Earth and Space

Teaching aids: star charts and model planetariums

Teaching Guidance for 14-16 PRACTICAL PHYISCS

Information on where to look for the stars and planets can be found in the monthly articles published in some newspapers. There are also annually published books containing data on the daily positions of stars and planets.

Star charts

  • Patrick Moore (ed.) The Yearbook of Astronomy, Macmillan
  • Whitaker's Almanack, A & C Black

Astronomical Ephemeris, such as:

  • The Astrolabe World Ephemeris, Whitford Press, U.S, ISBN 0924608226
  • Raphael's Astronomical Ephemeris, Foulsham, ISBN 0572031823 (also contains daily planetary and stellar data, though they emphasise the astrological connections)

The Yoursky website gives the position of the planets in the sky at any defined time and date. Yoursky also provides a variety of displays that can be set for major cities all over the world. Yoursky includes an interactive star map that can be set for major cities all over the world for any specified date and time. The map permits you to view in different directions. A downloadable (commercial) version is also available from the website:

Yoursky website

Model planetariums

Models of the solar system (orreries) are available at a very wide range of sophistication and price. A very inexpensive model to make, costing a few pounds, is the Kidz Labs Solar System Model:

Amazon website

A sophisticated motorized orrery costing several hundred pounds is the Helios Planetarium, obtainable from many suppliers including Cochranes of Oxford:

Cochranes of Oxford website

The National Schools Ovservatory also provides a virtual orrery which provides animated models of the planets rotating around the Sun, so that the epicyclic motion can be seen:

National Schools Ovservatory (NSO) website

An animation demonstrating epicyclic motion is available from the University of Nebraska:

University of Nebraska website

A simple but clear animation of the retrograde motion of Mars is shown on the NASA website:

NASA website

Planetariums are located all over the world, offering visits to school parties. An alternative is provided by the Starlab portable planetarium, which is available in many countries. It offers an inflatable planetarium accommodating 30 to 35 students:

Starlab website


Download the IOP's publication on choosing a telescope.

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