Educator Features

Counting the Stars
08.25.06
Illustration of a child looking through a telescope with the word Count in the foreground
How many stars are visible in the night sky? It depends on who's looking.

Many factors affect how many stars can be seen at any given location on any given night. NASA is inviting students to participate in an effort to study those factors.

Image to right: Star Count invites students to contribute information about their area to a worldwide database. Credit: NASA

"Star Count" is a new NASA education activity that turns students into astronomers and gives teachers the resources to capitalize on the fun students are having. Star Count challenges students to research answers to the questions: "Do people everywhere see the same number of stars in the night sky? Why or why not?" The activity encourages students to go outside at night and count the stars in the sky. Students and teachers all over the world can participate in Star Count.

Rather than count every star in the sky, students will instead learn how to estimate a total number based on random samples of sections of the sky. They then enter the number of stars and information about their viewing conditions and location in an online database.

Related Resources
+ Star Count Web Site

+ NASA Education Web Site

+ Student Observation Network
With that database, students will be able to find out about the average number of stars visible in a particular location. The database will also reveal information about how various factors affect star visibility. Students will be able to use this information to answer their research question. To conduct their research, students must use geography, astronomy, environmental science and mathematics.

Star Count is a project of NASA's Student Observation Network. SON is a collection of online inquiry-based activities that challenge students to find answers to questions relating to NASA research. To find those answers, students have to make their own observations. They must interpret the data from their observations and from actual NASA scientists' research. Not only do the activities raise students' interest by engaging them in exciting, hands-on projects, but they do so with materials that support national education standards.

The Star Count activity ties into the Energy module of the current SON theme, "Living and Working in Space," which is associated with the STS-115 space shuttle mission. That mission will deliver a new set of energy-generating solar arrays to the International Space Station. Star Count is developed in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency.

Picture of stars taken from the International Space Station
Image to left: For astronauts in orbit, the night sky is full of stars. Credit: NASA

With this project, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation's education. It is directly tied to the agency's major education goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations and career ambitions of America's young people, NASA is focused on engaging and retaining students in education projects that encourage pursuit of educational disciplines critical to NASA's future engineering, scientific and technical missions.

If you would like a fresh way to get your students excited about science, here's your chance to let them conduct research with NASA. Because when it comes to collecting the data for Star Count, NASA is counting on you!

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services