Introduction: Galaxy Scanner! (make Planetary Pictures at Home)

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Time to break the ol' pulsars out of the basement, wormholes out of the craft drawer, planets out of storage, and supernovae out of the attic, because it's time to make a galaxy. As Carl Sagan once said, "We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands." So let's use those hands to make some more star stuff.

From our wonder with celestial beings, and love of making planetary models with kids and adults alike, we were very inspired by the recent artwork of Navid Baraty in his series called Wander Space Probe, we wanted to bring the magic home.

Here's how you can make the universe with a scanner, and some everyday things around the house or classroom. Let's dive into those cosmos.

  • What: Galaxy Scanner!
  • Cost: Cheap!
  • Time: ~ 20 minutes to set-up, billions of years to explore
  • Concepts: outer space, sun, moon, stars, planets, art
  • Materials:
    • Scanner + way to store photos
    • Milk
    • Food coloring
    • Glassware or plasticware
    • Stars + Space Debris (sugar, salt, cinnamon, brown sugar, tapioca balls)
    • Space phenomena (saran wrap, cotton balls, tin foil)
    • Colored paper for rocketships, astronauts, satellites, etc.
    • Stirring sticks or Q-tips
    • Clear plastic top plate (optional)

Time for blast off!

Step 1: Set Up Your Galaxy Scanner

We measured out our scanning plate, and cut a bit of acrylic so that we could make space art on that. It's optional, but helpful for quick cleaning. You can do the same thing with a transparency sheet!

Place on your plate if you have one, and then make a drape of dark material to go over your scanner. This will make the space between your objects dark. You can do a test scan and mess around to make sure you have a dark environment!

Step 2: Making Planets

Hospitable or not, planetary creation is simple! Grab some glassware, add some milk and food coloring, give it a swirl, and scan it.

Try out different glassware and color combinations to get just the look you want. We found a huge variety with things around the house, and came to love petri dishes for this project. Additionally, for a deep gassy planet look, mix a base color with the milk first, and then add accents. This will give you something that looks very other-worldly.

To read about gas giants, click here!

Step 3: Starry Nights

Time to make the glistening in between. Sugar or salt makes for great stars, and other powders make for great space debris and other phenomena. Add pinches of cinnamon, glitter, sugar, salt, tapioca balls, the works to get your setting just right. You can push them around with your finger or a Q-tip works quite well.

Give some scans to see what you've made!

Click here to want to check out how stars are made, click here!

Step 4: Space Phenomena

The universe is just filled with pulsars, supernovae, red dwarves, asteroid belts, and other celestial characters. Cotton balls, saran wrap, and tin foil make a good start at filling out the night sky, but experiment with other textures you have lying around.

Step 5: Adding Explorers

Space is grand, and we want to explore it. You can cut out construction paper or have students do so to create a story behind the worlds that exist. Rocketships, astronauts, aliens, satellites, the works. The universe is a place just begging to be explored.

Here's a brief walkthrough of the history of space to learn more.

Step 6: Enjoy and Make More Cosmos!

There is so much more you can do. You can warp space-time by moving objects mid-scan. You can play with colors, with strange objects, exposures, the works! Keep discovering and making new things, and if you're up to the challenge, you can even try to re-create our very own solar system!

You can always clean off your plate and start anew, or print them out if you like them (and have black toner to boot). Share your photos below, and we're excited to see what universes you come up with. As always, keep exploring!