5 NASA Science Projects That Can Help Teach Kids Astronomy
This artist’s concept shows the hypothetical super-Earth known as Planet Nine or Planet X, which some researchers think lurks far beyond Pluto in the outer reaches of the solar system.
(Credit: R. Hurt/IPAC/Caltech)
A fun and easy ways to help teach science to your kids at home. Or maybe your family just spent the summer outdoors observing Comet NEOWISE and now you want some supplementary educational resources to teach your kids about the night sky. The internet is packed with science activities, so it’s hard to know what’s reputable.
We’ve made it easier for you by curating a list of NASA science projects designed for all ages. Each one of these space-themed citizen science projects has a strong educational component.
The Hunt for Planet Nine
Some astronomers think there’s a giant, undiscovered planet lurking in our outer solar system that they call Planet Nine. If it exists, it could be five to 10 times larger than the Earth and orbit hundreds of times farther out.
A NASA citizen science project called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 enlists volunteers to help find this potential planet. Along the way, the project incorporates educational materials so that you can also learn about the sun’s nearest neighbors and how solar systems form.
You’ll be asked to look at images from NASA’s WISE telescope, searching for objects in our sun’s backyard, like Planet Nine. You’ll also search for brown dwarfs — an object that falls somewhere between a planet and a small star. Our solar system is surrounded by far more of these almost-suns than actual stars.
The discovery technique is similar to the one astronomer Clyde Tombaugh employed to discover Pluto nearly a century ago. As you look at multiple images of the sky taken at different times, you’ll search for objects that jump around. Planet Nine should look something like a bouncing blue dot. Brown dwarfs should appear redder and move more slowly.
Backyard Worlds is already yielding some seriously interesting results, too. Citizen science volunteers discovered a new brown dwarf just six days after the project launched. And so far, more than 100 of these objects have been discovered. Meanwhile, Planet Nine, if it exists, is still out there waiting to be found.
Seek Out Sungrazer Comets
The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) was launched into space in 1995, and the joint NASA and European Space Agency project is still offering up new discoveries today. All that time staring at the sun has taught astronomers a lot about our home star. However, as of June, the space telescope has also now spotted some 4,000 comets. The mission has become the most successful comet hunter in history. It’s more than doubled the number of known comets found over the preceding several centuries.
That success is born on the work of citizen scientists who volunteer with The Sungrazer Project. Most of the icy objects discovered so far come from a family of so-called “sungrazer” comets, which skim the sun’s outer atmosphere, making them visible in SOHO’s instruments.