If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Activity: what happens during a solar or lunar eclipse?

Make science come alive in your classroom with this free hands-on investigative activity aligned to middle school NGSS standards.

Activity: what happens during a solar or lunar eclipse?

It’s a beautiful and sunny day outside—but all of a sudden, the sky becomes dark and the temperature drops! As you look up at the sky, carefully shielding your eyes, you notice that something is blocking the sun. It’s a solar eclipse!
In this hands-on activity, students explore the Earth-sun-moon system to learn about which conditions are necessary for a solar or lunar eclipse to occur. Students then apply their knowledge of the Earth-sun-moon system to debunk a common misconception about solar or lunar eclipses.
The Moon entirely covers the Sun during a solar eclipse, with the Sun’s corona—the outermost part of the Sun's atmosphere—clearly visible around the Moon.
A solar eclipse. Image credit: "2017 Total Solar Eclipse" by NASA/Aubrey Gemignani, Public Domain.

Overview

This activity is designed to be completed in three 45-minute class periods, with additional time required for follow-up creative projects. The activity consists of the following parts:
  • Setting the stage—Students read and demonstrate understanding that the alignment of the Earth, sun, and moon can result in a solar or lunar eclipse. Students also learn about the moon’s tilted orbit and how that affects the frequency of solar and lunar eclipses. (30 minutes)
  • Investigation (Part 1)—Students sketch and plan a 3D model of the Earth-sun-moon system to demonstrate the necessary conditions for a solar or lunar eclipse. (15 minutes)
  • Investigation (Part 2)—Students create a 3D model of the Earth-sun-moon system to demonstrate the necessary conditions for a solar or lunar eclipse. (45 minutes)
  • Let's get creative!—Students are assigned a common misconception about solar or lunar eclipses. Students create a short presentation to address the flaw in the misconception and use their Earth-sun-moon model to demonstrate the correct explanation. (45 minutes)
  • Keep creating!—Students can choose from additional project ideas. Each project encourages students to combine scientific knowledge with creativity to produce something new.

Download the worksheets and get started today!

You can print out this activity or upload it to a digital classroom.

NGSS performance expectations

MS-ESS1-1. Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons.

Give us feedback!

Have you tried this activity? Tell us your thoughts in this short survey.

Want to join the conversation?