Poker Flat Research Range
Poker Flat is the largest land-based rocket range in the world and it's right in our backyard! Poker Flat launches scientific sounding rockets, performs satellite tracking and is home to a growing fleet of unmanned aircraft.
Make a Star Wheel
Kepler is a space observatory whose mission is to find Earth-sized exoplanets - planets orbiting stars other than our sun. This star wheel can serve as a map of the sky, showing you where constellations are in different parts of the year. Aside from constellations it also guides you to seeing exoplanets discovered by the Kepler mission. Download a copy of the PDF, print, and cut it out. Make sure if you are in Alaska you use the one for higher latitudes for an accurate guide to our skies. You can get even deeper into stargazing when you calculate the angles with the astrolabe in the below activity.
Build Your Own Astrolabe
An astrolabe is a simple tool that can be used to calculate the angle of stars above the horizon or to triangulate the height of objects. Scientists like the ones at Poker Flat use triangulation to determine the height of the aurora. This activity has instructions on how to build the astrolabe and how to extend the lesson into a simple math equation for older learners to work on applied trigonometry. Add this to an astronomy day to help locate stars on a star chart! View and download a copy of the activity here.
Yup'ik Star Navigation
Learn how people in northern Alaska have been navigating by the stars for generations with this activity guide. Compare this concept to the star wheel and astrolabe. This article for middle school and up has a description of how Fred George navigates the tundra.
Stomp Rockets - Activity Outline PDF
Sounding rockets carry scientific tools instead of humans into space to take measurements on a quick, low flying path before returning to earth. These are the kinds of rockets being launched at Poker Flat Research Range where the scientists can go look for the rocket when it comes down over northern Alaska. In this activity, participants get to build and launch their own air rockets to help imagine the challenges and triumphs of engineering spacecraft and launching them into a specific region of the space above our planet. This is a very fun activity to get students thinking about what they would put in a research rocket. Instead of stickers, they can draw the instruments they would include on their mission and tape them on.
The launcher uses a plastic liter soda bottle and a "tornado maker" or "tornado connector" which just hooks two soda bottles together. They're fairly inexpensive & available online. Connect one end to the bottle for the stomp launcher and the other end to 3ft of flexible tubing with duct tape or a heat shrink sleeve to connect them. Get a pipe the same diameter as your tubing to roll the paper rockets on, so that they fit snugly onto the flexible tubing to launch. This is where it's tricky. The kit uses 3/4 inch outside diameter flexible tubing but pipe is measured by inside diameter, so make sure you compare them to check the exterior diameter! Table signs, activity instructions, facilitator guidelines, training videos, and info sheets are all available for view and download from NISEnet. NASA has another launcher tutorial built out of just PVC pipe & fittings if that is more readily available to you, watch and download that here.
This project was funded under NASA cooperative agreement NNX16AL65A. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Photos from NASA unless otherwise credited.