Moons of the Solar System

This program begins with observations of the Earth’s Moon and a modeling activity that shows why the Moon goes through phases and eclipses. Then the students look at Jupiter’s four major moons on a series of nights and figure out how long each one takes to circle Jupiter.

Finally the students journey through the solar system to see many moons through the “eyes” of modern spacecraft. Classroom activities involve students in performing experiments in crater formation, using Moon maps, and designing lunar settlements.

by Cary I. Sneider and Alan D. Gould
revised by Toshi Komatsu


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    Moons of the Solar System was designed for public audiences and for school children in grades four and above. Presentations for younger age children (grades 1-3) require simplification as noted in the script.

     The program begins with students observing how the Moon changes position and apparent shape during a two week time period. To better understand their observations, each student models the Earth-Moon-Sun system with a light in the center of the planetarium representing the Sun, a hand held ball as the Moon, and the student’s own head as the Earth. This is the best way we have found for anyone (including adults) to understand why the Moon goes through phases. The model is also used to explain lunar and solar eclipses. 

    In the next activity, students observe the moons of Jupiter. Classes of children in grades 4 and up will be able to plot the Galilean moons’ positions on a data chart. Younger groups will watch the moons’ positions change from night to night and draw conclusions from those observations without attempting to record them. 

    The last part of the program is a tour of the Solar System to see the moons of each planet through the eyes of spacecraft that have visited those planets. Viking, Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini images are featured.

We would be very grateful to hear from you about how you used this program, what modifications you made, what worked well, and what didn’t work well. 


After attending this planetarium program, the students will be able to:

  1. Explain the phases of the Moon—why the Moon appears to change shape in a monthly cycle.
  2. Explain why we have solar and lunar eclipses.
  3. Explain how Galileo was able to measure the periods of Jupiter’s four largest moons.
  4. Explain the role of meteoroids in crater formation.
  5. Name and describe some of the moons found in the Solar System.
  6. Differentiate between a “planet” and a “moon” or “satellite.”

Primary grade students will be able to:

  1. Describe the phases of the Moon.
  2. Describe the appearance of the Moon close-up.
  3. Explain that other planets have more than one moon, and that these moons look different from Earth’s moon.


  1. Sun-Moon Simulator
  2. Sun-Moon Simulator
  3. Light Pointers
  4. Reading Lights for the Students
  5. Sound effect: Countdown and Rocket Launch Noise
  6. “Tracking Jupiter’s Moons” Data Sheet

View Materials for Moons of the Solar System


Download all still images.
Download all movies.
Alternative Moon Phase Movies: Preview all -|- Download all (.zip)

*Media Credits:
Arizona State: Arizona State University,
DLR: Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (German Aerospace Center),
Fred Espenak: Wikipedia contributor,
HST Pluto CST: Hubble Space Telescope Pluto Companion Search Team,
JPL-Caltech: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech,
LHS: The Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-5200,
Luc Viator: Wikipedia contributor,
MSSSystems: Malin Space Science Systems,
SSInstitute: Space Science Institute,
SwRI: Southwest Research Institute,
USGS: United States Geological Survey (& NASA) – Creative Commons Attribution license –
Views of the Solar System:
Windows to the Universe:


  1. Move diurnal motion until the Sun is above the western horizon, about an hour before sunset.
  2. Set the Moon phase so that the Moon is about 3 or 4 days old (narrow crescent to the east of the Sun).
  3. Test unfrosted tubular light bulb for Sun simulation in the center of the planetarium for circular seating and front-center for theater style seating. Be sure the top cover is over the bulb to prevent dome reflections.
  4. Have model Moons (class set of polystyrene balls) ready.
  5. Test light pointer(s) (bright and dim).
  6. Cue visuals (still images and/or video).
  7. Optional: Cue your own audio for rocket launch.


Set up the sky for the beginning of the program. Use January 11, 2008 as the start date, since the program calls to start with a waxing crescent moon before sunset. The presenter may use a series of stops for the “Observing Phases of the Moon” activity.
Note: It is useful to modularize portions of the setup. This allows, for example, for random access of phases. Note on Images: For any images in this show, the user may want to adjust the locations of individual images for better positioning in their own dome.

