If you are teaching a topic about the Space, or the Solar System, then there are many great tools that you can use on your interactive whiteboard to show your pupils what the planets look like and to demonstrate how the planets move around the sun in relation to each other. There are also some excellent archive sites for images of other galaxies and nebulae in deep space.
Simulators and Explorers
Solar System Scope
Solar System Scope is a very impressive interactive 3D Model of our Solar System. You can switch between a heliocentric view, geocentric view or a panoramic view of the Solar System. Earth centred view is great if you then use the play controls to move the time forwards as you can see the how day/night changes across the surface. Heliocentric view is good for showing how we get seasons as well as demonstrating the movement of the Moon around the Earth in the course of a month.
The scale of the planets in relation to each other is not accurate – nor is the distance apart, but these are necessary changes to make the whole thing fit on a screen and be useable! It’s a little advert-heavy, but you can put the site into full-screen mode to remove the adverts.
Astrotour is similar to Solar System Scope, it lets you view how the planets orbit the Sun. You can see how some move faster than others and use the dates to calculate how long it would take some of the outer planets to complete one orbit.
You can run it automatically, and change the speed, or pause it and step through slowly. You can choose to view the whole thing with the sun at the centre, or to follow a particular planet around. Click and drag any planet, all the others will move in time with it.
Google Sky lets you explore the universe in the same way that you would explore a Google Map. You can zoom in on any area of space to view it in more detail. Links along the bottom of the screen take you direct to special features of interest such as images from the Hubble Space Telescope of galaxies and nebulae. You can also run Google Sky within the Google Earth downloadable application.
Also worth a look are the Google Moon (http://www.google.com/moon/) and Google Mars (http://www.google.com/mars/) sites which let you explore the surface of the moon and mars in great detail and see where the various space missions landed and explored.
If you have the Google Earth program downloaded, you can also access Google Sky, Moon and Mars from within the software.
World Wide Telescope
This is the Microsoft version of Google Sky. You can download the client software or use it via the web (you do need to have Silverlight installed). The software enables you to explore the universe, bringing together imagery from the best telescopes in (and above) the world and combining it with 3D navigation. There are also narrated tours from astronomers and educators describing interesting places in the sky.
Images and Multimedia
NASA Images was created to bring public access to NASA’s image, video, and audio collections in a single, searchable resource. The site contains everything from classic NASA photos to educational videos, and the resource is growing all the time.
Astronomy picture of the day
Each day a different image or photograph is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer. It’s a great site, albeit slightly random. Dip into the site on a regular basis to provide a little awe and wonder in your lesson. You can also view the archive and search for particular images.
Why isn’t Pluto a Planet any more?
I get asked this a lot, so here’s something to help answer your students questions about why Pluto is no longer a planet:
The Most Astounding Fact About the Universe
Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked by a reader of TIME magazine, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” This is his answer.