How to make a mini planetarium

Star light, star bright, first constellation I see tonight...

Star light, star bright, first constellation I see tonight…

There’s almost no end to the fun that can be had when kids have torches in their hands. Shadow play, bedroom projections, reading under the covers after lights out, spooky face stories, or… a handheld miniature planetarium.

This month we’ve been inspired by current exhibitions Ships Clocks and Stars, as well as our upcoming school holiday program, to make a nifty little star gazer out of some everyday items for our kids craft spot. This mini-planetarium is perfect for projecting under the covers, onto bedroom walls or with evening story time. More than just a toy, it’s also a great way to learn to identify constellations in the night sky.

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Songlines: The art of navigating the Indigenous world

‘Zugubal’ 2006. Travellers paddle a gul (canoe), which is a key symbol of connectivity in Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait) cosmology, navigating all the cycles of land, sea, sky and spiritual life. ANMM Collection 00054665. Reproduced courtesy Alick Tipoti and Australian Art Network.

‘Zugubal’ 2006. Travellers paddle a gul (canoe), which is a key symbol of connectivity in Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait) cosmology, navigating all the cycles of land, sea, sky and spiritual life. ANMM Collection 00054665. Reproduced courtesy Alick Tipoti and Australian Art Network.

For thousands upon thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have navigated their way across the lands and seas of Australia using paths called songlines or dreaming tracks. A songline is based around the creator beings and their formation of the lands and waters during the Dreaming (creation of earth). It explains the landmarks, rock formations, watering holes, rivers, trees, sky and seas.

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Lost at Sea: Finding Longitude with Ships, Clocks & Stars

Ships, Clocks and Stars.

Ships, Clocks and Stars.

The problem of longitude – how to determine your location in an east-west direction at sea – plagued sea travel for centuries. The lack of reliable methods to determine it led to dangerous, long and costly voyages. The loss of cargo, ships and lives was high and demanded an immediate solution.

Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude commemorates the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act of 1714. The Act lead to the greatest scientific breakthrough in maritime history: the ability to determine a ship’s position at sea. This discovery brought together two solutions to calculate longitude: developing accurate timekeepers for seafaring and tracking the movement of celestial bodies.

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Celestial navigation and astronomy: Voyage from Newcastle to Sydney, day 3-4

Noon sights and calculating latitude

In clear conditions with minimal swell, day 3 of HMB Endeavour replica’s voyage was perfect for using sextants to measure the angle of the sun at its zenith.

Voyage crew and supernumeraries gathered in the waist of the ship at 1115 to practice using sextants. The sun’s highest point – known as Meridian Passage – would be at 1145, not noon, due to the time of year and the ship’s longitude.

Third mate Penny and supernumerary Bill measure the angle of the sun at its zenith. Photo: Eden Alley-Porter.

Third mate Penny and supernumerary Bill measure the angle of the sun at its zenith. Photo: Eden Alley-Porter.

One of our supernumeraries, Bill Morris, ran this session along with Penny, the third mate. Bill is an expert on sextants – he has collected 65 nautical sextants and is the author of The Nautical Sextant. His interest in navigation began at a young age.

‘I bought a book called Teach Yourself Navigation when I was about 14,’ Bill said. ‘I had no sextant and no horizon but I taught myself the rudiments of coastal navigation.’

Sextant. Photo: EAP.

Sextant. Photo: EAP.

The specific interest in sextants arose when he and his wife visited the Maritime Museum in London on their honeymoon. He didn’t really get to indulge this interest until he retired, many years later and then living in New Zealand. He has since started to collect and repair broken sextants.

Bill crossed the Pacific on a container ship, the Natalie Schulte last year – a 19-day passage from Auckland, NZ to Oakland, USA. During the voyage he took several sights on celestial bodies each day to determine the ship’s latitude.

After lunch on day 3, Bill and the other interested voyage crew and supernumeraries gathered in the Great Cabin to do the calculations required to determine the ship’s latitude.

Calculating latitude in Endeavour's Great Ccabin.