If needed, there are some optional effects that may be used during the “Observing Moon Phases” activity:

  • Toggle the time info, useful if you would like the audience to keep track of the change in dates.
  • Toggle the cardinal direction indicators.
  • Toggle the ecliptic.
  • Turn the Milky Way off and fades the star brightness to 40% to mimic a city sky with light pollution.
  • Run diurnal motion backward and forward at a preset speed.

In the Tour of Moons part of the show, the still images of moons do not need to be shown if your fulldome digital system has 3D models built in. Since this show was developed in the 1980s, the capability of digital planetarium systems to create fulldome effects of all sort has become “coin of the realm.” What originally a series of still images in an array of slide projectors and flatscreen video projectors could display can now be made kinetically populate the dome with movement of images in any direction, any speed, and surface features mapped onto 3D images.

Stills in the script then provide examples of the type of view desired to show audiences. If no models are available in the fulldome digital system, then the images provided should be used, but as creatively as possible in terms of placement and movement in the dome. Some suggestions are given in green boxes in certain instances.

It may be of considerable value to make the effects segments for each moon available in a way that allows the presenter to randomly access any of the segments to tailor the show to the needs of time and audience suggestions.

Planetarium Show Script

Discover More About Moons of the Solar System

Worldwide Web Connections


J. Kelly Beatty (Editor), Carolyn Collins Petersen (Editor), and Andrew L. Chaikin (Editor), The New Solar System. Cambridge University Press, Sky Publishing, 1999. A superb series of review articles by noted scientists. Thorough, though somewhat technical. Excellent photos.

Cherrington, E. Exploring the Moon Through Binoculars and Small Telescopes. Dover, 1984. An observing guide. Cooper, H. Apollo on the Moon and Moon Rocks. Dial, 1970. Accounts of the Apollo 11 mission and the material they brought back from the lunar surface; written by a science journalist. 

Frazier, K. The Solar System. Time-Life Books, 1985. A colorful survey by a science journalist. French, B. The Moon Book. Penguin, 1977. A basic primer for beginners. 

Greeley, Ronald & Batson, Raymond (Contributor), Geological Survey. The NASA Atlas of the Solar System. Cambridge University Press, 1996. 

Littmann, M. Planets Beyond. Wiley, 1988.  

Mark, K. Meteorite Craters. University of Arizona Press, 1987. 

Miller, R. & Hartmann, W. The Grand Tour: A Traveler’s Guide to the Solar System. Workman, 1981. A beautiful primer. 

Miner, Ellis D. Uranus: The Planet, Rings and Satellites. John Wiley & Sons, 1998. 

Moore, P. & Hunt, G. Atlas of the Solar System. Rand McNally, 1983. Large illustrated atlas; a nice reference book. 

Moore, P. New Guide to the Moon. Norton, 1976. A basic book for beginners. 

Morrison, David. Exploring Planetary Worlds (Scientific American Library, No. 45). W H Freeman & Co., 1993. Morrison, D. & Owen, T. The Planetary System. Addison Wesley, 1988. The best introductory textbook about the solar system. 

Price, F. The Moon Observer’s Handbook. Cambridge University Press, 1989. 

Spudis, Paul D. The Once and Future Moon. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998.

Paul R. Weissman (Editor), Lucy-Ann McFadden (Editor). Encyclopedia of the Solar System. Academic Press, 1998.  

The issues of Astronomy and Sky & Telescope published during the late fall and early winter of 1989-90 cover the Voyager 2 Neptune encounter in detail.


Beatty, J. “Galileo: An Image Gallery III” in Sky & Telescope. July, 1999, p. 40. 

Beatty, J. “Pluto and Charon: The Dance Goes On” in Sky & Telescope, Sep. 1987, p. 248; “The Dance Begins,” June 1985, p. 501.  

