Paper Plate Observation

Smithsonian Institution Libraries

These exercises and lesson plans are designed to accompany and enrich the study and discussion of the June 2004 Transit of Venus.


Paper Plate Education http://analyzeer.depaul.edu/paperplate



Students simulate the documentation of the Transit using paper plates and marking the path of the transit.

Grade Level:



  • Emulate the activities of scientists from the past in documenting previous transits
  • Identify simple objects that can be used for scientific documentation
  • Practice scientific inquiry using simple proven methodology

Subject Area or Standard:

Science and Measurement
Science as Inquiry

Materials Needed:

  • Simulation of transit of Venus, 2004, constructed from model representing Venus and a light source (gooseneck student lamp works well) that represents the sun.
  • Paper plates, marking pens or pencils
  • Watch that shows minutes and seconds
  • Reproductions of the documentation from historic views of the Transits


Historical accounts
The transits of 1761 and 1769
The 1882 transit
Drawings of the Transit of Venus by Captain James Cook and Charles Green
Transit motion applet for each of the transit years from 1631-2004
Poster in Adobe Acrobat format
Times for ingress, transit and egress by Cities
Contact times and diagram for June 8, 2004

Resources: Reproductions of Historic Documents used to track transits and sample of paper plate document

Observations made by James Cook and Charles Green, Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687)

Drawing my Captain James Cook and Charles GreenPaper Plate Education, http://analyzer.depaul.edu/paperplate


1. Research earlier observations of the transit and study the documents used for them.

2. Construct a simulation of the 2004 transit:

a. using modeling material (clay Playdoh, etc.) form a ball representing Venus.
b. Place Venus models on a thin stick and anchor to block of wood or other material.
c. Mount a large piece of paper on the wall.
d. Place the Venus model in front of light source so that it projects a small shadow on the circle of light projected from the light source.
e. Move the Venus model in small increments simulating the times listed in the http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/transit/venus/city04-1.html

3. Students compare their observations to those that took place in earlier transits.


Read this brief story of Jeremiah Horrocks and compare his methodology of projecting the image through a telescope onto a card with the simulation in this lesson.

Jeremiah Horrocks
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Jeremiah Horrocks (1617 - 1641), sometimes given as Jeremiah Horrox, was an English astronomer, born in Hoole, Lancashire, United Kingdom. His father was a small farmer.
At Cambridge he became familiar with the works of Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and others. Horrocks was convinced that Lansberg's tables were inaccurate when Kepler predicted that a near-miss of the transit of Venus (when the planet Venus can be seen from Earth as crossing in front of the Sun) would occur in 1639. Horrocks believed that the transit would occur, having made his own observations of Venus for years.
Horrocks focused the image of the Sun through a telescope onto a piece of card, where the image could be safely observed. From his location in Much Hoole, Lancashire, he calculated that the transit was to begin at approximately 3:00pm on November 24, 1639. He first observed the tiny black shadow of Venus on the card at about 3:15pm.
His observations allowed him to make a well-informed guess as to the size of Venus, as well as to make an estimate of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. His figure of 59,000,000 miles was far from the 93,000,000 miles that it is known to be today but it was a far more accurate figure than any suggested up to that time.