• Discover the Universe

Challenge: Explore the Sky ...And exoplanets

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

Following the success of our observational challenge last winter, we invite you once again to look up and make 9 observations over the next few weeks!


SPECIAL INVITATION TO TEACHERS AND EDUCATORS!

Register for our challenge to receive additional educational material that will allow you to complete this Challenge with your students and learn more about the celestial objects and phenomena. You will also be introduced to exoplanets! This activity is presented in collaboration with

the Institute for Research on Exoplanets in Montreal!




Nine Observations:

  1. Last Quarter Moon

  2. The Cygnus Constellation

  3. Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus

  4. First Quarter Moon

  5. Sunset before 4:30 pm

  6. Full Moon

  7. The Orion Constellation

  8. The Pleiades

  9. The star Pollux

NOTE: These observations are visible throughout southern Canada and at similar latitudes (such as Europe). Some of them could be a challenge under more northern latitudes. Contact us if you have any questions!


Click the image above to download the Challenge Sheet (PDF).


Observation 1 - Last Quarter Moon

The Moon is bright because it reflects the light of the Sun. Depending on its position along its orbit around the Earth, its appearance changes. These changes are called phases. During the challenge, you will be able to observe many phases of the Moon.


During the Last Quarter Moon, the lit portion of the Moon sort of looks like the letter C 🌗. It rises late at night, around midnight. You can actually still see it in the early morning —look southwest!


Another last quarter moon will happen on December 26.

Observation 2 - Cygnus Constellation

The Cygnus constellation looks like a cross. It’s made up of five bright stars that stand out against the dark sky. They mark the wings, head, tail, and belly of a swan. Early in the challenge, you can see this constellation straight up over your head in the early evening. As the evening progresses, and the days pass, it moves closer to the horizon, towards the northwest.


👍 Pro Tip: First spot 3 very bright stars, the Summer Triangle. One of these bright stars is called Deneb.




Observation 3 - Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus

This year, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus are all visible in the evening sky. You can see them appear as the Sun sets. Look south-southwest just above the horizon. Venus will eventually disappear, moving past the horizon and out of view. You can enjoy the show throughout the challenge, but the view will be at its best between December 6 -10, when the Moon is in the same part of the sky. Can you identify which planet is the brightest?




Observation 4 - First Quarter Moon

The Moon is bright because it is reflecting the light of the Sun. Depending on its position along its orbit around the Earth, its appearance changes. This is called phases. During the challenge, you will be able to observe many phases of the Moon.


👍 Pro Tip: During the first quarter, the lit portion of the Moon looks like the capital letter D 🌓. Look south early in the evening to see it!





Observation 5 - Sunset before 4:30 pm

In winter, it is a good time to observe a sunset: it is dark well before you go to bed! On a day when there are not too many clouds, find the Sun in the late afternoon. Did you notice the time? In which direction was it? Write down your observations on your paper!


⚠️ Be careful! Never look directly at the Sun, even as it sets, you could damage your eyes!





Observation 6 - Full Moon

The Moon is bright because it is reflecting the light of the Sun. Depending on its position along its orbit around the Earth, its appearance changes. This is called phases. During the challenge, you will be able to observe many phases of the Moon.


The Full Moon is one of the most spectacular phases. When it is full moon, the whole part of the Moon that faces us is illuminated. The Moon rises in the evening and sets in the morning. You can try to observe it in the evening, it will then be in the east.




Observation 7 - Orion Constellation

In ancient times, the stars in this constellation were thought to represent a hunter. The hunter's belt, which includes three very bright stars, can help you spot it. Orion is shaped like an hourglass in the sky. In the evening, you'll find it slightly above the horizon, toward the southeast. As the challenge progresses, it will be easier to spot because it will be higher in the early evening. If you go to bed later one night, you'll see it higher in the sky.




Observation 8 - The Pleiades

The Pleiades are a small cluster of stars. When you look at it, you are seeing the largest and brightest stars in the cluster. The darker the sky, the more stars you will be able to see. To find the Pleiades, first locate the Orion constellation (see the previous sheet). Follow the stars in the belt to find a very bright star called Aldebaran. Then, from Aldebaran continue just a little further in the same direction to find the Pleiades, a small group of stars.




Observation 9 - The star Pollux

The star Pollux probably has a planet orbiting around it! The planet isn’t visible with the naked eye, but you can see the star Pollux. It is one of the brightest stars in the night sky! Along with Castor (another bright star), they form the twins’ heads of the Gemini constellation, near Orion. In addition, between January 14 -18, 2022, the Moon will be very close! Look eastward in the evening.





This activity is part of a full teacher's guide, currently in development, called Exoplanets in the classroom. It is a project led by the Institute for Research on Exoplanets at the University of Montréal, in collaboration with Discover the Universe, École en réseau and l’Association pour l’enseignement de la science de la technologie au Québec, and funded by the program NovaScience from the Ministère de l'Économie et de l'Innovation du Québec.




Recent Posts

See All