Beatty, J. “Welcome to Neptune” in Sky & Telescope, Oct. 1989, p. 358. 

Beatty, J. “Pluto Reconsidered” in Sky & Telescope, May 1999, p. 48. 

Bell, Jim. “Exploring Crater Rays” in Astronomy, May 1999, p. 86. 

Berry, R. “Triumph at Neptune” in Astronomy, Nov. 1989, p. 20.  

Burgess, E. “The New Moon: Scientific Results of 18 Years of Lunar Exploration” in Mercury, Nov./Dec. 1977, p. 10.  

Burnham, R. “The Saturnian Satellites” in Astronomy, Dec. 1981, p. 6.  

Chaikin, A. “A Guided Tour of the Moon” in Sky & Telescope, Sep. 1984, p. 211. An observing guide for beginners.  

Elliot, J. & Kerr, R. “Rings.” MIT Press, 1985. 

Elliott, J. & Kerr, R. “How Jupiter’s Ring Was Discovered” in Mercury, Nov/Dec. 1985, p. 162.  

Esposito, L. “The Changing Shape of Planetary Rings” in Astronomy, Sep. 1987, p. 6.  

Gore, R. “Saturn: Riddle of the Rings” in National Geographic, July 1981.  

Gore, R. “Voyager Views Jupiter” in National Geographic, Jan. 1980.  

Graham, Rex. “Is Pluto a Planet?” in Astronomy. July, 1999, p. 42. 

Harrington, R. & B. “The Discovery of Pluto’s Moon” in Mercury, Jan/Feb 1979, p. 1.  

Hartmann, W. “Cratering in the Solar System” in Scientific American, Jan. 1977.  

Hartmann, W. “The View from Io” in Astronomy, May 1981, p. 17.  

Hiscock, Philip. “Once in a Blue Moon . . .” in Sky & Telescope. March, 1999, p. 52. 

Johnson, T. & Soderblom, L. “Io” in Scientific American, Dec. 1983.  

Johnson, T., et al. “The Moons of Uranus” in Scientific American, Apr. 1987.  

Kaufmann, W. “Voyager at Neptune — A Preliminary Report” in Mercury, Nov/Dec 1989. 

Morrison, D. “An Enigma Called Io” in Sky & Telescope, Mar. 1985, p. 198.  

Morrison, D. “Four New Worlds: The Voyager Exploration of Jupiter’s Satellites” in Mercury, May/June 1980, p. 53. 

Morrison, D. “The New Saturn System” in Mercury, Nov./Dec. 1981, p. 162.  

Morrison, N. “A Refined View of Miranda” in Mercury, Mar/Apr. 1989, p. 55.  

Olson, Donald R., Fienberg, Richard T., Sinnot, Roger W. “What’s a Blue Moon?” in Sky & Telescope, May, 1999, p. 36. 

Owen, T. “Titan” in Scientific American, Feb. 1982.  

Schenk, Paul M. “The Mountains of Io” Astronomy, January, 1995. 

Simon, S. “The View from Europa” in Astronomy, Nov. 1986, p. 98. 

Soderblom, L. “The Galilean Moons of Jupiter” in Scientific American, Jan. 1980.  

Soderblom, L. & Johnson, T. “The Moons of Saturn” in Scientific American, Jan. 1982. 

Talcott, Richard. “Hubble Shoots the Moon” in Astronomy. July, 1999, p. 60.


    The following staff members of the Lawrence Hall of Science Astronomy and Physics Education Project tested the first version of this progam: Michael Askins, Bryan Bashin, Cynthia Carilli, Cathy Dawson, Lisa Dettloff, Stephen Gee, Mark Gingrich, Alan Gould, Cheryl Jaworowski, Bob Sanders. 

