Creation Myths

Long before Galileo’s theories about the Earth, Sun, Moon and stars, in ancient times almost every culture had its own stories about how the Earth came into existence. Here are some from ancient peoples. When you have read them perhaps you could invent similar stories to explain night and day, the seasons, how the Sun and Moon travel across the sky or the why the tides ebb and flow. Perhaps reading Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” might help you too.


Geb the Earth god married Nut, the sky goddess, without asking the powerful Sun god Re. Re was so angry at Nut and Geb that he forced their father Shu, the god of air, to separate them. That is why the Earth is divided from the sky.



Coatlicue was the Earth goddess of life and death.

Coatlicue gave birth to her son Huitzilopochtli after a ball of feathers fell into the temple where she was sweeping. This weird pregnancy greatly offended her existing four hundred children. Led by one of their sisters Coyolxauhqui they decided to kill their dishonoured mother.

However, Huitzilopochtli was born at that moment, fully armed and saved her. Huitzilopochtli cut off the head of his sister, Coyolxauhqui and threw it into the sky to become the Moon.



The Maya believed the Earth was flat and that four jaguars held up the sky. Each was placed at a different corner and had a different colour.
Each corner represented a cardinal direction with its own colour: east-red; north-white; west-black; south-yellow. Green was the centre.



Rangi was the Sky Father and his wife, Papa, was the Mother Earth. At the beginning of time, Rangi, the male sky, and Papa, the female Earth, were entwined in a static embrace. Rangi wanted with this embrace to prevent the creation of the world.

Their children, also gods, could not escape from inside the embrace. The trapped gods tried in vain several times to separate from their parents. Then it was the turn of Tane, the god of the forest. Pushing away his father with his head and his mother with his feet, Tane finally succeeded.

He then set the Sun and the Moon, and decorated the heavens with stars.


 Cherokee Indians

When the Earth began there was just water. All the animals lived above it and the sky was beginning to become crowded. They were all curious about what was beneath the water and one day Dayuni’si, the water beetle, volunteered to explore it. He went everywhere across the surface but he couldn’t find any solid ground. He then dived below the surface to the bottom and all he found was mud. This began to enlarge in size and spread outwards until it became the Earth as we know it.

After all this had happened, one of the animals attached this new land to the sky with four strings.

Just after the Earth was formed, it was flat and soft so the animals decided to send a bird down to see if it had dried. It eventually returned to the animals with a result. The land was still too wet so they sent the great buzzard from Galun’lati to prepare it for them.  The buzzard flew down and by the time that he reached the Cherokee land he was so tired that his wings began to hit the ground. Wherever they hit the ground a mountain or valley formed.

The animals then decided that it was too dark, so they made the sun and put it on the path in which it still runs today. The animals could then admire the newly created Earth around them.



In the beginning, the universe was like a big black egg. Inside was Pan Gu. Pan Gu woke from a long sleep. He felt suffocated, so he took up a broad axe and wielded it with all his might to crack open the egg. The light, clear part of it floated up and formed the heavens, the cold, turbid matter stayed below to form earth. Pan Gu stood in the middle, his head touching the sky, his feet planted on the earth. The heavens and the earth began to grow at a rate of ten feet per day, and Pan Gu grew along with them. After a long time, the sky was higher, the earth thicker, and Pan Gu stood between them like a pillar nine million li in height so that they would never join again.

When Pan Gu died, his breath became the wind and clouds, his voice the rolling thunder. One eye became the Sun and one the Moon. His body and limbs turned to five big mountains and his blood formed the roaring water. His veins became far-stretching roads and his muscles fertile land. The innumerable stars in the sky came from his hair and beard, and flowers and trees from his skin and the fine hairs on his body. His marrow turned to jade and pearls. His sweat flowed like the good rain and sweet dew that nurtured all things on Earth.


