Earth and Space

A simple celestial sphere

Practical Activity for 14-16 PRACTICAL PHYISCS


To show the apparent movement of the stars through the sky.

Apparatus and Materials

  • Umbrella, plain black

Health & Safety and Technical Notes

Make sure the umbrella is in good condition, with no exposed ribs at its edges.

Read our standard health & safety guidance

A simple model can be made from an ordinary umbrella. The star pattern drawn will depend upon your terrestrial location. You may be able to find a suitable star chart from the internet. For those in the northern hemisphere, when it is opened, the ferrule can represent the Pole Star, and constellations such as the Plough and Cassiopeia can be represented by paper discs stuck in the appropriate places to the underside of the umbrella, as shown in the diagram.

Chalk marks are not satisfactory: they tend to rub off when the umbrella is closed again. The eight ribs provide a useful guide in the marking up. Pairs of ribs enclose 45° (or three hours of time). The surface can include the circumpolar stars visible from your latitude.

An alternative would be to use a model of the celestial sphere.


  1. Spin the umbrella to show the apparent movement of the stars.

Teaching Notes

It is better to avoid the spinning Earth interpretation for beginners.

This experiment was safety-tested in April 2007

Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today