Calculating latitude in Endeavour‘s Great Ccabin. Photo: SMM.

There’s something very special about gathering in the Great Cabin to do this kind of work. Spangled reflections from the sea played across the bulkhead from the great windows in the stern as Penny explained the process of calculating the latitude.

At a table just like this one, in a Great Cabin just like that of the Endeavour replica’s Great Cabin, Cook would have followed similar calculations and would have worked on the detailed charts of Australia’s east coast.


Calculating latitude. Photo: SMM.

At that time, there would have been little margin for error as there were no pre-existing charts to work from and no other way of working out the ship’s position.

Keen to repeat their successes of the previous day, some of the voyage crew gathered again on day 4 to measure the altitude of the sun – this time at 1146 and 44 seconds. The sun’s highest point is a little later each day as it moves north until the summer solstice on December 21.

With a little more swell running on day 4, Endeavour was not quite the stable platform that she had been on day 3. My calculated latitude was out by more than I care to admit, but Bill’s calculated latitude was within three miles of our GPS position.

Day 4 at sea

Overnight on Friday (day 3) the ship gained ground to the south under engines, taking us past Pittwater. With the strong southerly breeze, we were able to turn around and go sailing on Saturday morning – just for fun!

Furling the forecourse. Photo: EAP.

Furling the forecourse. Photo: EAP.

We began furling* sails around 1500 while sailing towards the entrance of Broken Bay. Furling continued once the rest of the sails were handed and we were waiting for Fred Watson AM and his partner and colleague Marni to arrive in the ship’s seaboat for the evening’s astronomy talk.

HMB Endeavour dropped anchor at 1700 in Broken Bay and we prepared for the last evening of the voyage.


The highlights of the evening were two sessions delivered by Fred about what we could see in the night sky. In the first, the sun had just set and Marni kept a keen eye out for the first star of the evening, Alpha Centauri (also known as Rigal Kentaurus), which is one of the two pointers to the Southern Cross.

Observing Saturn from the deck of Endeavour. Photo: EAP.

Observing Saturn from the deck of Endeavour. Photo: EAP.

Telescopes were set up to have a closer look at Saturn – thankfully there was no wind so the anchorage was very calm and the ship was a stable base for using a telescope.

After dinner, voyage crew returned to the deck with Fred to look at the after-dark night sky – including the Southern Cross, sitting low to the horizon at this time of year.

All’s well.

*Furling is the process of rolling or gathering a sail and securing it with gaskets (lengths of line) so that the sail does not flap in the wind.

– Suzannah Marshall Macbeth

Overnight Experience 1 – Celestial Navigation 1st/2nd April 2010

Captain’s Log 02/04/2010

Port Jackson (Sydney) over night. 01/04/2010-02/04/2010

Weather S/W 20-25 knots

1015hrs: Departed North Wharf at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Fore topmast staysail (fore and aft sail) was set at the wharf. By leaving an aft spring attached, to ensure the head of the vessel to fall away, then casting off all remaining lines and by setting our fore course (lower square sail on our foremast) we sailed down Darling Harbour… a great way to start our sailing season!

However, a blustery S/Westerly on Port Jackson is a bit problematic for a square rigger

Port Jackson, in general, runs East to West, therefore when sailing in the main part of the harbour any wind due North or South will be beam on to the vessel (90 degrees) and without a substantial keel (Endeavour hasn’t one), you will encounter considerable lee-way (going sideways).  In the confines of a harbour, with regulated traffic management, this is not good.

Fortunately,  the wind had a touch of westerly that enabled us (after setting our mizzen course and main staysail ) to sail from Darling Harbour to Watson’s Bay. We then handed these sails (taken in) and motored to a mooring in Athol Bay where our Steering By The Stars evening lecture took place by 1900hrs.

Endeavour remained on this mooring overnight until departure the following day at 0900hrs and then proceeded back to the Australian National Maritime Museum and secured by 1015 hours.

Yours aye, 

Captain Ross Mattson

Ship’s Steward Log

With much excitement and anticipation the voyage program for 2010 kicked off with the first of our Overnight Experiences on the harbour.