 Australian Aborigines

In the beginning, when the world was new, there was no sun and the humans and animals had to hunt and gather by the light of the dim moon.  One day the brolga (a grey crane) and the emu had a huge argument over whose babies were best. The brolga got so furious that she stole one of the emu’s eggs which she threw into the sky. As she threw it into the air it smashed on a few sticks. The yellow yolk burst into flames and lit up the earth. The beauty of the land could be seen for the first time by the people of the sky. They thought the land was so beautiful that they decided to light a giant fire as soon as the morning star appeared. This didn’t work all the time because on an overcast day the star couldn’t be seen.

The people decided to ask the kookaburra to help because of his loud, striking call. He was asked to call every morning so that they knew when to light the sun.

That’s why the kookaburra can be heard first thing every morning before the fire starts to burn. The fire only lets a small amount of light and heat, and gradually it gets hotter and brighter. During the day, after it brightens, the fire begins to burn out, so the light dims again.


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Moral Dilemmas

“So I think if you’re not comfortable with the unknown, then it’s difficult to be a scientist. So I don’t need an answer; I don’t need answers to everything. I want to have answers to find”

– Professor Brian Cox

The Christian Catholic Church believed that God had placed the Earth at the centre of the universe

How does what Galileo found out affect this? Is it possible to accept both ideas?

In the programme Cardinal Barbarini wanted to make sure he was doing the right thing

 What do you think he was afraid of?Image of Stargazing globe

Galileo made a public declaration that he was wrong about the organisation of the universe.

 Why do you think he did that? What would you have done?

Science is discovering new things all the time

 Do we listen to scientists more now? Should we?

 Is progress always good? What about nuclear power or cloning?

 Do people like change?

 Have we swapped one kind of blind faith for another? (God for Science)

Scientists still don’t understand how the universe began and works and are still trying to explain it

 What if someone discovered we had been wrong about what we thought (Galileo was wrong about some things)? Would we treat them differently to the way Galileo was treated?

 What discoveries might change the way we think about ourselves? Finding other life in space? Or discovering that God exists?

 Can you think of other people in history who have been punished for saying what they thought? Does it still happen?


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Why not make a simple astrolabe and plot the changing altitude of the moon over a month? This also works for a star or the sun.

You will need:

 A protractor
 Some string
 Sticky tape
 Blutack or similar to make a weight
 A straw (or biro with the refill and end stop removed)
 Postcard sized card

To Make:
You can download the sheet to help you here.

1) Fix the weight to one end of the string. Fix the other end of the string to the protractor where the zero and 90% lines cross

2) Tape the straw/biro along the flat edge of the protractor so that it over hangs the end by 2cms

3) Make a hole in the middle of the card and push the straw through so that the card makes a mask with the straw as a sight.

To Use:
1)  Hold your astrolabe with the straight edge up so the string is free to hang down and swing

2)  Point the straw at the Moon so that you can see it clearly through the straw DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN.

3)  When the string stops moving press it against the protractor and read of the number of degrees. This is the altitude of the Moon.

4)  Take regular readings from the same place, for instance every half hour for one night or at the same time every night for a week or more

What changes do you notice?

Plot the points on a graph with time along the horizontal and angle on the vertical. Using a curved line to join plotted points you can predict the height of the Moon for times that have not been observed if cloud has prevented a good sight for instance.


If you wish to observe the Sun hold a piece of paper in your free hand under your astrolabe. Aim the straw on the astrolabe at the sun and move it closer or further away until a clear image of the sun forms on the paper. You will be able to take measurements from your astrolabe to show the altitude of the sun.


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Make your own Sundial

You can learn how to make your own Sundial at this BBC website here.

Image of a Sundial

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Practical activities

Below are links to downloadable practical activities related to the programme.

 How do we get day and night?

 Why do shadows move?

 Why are days longer in the summer?

 Why does the moon change shape?

 Could the Earth be travelling around the Sun?


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Galileo was the first thinker who tested his ideas by experimenting. He established the scientific process that we understand today of hypothesis (something we think is probably true), testing, observing, recording the observations and drawing conclusions based on what is seen. Here are some experiments you can do with your class about some of the things that interested Galileo.

