Some students think the stars and constellations appear in the same place in the sky every night

Earth and Space

Misconception RESEARCH REVIEW

This may because students observe stars appearing in the same places and don't spend more time observing their motion.

Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York BEST website.

Resources to address this

  • What's moving: day and night  (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS03 PN02

    The axis on which the Earth spins is currently pointing at the Pole Star and so as the Earth rotates all of the stars appear to move on circular paths around that star. This apparent circular motion of the stars can easily be seen on a clear night if you pick out the Pole Star and then follow the progress of the other stars around it as the night progresses.

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  • Day and night: how do we know?  (11-14)

    Ref - SPT ES04 PN03)

    A crucial piece of evidence that led people to believe in the idea that the Earth spins was provided by a long and heavy pendulum called Foucault's pendulum. 

    The other piece of significant evidence comes from long exposure photographs of the night sky. To create these photographs, the camera is pointed at the northern pole star. All the stars come out as long circular trails as if they are all turning around the North Star.

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  • Observing the night sky  (11-16)

    Ref - Practical physics / Astronomy / Observational astronomy / Observing the night sky

    1. Ask students to observe the sky at least twice in one evening, with an interval of about two hours between observations. (It will help if pictures of a few easy-to-identify constellations are available before the observing time, so that students will recognize them and can direct their observations towards them.)
    2.  
    3. Extend the previous experiment to a month. Note the position of the Moon at the same hour on each possible night for a month. The observations should relate to the stars, and also to the position in the sky relative to the horizon

     

     

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References

The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Plummer, D. J., Zahm, M. V. & Rice, R., () Inquiry and Astronomy: Preservice Teachers’ Investigations of Celestial Motion, Journal of Science Teacher Education.

    Review sheet

  • Plummer, D. J., () A Cross-age Study of Children’s Knowledge of Apparent Celestial Motion, International Journal of Science Education, 31 (12)

    1571-1605.

    Review sheet

  • Sharp, G. J., () Children's astronomical beliefs: a preliminary study of Year 6 children in south‐west England, International Journal of Science Education, 18 (6)

    685-712.

    Review sheet

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