SDSS Plates for Education

Through our program “Your Piece of the Sloan Sky,” SDSS distributes used plug plates to educators at formal and informal educational institutions. Plates are distributed via SDSS Institutions and accompanied by a custom-made poster showing the patch of sky the plate was used to observe, a package of educational materials, and training on the use of SDSS Voyages. If you already have a plate, skip ahead!

A plate of your own is not necessary to conduct Voyages activities, but the ability to hold a physical piece of the survey can add true wonder to the classroom experience. If you are interested in participating in this program, please contact us, and we will help to link you to your nearest SDSS Institution. Even without a plate, please read on to understand how the plate can tie into and bring Voyages activities to life.

The SDSS Plate is a feat of engineering as well as a piece of astronomical history. It took some of the most astute science and engineering minds working together in teams to imagine and build the SDSS spectrograph, and the SDSS plate is an integral piece of this spectrograph. Each plate is centered around a unique, three-degree area of the Sloan Digital Sky. Study of this plate will lead your students to a deep understanding of what it means to pursue scientific goals in midst of great engineering challenges. Based upon your academic setting and curricular goals, you may decide to start at the beginning of the Possible Sequence, jump in a little further down the Sequence or proceed for a while and then detour for a time to explore one aspect or another in greater depth. We provide this pathway for your consideration and look forward to your contributions so that our Voyage can grow.

 Voyage to Spectroscopic Data Collection in the SDSS

This Voyage assumes that students have been exposed to the following concepts or experiences:

  1.     The basic structure and function of a reflecting telescope.
  2.     Viewed objects through a telescope.
  3.     CCD cameras can be attached to telescopes to record images of the sky.
  4.     Electromagnetic spectrum as a continuum of radiation that can be defined by wavelength of which visible light is only one portion.
  5.     The idea that redshift is the apparent displacement of light to the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum when emitted by objects that are moving away from the observer at great speeds.
  6.    Realization that galaxies exist outside our solar system and the Milky Way.

Plate Voyage – Possible Sequence

STEP 1 –  Watch the video, Introduction to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Students are provided an overview of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope and some vocabulary as to how engineering thinking was applied to solving certain problems that might interfere with the goal of mapping the locations of millions of galaxies outside the Milky Way.

STEP 2 – Read the Introduction included with the plate packet.

STEP 3 – View the Plate Drilling Video and SDSS at Night videos.  You can find many points of discussion related to these clips:

•  As you watch, observe and imagine all the jobs that are associated with producing and installing the SDSS spectroscopic plates.  Make a list.

•  What information would a computer program require in order to accurately determine where to drill a hole in the plate?

•  Choose one action you saw carried out by a person or a machine on the video.  Describe the action.  Was the purpose of that step obvious?  How was the observed action important to the goal of capturing spectra of stars and galaxies?

 STEP 4 – Now that you have some background about how the spectroscopic plates were produced and what they are used for, try one of the additional activities provided.  You may review these options and download instructions from the Plate Packet Activities page.


SDSS Plate Activities These resources relate to the SDSS plates, with activities you can do to engage with and better understand the information contained on them.

Plate Browser This page gives you easy access to GIF images of individual spectra on a given plate.