Spitz Fulldome Curriculum
The first planetarium resource of its kind, the Spitz Fulldome Curriculum is an unprecedented series of classes and short demonstrations designed for teaching astronomy in an immersive dome setting.
Created by Dr. David H. Bradstreet, Professor of Astronomy and Physics and Observatory/Planetarium Director at Eastern University, the Curriculum uses the spherical, 3D qualities of the dome to explain the most commonly taught planetarium subjects, including phases of the moon, seasons, coordinates, planetary motion, time, eclipses and much more.
The Spitz Fulldome Curriculum is included with each SciDome system and contains:
- Starry Night simulations (.snf files) ordered for easy display
- Automated (ATM-4) script for each lesson and mini-lesson
- Detailed objectives, scripts and at-a-glance presentation guides
- Illustration slides and videos scripted into multimedia scenes
- Student activities, lesson questions, and kinesthetic activities
Spitz Fulldome Curriculum Volume 1 shipped to all SciDome planetariums in 2008, followed by Volume 2 in 2013. Volume 3 is currently in production.
Curriculum ElementsWith summaries by curriculum developer Dr. David H. Bradstreet
Volume 1 Classes
Why does the Earth experience seasons? What’s the tilt of the Earth’s axis got to do with anything? What is it tilted with respect to? Why does the Sun appear at different altitudes at different times of the year? What is insolation? What do the apparent daytime paths of the Sun look like at the solstices and equinox at 40° N latitude? At the equator? At the North Pole? At the Arctic Circle? At the South Pole? Why does the amount of daylight vary through the year at one location? Why do different latitudes experience different amounts of daylight?
What are coordinate systems, and why do we need them? What are degrees and where does that goofy sexagesimal system come from? Why use analogies to latitude and longitude for celestial coordinate systems? What is the altitude-azimuth system and what are its strengths and limitations? What are right ascension and declination and where do they originate? Why do RA and Dec work whereas alt-az does not for locating celestial objects at any time?
Volume 1 Mini-lessons
Why does the angle of the Sun determine how much radiation the Earth’s surface receives (insolation)? What else does the insolation depend upon (the shape of the incident surface)? This minilesson is also part of the Seasons class, but is included as a separate routine because of its usefulness in other contexts.
At the North Pole, in what direction does the Sun appear to move in the sky during the day (CCW)? At the South Pole, in what direction does the Sun appear to move in the sky during the day (CW)? Why is there a difference? This minilesson shows how looking at the Earth from different views (above the NP compared to above the SP) makes the Earth appear to rotate either CCW or CW. This routine is also part of the Coordinate Systems lesson.
Did Mars appear as large as the Moon at that famous opposition of August 28, 2003? Why or why not? What exactly is an opposition, and why are some more favorable than others? Do we really have to wait 60,000 years for the next favorable opposition comparable to 2003? Exactly how large did Mars appear in 2003? Are you sick and tired of people asking you these questions that were triggered from the Internet?? This minilesson attempts to turn their interest into a learning experience.
When watching the Sun’s apparent motion from the Caloris Basin on Mercury, you notice that the Sun exhibits peculiar retrograde motion near the meridian. Why? What can this tell us about the orbit and rotation of Mercury? How long is the Mercury year? How long is a Mercury “day?” How can this unique apparent motion of the Sun be explained? You’ll find out…
The Cassini Division within Saturn’s ring system is one of its most striking features. Why does this symmetrical paucity of ring material exist, and why does it occur exactly where it does? The relationship of the orbital periods of a hypothetical particle at the edge of the Cassini Division and Mimas tell the story.
North Celestial Pole Altitude
What is the relationship between the altitude of the North Celestial Pole (NCP) and the observer’s latitude? Why does this relationship exist? This minilesson carefully explains the reason and then investigates the altitude of the celestial poles as seen from the North Pole, equator and South Pole. Lots of fun!
North Celestial Pole Altitude Slides
What is the relationship between the altitude of the North Celestial Pole (NCP) and the observer’s latitude? Why does this relationship exist? This set of images clearly breaks down the reason for this relationship. This set of graphics is also included within the North Celestial Pole Altitude minilesson, but is included separately for your convenience (in case you want to use it independently).