Boarding Endeavour

Our passengers boarded eagerly at 1500, stowed their gear in their lockers and were ready for a safety talk from First Officer Ben as we left the wharf at 1520 and sailed under the fore course out of Darling Harbour.

Heading Under the Harbour Bridge

In fairly quick succession and with quite a bit of help from our passengers we set four more sails and headed under the Harbour Bridge, past Circular Quay and the Opera House and even had special permission to travel on the wrong side of Fort Denison to allow our sails to remain filled by the wind.

We had a lot of help on the helm from passengers being ‘the brawn’.  To steer Endeavour takes two people, one ‘the brains’ who takes directions from the Master and the other ‘the brawn’ to help physically move the helm.

On the Helm

As the breeze picked up the Topmen, Upperyardies, our Boatswain Tom and Boatswain’s Mate Matt started to hand the sails as we headed toward the safe water marker near Bradley’s Head and by 1700 we were heading back under motor towards our mooring for the night in Athol Bight. As we closed in on Athol Bight the air became quite fresh and many of the passengers were seen to disappear below decks to find jumpers and coats to help keep warm.

At 1745 First Mate Ben sprung an impromptu tour of the ship on Steward Kat and she had quite a few passengers jump at the opportunity to look right through Endeavour.

By 1830 we were safely on our mooring, with many suggestions that we should leave Mainmast Upperyardy Darbey on the mooring itself, where he was helping feed the lines through.

Geoff Wyatt, demonstrating the use of a sextant

Our passengers started to gather on the 18th Century Mess Deck for a talk by Geoff Wyatt, our visiting speaker from the Sydney Observatory, and view a presentation projected onto a topgallant stuns’l.

Catering Officer Abi and Cook’s Mate Jade had been slaving away in the galley all afternoon and with a bit of help from the rest of the crew,  setting tables and arranging platters. Dinner is finally ready to be called.

18th Century Inspired Food

After a brief explanation from Captain Ross of the term ‘Cook of the Mess’ – the sailor who, in Captain Cook’s day, would collect the rations from the steward, give them to the cook and collect and distribute them to his five fellow mess mates,  Abi asked for a ‘Cook of the Mess’ from each table to collect a platter of 18th Century inspired appetisers.

Each platter contained dried apple, walnuts, sauerkraut, plantain, aged cheese, smoked fish, taro and even small hardtack biscuits!  One passenger exclaimed “What about the weevils?”  There are  definitely no weevils on board this Endeavour!

The main meal, a mouth watering roast with lots of vegies, was soon demolished and a scrumptious dessert of apple sponge and custard followed.

As the crew scrubbed, washed and dried all the dishes and looked to be ahead of schedule, Ben exclaimed, “We’re all washing like machines! We’re washing machines!” To which the crew replied with bouts of raucous laughter.

After dinner, Geoff, our guest from The Observatory, and the passengers were up on the weather deck for another talk and some stargazing as the final things in the galley were squared away and the Topmen and Upperyardies started to sling the hammocks for the night. As passengers descended to get ready for their night’s sleep, murmurs ran through them of “How are we going to get into those!” but after demonstrations and help from their Topmen most were settled by 2300.

Getting Ready for Sleep

Our supernumeries or gentlemen passengers – those who occupy the cabins where in Cook’s day the gentlemen and scientists would have resided – have been able to stay on deck stargazing longer than the other passengers in hammocks.

At 0630 the following morning the passengers are roused from their slumbers, some more rested than others! The idlers – Boatswain, Boatswain’s Mate and Steward – give the deck a good scrub and just as they finish breakfast is called. Everyone is treated to a delicious feast of bacon, scrambled eggs, cooked tomatoes and even some toasted hot cross buns.

In the clear morning sunshine everyone was on deck as we made our way back towards the museum by 1000. The passengers disembarked and we were excited to hear from them as they left that the experience was thoroughly enjoyed!

The crew are now looking forward to some downtime before their next outing on Saturday.

All’s well.

Ship’s Steward Kat Lindsay