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Celestial Photography

Ray L. Taylor
Oak Harbor Junior High School, Oak Harbor, Washington

Subject: Science/Photography
Grade: 9

"One student was overheard to say, 'Gee, those planets really are out there, aren't they!' That made the entire project worthwhile."

Purpose and Description of Project

In this ninth-grade science elective course, Ray Taylor combined photography and astronomy so that students learned photographic skills, gained an awareness of photography as a scientific tool, and gained an expanded understanding of Earth as a planet and its relationship to other celestial bodies. The resulting pictures, taken with a camera and a telescope in conjunction, include shots of the sun with sunspots, the moon during several of its phases, and planets Mars and Saturn.

During the project, reports Taylor, the students became masterful photographers and adept at processing their own film, making contact sheets, and producing prints. In fact, they became so involved in their new-found skills that they started using cameras in other areas to record field trips, athletic events, social activities, and day-to-day doings around the school. They also learned about astronomy, but Taylor says that one outcome he did not expect was their "wonderment." "Once an object was sighted," he explains, "many students were in an obvious hurry to get it photographed so they could show others that it really existed."

All in all, the teacher says he "has never been so excited or involved in any particular project in all of my 27 years in the classroom!" And the project has also made an impact on the school as a whole, causing so much student interest that an additional section of ninth-grade science-including "Celestial Photography"-was added to the following year's schedule.


Activities during this program were placed by Taylor into three sections: "lights," "camera," and "action."

Materials, Resources, and Expenses

Taylor and his students were aided by English and other science teachers in writing about their activities and gathering details about celestial mechanics and characteristics.

Equipment and facilities used included a darkroom, developing tanks, KODAK HC-110 Developer, KODAK DEKTOL Developer, stop bath, rapid fixer, photo-flo, plastic tubs, thermometers, safelight, tongs, photographic enlarger, film, positive paper, 35 mm single reflex cameras, telescope with solar filter, and log books. He notes that telescopes without camera attachment equipment can be used by "placing the lens of the camera at the focal point behind the ocular of the telescope."

Outcomes and Adaptability

Taylor reports that his students became enthralled with photography. They were impressed with the wonders to be found in the sky, and developed the skills to permanently record their sightings. They also learned to work together and came to appreciate patience since "film and prints just can't be hurried." The students enthusiasm is demonstrated by the fact that, although they will be moving to another building for their sophomore year, they've asked if they can come back for the photographing of Halley's Comet.

The sky being equally available to all of us, there is obviously no problem in implementation of a similar project in any school district.

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