Ancient Sun Observations

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In this activity, learners make their own Sun tracker to explore how ancient civilizations around the world studied the Sun. After creating the tracker with simple materials, learners measure the resulting shadow daily or weekly at the exact same time each day to examine the position of the Sun over time. Step-by-step instructions are included with photos. This activity needs a sunny day. Activity guide includes a "What's going on?" explanation and connections to relevant science concepts like the Earth's tilt, long and short shadows, and changes in sunset & sunrise positions over time, with helpful diagrams. Cultural connections to the Sun from past civilizations are also included.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 6 - adult

Resource Type:


Materials List (per student)

  • cardboard square, roughly 60x60cm
  • wooden stick, roughly 25-30cm long and 6-12cm in diameter
  • hot glue
  • pencil
  • tape measure (optional)
  • pencil (suggested alternative to wooden stick)



  • Earth and Space Science
    • Astronomy
    • Earth, Moon and Sun
      • Days
      • Seasons
  • Physical Sciences
    • Light and Optics
      • Sunlight and Color
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and History

Informal Categories

  • Outdoor Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see

Learning styles supported:

  • Links STEM to other topics of interest such as arts and humanities
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • DIY Science Apps


  • , The Regents of the University of California, 2014

Funding Source:

  • NASA, NNX10AE05G