Starry Skies

Scripture: Genesis 12, 15 and 20

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will review the story of Abram.
  • Students will learn who important it was for Abram to follow God’s directions.
  • Students will learn some basic astronomy concepts.
  • Students will participate in an activity allowing them to practice the astronomy principles they have learned.

Guiding Question: How can you use the stars in the sky to help you travel from one place to another?

Materials: clear night sky or large photo of starry night sky (needs to show Orion, Little Dipper and North Star)

Procedure: Review the story of Abram, focusing especially on how God gave Abram directions to follow to find his new home. Show students on a map how far Abram had to travel. Explain that in Abram’s time and even now when instruments are unavailable, travelers can use the stars in the sky to help them find the directions North, South, East and West. Ask students how knowing those four things can help travelers find places. Take students outside to view the stars in the sky or show students the large photo of the starry sky. Teach the students the following basics about using astronomy for travel:

  • If someone miles away could tell you what star was directly over their head, you can find that star in your sky and draw a line straight down to the horizon. The point you find is the direction your friend is at that very moment.
  • Stars move in the sky, so you would need to check back every few minutes to continue going in the correct direction.
  • Polaris, the North Star, does not appear to move in the sky, so travelers have used that as their traveling star for thousands of years.
  • To find the North Star, you need to first find the Big Dipper (the Plough in some countries).
  • After locating the big dipper, find the “cup” part where the water would go in a real dipper. Locate the star on the edge of the cup away from the “handle”. This would be where the water would leave the dipper in a real one. Make an imaginary line straight up or down (some times of the year the cup will face up and other times of the year it will face down) from that star. The bright star about five times the distance between the two edge stars of the cup away is Polaris or the North Star.
  • The North Star is directly over the North Pole and is considered “true north”.
  • To find “true” east and west, find the constellation Orion. It is easy to find because of the three close stars that form the “belt” of Orion. Orion rises in the east and sets in the west. The first star to rise in the belt will always rise within one degree of true east and set within one degree of true west.
  • Once you have found true north, east and west, it is easy to find south.

Help students find Polaris, the North Star and Orion in the sky or on the photo. Once they have identified the constellations, have them determine north, east, west and south. For a more difficult challenge, provide photos of the night sky at different times of the year. Have students find the constellations in each variation of the sky and identify the directions from the stars they identify.

Additional Question: What are some other ways people use stars when traveling?

Supplemental Activity: Have more advanced students research other ways travelers can use the stars in the sky to aid in traveling. Have them share their findings with the class or other interested group.