Astronomy Project Description

I feel like I need to start this one with a warning. If you are interested in the sky, are willing to do a lot of work outside of class (no point observing the sky for stars during class time but you can use your class time to work on other things), and are self-motivated, this project could be great for you. If you're kind of a slacker and you don't really want to work for the last five weeks of school during your senior year, please don't do this project. You and I will both be frustrated and your grade probably won't turn out to be that good.

Goal: to familiarize yourself with the night sky.

  • You will produce a lab notebook of nightly observations.
  • You will produce a product of your choice (with approval, of course) to commemorate your experience.
  • Do at least two of the following things. Make sure you thoroughly report on them in your lab notebook.
    • A meeting of one of the Astronomical Association Functions.  (Links to their webpages on Moodle.)
    • Attend one of the Planetarium Shows at Muskegon Community College.  (Link to the webpage on Moodle.)
    • Interview a local astronomer.  (Don't try to do this one at the same time as one of the previous ones.)


  • A sweet iPad/iPod/iPhone App for the sky is GoSkyWatch Planetarium - and it's free!
  • The Newaygo County Astronomical Observatory has been met with rave reviews from former students doing this project.
  • School has several books on the night sky. These can give you ideas of exercises do do for your observations.
  • There is a particular author, Fred Schaaf, who has a large number of books with hundreds of viewing ideas in them.
  • The web has tons of resources for night sky viewing.
  • You must have a pair of binoculars or a telescope.  WMC has one that you can share with other people who are doing the project.
  • Some student do some sort of photography for their final project.  You'll need access to a SLR camera but we have the equipment necessary to connect many brands of camera to a telescope.
  • I have the names and contact information for a couple of people you could interview and who might be able to give you some expert help.


Week 1
  1. Have your parent permission form filled out and turned in to Mr. Falk by Friday. (It will count toward your Regular Project Progress Grade.)
  2. Start your daily observation on the first clear night.  Most people doing this project don't have much of an idea for what to look at.  Working through the book 40 Nights to Knowing the Sky will help with that.  You don't have to do every page but start at the beginning and work on the relative ones.  In a previous student's words: " really helps you get to know your way around the night sky."  You can learn a lot of the reading and writing in class and then go outside at night to see more clearly what the book is talking about.
  3. Every night before bed you must look out your window and if it is clear do a routine set of observations. These include drawings of the moon, the moon relative to the horizon, major planet locations, how many stars of the Pleadies can you see, etc... On nights where it's too cloudy, record the date and time that you tried observing and the reason you couldn't record any observations.
  4. If you are pretty new to astronomy, planning a trip to the Newago County Astronomical Observatory or the  Lakeshore Observatory in Holland will be VERY beneficial.  People who are "into" astronomy typically love to share information and help people who are getting started.  It can be a bit intimidating to think about, but the rewards of doing something like this instead of going to a Planetarium show at MCC that's typically run by an uninterested college student who's getting paid minimum wage...well, they just don't compare in worth.

Week 2
  1. Do your nightly observations. Don't forget the instructions listed in week 1.
  2. If you haven't already, start planning how you're going to do at least two of the following.  Ideally you get one of them done this week.  Don't double dip - don't try to interview the local astronomer at a function or planetarium. 
    1. A meeting of one of the Astronomical Association Functions.
    2. Interview a local astronomer.
    3. Attend one of the Planetarium Shows at Muskegon Community College.
  3. Come up with the question you want to ask and turn it in to the green folder.  (See Grading Rubric #4 for more information.)
  4. Decide on the final product and get it approved by Mr. Falk.

Weeks 3, 4 and 5
  1. Do your nightly observations.
  2. Do at least two of the three things listed in both the goal section and week 2.
  3. Complete your final project.
  4. Since some night you might miss other homework because of observations, it is not uncommon for an astronomy student to use some class days for homework from other classes. Distracting students who should be spending the hour working may result in a reduction of your grade.