Activity | Constellation in a Cup | Desert Botanical Garden


Children will create their own constellation designs to project and view.

5 oz paper cup
Cell phone flashlight or single-LED flashlight

Have you ever looked up at the night sky and picked out images between the stars? Humans have connected stars in shapes and patterns for thousands of years across many different cultures. Some of the older and well-known patterns, like Pegasus and Orion, have become constellations, which are usually named after the mythical creatures or characters that they portray. Constellations have been long used to explain natural phenomena, tell stories and navigate land and sea. The clear desert night sky just shines with bright, distinct stars and celestial bodies. With the warm nights, Arizona is a perfect place for an evening of stargazing fun.

  1. Choose A Design
    What constellations do you already know? Research lesser-known constellations and the stories that describe them. For this project, choose an existing constellation design, or create your own.
  2. Sketch It Out
    On the bottom side of a paper cup, sketch out the locations of the stars that make up your constellation.  Draw a simple design that connects the stars with lines.
  3. Punch It Out
    With the help of a pushpin, carefully poke holes in the cup where you have marked each star.
  4. Bring Your Constellation To Life
    In order to view your constellation, hold your flashlight or phone inside the cup and project the image onto a flat surface at night. Share constellation art pieces with each other and tell their stories. If you created your own design, make up a colorful, imaginative story about your constellation and how it came to be.
  5. Enjoy The Night Sky
    Bring your constellation cups to Desert Botanical Garden for a special night out, and project them in the dark of the desert. The North Star always appears in the same position night after night, but as Earth rotates through the night and circles the sun through the seasons, the view of constellations changes. Scorpius, Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and Cassiopeia are classic summer constellations to look for in the night sky. What other summer constellations can you find?

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