Opposition of Mars
What is meant by “oppositions of Mars?” Why are some more favorable for observing than others? This routine (included within the Mars Hoax minilesson as well) clearly demonstrates oppositions of Mars from 1997 to 2020 and indicates the varying distances between the Earth and Mars and the apparent size of Mars for each one.
In August 2006 the International Astronomical Union voted to reclassify Pluto as a Dwarf Planet. Why was this done? What new discoveries in the outer parts of the Solar System in recent years led to this reclassification? This minilesson tries to show how the plane of Pluto’s orbit is much more like the newly discovered Kuiper Belt objects than the classical planets whose orbits lie close to the plane of the ecliptic.
Why does Polaris appear to remain mostly stationary in the sky as the Earth rotates? This minilesson demonstrates the motions of the sky through the night and then shows how the Earth’s axial orientation to Polaris makes it the famous Pole Star.
The wobbling of the Earth’s axis like a top, known as precession, is relatively straightforward to demonstrate as the Celestial Poles describe circles in the sky with a period of ~26,000 years. But can you easily demonstrate to your classes why the equinoxes also precess westward along the ecliptic because of this motion? I couldn’t either, so I developed this very cool scene which clearly illustrates what’s going on.
Retrograde of Mars
Teaching the retrograde of planets is standard fare in nearly all planetariums. But why, for example, does Mars exhibit several differently shaped retrograde paths? And what does opposition have to do with it? The various shapes are explored in detail with the help of two artificial Mars-like planets.
Surely the first determination of the speed of light (and also the first evidence that it had a finite speed!) deserves some attention, especially since it was done astronomically. Ole Roemer’s method of explaining the varying eclipse timings of Jupiter’s moon Io is clearly demonstrated in this high school/college level minilesson, and a very precise measurement of the speed of light can be determined.
Because of the 25° tilt of Saturn’s rotational axis, we see differing aspects of its ring system in its 29-year sidereal period. This minilesson shows this graphically, but introduces some unexpected motions which the students are encouraged to figure out.
If the term “zodiac” literally means “zone of the animals,” then what is a weighing scales (Libra) doing in it? And why are the two brightest stars in Libra called the Northern and Southern Claws? This minilesson helps you explain this mystery so that your audience can sleep better at night.
Solar System Scale
How big are the planets compared to each other? How many Earth’s can fit inside the Sun? How big is the Sun compared to the other planets? I use this short but very effective demonstration of the relative sizes of the planets to each other and the Sun in nearly every live planetarium presentation. I am sure that your audiences will gasp when the Sun comes on, no matter how smart they are.
It’s always fun to show the Sun rising over the Heel Stone in Stonehenge on June 21 the summer solstice for the Northern Hemisphere. This scene has everything all set for this event, with the Sun placed exactly over the Heel Stone. (But can you explain why precession doesn’t affect the azimuthal rising of the Sun through the ages?)
Volume 2 Classes
Boy Scout Astronomy Badge
This comprehensive show includes coverage of a significant portion of the requirements for the Boy Scout Astronomy Merit Badge. Approximately 75-minutes in length, it contains many elements which we present at Eastern University to the majority of our visiting school groups. From light pollution, why the sky moves as it does, why Polaris doesn’t move, constellations, the Moon and phases, how to find the ecliptic and hence planets, and finally, describing the Milky Way and our place within it and its place within the universe, this class almost does everything required for an astronomy overview. There are many sections of this class that you may want to use in your own presentations.
This class teaches the fundamentals of eclipse shadows and then proceeds to illustrate why we don’t have eclipses every month (really every two weeks!). It then concludes with examples of a solar eclipse observed from in the path of totality and just outside of it, an annular eclipse and finally a total lunar eclipse. It assumes that the very basics of the conditions required for eclipses have been covered before coming to the planetarium, namely, that in order to have eclipses the Moon must be New for a solar eclipse and Full for a lunar eclipse. Beyond that nearly everything else is covered in depth in this class.
This particular class is one that excites me tremendously because my students achieve a profoundly better understanding of why the planets appear in the sky as they do. This class endeavors to teach how, by simply observing the positions of the planets in the sky just after sunset, to plot their positions in their orbits around the Sun. The time spent in learning this skill is, in my opinion, truly life changing as it relates to how people visualize the Solar System!
