Tracking the Stars, Sun, and Moon to Connect with the Universe

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We describe the theory, design, and construction of simple electromechanical devices that automatically and continually track celestial objects. As Earth rotates and revolves, a star tracker always points at a star or other objects fixed to the celestial sphere, such as the center of the Milky Way galaxy. A planet tracker can fixate on any celestial object including the planets, the Sun, or the Moon. A sidereal clock mechanism drives the star tracker, and software that encodes astronomical algorithms controls an inexpensive robot that drives the planet tracker. The star tracker acts like a gyroscope, rigidly oriented in space, despite Earth's motion. Both trackers indicate the passing of time just like clocks and calendars. The resulting lecture, hallway, or museum displays promote awareness of and excitement about our place in the universe. © 2010 American Association of Physics Teachers.

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