Back to Blog
STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Solar Soaring

Observing and learning about occurrences in outer space is an exciting way to explore astronomy, the study of everything in the universe beyond Earth’s atmosphere. A solar eclipse is a phenomenon we can experience on Earth in which the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, casting a shadow that either partially or fully blocks sunlight.

Celebrate the solar eclipse on Oct. 14, 2023, by designing a DIY solar eclipse research kite inspired by NASA-funded research. While the October eclipse will only be visible on a narrow path from Oregon to Texas, Central America and Brazil, we can all celebrate this phenomenon through the fun of hands-on invention!


Materials Needed:

  • Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Scrap Paper
  • Straws
  • Tape
  • Tissue paper (or other paper or fabric)


Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Tape three straws together in the shape of a triangle.
  2. Tape two straws together end-to-end lengthwise to create a long rod.
  3. Tape one end of the long rod to the top of the triangle and allow it to extend beyond the bottom of the triangle.
  4. Cover this frame with tissue paper, other flexible paper or fabric.
  5. Find inspiration in National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee George Alcorn and his invention of the X-ray spectrometer by considering the following:
    • Light travels through the air and outer space in waves.
    • Spectrometers measure light. They can measure how intense or bright the light is, as well as the wavelength of the light. People see wavelengths of visible light as color, like a rainbow.
    • Alcorn’s spectrometer measured a type of high-energy light we cannot see called X-rays. X-rays are emitted by hot gases in space, like the sun.
    • The types and amount of light in the air can change before, during and after an eclipse.
  6. Once you have your kite base, sketch a design on scrap paper to transform your kite into a solar eclipse research device. Ask yourself some of the following questions as you design your research device:
    • What technology might your device use to collect and measure light? What else might it collect or capture?
    • Where will it display the data? Will there be numbers? Pictures?
    • How can your device help us better visualize how light changes during an eclipse?


What Are We Discovering?

National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee George Alcorn is a pioneering physicist and engineer known for his aerospace and semiconductor inventions. His X-ray imaging spectrometer, patented during his career at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, allowed for the detection of radio signatures at a more distant and accurate rate than previously possible, and influenced the continued evolution of imaging devices.

Used with space telescopes and other satellites, X-ray imaging spectrometers provide scientists with highly useful data for a wide range of scientific and technical applications. With improvements that addressed structural and performance deficiencies, Alcorn’s devices and their descendants have been used to conduct planetary mapping, search for new planets, create star charts to reveal motions of systems and examine deep space phenomena.


More Out-of-This-World Fun This Way!

If you enjoyed this activity and would like more hands-on fun delivered to your inbox, we invite you to sign up for our emails here.

Related Articles