City Skies

The City Skies program seeks to point out that the night sky is available to everyone, everywhere without special equipment. This project prepares neighborhood and community leaders in Philadelphia to use simple but effective observation tools and NASA's educational web content to help their inner-city Philadelphia neighbors learn about space science and technology—and about their city and themselves—by knowledgeably exploring the sky.

A girl looking through a telescope during a City Skies event.
  • What can you see in the sky tonight? Unsure how to navigate the night sky? These resources can help.

    Tonight's Sky - From EarthSky.

    This Week's Sky At a Glance - From Sky & Telescope

    Where can you observe in Philadelphia?

    There are interesting things to see in the night sky no matter where you are in Philadelphia. Some spots are better than others for using your telescope to look at the night sky. Look for areas without too many trees. We suggest: baseball & football fields, school yards, parking lots, parks, waterfront areas and hilltop locations. Below we suggest some good locations for observing around Philadelphia.

    • Ridge Ave at Hermit Street
    • Lemon Hill
    • Belmont Plateau, Fairmount Park
    • Joel N. Bloom Observatory at The Franklin Institute


    What do you need to bring with you when you go observing?
    Go through this checklist before heading out the door!

    Observing checklist:
    - Check the weather
    - Dress warmly (if necessary)
    - Flashlights
    - Sky Map or Chart (hard copy or smartphone app)
    - Binoculars
    (Notice any patterns?)

    Derrick Pitts observing the night sky
  • How to use galileoscopes

    Unsure of how to assemble your galileoscopes?

    This video shows how to assemble your galileoscopes

  • Christopher Hamilton
    Dr. Christopher Hamilton is a research associate at NASA's Goddard Space Center. Dr. Hamilton's research focuses on geological surface processes that can help us better understand the evolution of the Earth and other planetary bodies. His expertise lies in the study of volcanoes, specifically lava flows, magma-water interactions, explosive eruptions, and more. He conducts his research by using a combination of field observations, remote sensing, geospatial analysis, and geophysical modeling. He hopes to provide insight into how planetary surfaces, interiors, and atmospheres evolve through magma production, and how these processes are different for other climate systems.
    Learn more about NASA's volcano research
    Check out how citizen scientists collected volcanic ash for researchers in the UK

    William Dean Pesnell
    Dr. Pesnell is a project scientist for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The Solar Dynamics Observatory's mission is to understand the sun's variations and how they influence life on Earth. The SDO learns about how the Sun's magnetic field is generated and how the energy it creates is converted into solar wind and energetic particles.
    Learn more about Dr. Pesnell in this NASA bio

    Learn more about the Solar Dynamics Observatory by following its Twitter feed
    NASA also offers videos to help you uncover the mysteries of the Sun!
    Did you know that Galileo tracked the motion of the Sun by studying sunspots? By doing this, he realized the Sun rotated on its own axis! Have access to a Sunspotter? The University of Texas - Pan American has put together an activity that allows you to follow Galileo's lead and track solar activity with your friends and family!

    Derrick Pitts
    Learn more about the Franklin Institute's very own Derrick Pitts in his official NASA profile.

    • Falomi Club Campfire / Khepera
    • Folk Arts Cultural Treaty Charter School
    • Creative Kids Club / Blair Christian Academy
    • Indochinese American Council (IAC)
    • Visitation BVM School
    • St. Raymond Church
    • Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association
    • St. James School
    • WOW! Science Camp
    • Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha (APM)
    • Starr Garden Playground
    • West Poplar Community Center with Motivos Magazine 
    • Nueva Esperanza
    • Turning Points for Children
    • Wynnefield Library
    • Charles Santore Library
    • Hawthorne Cultural Center
    • Roosevelt Playground
    • The Lenfest Center
    • Solid Rock United Methodist Church
    • Women’s Christian Alliance
    • Girlscouts
    • McDaniel Middle School, PHMC
    • West Oak Lane Library
    • Oak Lane Library
    • Thomas F. Donatucci Library 

    If you are involved in an organization that is interested in becoming a City Skies partner, please contact Derrick Pitts or Liz Wangenheim for more information.

  • It's easy to throw an observing party! Here's a checklist for the materials you'll need, what you should do before the event, and tips for running a successful star party.

    Prior to the day of the event:

    • Galileoscopes
    • Sunspotters
    • Be sure to distribute the flyers early and often!
    • Practice looking up and seeing things. Also work with any materials (sky maps, etc.) you will be using, so you are comfortable with them.
    • Practice questioning your friends and relations for their observations and ideas.
    • Make sure you have engaged more than enough support staff for your anticipated crowd!
    • Begin tracking the weather forecast three days before the big event.
    • Consider what you'll do if the weather doesn't cooperate.
    • Anticipate the crowd flow. Plan where to position your materials, way-finding signs, astronomer, and support staff.
    • Look around the best location to position the telescope and for all to see the sky well.
    • Will you need any additional illumination for walking, say on paths or near the materials table?
    • Alert the facility to the expected crowd. Anticipate basic building functions:
    • Do you know how to turn on/off the lights?
    • Do you know who has a key to the facility?
    • Do you know how to unlock the bathrooms? Turn on the water?
    • Do you have enough toilet paper?
    • Locate the closest electrical outlet, just in case the astronomer needs one.
    • Locate the tables and chairs that you will need, trash cans, and maybe a few large rocks to prevent papers from flying away.
    • Make sure you prepare way-finding signs. Copy any materials that you need. Cut the red film into flashlight-sized squares.


    Materials to have on hand:


    • Star Wheel
    • Positioning Card to help participants locate and identify Jupiter this spring and summer
    • Red film to cover flashlights brought by participants.
    • Handout for making astronomical measurements using your hand for scale
    • Moon image (if you want to use it)
    • 20 small red flashlights
    • 365 Starry Nights by Chet Raymo which gives you a picture of the sky for every night of the year.
    • Discover the Stars by Richard Berry which gives you an introduction and guide to star gazing.