 Floating things

Why does ice float? Put some ice in water. What would you expect to happen? What does happen? Push it under water and let go what happens? Why?

If metal usually sinks in water why do steel boats float?
Does wood always float? (Try with some very waterlogged rotten wood.)

Try with a selection of objects, which ones float? What do they have in common? Try with pieces of tin foil shaped as a sheet, as a ball, shaped like a shallow tray.

Float a needle on some water; what would you expect to happen? What does happen? Why?

Float two match sticks on water near each other, what happens? Why do they move together?



Galileo also did lots of work studying the motion of pendulums and he designed the first pendulum clock.

You will need at least a metre of string and different size weights to make a pendulum and a watch or clock that can time seconds

How many swings does the pendulum make in ten seconds? What would you expect to happen if you shorten the string by half or by a quarter? Try it: What would you expect if you put a heavier or a lighter weight on the end?  Write up your results in a table or graph.

Find or mark a straight line on the floor. Set the pendulum swinging along this line. Hold the end of the string as still as you can and take side steps slowly in a circle around it (as if your hand holding the string were at the centre of the circle). What would you expect to happen to the direction of the swing? What does happen to the swing of the pendulum?

The pendulum swings in relation to gravity not the person holding it so it should continue to swing along the line. This is an effect discovered by the French scientist Jean Bernard Leon Foucault.

Foucault set up a pendulum and left it swinging. It deviated from its original line over time because the Earth rotates. One set up at the North Pole would return to its original line in twenty four hours. This is one of the few experiments that you can do to prove the Earth’s rotation without leaving the planet.


 Watch the Moon

Galileo spent many, hours observing the sky to make his predictions about the Earth, Sun and Moon. Why don’t you have a go at studying the night time sky to see what you notice about the moon?

Look carefully at the moon and draw or photograph its appearance every night for at least two weeks (four weeks would be better).

Think about what shape and size it is. Write the day, date and time beside each sketch. (Ideally observations should be at the same time of night and from the same place) Can you explain why the Moon appears to change shape?

Collect all your drawings together and then compile a chart showing how the moon changes.

If you make an astrolabe (see activity) you can plot its rise and fall by measuring the angle above the horizon. You could plot this on a graph with time/date along the horizontal and the angle on the vertical axis.

You could show this for one night or for a month.

What would your results be like if you did the same measurements at a different time of year?

Can you answer these questions by experimenting?

To help you answer these questions you might like some simple things to help you like: balls of different sizes and colours, torches, cocktail sticks.


How long does it take for the Earth to spin once?
Shine a torch onto a slowly turning ball. what do you notice about the bit in shadow? What if you were to stand at one spot on the ball (mark it with a cocktail stick) What would change?

 Year & Seasons

How long does it take for the Earth to travel around the Sun? Shine a torch onto a slowly turning ball and move the ball slowly around the torch. Keep the torch pointing at the ball. What if the axis of spin is not North/South but East/West? What if it is somewhere between the two? What if the North Pole is not always away from the sun? (The Earth wobbles on its axis like a spinning top about to fall)

 Phases of the Moon & Eclipses

How long does it take for the Moon to travel around the Earth? Shine a torch onto a slowly turning ball, take another smaller ball and move this around the first. What do you notice about the light falling on the second ball? What would it look like if you were standing at one spot on the bigger ball? What happens when the small ball gets between the light and the bigger ball? What would this look like if you were standing on the bigger ball?

Your practical experiments may help you think abut these questions too:

  • Why do we get leap years?
  • What would happen to the seasons, plants and animals if the Earth took twice as long to travel around the Sun? How long would a year be?
  • Where would the Sun rise and set if the Earth went clockwise around the Sun instead of anti clockwise?
  • What would it be like on Earth if it didn’t spin?
  • What would it be like on Earth if it didn’t orbit the Sun?
  • Why do some parts of the Earth have long nights in winter and long days in summer?
  • Why is the day length almost constant at the equator?


