The Universe


Umbrella decorated with the constellations.

What it shows:

The aberration of starlight is the shift in the position of the image of a star due to the rotation of the Earth about the Sun, and is a consequence of the finite velocity of light. For a star directly overhead, a telescope will have to be angled by v/c to the vertical where v = velocity of the Earth in space, in order that the telescope be pointing at the star. The equipment necessary to show aberration is one umbrella.

How it works:

The best way to picture this...

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Local Group of Galaxies

Lights-up-in-the-dark three-dimensional model of the local group.

What it shows:

Three dimensional model of the local group of galaxies, with a scale of 1mm = 1kpc.

How it works:

A large wooden base board forms an x-y plane from which the approximate relative positions of the local galaxies are measured. The galaxies are LEDs and (for the two biggest, the Milky Way and Andromeda) 6V bulbs, mounted atop 8mm diameter plastic tubing; the length of the tube gives a z-axis position of the galaxy. The wires from the LEDs and...

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Spiral Galaxy

Hand held Plexiglass model of spiral galaxy.

What it shows:

Handy size model of a generic spiral galaxy to show salient features or to describe structure of the Milky Way

How it works:

The model is a 30cm diameter Plexiglass disc 1cm in thickness, with a Ping-pong ball stuck through the center to represent the nucleus. The spiral arms of the galaxy are sprayed on with white paint, and we've stuck on a "you are here" arrow pointing to the outer reaches of one of the spiral arms at the approximate position of the Sun in the...

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Binary Star

Two small closely mounted bulbs simulate resolution problems.

What it shows:

The ability to resolve two closely separated stars depends upon the aperture size of the observing instrument. Here two tiny bulbs represent stars that are barely resolvable by human eyes across the lecture hall.

How it works:

The light collected from two stars by the eye (or by a telescope mirror) are themselves geometric point sources but are circular diffraction fringes

The light from a distant star is not detected as a geometric point...

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Jupiter's Satellites

Static model of satellite orbits.

What it shows:

Static 3-D model showing the orbital paths of Jupiter's satellites.

How it works:

The model marks the orbital paths of the Jovian satellites to a scale of 1.5cm = 106 km. This scale allows the orbit of the outermost satellite Sinope to fit within a 1m × 1m plywood base. The orbits of the outer 8 satellites are marked using loops of 2mm × 1mm spring steel supported to their correct heights by 5mm Plexiglas rods (Pasiphae rising to the greatest height of 42cm). The...

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Centrifugal Eggbeater

Spinning frame that demonstrates equatorial bulge (oblateness).

What it shows:

The rotation of a planet about its axis causes its equator to bulge due to the "centrifugal force" acting on its mass. Here a spinning wire frame simulates the effect.

How it works:

Planets are actually oblate spheroids rather than spheres due to their rotation. This device consists of two spring metal rings mounted on a metal axis. The north pole is free to slide so that, as the frame spins, the hoops flatten and the equator bulges. The axis is...

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Spherical Blackboard

What it shows:

You can use a spherical blackboard for many things, including the teaching of geographical coordinates, as a model for a closed Universe, or simply as a mathematical shape.

In the non-Euclidean geometry of the sphere, a circle will have a circumference greater than 2πr and an area greater than πr2. A triangle’s angles will add to more than 180°, and two parallel lines, called Great Circles, will converge.

A Universe with a density parameter Ω greater than unity will have too much mass to overcome its own gravitational...

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Inflating Universe

What it shows:

According to present accepted theory the Universe came into existence some 17 billion years ago as a Big Bang and is currently expanding. You can model the expansion of space in two dimensions using a balloon.

inflating universe

How it works...

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