Lunacy III: Seeing the Moon as Kuiper Did

13 Teachers joined in on the International Observe the Moon Celebration by tracing the footsteps of Kuiper

October 8, 2011
By Margie Corp for Stars at Yerkes News

The Earth's Moon has long held many mysteries and been the subject of myth, lore, and inspiration.  At this month's Stars at Yerkes Teacher Workshop, teacher leader Lynne Zielinski took participants on a journey of additional discovery and ideas to inspire their students about the Moon and the people who have made discoveries about it.

Lynne Zielinski discusses images of the Moon using Kuiper's 1960 Photographic Lunar Atlas, part of the Yerkes Observatory collection.

The workshop began with a presentation by Zielinski about former Director of Yerkes Observatory, Gerard Kuiper.  Among his many duties during his years at Yerkes, Kuiper worked as chief scientist for the Ranger lunar probe program, working to determine lunar landing sites for the Surveyor and Apollo programs.  Kuiper determined that viewing flat images taken with Yerkes telescopes of a spherical object would not provide complete information about the Moon.  Kuiper worked to develop a three dimensional projection system to analyze or
rectify images of the moon before satellites were ever sent there

Using a wooden model manufactured by a local foundry, Kuiper projected images of the moon onto the painted white surface of the model hemisphere.  Teachers explored this model using modern images projected on the sphere with a computer projector, and were reminded how distortion is a component of all maps.

Teachers examine and measure the differences between projected lunar images using the Kuiper Hemisphere and on a flat board.

Next came a tour of the Yerkes archives.  On this tour, teachers compared the collection of glass plates and atlases used to study and plan for lunar exploration.  The archive visit clearly illustrated the impact these images made on our understanding of the Moon in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

One of the glass plates as seen on the light box in the Yerkes archive collection.

In the afternoon, teachers explored different teaching strategies for lunar study.  Lynne Zielinski led the group in a kinesthetic approach to understanding moon phases, in an exercise called the "Moon Dance."  In another lesson, teachers dropped different objects in boxes of flour and cocoa powder to simulate the creation of craters.  Using digital cameras, images and movie clips were made and reviewed to see how ejecta from the impact create features like rays, central peaks, and crater walls on the moon. 

Above, teachers on the Yerkes back lawn learn the "Moon Dance." 
In the image below, taken from a movie clip, teachers analyzed simulated moon craters.

Illustrating how Stars at Yerkes is a professional learning community, John Sunta, S@Y teacher from Lincoln-Way District 210, described his current research with photographing mountains on the Moon.  Sunta described how he used a digital camera, a small reflecting telescope, SalsaJ image processing software, and some math to calculate the height of the Moon's feature.  Kevin McCarron, S@Y teacher from Oark Park River Forect High School, shared his knowledge about using color filters when viewing and imaging the Moon using a telescope.  Margie Corp, S@Y teacher from Orenic Intermediate School, Plainfield,IL, added information about a new program associated with NASA's GRAIL mission to the Moon.  MoonKAM will provide students with the opportunity to use cameras mounted on the GRAIL lunar orbiter.  Information for the project is found at

John Sunta points out features he analyzed using resources learned at Yerkes using the Kuiper Hemisphere.

In the evening, Stars at Yerkes volunteers celebrated International Observe the Moon Night by hosting a public star/moon party.  Approximately 80 students, families, and space enthusiasts enjoyed a picture perfect evening on the south lawn of Yerkes observing the Moon and other celestial objects through a variety of telescopes.  Hands-on indoor activities included building a moon mosaic, making star finders, and creating moon phase cookies.  The day was full of learning fun, which reflected the waxing  gibbous moon that night.  Special thanks to Yerkes Observatory Director Kyle Cudworth, James and Christy Cudworth, Rebecca Russel, and Richard Dreiser for their leadership, expertise, and sharing of the skies!

Scenes pictured below are from the International Observe the Moon Night moon party held at Yerkes Observatory on Saturday, October 8, 2011.

Additional teacher resources are found below, and in the Kuiper Sphere file cabinet.

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