UKEdMag: Tour the Universe from your Classroom by @DannyNic

Despite Richard Branson’s fine attempts, apparently it is still not yet possible to send our pupils out into space to let them explore the planets, solar system and galaxies which make up our vast universe - what a school trip that would be! Thanks to advanced technology, telescopes and the internet it is possible to virtually take pupils on a space adventure, and in this article from the July 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine, Danny Nicholson shares some fantastic websites which can help you take your class “to infinity and beyond…”

I’ve often heard it said that the Interactive Whiteboard can become your window on the world, by bringing video and images from all over the globe into your classroom. But it can also be more than that – it can become a window on other worlds, and take your class out past our atmosphere into the Solar System and beyond.

If you are teaching a topic about space or the planet, then there are many great tools that can be used 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. Here are a few of my favourites.


Astrotour is a very useful site that lets you view how the planets in the Solar System move around 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, then 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. Click and drag any planet, all the others will move in time with it.

The controls at the side let you zoom in so you can see a few planets more closely. You can also make the planets bigger to make them easier to see on an IWB.

Solar System Scope

Solar System Scope is a very impressive interactive 3D Model of our Solar System. You can zoom in and move the planets around the Sun to see how they move in relation to each other.

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 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 website into full-screen mode to remove the adverts.

Google Sky

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 Google Moon ( and Google Mars ( which let you explore the surface of the Moon and Mars in great detail and see where the various space missions landed and explored.

World Wide Telescope

This is a similar application from Microsoft. You can download the client software or use it via the web (requires Silverlight to be installed). The software enables you to explore the universe, bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world and combining it with 3D navigation. There are also narrated guided tours from astronomers and educators featuring interesting places in the sky.

NASA Images

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.

Day Night Demonstrator

Primary teachers who want to demonstrate how we get day and night should take a look at the Day Night Demonstrator from ICT Games. This very simple simulation lets you show your class how we get night and day as well as help to explain seasons and moon phases.

Click here to read more about other resources featured in the original article (including Astronomy Picture of the Day, Children’s University Moon Phases and National Schools Observatory) in the July 2014 Edition of UKEdMagazine

About the author:
Danny Nicholson is an independent trainer and consultant. He is a former science teacher and now delivers Computing and Science training to teachers all over the UK as well as overseas.
He is a PGCE Science lecturer for Billericay Educational Consortium on their Primary SCITT teacher training course, and also delivers science and ICT sessions on several other PGCE and B.Ed. courses. He is one of the authors of Switched on Science for Rising Stars.
He regularly blogs about educational technology at and can be found on Twitter as @dannynic

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