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George Mason University Observing Patagonia or Timbuktu Activity Worksheet


This is an introductory activity. In this activity you are asked to make observations of the sky and take measurements using a “hand technique” described in the manual for this activity (see below). Before you go observing, read the manual carefully and get acquainted with the concepts discussed in the introduction. Make sure that you understand the instructions for how to use your hands to measure angular distances and sizes in the sky: the key is to have your arm fully extended, elbow straight (see figure 5 a) and that you can find the primary directions: north, east, south, and west.

You’ll need to repeat some of these observations on two separate occasions on the same night an hour or two apart, so plan carefully. Ideally I’d like you complete this activity before Monday, May 24th, 2021, 11:59 PM. If weather does not cooperate this due date may be extended.

Since this activity involves observing the sky and the weather is not predictable (astronomer’s bane ), I recommend that you attempt it on the first clear night. And sorry, a single observation will not serve the purpose, since one of the main objective is for you to look at how celestial objects move in the sky, so if you’re unlucky and it gets cloudy, you may have to re-do both observing sessions: it’s vital that they are done on the same night.

When going observing, take with you a pen or pencil, a copy of the worksheet (pages 6, 7 and 8), and take some extra paper for making sketches. It will help if you let your eyes adjust to the darkness, so avoid using your phone or any other light source for a few minutes each time before commencing your observations.

If you are unable to perform this observing activity due to health situation, COVID restrictions or fear for your safety and well being, bad weather, or other valid considerations, please contact me and I’ll offer you an extension or a make-up assignment.


After observing, you are asked to submit sketches and your worksheet, and then to take a quiz. You need to do both (submit sketches/worksheet and take the quiz) to be eligible for credit (regular and extra).

You need to combine the sketches and worksheets all into a single file before uploading – I’ll take points off for multiple files. Standard formats like MS Word or pdf are OK. Make sure that you make a SINGLE sketch for the eastern sky with positions of the star at the time of the 1st and 2nd observations shown on the same page (use different color and/or label) so they can be compared. Ditto for the northern sky sketch: show both observations on the same sketch.


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