    In 1988, grants from the National Science Foundation and Learning Technologies, Inc. enabled us to publish Moons of the Solar System as part of the PASS series. Project Co-Directors were Cary Sneider, Director of Astronomy & Physics Education at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, CA, and Alan Friedman, Director of the New York Hall of Science, in Corona, New York. Staff members of the Lawrence Hall of Science who contributed to the series included Lisa Dettloff, John Erickson, Alan Gould, and John-Michael Seltzer, and Michelle Wolfson. Staff members of the New York Hall of Science who contributed to the series included Terry Boykie and Steven Tomecek. The activity in “Explaining the Phases of the Moon” is based on an idea suggested independently by Dennis Schatz of the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington, and Larry Moscotti of the Como Planetarium in St. Paul, Minnesota. Andy Fraknoi, Executive Director of the Astronomcial Society of the Pacific, provided us with bibliographic entries used in “Discover More About Moons of the Solar System”. Special thanks are due to our Program Officers at the National Science Foundation, Florence Fasanelli and Wayne Sukow.

    We wish to acknowledge the assistance provided by our Advisory Board, who helped to plan this series, and commented on early drafts: Gerald Mallon, Methacton School District Planetarium, Norristown, PA; Edna DeVore, Independence Planetarium, East Side Union High School District, San Jose, CA; Philip Sadler, Project STAR, Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA; Sheldon Schafer, Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences Planetarium, Peoria, IL; Robert Riddle, Project Starwalk, Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences Planetarium, Peoria, IL; David Cudaback, Astronomy Department, University of California, Berkeley, CA; and Joseph Snider, Department of Physics, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH.

    Perhaps most important are the approximately 100 individuals from around the nation who attended leadership workshops in 1978, and an additional 200 educational leaders who attended three-week institutes in astronomy and space science at Lawrence Hall of Science during the summers of 1989, 1990, 1992, and 1993. These educational leaders provided valuable feedback for their final revision. Their names and addresses are listed in the Appendix of PASS: Planetarium Educator’s Workshop Guide.

    In addition, we would like to thank the staff of the Astronomy and Space Science Summer Institutes: Joseph Snider, Terry Boykie, John Radzilowicz, John Hammer, Robert Jesberg, Jacqueline Hall, Dayle Brown, Alan Gould, Cary Sneider, Michelle Wolfson, John-Michael Seltzer, John Erickson, Lisa Dettloff, Kevin Cuff, Debra Sutter, Chris Harper, Kevin Charles Yum, John Hewitt, Edna DeVore, and David Cudaback. Debra Sutter provided valuable assistance in preparing the 1993 revised edition. John Hewitt prepared the 1999 revised edition. Edition 2008 was revised by Alan Gould and Toshi Komatsu, with assistance from Angela Miller.

    The DigitalSky version of this show was made possible through the efforts of LHS staff, Toshi Komatsu, Jeffrey Nee, Laura Scudder, Susan Gregory, and Alan Gould, as well as the staff of Sky-Skan, Inc.: Steve Savage, Ginger Savage, Martin Ratcliffe, Michelle Ouellette, Marcus Weddle, Johan Gijsenbergs, Ed White, Lee Anne Ward, Stephanie Wilson, Paul Tetu, Claude Ganter, Rob Calusdian, Kurt Berna, Geoff Skelton, David Miller, Lou Liberge, Joe Brochu, Ty Bloomquist, and Mike Mertinooke.

Moons of the Solar System Illustrations
Alan Gould, Sun Simulator diagram
Alan Gould, Tracking Jupiter’s Moons Chart
LHS, Tracking Jupiter’s Moons

Collage of Jupiter with four moons, courtesy of NASA/JPL

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number TPE-8751779. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Original edition: Copyright © 1990, by The Regents of the University of California. Revised editions: Copyright © 1993, 2003, 2009 by The Regents of the University of California. Planetarium Activities for Successful Shows and PASS are trademarks of The Regents of the University of California. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved. This work may not be reproduced by mechanical or electronic means without written permission from the Lawrence Hall of Science, except for pages to be used in classroom activities and teacher workshops. For permission to copy portions of this material for other purposes, please write to: Planetarium Director, Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720.

The original edition printing of the Planetarium Activities for Successful Shows series was made possible by a grant from Learning Technologies, Inc., manufacturers of the STARLAB Portable Planetarium.