Time and Timekeeping
This comprehensive class actually is comprised of a “main” program (cue file) which calls six subprogram minilessons in a logical teaching order. This class consists of presenting the following minilessons: Sidereal Days, Hour Angle, Sidereal Time, Time LAST (Local Apparent Solar Time), Time LMST (Local Mean Solar Time) and Time Zones and the International Date Line. These concepts are typically not understood by many and my hope is that by carefully working through these minilessons that people will thoroughly understand how we determine time and the many complications that arise because of our relying on the position of the Sun as our time standard!
Volume 2 Mini-lessons
Analemmas - Part Deux
Starry Night has the unique ability to project accurate and to scale analemmas on the planets in the Solar System. This minilesson presents all the planets that have solar days less than their sidereal year and attempts to explain what each pattern means relative to the planet’s axial tilt and orbital eccentricity. The old Earth globe makers would be proud!
As a binary star astronomer, I love eclipsing binaries, and now you will too! This minilesson thoroughly explores the mysteries of these systems, their light curves and peculiar orientations, and then gives unique three-dimensional (accurate and to scale!) rotating models (thanks to Steve Sanders) of some of the most interesting types! Since more than 50% of all stars in the skies are multiple star systems and they’re the only way that we can determine masses for stars, eclipsing binaries are of paramount importance in astronomy!
The concept of the plane of the Earth’s orbit (the Ecliptic) is one of the most crucial concepts that we teach in the planetarium. This series of slides clearly demonstrates one way of helping your audience to locate the ecliptic at any time of the year! You just have to be able to find Draco and have a pair of arms… â˜º
Halley 1910 Ride Through the Inner Solar System
As we taught Volume 1 of the Curriculum, the Earth actually passed through Halley’s Comet’s tail in 1910. In this minilesson, we watch the comet’s movement through the solar system from the perspective of Halley itself – as if we’re “riding” with it on its Journey around the sun. A comet visualization shows the slowly rotating and “spitting” nucleus as it winds its way into our neighborhood. The visualization was inspired by Keith Johnson (Rowan University). Eastern University’s Steve Sanders created a realistic comet nucleus animation to enhance the Starry Night simulation.
One unique teaching tool of Starry Night is its ability to project hour angles for any celestial object. Hour angles are the basis for all of our time systems, and the thrust of this minilesson is to clearly understand exactly what an hour angle is. This presentation lays the groundwork for all the subsequent lessons on Time and Timekeeping.
Kepler's Second Law
This straightforward series of slides illustrates the principles behind Kepler’s Second Law. It constructs, piece by piece, the necessary elements to help your audience understand what’s going on with the Law of Areas.
Using Starry Night’s ability to create artificial worlds, this minilesson carefully investigates the commonly misunderstood phenomenon of Lunar Libration. Each contributor to libration is carefully observed and then, with help from the audience, subtracted out of the Moon’s motions until we end up with a Moon with no librations at all! This straightforward presentation really helps to demystify a topic which goes largely untaught simply because it has been difficult to present…until now.
Lincoln Almanac Trial
This is one of my most popular planetarium presentations! Based upon the research of Dr. Don Olson, this lesson carefully outlines how Lincoln’s most famous case as a trial lawyer was based upon the position of the Moon and how its extraordinary circumstances for the night of a murder were only recently shown that proved Lincoln was telling the truth in the defense of his client! In the process of this mystery your audience will be fooled into actually learning all kinds of great information about the Moon and its orbital characteristics. Who ever thought the regression of nodes could be such an understandable and intriguing phenomenon?
Milky Way cross section
This minilesson, originally part of the Boy Scout Astronomy Badge class, is an excellent way to present the structure and shape of our galaxy. Beginning with an animation to show its spiral shape, it then presents itself as a flattened disk which finally leads to several overlays depicting its major features.
Milky Way zoom
Also part of the Boy Scout presentation, this cool routine starts from the Sun and zooms out, distance spheres marking your way, until you can see the Milky Way in all its glory! After flying around it, the zoom continues until it encompasses the entire Starry Night database out to 1 billion light years.
Perigee and Apogee of the Moon
This minilesson demonstrates how the Moon’s orbit differs from a circle and then shows how the different distances from Earth affect its apparent size in the sky. It includes a clear visualization showing the diameters of the perigee and apogee moons, artificially superimposed as a single slide, presenting a clear difference in their apparent sizes.