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Earth orbit, axis and wobble animation
Phases of the moon animation
BBC webpage on Galileo
The Galileo Project
Planetarium at think tank in Birmingham
Foucault’s pendulum


Useful Reading

Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, translated John Willet
Methuen 1986, ISBN: 0413577805

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
Fourth Estate Ltd 2000, ISBN: 1857027124

Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Penguin Books Ltd, ISBN: 0141183624

Make it work! Space by Andrew Haslam
Two-Can/Watts books, ISBN: 1-85434-333-5


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Performed by Simon Turner

Directed by Malcolm Jennings & Juliet Fry

Website content by Malcolm Jennings & Helen Greenwood
Revised and updated by Cheryl Stott and John Flitcroft

Original programme developed with support from Janine Baldock and staff at Birmingham Science Museum and Dr. Mike Farmer, Senior Science Lecturer, UCE, Birmingham

Thanks to: Ruth Morgan and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre


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Aim & outcomes


To excite in children an enthusiasm for scientific enquiry.


  • To practice principles of scientific exploration
  • To understand the motions of the stars and planets
  • To consider the difficulties inherent in trying to introduce new ideas and theories
  • To demonstrate that scientific exploration is an imaginative and creative act


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Programme Outline

 Part One
– In the classroom

The teacher/actor will introduce them self to the class and explain that they will be playing two characters in this drama and that the children will be university students.  Open questions are asked in relation to the group’s knowledge of science and scientists. The children are engaged in a conversation and simple demonstration of what the universe is like and how peoples understanding of this has changed through history.   The notion of scientists and Galileo having an interest in exploring, questioning and discovering the mysteries of the world is introduced.  The children are then set-up in role as students of Galileo in 1633. They have some ‘homework’ which they have been doing from observations through their telescopes which they need to take with them to their next lesson which is ‘today’! Before they arrive in the Hall they are intercepted by a stern character, the teacher/actor in-role as Cardinal Barberini who warns them not to go to study with Galileo.

– In the hall

The children are greeted in the hall by Andreas Sarti a servant of the house who has some very exciting news. Andreas tells them of the previous night’s amazing discovery of the four moons of Jupiter by Galileo. Andreas explains how they were awake all night studying and making notes which is why Galileo is not able to take their lesson today and is asleep in bed. He has asked Andreas to present the lesson on his behalf. Together they share their findings about the 28-day lunar cycle and the wandering stars or planets (the heliocentric universe) they also talk about other related concepts like: what makes night and day? How long does it take for the earth to travel around the sun? Galileo has asked them to test out an idea that relates to notions of gravity.

The children have the opportunity to participate in scientific enquiry by experimenting with a range of objects to see which one falls to the ground first. They report back their results and note down anything they’d like to explore further. The lesson comes to an end and Andreas asks them to make observations of the four moons of Jupiter over the next four weeks until they meet again. The children leave the hall for their break.


 Part Two

The second half begins with the children arriving in Galileo’s study (the Hall) one month later. The room has been clearly disturbed. Galileo’s books, papers, tools and stargazing paraphernalia have been scattered across the table and floor; the student’s homework has been torn. Cardinal Barbarini appears and explains that Galileo has been taken to prison by soldiers of the Inquisition (Court set up by the church.) He has managed to send a letter asking for the students to try and help convince the church that his theories are possible. Cardinal Barbarini demands that they explain themselves.

A discussion ensues and an informal court is set up to enable the students to present their arguments for why they, and Galileo, believe that the sun is at the centre of the universe and not the earth. The cardinal states that he will take what they have said to the trial but cannot guarantee that their words will change the courts mind. The programme ends when the teacher/actor returns to tell the group what happened to Galileo in the trial. The teacher/actor also asks the children about how our ideas of the universe have changed and advanced since Galileo’s time.


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