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Space and Astronomy - the Earth and beyond its atmosphere - Concepts

Initial perceptual naive misconceptions (any age)

Misconceptions (Explanations, Naive understanding, Misconceptions, or Perceptual responses)


  1. There is sound in space.
  2. There is air in space.
  3. Jets can fly in space
  4. Space craft are hot when they come back to Earth because they were going fast (speed only not interactions with air).


  1. Phases of the moon are caused by the moon being in the Earth's shadow, Sun’s shadow
    Clouds, weather...
  2. Half of the moon is always in the dark.
  3. The moon does not rotate
  4. The moon's rotation causes the phases
  5. The moon is a planet
  6. The moon follows you
  7. You can't see the moon in the daytime.
  8. The moon is blue during the daytime, that is why you don't see it.
  9. The moon has no gravity.
  10. Different places on Earth see different phases of the moon on the same day.
  11. The moon chases the sun across the sky.
  12. The moon is larger on the horizon because it is closer to Earth, We compare it to foreground objects and
  13. it looks bigger. The gases, dust, in the atmosphere make it look that way.
  14. The moon only shows one face to Earth because it is not rotating.


  1. Stars predict the future.
  2. Stars are not out in the daytime
  3. Sun is a planet
  4. Are made of foil or something shiny
  5. Like an asteroid
  6. Stuff that reflects light
  7. Balls of fire
  8. Balls of fire and gases
  9. The Sun and the Earth are the same size.
  10. Stars have pointed tips.
  11. Stars are different colors because of distance, size of stars, different matter,
  12. The Sun is not a star.
  13. Stars are burning hydrogen


  1. Planets are in a straight line
  2. Planets are in a plane.
  3. All planets travel at the same speed.

Solar System

  1. Sun’s relationship to Earth: Where is the Sun at night? Sleeps, runs away from the moon, goes away at night, on the other side of the Earth, (Sun orbits the Earth) goes to the Chinese side, It sets on the other side of the Earth, but I don’t know how it gets back to the other side. It must cross the sky at night.
  2. The Earth goes around the Sun and is on the dark side at night.
  3. Milky Way is at the center of the solar system
  4. Earth is the center of the solar system
  5. Earth is the largest planet in the solar sytem
  6. Stars are in the solar system

Beginning (preschool - 7 years)


  1. Clouds, birds, and airplanes all have properties, locations, and movements that can be observed and described. They do not travel beyond the atmosphere.
  2. There are more stars in the sky than can be easily counted.
  3. They are not scattered evenly and are not the same brightness or color.
  4. The sun can be seen only in the day time.
  5. The moon can be seen sometimes at day and sometimes at night.
  6. The sun, moon, and stars all appear to move in the sky.
  7. The moon looks a little different every day and the same again about every four weeks.
  8. Earth is a planet.
  9. Gravity pulls objects toward the Earth.

Intermediate (7 years - 11 years)


  1. Objects in the sky have patterns of movement.
  2. The sun, for example, appears to move across the sky in the same way every day, but its path changes slowly over the seasons.
  3. The moon moves across the sky on a daily basis much like the sun.
  4. The observable shape of the moon changes from day to day in a cycle that lasts about a month.
  5. Seasons result from variations in the amount of the sun's energy hitting the surface, due to the tilt of the earth's rotation on its axis and the length of the day.
  6. The stars form patterns in the sky that stay the same, although they appear to move across the sky nightly, and different stars can be seen in different seasons.
  7. Telescopes are use to study the objects in the sky.
  8. Planets change their positions relative to the stars.
  9. The sun is a star.
  10. The Earth is a planet that orbits the sun, and the moon orbits the Earth.
  11. The earth is the third planet from the sun in a system that includes the moon, the sun, eight other planets and their moons, and smaller objects, such as asteroids and comets.
  12. The sun, an average star, is the central and largest body in the solar system.
  13. Gravity alone holds us to the earth's surface, and explains the phenomena of the tides.
  14. The sun provides light and heat necessary to maintain the temperature of the earth.

Literate (11+)


  1. Most objects in the solar system are in regular and predictable motion.
  2. Those motions explain such phenomena as the day, the year, phases of the moon, and eclipses.
  3. We live on a relatively small planet that is the third from the sun.
  4. The Earth is mostly rock with three-fourths of it covered by water and the entire planet surrounded by air.
  5. Seven other planets of different size, compositions and conditions from Earth orbit the sun and do not appear to be able to support life.
  6. The planets have general patterns that relate to their size, orbits, number of moons, and distance from the sun. Everything on or anywhere near the Earth is pulled toward the Earth's center by gravitational force.
  7. Large chunks of rocks orbit the sun in different orbits.
  8. Some will glow and disintegrate from friction as they move through the atmosphere or sometimes impact the surface.
  9. Others mixed with ice will be heated by the sun's energy and boil off frozen material from their surface and push it into a long illuminated tail.
  10. There are relationships between the objects in the solar system.
  11. Gravity is the force that keeps planets in orbit around the sun and governs the rest of the motion in the solar system.
  12. The sun is the major source of energy for phenomena on the earth's surface, such as growth of plants, winds, weather, ocean currents, and the water cycle.


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes