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Activity 4 – Chasing the Stars


When you have made a star wheel, it is important to practise using it.

Specific Learning Outcomes

Students will use a star wheel to find out which stars are in the sky, and will become competent at finding stars using a computer-simulated sky.

Teacher Planning and Preparation

Doing the star wheel twist is a worksheet to give students practise setting and reading their star wheel. This prepares them for the second worksheet: Computer star chase.

Computer star chase requires that students have access to a computer. Unless you have access to a suite of computers we suggest that you get students to take turns to work in pairs.

If you have not already done so, you will need to download and install the program Mirapla Sky for Windows. (At this time we do not have a version for the Macintosh.) This is a very small download and installation is simple. You may need to adjust the brightness and contrast of your monitor to enable the stars to be clearly seen. On a badly adjusted monitor they will be invisible! The program has an “Adjust your monitor…” button, which works best when your display settings are either High Colour (16 bit) or True Colour (32 bit).

What You Need

Worksheets and posters

  • Doing the Star Wheel Twist – worksheet
  • Computer Star Chase – worksheet
  • The 24-hour clock - poster
  • Certificates

(Download here)



  • Star Wheels constructed in Activity 3.
  • Pencils
  • Computers

Classroom Lead-In

Setting a star wheel

Revise the principles of setting a star wheel:
  1. Make sure you are using the correct clock ring – daylight saving or standard time.
  2. Line up today’s date with the time.
  3. Keeping the date lined up with the time, turn the window until the direction you are looking in is at the bottom.
  4. The bottom part of the window will show you the stars in that direction.

Stories and Pictures

Stories and pictures are an excellent way to motivate students to find the constellations for themselves. It is recommended that you spend some time on stories and pictures before students complete the worksheets for this activity.

The supporting resource Star Story Book contains stories to read aloud and pictures for this purpose.


A pronunciation guide is available here.

Many of the names will be new to your students, and they need to hear them spoken.

Official Constellation Names

You may wish to discuss the various ways of naming star groups. Some groups are official constellations with official names, and some are not. Many of the groups we teach at the beginning are not actually official constellations. This is why we refer to them as groups (the technical term is ‘asterism’) and not constellations. Here are some of the common ones:(Note that you will only see some of these groups, depending on where you live.)

Common name

Official name


Northern Cross


The Northern Cross is officially known as Cygnus.

Southern Cross


The Southern Cross is officially known as Crux. This does not include the pointers – they are part of Centaurus.

Big Dipper

Ursa Major

The Big Dipper is part of the large constellation of Ursa Major.

Little Dipper

Ursa Minor

The Little Dipper is officially known as Ursa Minor.



Many people know this constellation as Scorpio, but its official name is Scorpius.

Pleiades, The Seven Sisters


The Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters) are part of the constellation Taurus.



The Hyades are part of the constellation Taurus.



The Sickle is part of the constellation Leo.

Square of Pegasus


The Square of Pegasus is made from three stars in the constellation Pegasus, and one star in the constellation Andromeda.

False Cross


The False Cross is made from two stars in the constellation Vela, and two stars in the constellation Carina.

Diamond Cross


The Diamond Cross is a part of the constellation Carina.

Doing the star wheel twist

This worksheet gives students the practise they need at setting their star wheels.

24-hour clock

Do your students know how the 24-hour clock works? This is necessary because Mirapla Sky uses a 24-hour clock. You may need to teach this skill before students begin the Star Chase.

Star hopping

Show your students how to use groups of stars as a measuring stick to find other stars. Make sure they always work from a known constellation such as Orion, the Big Dipper, Scorpius, or the Southern Cross. Working from the known constellation, use the constellation itself as a measuring stick to find new constellations.


The instructions are on the worksheets. In addition to those instructions, here are further instructions on how to use Mirapla Sky.

  • Look in a different direction with the Left Arrow and Right Arrow keys.
  • Look up with Up Arrow and down with Down Arrow keys.
  • Advance the time with the Page-Up key. Move time back with the Page-Down key.
  • If you want to know what direction you are looking in, press Down Arrow until the horizon appears. There are direction markers there.
  • If you cannot see the time, press Page-Up once and it will appear. Look at the top left of the screen (the time on the top right is Universal Time, the time in Greenwich).
  • Press Enter to turn on or off the constellation labels. Beginners should not do this because it is important to practise finding the stars using the star wheel. It may be better if you do not tell your students how to turn on the labels.

Follow up and Extension

  • Issue certificates for successful completion of the Computer Star Chase.
  • A planetarium or star-lab visit is an excellent follow-up. Arrange with the presenter to give your students practise finding stars using their star wheels. If possible, it is good to give students red-torches to use in the planetarium. (Red torches will let them see their star wheels while not interfering with the view of the stars. Tape a piece of red paper over the end of an ordinary torch.)
  • A star-gazing party is an excellent follow-up – see Activity 5 – Under the Milky Way.

Downloadable Resources

Doing the Star Wheel Twist - worksheet

Computer Star Chase - worksheet

The 24-hour Clock - poster


Mirapla Sky for Windows

Help with printing and downloading

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URL http://www.AstronomyInYourHands.com/activities/chasingstars.html   Publication date 6 Nov 2002
Copyright © C J Hilder, 2002. All rights reserved.