Make a star viewer

Learn to make your own constellation star viewer that you can use to project constellations on your wall!

Intro

Scientists are always looking for patterns. Sometimes they're looking in really small things like cells in a body, and sometimes they're looking in really big things like stars in the sky.

Constellations are patterns that people have found in groups of stars. For thousands have years, people from different cultures all over the world have seen these patterns and created stories from them. Even though they are made up patterns, they have helped people track time, sail across seas and record amazing events like comets. Today's scientists who study space, called astronomers, use them to spot which stars are which.

Find out how to make your own constellation viewer, shine constellations inside and even design some of your own.

You will need

  • A cardboard tube (like one you find in the middle of a kitchen towel roll or toilet paper roll)
  • Things to decorate your cardboard, such as paint, coloured paper, stickers, felt tip pens, crayons, glitter – the possibilities are endless!
  • Paper or card
  • Scissors
  • A pin or a sharp pencil
  • A rubber band or hairband

What to do

  • Decorate the outside of your cardboard tube however you like – with stars? Planets? Maybe something completely different!
  • To create your constellation patterns, print out these designs showing constellations from around the world.
  • If you want to make your own designs instead , you'll need to draw around the end of your tube on the piece of paper, and draw a design inside the circle. Constellations are normally drawn as a group of dots that represent the stars, joined together by lines to make the picture.
  • Draw another bigger circle around your design, making sure that it's about 2cm bigger than your first circle all the way around - it doesn't need to be exact!
  • Use scissors to cut out each of the patterns. If you've made your own, you'll need to cut around the larger circle, then make four small cuts from the outside to the smaller circle at the top, bottom, left and right, like points on a compass.
  • On each constellation pattern, use a pin or sharp pencil to poke a small hole where each star is - ask a grown up to help you with this bit!
  • Put your pattern on top of your tube with the constellation inside, fold the tabs down outside the tube and hold the paper in place using an elastic band or hair tie.

To use your star viewer, hold it up to your eye and look at the light coming through the holes. You will see the outline of each star pattern as it would appear in a clear sky at night.

You can also use the star viewer to shine the pattern of stars on the wall of a dark room. Hold a light (like a phone) to the open end of the tube and point the pattern at the wall.

Star viewer pictures

Hands painting stars on a cardboard tube covered in glittery wrapping paper.

Decorate your constellation viewer with stars, planets or something completely different.

Hands cutting out a constellation design.

You can use our designs, draw your own versions, or make up your own constellations.

A hand poking holes in a drawing of a constellation on a piece of paper.

It's a good idea to put something behind the paper when you're punching out the holes.

A child using the homemade constellation viewer.

Hold the star viewer near a light to see what the stars would look like on a clear night!

The science

Electron microscopy image of a cell.

Some scientists use telescopes to help them look at patterns like constellations in the night sky.

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute use microscopes to help them look for patterns in things that are too small to see with the naked eye, like cells, bacteria and viruses.

If you want to have a go at looking through some of our microscopes, you can see pictures that our electron microscopy team have taken in Etch a Cell. Etch a Cell is a project where you can help the team at the Crick by analysing and labelling our pictures. Have a go at drawing around the cell's nucleus or mitochondria and keep an eye on the site to see when they'll be adding new projects.