instrument wars

Instrument Wars – Navigating with the Stars

People have been navigating with the stars since about… forever!  But how well you navigate really depends on your instruments.  With this STEAM project, we compare 2 different instruments — your hand and an astrolabe.  Which is better?

The project

The idea of our project is to compare the measurements of 2 different instruments.  Both of these can be used to determine where you are on the globe by looking at the stars.

First, an introduction to measuring the stars.

Intro to the Project

Now you can print out and use this worksheet and get started.  Younger kids may need help with the math but you can still have a good discussion of which takes better measurements.

Before you start,

fill in the “Make a Guess” section about which instrument you think will work better.

instrument wars worksheet

Measure with Your Fist

This video gave an example about measuring a trees but here are the instructions again for measuring with your fist:

  • Hold your fist vertically.
  • Squint your eye as you look.
  • Hold your arm so it looks like the bottom is resting on the horizon.
  • Move your hand up and count how many fists it takes to get from the horizon to the star (or South Celestial Pole).

Now use the worksheet section labeled “Fist” to calculate your latitude.

Build and Use an Astrolabe

Build your astrolabe and fill in the worksheet section labeled “Astrolabe”.

Which is the winner?

Now that you have found your latitude using each instrument, head over to this NASA page to find your actual latitude.  It will give you latitude and longitude so make sure you write down the latitude.

And there you have it!  Which instrument won the battle?


This lesson is part of Space Balls [Unit 7]. Jump over to the unit main page to see all lessons and activities.

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