Lie Back, Look Up

Family adventures with the night sky

Lie Back, Look Up - Family adventures with the night sky

Modeling the Earth-Moon-Sun Relationship

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 12.11.38 PM

One of the trickiest, yet most important, Astronomy concepts for children to understand is the Earth-Moon-Sun relationship. The idea of rotation and revolution, while extremely basic, is the foundation of understanding motion in our solar system. These three objects have the greatest impact on our lives– the Moon orbits the Earth and the Earth orbits the Sun. The Earth rotates on its axis (once every 24 hours) and causes the Sun to rise in the east and set in the west. The moon orbits the Earth (once every 29 days, in respect to the Sun), causing lunar phases.

Having children construct a model is one of the best ways to help them understand these motions. You can purchase the activity here and have your child assemble the model below– you only need paper, scissors, and two brass paper fasteners.


You can also have them act out these motions. Tell your child that you will be the Sun, she will be the Earth, and have her hold a ball (representing the moon). Then ask her to orbit around you, representing a year. Then she can add in the orbit of the moon around her (the Earth). Once she has these two motions down, she can combine them. You can ask her to try and fit  12 full revolutions of the moon around her, while orbiting the Sun only once– it gets a little tricky!

There are many ways to help your child understand the Earth-Moon-Sun relationship. Once they have the basics of rotation and revolution down, they are ready for season and lunar phases!

How To – Safely! – Observe The Solar Eclipse With Kids!

Eclipse Viewing with Kids

The chance to see an eclipse event in the sky is a wonderful opportunity to get  children excited about astronomy. On Thursday, October 23rd, millions of us in the United States will have the chance to see a spectacular partial solar eclipse. Unlike a total eclipse, only part of the sun is covered by the moon during a partial eclipse. The map below (from shows that unless you are in the extreme northeast of the country, you should have a view of the event.


Safety First!

Never look directly at the sun with your unaided eyes, through binoculars or through a telescope– serious damage can occur. Sunglasses are not enough! You can find solar filters for binoculars and telescopes from many different sources. If you purchase a solar filter sheet, you can customize a filter for your own scope. You can also purchase a pre-made filter to fit the size of your scope. I prefer simple solar shades for eclipse viewing for children.

The most economical option is to make your own pinhole projector for viewing the eclipse. The quickest way is to take two sheets of stiff white paper and using a pin, poke a small hole in the center of one sheet. Aim the hole at the sun, and holding the other sheet behind it, move it back and forth until you get a good image.


Viewing Tips

The Solar Eclipse Explorer site from NASA is my favorite place to find specific eclipse times. After selecting your geographic area, you enter your city coordinates (latitude, longitude, altitude & time zone) and click on our current century. It will generate a list of eclipses for this century along with beginning, maximum, and ending times for your location. This is a great way to make sure that you are looking up at the right time! For those of us in the eastern part of the United States, the event will be cut short by the setting sun. Because the sun will be low in the western sky for most of us, it is important to find a vantage point  with a good view of the western horizon.

Helping Kids Understand

The best thing that you can do to prepare kids to view the partial solar eclipse is to help them understand the Earth-Moon-Sun relationship during this event. During a solar eclipse, the moon is between the earth and the sun. (This is different than a lunar eclipse, which is when the earth is between the sun and the moon.) A solar eclipse is when the moon blocks out the sun, from our vantage point here on the earth. A “partial” solar eclipse just means that the moon will not be blocking the sun completely at any point. Here is a great video of Bill Nye the Science Guy explaining eclipses.


Having kids explore Earth-Moon-Sun motions in a kinesthetic way (with their bodies) really helps them understand these relationships. One great activity is to turn on a light source in a darkened room. A single light bulb works great– just take the shade off of a table lamp and draw the shades. Tell your child that his or her head is going to represent the earth, and have him hold an orange (or any spherical object) out in front of him to represent the moon. He can model the lunar phases by spinning around, holding the orange in front of him.  As he turns, he should see different portions of the orange lit up, representing the many phases. Then, have him stand with his head, the orange, and the light source lined up, so that the orange is directly between his head and the light. This represents the times when the moon is directly between the earth and the sun, during the New Moon phase. If the moon orbited the earth in the same plane that the earth orbits the sun, then we would have a lunar eclipse and a solar eclipse every month! But, the moon’s orbit is inclined about 5 degrees to the earth’s orbit. Twice a month, these orbital planes intersect– but not always during the right positions for an eclipse to happen. On average, some type of eclipse ends up happening about 5 times a year, but each can only be viewed in certain locations on the earth.

Go For It!

Eclipse viewing is such a great (and easy!) opportunity to share an astronomy experience with your children. As long as you are prepared for safe viewing, give it a try on October 23rd!

For more ideas on sky-viewing activities to do with your children, visit Stargazing with Kids.

Please note that the Amazon links are affiliate links, and if you do click through and purchase, I will receive a small commission.

sThe Eclipse

I stood out in the open cold
To see the essence of the eclipse
Which was its perfect darkness.I stood in the cold on the porch
And could not think of anything so perfect
As mans hope of light in the face of darkness.

– See more at:

The Eclipse

I stood out in the open cold
To see the essence of the eclipse
Which was its perfect darkness.I stood in the cold on the porch
And could not think of anything so perfect
As mans hope of light in the face of darkness.

– See more at: