Teaching Tips

This section contains tips about how to approach using this project in your classroom. Some are meant to be general things to keep in mind when presenting this kind of material; others focus on aspects of this specific project.


If this is your first exposure to the SkyServer website and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), an efficient way to dig into this rich resource and prepare to have your students get the most out of the Solar System activity is to read the following in order:

  1. SkyServer brings you the entire public database of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey – almost 150 million stars, galaxies, and quasars – free of charge. The site includes a variety of Tools to view and download SDSS data, and Projects that let you use these data to teach science.
  2. Read the first section on the About the SDSS page (click the link): What is the Sloan Digital Sky Survey? Skim the remainder of the page.
  3. Check out the SkyServer Graphing Tutorial and practice using the Solar System Search Form.
  4. Now do a quick run through of the Solar System student project.

Key Points to Present to Your Students

Share with your students the wonder and challenge of trying to map the space around this planet using only observations made from its surface. As they hunt for asteroids, emphasize the fact that they are accessing the data and technology used by professional astronomers to do cutting edge research.

Be sure your students understand that the graphs they create and the conclusions they reach will be subject to peer review in the same way scientists must present their work to their peers for review.

When discussing asteroids, be sure to bring up the common misconception, seen in movies like Star Wars, that these rocky bits are packed close together in their ring. A useful tangent may be to discuss why asteroids are actually spaced far apart, why gravity would pull them together if they were closely spaced.

Classroom Management

Students will be motivated by the interactive of the project, by your enthusiasm in presenting the project, and by confidence in their ability to be successful. It will help to show students the grading rubric so that they understand what is expected of them as members of their groups as well as the fact that their performance is being evaluated based on effort and accuracy and not on the number of objects found. Be sure students know that you will be evaluating their participation throughout the activity.

The Solar System Search Form

The Solar System tool retrieves a list of asteroids and their coordinates on September 22, 2006. Simply select the number of asteroids from the first drop down menu and the type of coordinates to retrieve (RA/Dec or ecliptic longitude/latitude). Click on “Update Query” to create the SQL code that will access the database. Make sure to point out this code to the students, so that they can get a sense of the computer language behind the button pushing. Choose the data format you prefer – an HTML table or a comma separated list – and click on “Submit Query to SkyServer” to fetch the list of asteroids.