Celestial Navigation and Coordinate Systems

Contact Information:

  • Matt Laird. Email: mslaird@mtu.edu
  • Heather Murphy. Email: hmurphy@hancock.k12.mi.us


Have you ever wondered how to describe your location to someone else? Now try to describe your location with out using another object as a frame of reference. The lesson plan Celestial Navigation is a introduction into the different navigation systems that are used to describe the location of objects that are light years away and have masses many time larger then our sun.

Lesson Content Overview:

  • Engage (10 min): A Celestial Scavenger Hunt using Local Coordinates.
  • Explore (45): Students develop an appreciation for coordinate systems as they are tasked with developing their own coordinate system for constellations of Gamma-ray sources.
  • Explain (40 min): Celestial Coordinate systems are explained in a slide show presentation.
  • Extension (35 min): Students race to convert between two types of units within the J2000 coordinate system to acquire real life HAWC Significance Maps.
  • Elaborate (5 class periods): Students are tasked with applying the coordinate system as they develop a model of a Portable Planetarium in this Engineering Design Challenge.

Connections to Prior Learning:

Supporting Material:

Celestial Navigation – Lesson Plan

Celestial Navigation – Classroom Slides

Resource – Significance Maps Race Handout

Resource – HAWC Coordinates for Race / Answer Key

Resource – Portable Planetarium

About the Team:

Petra Huentemeyer, PhD (petra@mtu.edu), Professor, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI


Henrike Fleischhack, PhD (henrike.fleischhack@ptb.de), Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), Germany


Xiaojie Wang, PhD (xwang32@mtu.edu), Post-Doctorate, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI


Katelyn McCarthy (kpsutton@mtu.edu), Teacher, Kalamazoo Area Mathematics and Science Center, Kalamazoo, MI


Matt Laird (mslaird@mtu.edu), Instructor, Gogebic Community College, Houghton, MI


Heather Murphy (hmurphy@hancock.k12.mi.us), Teacher, Hancock High School, Hancock, MI


Tamala Sebring (tamala.sebring@gmail.com), Teacher, Pittsfield High School, Pittsfield, MA

Interested in Joining?

The call for applications to participate in this RET will be posted in the fall.


Check back here or contact Petra Huentemeyer for more information.