I learned about WikiSky today via a blog post by Tim Lauer. WikiSky is sort of like a Google Maps version of the universe. You can click and drag your way around the cosmos, zoom in and out of constellations, and click on any star to pull up information about it. You can even click on SDSS (Sloan Digital Sky Survey) and replace the basic map with real satellite imagery. While it didn’t look like just anybody could edit anything, like in a traditional wiki, users can feel free to submit in their own articles, updates, and images to supplement what they already have. I’m not much of an astronomy nut, but I was pretty impressed. I particularly liked the feature allowing you to type in your location to see what stars are over your head right at this very instant.
Of course, after spending some time flying around the universe, I was hungry for something a little more hands on. So I jumped into Science Connection to see what we had in there. I popped in the code for the free trial and was off!
I know, I know. Science Connection is intend for middle school students. Well, I’ve heard firsthand that quite a bit of it is applicable to elementary, as well as secondary. And as I’ve recently discovered, I’m not smarter than a fifth grader. So the stuff in there was at a perfect level for me.
There’s two units in there on astronomy, one focusing on our solar system, and one keying in on the rest of the universe. I loaded up a virtual lab called Star Light Looks Bright, which helps you discover why some stars are brighter than others. Are stars brighter because they’re closer to us, they’re bigger and more powerful, or perhaps because the Earth’s atmosphere is filtering their light somehow? Only one way to find out, and that’s to experiment!
After experimenting with the different variables, things started to click and before long I was tweaking the settings like a pro and figuring things out. There was no single correct answer, it was only when you combined the different circumstances available that you were able to match things up.