primarily in comets, planets, star clusters, or galaxies, or do you want to observe all kinds of celestial sights?
As you can see above, we barely touched the fringes of the universe with this unit study. There is so much to learn as you look into the heavens.
You’ll love more other free unit studies below:
- Fascinating and Fun Honey Bees Unit Study and Lapbook for Kids
- Famous and Historic Trees Fun Nature and History Homeschool Unit Study
- History of the Texas Cowboy, Cattle Drives, and Chisholm Trail
- Above & Below: Pond Unit Study, Hands-on Ideas, & Lapbook.
- Super Seashore Watching Unit Study and Beach Lapbook.
- Foraging and Feasting Nature Unit Study and Lapbook.
- Wildflowers Unit Study & Lapbook.
- From Egg to Sea Turtle Nature Unit Study & Lapbook.