Sidewalk Astronomy Handouts

I do sidewalk astronomy. Below are some handouts that I distribute to the public in order to answer questions that commonly come up and/or to engage their interest. All of these documents are a work in progress, but may be useful. Feel free to use as you wish.

List of Handouts

  • Source of Elements: link

  • Looking Back in Time: link

  • How Fast Can You Go: link

  • Tallest Mountains: link

  • Proof of the Big Bang: link

Source of Elements

This handout lists how the elements are made, and also what elements are necessary in the human body.  The objective is show people that there is a direct relationship between remote astronomical processes and themselves. To this end, all visual references to elements are color-coded to match.

For each element necessary for humans, I have included the proportion both by mass and by count, so people get to think about the two metrics, and so they understand that there is no single answer as to how much of the human body is made up of a given element.

Looking Back in Time

I have found that when you tell people that a star or planet is a certain distance away that they often zone out. So I have instead expressed the distance to objects visible in the night sky in terms of how far back in the past one sees them.

This handout is aimed at young children. It seems to be very effective inasmuch as it makes them think about their world in a new way. They start with the planets, and ponder how far back in time they are seeing them. When they get to the stars, the idea that they are seeing stars (with their own eyes) further back in time than they are old often jolts them.

The PDF shows the handout as single-sided, but I print it as double-sided and then cut it in half. The back side, with details about the speed of light, is not nearly as effective as the front.

How Fast Can You Go

This handout quantifies the various ways that people are traveling through space - even when they are standing absolutely still. It is meant to make people think about the size of the universe and the very fast speeds involved.

The PDF shows the handout as single-sided, but I print it as double-sided, then cut in half.

Tallest Mountains

When looking at the Moon one question that is often asked are how high are the mountains. This handout provides numbers, but also puts the Moon and Earth in a larger context.

The PDF shows the handout as single-sided, but I print it as double-sided, then cut in half.

Proof of Big Bang

I get a lot of push-back from the public when I mention that the Big Bang theory largely explains both the history and current composition of the universe. Many, and perhaps most, people seem to think that the Big Bang theory is still unproven.

To address this issue, I have created a seriously-too-wordy handout that lists all of the known sources of evidence that point to the Big Bang hypothesis as being valid. There are quite a few independent observations that all point to the same conclusion.


Any feedback is most welcome.

Graeme Birchall