Experiencing Parallax With Your Thumb

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In this activity, learners investigate parallax, a method used to measure distances to stars and planets in the solar system. Learners can see the parallax effect in action by holding their thumb out at arm's length and following simple instructions. This activity will help learners understand how the brain uses information to detect distances. This resource also describes three other basic methods for determining distances in space: radar, standard candles, and the Hubble Law.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
Under 5 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
free per student

Age Range:
Ages 6 - 18

Resource Type:


Materials List (per student)

  • Your thumb!
  • A distant background with texture, such as the outdoors or a wall in a large room with pictures on it.


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Astronomy
    • Solar System
      • The Sun
      • The Planets
  • Physical Sciences
  • Mathematics
    • Measurement
  • Life Sciences
    • Human Body
      • The Brain and Nervous System
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Vision
      • Perception
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Outdoor Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities