Lunar Activities

A Total Solar Eclipse

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will cross the United States. Collected here are a few educational activities related to eclipse science that particularly highlight the Moon (the central player in the solar eclipse!), recommended by the LRO education team. You are welcome to appropriately modify the activities as needed to ensure they meet the needs of your audience as well as the space, time, and resources you have available.

Eclipse illustration

Image Credit : NASA Goddard

Eclipse Models

On Earth, we are very lucky to be able to view total solar eclipses. Thanks to the ratio between the size and distance of the Moon and the Sun, the two bodies appear to be roughly the same size in our sky. The following activities explore the relationship of the Earth to the Moon and the Sun so participants can learn how and why eclipses occur.

Exploring the Solar System: Solar Eclipse

This activity is easy to do outdoors or indoors and requires few supplies. It asks participants to model orbits and observe how the Moon can block the Sun's light.
  • Source: National Informal Stem Education Network
  • Target Audience: Ages 4 and up
  • Important Concepts: Scale, apparent size, shadows, orbits
  • Suggested Modifications: The activity asks for an Earth globe and a small toy Moon, but any type of sphere can be substituted. We recommend a beach ball and a small styrofoam ball or baseball.

The Earth and the Moon

This activity encourages participants to confront their misconceptions about the size and distance of Earth's Moon. Using just balloons and string, participants create an Earth-Moon model and learn how the small Moon can cover the enormous Sun during a total solar eclipse.
  • Source: Rice Space Institute
  • Target Audience: Elementary - Middle School
  • Important Concepts: Scale, apparent vs. actual size, ratios

Big Sun, Small Moon

This simple activity allows learners to explore apparent size and its relation to the eclipse.
  • Source: National Informal Stem Education Network
  • Target Audience: Ages 4 - Adult
  • Important Concepts: Scale, apparent vs. actual size, ratios
  • Suggested Modifications: You can try this activity with any two objects of different sizes. If you only have one type of ball, ask participants to find a spot on the wall or far away that they can eclipse using the ball.

Lunar Topography

The Moon's terrain impacts our view of the total solar eclipse. Thanks to NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we know the topography of the Moon better than any other moon or planet in the Solar System! The peaks and valleys along the limb (silhouette edge) of the Moon affect the timing of totality, the shape of the Moon's shadow on Earth, and the location of phenomena such as the diamond ring effect. Using LRO data, we can predict these effects with better precision and accuracy than ever before. The following activities allow participants to model lunar topography.

The following two activities should be done together. Impact Craters models the general shape and appearance of impact craters (circular depressions, surrounded by raised rims, surrounded by ejecta). Splat! models the size (diameter) of the impact crater relative to the size (diameter) of the impactor in impact crater formation. It also models the destruction of the impactor during impact crater formation.

Making Impact Craters

making impact craters
While a bit messy, this activity beautifully demonstrates how impact craters form and how they can tell us about the composition and geologic history of the Moon.
  • Source: Lunar Planetary Institute
  • Target Audience: Ages 8 and up
  • Important Concepts:
  • Suggested Modifications: The LRO Outreach team uses a bottom layer of cat litter below the flour to simulate a lower rock unit and a golf ball and a ping pong ball for the balls of different masses. If you want to tie this to Earth, there is a Landsat activity about Finding Impact Craters with Landsat, which could be included
  • Have students make more than one impact. Explain that scientists often do a single experiment several times and take an average to get the most reliable result.

Kid Moon: Splat!

A great outdoor warm-weather activity, Kid Moon: Splat encourages participants to compare the size of impactors (water balloons) with the diameter of the craters they form (the splash zone).

  • Source: Lunar Planetary Institute
  • Target Audience: Ages 4 and up
  • Important Concepts: Models, projectiles, asteroids, craters, geologic history

Moon Phases and Observations

The following activities will help participants observe and understand our changing Moon.

Lunar Phases: A Dance Under the Sun

Lunar Phases
Moon phases are commonly misunderstood. In this activity, participants model the phases with a light source and a small white ball.
  • Source: Lunar Planetary Institute
  • Target Audience: Ages 10 - 13 (and up)
  • Important Concepts: Models, projectiles, asteroids, craters, geologic history
  • Suggested Modifications: Use a bright lamp in a dark room as the Sun in order to do this activity inside. This often works better than outdoors because there is a higher contrast in light and darkness and it is a closer model to space.

Moon Journal

moon journal
Learners who keep a Moon Journal will track lunar phases for a month to directly observe how the Moon changes shape and location. They will record observations and try to find a pattern.
  • Source: International Observe the Moon Night & the Lunar and Planetary Institute
  • Target Audience: All ages
  • Important Concepts: Moon phases, scientific inquiry, lunar observation, the Moon's place in the sky in relation to the Sun
  • Suggested Modifications: To make this eclipse-related and emphasize that during the eclipse, we will see a New Moon, begin the Moon Journal 28 days before the eclipse, on July 25

Light, Shadows, and Reflectivity

An eclipse is an interplay between light and shadows. In a solar eclipse, the Moon's shadow falls on the Earth. In a lunar eclipse, the Earth's shadow falls on the Moon. The following activities encourage visitors to make connections between personal experiences of shadows and light and transfer those concepts to the Sun-Earth-Moon system.

Mirror Moon

Mirror Moon
In this activity, participants confront the misconception that the Moon produces its own light. With only tennis balls, aluminum foil, and a flashlight, learners explore reflectivity (albedo).
  • Source: Lunar and Planetary Institute
  • Target Audience: Ages 8 - 13
  • Important Concepts: Albedo, light, shadows, reflectivity
  • Suggested Modifications: During a total solar eclipse, the moon blocks the sun's light from reaching Earth. If the Moon produced its own light, it would not get as dark during a total solar eclipse.

Eye on the Sky: What Makes Shadows?

This activity is ideal for outdoor events, particularly those where participants will spend a long amount of time. In this activity, learners trace their shadows and return some time later to observe the changes.
  • Source: University of California, Berkeley
  • Target Audience: Elementary and up
  • Important Concepts: Shadows, motion of the Earth and Moon, apparent motion of the Sun, light
  • Suggested Modifications: Draw the connection between this activity and the eclipse by asking participants how they think shadows are important in the eclipse. In a total solar eclipse, the Moon casts a shadow on the Earth. If you are inside the umbra of that shadow, you will see a total solar eclipse. If you are inside the penumbra, you will see a partial eclipse. As participants learned in the activity, because of the Earth and Moon's movements, the time spent in the shadow is very short.
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