Make a light-up constellation with Christmas fairylights
Complete our crafty astronomy project over the festive holidays.
One of the first steps for any new astronomer is to learn to recognise star patterns.
These light-up displays are a simple-to-make astronomy-themed Christmas decoration that will help you to become more familiar with your favourite constellations.
They also look so stylish that you’ll want to keep them up all year. They would even make a great nightlight in a child’s bedroom, and are a great science project for school or at home.
For more like this, follow our space and astronomy projects for kids or our simple astronomy experiments.
Getting the materials together
The materials you need for our fairly-light constellation project are readily available at budget craft stores or online.
We chose battery-operated lights to avoid untidy trailing cables.
Our lights had a remote control, but the design allows easy access to the battery pack so they can be turned on and off from there.
It works better if your lights have small protruding bulbs because it is easier to poke them through the holes and secure them there. We held the lights in place with hot glue.
One thing to note is that blue-rich white LED lights can disrupt your natural sleep hormones, so it is better to opt for warm white lights, especially if the display is going to be on a bedroom wall.
Creating this project offers some great learning opportunities for younger members of your family, but an adult will be needed to help with some of the steps.
We chose the constellation of Orion, but you can pick whichever constellation you prefer.
Marking out the stars will introduce you to the star patterns and seeing it daily will really help you to memorise it.
For the background, you could just paint the canvas black, but you could also look at long-exposure photos to find any areas of nebulosity and paint those on too.
Orion is full of beautiful features like M42, the Orion Nebula, as well as the Horsehead Nebula, Flame Nebula and Barnard’s Loop, a beautiful ribbon of nebulosity that snakes through the constellation.
Including these offers an additional learning opportunity, a chance to incorporate colour and will help you to remember where these deep-sky objects are located within the constellation.
It could also be a chance to teach younger family members all about molecular clouds and star-forming regions.
Nebulosity painted on the background makes the canvas look beautiful even when the lights are turned off.
We made one constellation board in this DIY project, but you could create a whole series of wall art pieces of all your favourite constellations.
Tools and materials
- A set of battery-operated LED fairy lights. Ours was a string of 50 lights.
- An art canvas deep enough to accommodate the lights’ battery pack. Ours measured 30.4cm x 40.6cm x 3.6cm (12 x 16 x 1.5 inches).
- Black acrylic paint, plus colours for any nebulae. A white acrylic pen.
- An awl, hot-glue gun and tape to fix the fairy lights to the canvas.
- A sheet of black card about 1cm smaller than the canvas to cover the back and the fairy light wires. Ours was A3 size.
- Velcro, a staple gun and a piece of string.
Make your fairy-light constellation, step-by-step
Paint the entire canvas black (front and back) and allow to dry. Then, using a sponge or small paint brush, lightly dab appropriately coloured paints to create the areas of nebulosity, keeping in mind where your stars will be.
Use a white acrylic paint pen to mark the constellation stars plus a few background stars. Using a ruler and the paint pen, draw the constellation lines, wiping the ruler after each line. If you don’t have a paint pen, use a small brush.
Using a sharp object such as an awl, carefully poke holes in the canvas in all places where you want an illuminated star. Make sure that the hole is only just big enough for the lights so that the fairy light bulbs fit snugly.
From the back of the canvas, poke the lights through the holes you just made. Secure each light with a blob of hot glue, holding each one until the glue has set. Use masking tape to secure any loose bits of wire and any lights that are unneeded.
Attach the battery pack to the bottom of the canvas frame with Velcro. If the edges of your battery pack are irregularly shaped like ours were, you can attach it directly to the back of the canvas instead of the frame.
Cut a rectangle out of the black card where your battery pack lies, then glue or staple the card to the back of the canvas. Finally, staple a piece of string across the back of the canvas, about 10cm from the top, to act as a hanger.
This guide originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.