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Virtual Field Trips – Grades 3 and Above


One of the Observatory’s missions is to interest students in the exciting career fields of science and engineering.  Locally, hundreds of children are thrilled as the see the Sun, Moon, planets and stars firsthand during visits to Dyer Observatory. 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.

Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory is proud to continue its education and public outreach during this time when in-person visits are not possible. We can tailor a virtual 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 virtually tour the observatory’s dome and main telescope, observe the Sun with the solar telescope, see examples of sundials and learn how they work, and  visit some of the observatory’s interior exhibits.

Below you will find descriptions and time requirements for the activities that we offer for school field trips and an online submission form to request a virtual field trip to Dyer Observatory.

Please keep in mind the following items when planning your field trip:

  • Virtual field trip lasts can last up to an hour.
  • Field trips are geared for 3rd grade and above.
  • The minimum group size is 15.

Available Field Trip Program Activities

Solar Observation (Weather Permitting)

Observe the Sun through our hydrogen-alpha solar telescope to see the solar chromosphere as well as any visible sunspots, prominences, and filaments.  Images and movies from space-based solar observatories showing solar and solar-related activity will also be presented with narration.


Using Dyer Observatory’s Sundial Garden, we will demonstrate how and why time can be determined by the position of the Sun. In addition, students will be instructed on how to construct and use basic sundials on their own using paper versions that can be downloaded for free from our website and printed at home.

Tour of the Seyfert Telescope with Possible Viewing

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.  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.  If Venus is not visible, we will attempt to observe a star in the daytime sky.

Sizes and Scales Talk

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 will then compare the Sun to other stars and then compare other celestial objects, like nebulae and galaxies, to one another.

Spectroscopy Talk and Demo

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 hands-on approach to atomic spectra, we will use spectral discharge tubes to show examples of how various elements will produce their own “fingerprint” of colors.

Finding Things in the Night Sky / Star Wheels

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 be instructed on how to construct and use their own star wheels using a version that can be downloaded from our website and printed at home.

Request to Schedule a Field Trip

If you would like to request a field trip visit to Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory, please fill out the information on the form below and select the activities you would like to have the Dyer Observatory astronomer do with your students.