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Constellations

9-11 years old students


In this experience, we will learn to understand what a constellation really is.

The material for the classroom before coming to ESAC can be divided into two categories:

  • For students (videos):
  • Introduction to ESA (6:46 min)
  • Departure into Space (4:02 min)
  • Further than the Solar System (6:03 min)

 

For a long time, we thought the stars high above were fixed on a motionless dome. We know now that they are turning around the center of the galaxy, like us, at huge distances one from the others.

Understanding those distances is not an easy task. Imagine our Sun reduced to the size of a grain of sand. The farthest planet, Neptune, would be roughly four meters away. The first star we can find, Proxima Centauri, would be around 30 km away, like the distance between Madrid and Alcalá de Henares. Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky, would by twice as far, using this scale, this would get us the mountain region in Madrid! Wrapping our head around this concept of distances is complicated, instead, we can create very precise maps for these and many other stars.


Gaia is the name of a spacecraft from the European Space Agency. It was launched in December, 19th of 2013 from Kourou, the European space port in the French Guiana.

The Gaia satellite is trying to map in 3D the stars from our galaxy, the Milky Way. The used technique is called astrometry, in which the following characteristics are measured for the stars: their positions, their distances and their proper motion (stars change their position on the sky because they are moving with respect to the Sun).
 


Let’s go out to look at the stars during any particular night. For sure you have imagined up there pictures of animals, people, objects... by joining the sparkly dots. Those are called constellations. Do you know what they really are?