The Earth-Moon-Sun System
This unit contains resources about the scale of the Earth-Moon system, lunar rotation and revolution, eclipses, shadows and how the amount of daylight on Earth changes as a function of seasons.

Workshop Presentations

PowerPoint. Click to download the MS Powerpoint file (5.2 Mbytes). Includes videos embedded in file.

HTML. Click to view the presentation in html format. Videos may be viewable depending on browser and operating system.

PDF. Click to view or download the presentation in PDF (1.9 Mbytes). Videos will not work in this version

Online lecture Click here to view a streaming lecture discussing the rotaion and revolution of the Moon, the phases of the Moon and eclipses. (~12 minutes)

Classroom Activities

Phases of the Moon. This student activity demonstrates the phases of the Moon as observed from Earth using masks. PDF Word document

Predicting the Phases of the Moon. In this activity, students examine the dates for the different phases of the Moon and determine the number of days between each phase (using a calendar). From these data, students are predict the date of the next Full Moon.

Demonstrating the Rotation and Revolution of the Moon. This student activity demonstrates how the Moon rotates on its axis at the same rate that it revolves around the Earth. PDF Word Document

Scale Model of the Earth-Moon System. Using Sports Balls. In this activity, students develop a scale model of the Earth-Moon system and then evaluate and revise their models. This activity was developed by a team of Grade 8 science teachers from the San Lorenzo USD.

Stick Model of the Earth-Moon System. This simple device illustrates the scale (distance and relative sizes) of the Earth-Moon system. The model can also be used to demonstrate lunar and solar eclipses and the phases of the Moon. PDF Word Document

It's Only a Paper Moon. The relative motions of the Earth-Moon-Sun is complex. In this activity, students make a simple orrery that illustrates the motion of the Earth around the Sun and the Moon around the Earth. An orrery is a mechanical device that models the motions of planets and moons in our solar system.

Shadows and the Rotation of the Earth. In this activity, students collect data on shadows (length and direction) outdoors during the day as the Sun moves across the sky. Then students analyze the data that they collected and make predictions. In the second part, students create a tabletop model of the outdoor experiment in the classroom using a flashlight as the Sun to better understand the data that they collected.

Modeling Axial Tilt and Daylight. In this simple activity designed for Grade 5, the length of daylight during a day at different times of the year is investigated. PDF

Does the Amount of Sunlight Change During the Year? In this activity designed for Grade 5, students consider and plot the amount of daylight during the day as a function of season and location on the Earth (latitude). PDF

Online Video and Media Resources

NASA Lunar and Meteorite Disk Program. NASA has samples of lunar rocks and meteorites available for loan to K-12 teachers. Click the link tind out more infomation about this program.

Exploring the Moon Educator Guide. This online guide by NASA contains classroom activiities for grades 4-12 about the Moonwith with an emphasis on exploring the Moon.

If the Moon Were Only One Pixel. This interactive website presents an accurate scale model of the solar system at the scale where the Moon is represented by one pixel on your computer screen.

Lunation video. This YouTube time-lapsed video shows the phases of the Moon from a new Moon to a full Moon and then back to the new Moon. Lunation is the period of time from one new Moon to the next new Mooon. In this video, the same face of the Moon always faces the Earth but different portions of it are illuminated by the Sun demonstrating that the period of rotation is the same as the period of revolution of the Moon.

Evolution of the Moon This video examines the origin of the Moon and how its surface has been modified by impacts. NASA/GSFC

Lunar Eclipse Essentials This video examines the occurrence of lunar eclipses as the moon passes into the Earth's shadow. NASA/GSFC

A Private Universe This landmark documentary examines how deeply our students hold onto scientific misconceptions. It's 20 minutes long and well worth the time. Look for the VoD (Video on Demand) link to view the film.

Inquiry Based Teaching of the Solar System This video follows how a teacher uses inquiry methods to teach about the scale of the solar system in a middle school classroom.

Is Poop on the Moon? This short video discusses how astronauts . . um. . relieve themselves. This is a good discussion with engineering applications to an everyday problem. Minute Physics.

How Far Away is the Moon? This short video discusses the relative scale of the Earth and Moon and the problem with many diagrams that are not to scale and can mislead our students. Veritasium.


Useful Websites

NASA (main website) This is the main entry point for NASA's extensive web resources. You can enter different areas such as NASA mission websites including data and news, educational resources and image/multimedia collections.

NASA Missions This page lists past, current and future NASA missions and is a great starting point for investigating the wide variety of NASA missions and investigations.

NASA Education Resources Database This NASA website is a searchable database on NASA-developed educational resources, activities, lesson plans, and webquests.

NASA Science This is the website of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. It includes mission information, data and resources for current missions in the following areas: Earth, Heliophysics, Planets and Astrophysics.

Kinesthetic Astronomy

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

Grade 1
ESS1.A: The Universe and its Stars Patterns of the motion of the sun, moon, and stars in the sky can be observed, described, and predicted.
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System Seasonal patterns of sunrise and sunset can be observed, described, and predicted.

Grade 5
ESS1.A: The Universe and its Stars The sun is a star that appears larger and brighter than other stars because it is closer. Stars range greatly in their distance from Earth.
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System The orbits of Earth around the sun and of the moon around Earth, together with the rotation of Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, cause observable patterns. These include day and night; daily changes in the length and direction of shadows; and different positions of the sun, moon, and stars at different times of the day, month, and year.

Middle School
ESS1.A: Patterns of the apparent motion of the sun, the moon, and stars in the sky can be observed, described, predicted, and explained with models. Earth and its solar system are part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of many galaxies in the universe.
ESS1.B: The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them. This model of the solar system can explain eclipses of the sun and the moon. Earth's spin axis is fixed in direction over the short-term but tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. The seasons are a result of that tilt and are caused by the differential intensity of sunlight on different areas of Earth across the year. The solar system appears to have formed from a disk of dust and gas, drawn together by gravity.

High School
ESS1.A: The Universe and Its Stars The star called the sun is changing and will burn out over a lifespan of approximately 10 billion years. The study of stars' light spectra and brightness is used to identify compositional elements of stars, their movements, and their distances from Earth. The Big Bang theory is supported by observations of distant galaxies receding from our own, of the measured composition of stars and non-stellar gases, and of the maps of spectra of the primordial radiation (cosmic microwave background) that still fills the universe. Other than the hydrogen and helium formed at the time of the Big Bang, nuclear fusion within stars produces all atomic nuclei lighter than and including iron, and the process releases electromagnetic energy. Heavier elements are produced when certain massive stars achieve a supernova stage and explode.
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System Kepler's laws describe common features of the motions of orbiting objects, including their elliptical paths around the sun. Orbits may change due to the gravitational effects from, or collisions with, other objects in the solar system.


Common Scientific Misconceptions

Phases of the Moon are caused by a shadow from the Earth.

Different countries see different phases of the Moon on the same day.

The Moon goes around the earth in a single day.

The Moon makes light the same way the Sun does.

Lunar and solar eclipses occur every month somewhere on Earth.


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