    • Flashlights (with red film)
    • Tape or Rubber Bands to hold red film on participants' flashlights
    • Materials to do any other activities in your plan
    • A map of this month's sky.


    On the day of the Star Party:

    • Prepare for participants' arrival.
    • Check the weather forecast! Activate your contingency plan for poor weather, if needed.
    • Get there early—at least an hour before participants will arrive.
    • Unlock the facility.
    • Prepare the staff for their roles.
    • Put out any way-finding signs you think the participants will need (bathrooms, parking, etc.).
    • Make sure bathrooms are unlocked, that water is turned on and ready for use.
    • Set up any tables, chairs, trash receptacles, additional illumination.
    • Set up materials for distribution (prevent them from flying away).
    • Remind yourself of some of your favorite questions with which to facilitate.
    • Go on out there and engage some people in looking up.
    • Oh yes, have fun!
  • In case of inclement weather, malfunctioning 'scopes, etc., make sure you have substitute activities to ensure a stress-free, fun, and educational event, regardless of unexpected itinerary changes. Here are some activities to get you started. Additional ideas are available in the urban astronomy resources section below.

    Why Stars Twinkle
    A kinesthetic activity about why stars twinkle and how astronomers combat this with adaptive optics (Note: You'll need some space for this activity)
    Topic: Stars
    Ages: Grades 6-8

    Why Do We Put Telescopes in Space?
    This activity helps explain why telescopes in space can be more effective than telescopes on Earth. Explains the twinkling of stars, and describes atmospheric conditions affecting telescopes. Activity takes about 20 minutes.
    Topic: Telescopes
    Age: Grades 3-7

    The Most Distant Galaxies
    Look at an image of the Hubble Deep Field to investigate distant galaxies. Activity takes about 30 minutes.
    Topic: Galaxies
    Ages: Grades 5-9

    A Universe of Supernovae
    This activity illustrates the value of supernovae in the Universe. Participants will discover that almost all elements that make up the Earth and all its living things were created as a result of supernovae.
    Topic: Supernovae
    Ages: Grades 6-8

    Pocket Solar System
    Make a paper scale size of the Solar System that kids can keep with them.
    Topic: Solar system/Scale models
    Age: Grades 5-9

    Sorting the Solar System
    Using images of Solar System objects, you can start a discussion of the characteristics of asteroids, comets, planets, and moons. Practice scientific thinking by sorting objects in categories according to their common qualities.
    Topic: Solar system
    Age: Grades 6-8

    Make a Star Finder
    Learn about this month’s visible constellations by making your own star finder! This activity takes about 10 minutes to complete.
    Topic: Stars
    Grades: 3-6

    Active Accretion Tag
    Use this educational tag game to teach students about how objects form in space. This game can take up to an hour and you need an open space large enough for tag.
    Topic: Object Formation/Accretion
    Grades: 5-7

    Solar Pizza Box Cooker
    Solar heat and make your own solar powered pizza box oven! This activity takes between 1 and 2 hours.
    Topic: The Sun
    Grades: 6-9

    Oreo Moon Phases
    Have you ever wondered why the moon doesn’t always seem to be shaped the same? Use this easy and delicious activity to investigate why we see different phases of the moon throughout each month.
    This activity takes about 20 minutes.
    Topic: The Moon and Earth
    Grades: 1-5

    Lunar Crater Activity
    Students will explore how craters form on the moon’s surface with this interactive activity. This activity takes about 10 minutes.
    Topic: The Moon
    Grades: 2-6

    Dry Ice Comets
    Learn about the formation, composition and motion of comets! This activity is a little more involved and requires 30+ minutes to complete.
    Topic: Comets
    Grades: 4-12

    Moon Phases Demonstration
    This interactive demonstration will help teach kids about why we see moon phases from here on Earth. This activity takes about 15 minutes.
    Topic: Moon, Earth, Sun
    Grades: 3-7

    3D Constellations
    Create your own 3D constellations to better understand and visualize the way the stars are situated in the sky above. This activity takes about 30 minutes (not including prep).
    Topic: Stars
    Grades: 4-12

    NASA's Night Sky Network Calendar lists other astronomy events in your area.

  • The next solar eclipse visible from Philadelphia occurs August 21, 2017. The path of totality passes through the southeastern United States.

    Learn more about the eclipse and where you can experience totality here

  • NASA Wavelength
    NASA's educational activities library

    NASA's Image Library
    Images from NASA, free for use

    Sky Map - Printer-Friendly Version
    Sky Map - Full Color Version
    Free, downloadable maps of the sky designed to help you identify planets, stars and major constellations, find star clusters, follow comets and learn about the night sky

    Free, open source application for your computer that shows you an image of the sky in 3D

    Zooniverse's MoonZoo
    Did you see the Moon tonight? Help scientists learn about the surface of the Moon by identifying craters and mounds.

    Did you see any planets? Help planetary scientists discover what the weather is like on Mars! Explore the Red Planet.

  • Evaluation Form: Important! Keep track of the events you hold. Send them to Liz either by email ( or by mail: 222 N. 20th Street, Philadelphia PA 19103.

    Event Flyer Template: Use this template to create flyers for your events! Be sure to fill in all of the areas that can be made specific for your event including the title, locations, and partnership credit in the bottom purple area.

    City Skies Logo: If you make your own flyer or documents to use during your City Skies workshops, use our logo!

    Photo Release NASA - For Adults

    Photo Release NASA - For Minors

  • City Skies is supported by NASA under grant award Number NNX12AL21G.

    Nasa logo