Precession Part Deux
This slightly modified version of Volume 1’s Precession minilesson features Steve Sanders’ fantastic animation which, taken by itself, clearly demonstrates why the precession of the Earth’s axis causes both the equinoxes to regress as well as the pole star to change through the ages. This concept was always lost on my college students until they saw this animation!
The Sidereal Day is carefully defined and contrasted to the Solar Day and then these differences are clearly demonstrated in the planetarium.
Sidereal Time is defined and demonstrated. The ability to locate objects based upon their Right Ascension and the Local Sidereal Time is then explained and two examples are shown.
Speed of Light
Using Starry Night’s time-variable Radio Sphere, a simple but effective demonstration of the true speed of light is shown, first relative to the Moon’s orbit and then to the size of the inner portion of the Solar System.
I use this minilesson in almost all of my school presentations, from 4-years olds through adults. It graphically depicts the sizes of stars from white dwarfs to red supergiants.
Stellar Sizes - 3D Spheres
A compelling way to use the Distance Spheres capability of Starry Night is to create scale models of stars and compare them to the size of the Solar System. This minilesson takes the same stars from the regular Stellar Sizes minilesson and creates them with Distance Spheres. This way your audience can compare planetary orbits with the stars. The size of the supermassive black hole located at the center of the Milky Way is also depicted (just to freak people out).
Time - Local Apparent Solar Time
The definition of Local Apparent Solar time is carefully introduced and then several examples are shown.
Time - Local Mean Solar Time
The actual Sun is shown to be an inaccurate clock and why it’s inaccurate is carefully demonstrated. In this analysis, which makes use of the analemma, the audience is coached into understanding that a “better” Sun could be had if the Earth’s orbit had no eccentricity and the Earth had no axial inclination. Through these investigations the Mean (or Average) Sun is discovered.
The last minilesson in the Time series, the need for time zones is presented and the perfect solution is then contrasted with the human solution of wacky time zones! The rationale for the International Date Line is also presented and its reason for being is carefully explained.
US History - Boston
Based on the superlative work of Dr. Don Olson from South Texas University, this minilesson discusses some of the astronomical occurrences during the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and Paul Revere’s Ride. In addition to teaching some of the history of the events which led to the American Revolution, this presentation helps to answer some of the intriguing questions like “Was Paul Revere’s woodcut of the Boston Massacre really accurate or just propaganda?”, “Why was the tide so low on the night of the Tea Party?” and “How did the nearly full Moon nearly doom Paul Revere’s ride before it even got started?”
Dr. David H. Bradstreet
Spitz Curriculum Author
Chair of Astronomy & Physics
One of the most exciting things about FDC is that it inspires me to go further.
Browsing through Dave’s Curriculum has stimulated me to invent new methods that fit my teaching style and needs, and all his examples are easily modified. You can’t do that with a pre-packaged video in a classroom, or with a full-dome movie!
Praise for the Spitz Fulldome Curriculum - Volumes 1 and 2
Dr. Bradstreet’s Full Dome Curriculum is an incredible asset to any planetarium. His lessons are concise, direct, and immediately useful in the dome. He does an amazing job of utilizing the unique capabilities of the SciDome to teach astronomy in a way that is both engaging for the student, and often times, instructional to the teacher!
So many astronomical concepts that were once second nature have been lost to our modern world of GPS, cell phones and computers. The Full Dome Curriculum reconnects the student to these ‘lost arts’ in a way that cannot be done outside of the planetarium dome.
Once again Dr. David Bradstreet has created a Fulldome Curriculum of astronomy lessons and mini-lessons that are simultaneously educationally rich, visually spectacular, and entertainment-rich. Some include truly one-of-a-kind visualizations of difficult astronomical concepts, like his lessons about eclipse seasons and timekeeping. And his two lessons, the Lincoln Almanac Trial and astronomical history of Boston, are wonderful examples of how astronomy can be connected to other educational disciplines.
Coming from a non-astronomy background, I have spent 30+ years working in the planetarium and always assumed I had developed a fairly strong knowledge base in astronomy. I am always thrilled when FDC teaches me something new or helps me develop an even deeper understanding of our universe.
The work that Dr. Bradstreet and Steve Sanders are doing with this curriculum is ground-breaking. Many of these concepts have never before been so brilliantly presented in the classroom or the planetarium.
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