School Field Trips

One of the Observatory’s missions is to interest students in the exciting career fields of science and engineering. For grades 3 and above, Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory is a wonderful place to bring public, private, and home-schooled students for a weekday, daytime field trip during our open season from March – November. Locally, hundreds of children are thrilled as the see the Sun, Moon, planets and stars firsthand during visits to Dyer Observatory.

school field trip

Inspiring Interest in Science & Engineering

The latest math and science report card shows that students in the United States are still well behind their counterparts in many Asian and European nations. Our goal is to turn these standings around by helping to inspire student interest in science and astronomy, and Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory is a great way for teachers to supplement their Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and astronomy curriculum. 

Tailored Curriculum

We can tailor a program which enhances the science/astronomy curriculum in a number of ways. Students can listen to an astronomy expert talk about various subjects followed by a question and answer session; they can tour the observatory’s dome and main telescope, participate in viewing the Sun with the solar telescope, weather-permitting, and more.

Field Trip FAQs

  • Hours & Cost

    A field trip lasts approximately 1 to 1.5 hours. There is a $5 fee per student and $5 fee per teacher/parent/chaperone.

  • Groups

    Observatory field trips are for 3rd grade and above. The minimum group size is 15 and the maximum number of people is 40. Smaller groups may be accommodated, but there is a minimum fee of $75 per field trip.

  • Access

    For the safety of all observatory guests, closed-toe footwear must be worn. There are approximately 20 steps leading up to the Seyfert Telescope.

Available Activities

  • Solar Observation

    30 minutes (weather permitting)

    Observe the Sun through solar glasses as well as our hydrogen-alpha solar telescope to see the solar chromosphere, sunspots, prominences, and filaments.  Students will also be shown a live view of the Sun beforehand and the Sun’s observable features will be discussed.  Images and movies from space-based solar observatories showing solar and solar-related activity will also be presented with narration.

  • Sundials

    30 minutes

    Students construct basic sundials on their own using a paper template.

  • Seyfert Telescope Tour

    25 minutes

    Dyer Observatory has four telescope installations, three of which are mounted in domes on top of the observatory and are still actively used for observation. Students will tour Dyer’s largest telescope, the Seyfert Telescope, and gain an understanding of its history, how it functions, how it compares to other observatory telescopes, and what it has been used to observe and study.

  • Meteorite Collection Visit

    10 minutes

    Dyer Observatory has a collection of nickel-iron and stony-iron meteorites as well as a number of tektites on display. Students will observe the collection while our astronomer provides an explanation of how meteorites form, what the differences are in various types of meteorites, and how tektites form. Students will also be given the opportunity to hold some of these 4.5 billion-year-old objects.

  • Large-Print Image Tour

    15 minutes

    Dyer Observatory has several large-format infographics that discuss the Milky Way, galaxies in general, and the life cycles of stars. On the adjacent wall is a 20′ panorama of the Milky Way that beautifully displays our home galaxy, shows the constellations visible in and around the band of the galaxy, and highlights 14 objects visible within the galactic landscape. Our astronomer will provide explanations of what the images show, what we can learn from them, and how all of the images are ultimately related to one another. Afterwards, students will move to the library to see our 1/5th-scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope, which is on extended loan from the Space Telescope Science Institute. The astronomer will provide details about Hubble such as its actual size, orbital parameters, and capabilities.

  • Telescopic Observation of Venus

    20 minutes (weather and Venus permitting)

    We can use the Seyfert Telescope to view Venus if it is far enough from the Sun to be viewed safely. This gives students an opportunity to see that some of other planets go through phases like the Moon. We will also discuss what causes the phases and why this phenomenon was used as evidence that the Sun is actually the center of the solar system rather than the Earth.

  • Sizes and Scales Talk

    30 minutes

    We will present a PowerPoint slideshow about the relative sizes of the planets in our solar system and also compare them to the Sun. We then compare the Sun to other stars and, if desired, to other celestial objects like nebulae and galaxies.

  • Planet Walk

    45 minutes (weather permitting)

    Students will walk-off a scale model of the solar system in which the Sun is represented by an 8″ ball. As we walk to each planet, students are shown the scaled planet size while we discuss various aspects of the body, such as structure, number of moons, rings, etc. With time constraints, we typically walk to Jupiter but also discuss how big and distant the remaining planets would be.

  • Spectroscopy Talk and Demo

    45 minutes

    We present a PowerPoint presentation about the electromagnetic spectrum and how atoms and molecules produce their own colors of light. We will discuss how these unique sets of colors can be used to determine aspects of celestial objects, such as composition, temperature, and velocity. To give a more engaging approach to atomic spectra, we will use spectral discharge tubes to show examples of how various elements will produce their own “fingerprint” of colors. This activity highly benefits from incorporating the “Solar Observation” activity into the program.


  • Finding Things in the Night Sky / Star Wheels

    45 minutes

    Using the planetarium software Stellarium, we will discuss how objects in the sky move with respect to one’s location. We will also discuss how to find certain objects such as planets and constellations. Students will also construct their own star wheels with provided paper and be instructed on how to use them to find celestial objects on their own.


The Fisk-Vanderbilt Planetarium Roadshow

Not able to bring your class to Dyer? No problem. Contact our friends in the Astrophysics Department on the main Vanderbilt campus for an inflatable planetarium visit that will bring the night sky to you!

Learn More