Knowledge of astronomical scale: Measurement and evaluation


  • Christine Lindstrom University of New South Wales Sydney
  • Vinesh M. Rajpaul University of Cambridge
  • Megan C. Engel University of Alberta
  • Morten Brendehaug
  • Saalih Allie University of Cape Town


Astronomy Education Research, Physics Education Research, astronomical scale, misconceptions


Having an appreciation for astronomical scale is essential for understanding the foundations of astronomy. However, a key obstacle in developing this understanding is the lack of direct ways to acquire this knowledge. Personal experience may even be detrimental, given that our direct experience is of the Earth as something extremely large, whereas stars, for example, appear as tiny pinpricks of light. As a first step to address this issue, it is necessary to assess people’s knowledge of astronomical scale to identify common misconceptions and evaluate the effectiveness of educational interventions. Previous instruments have generally only included a few questions about scale—mostly through multiple choice—limiting the number of objects simultaneously probed to three and often not probing all possible rankings. To measure people’s knowledge of astronomical scale, we developed an instrument that allows for easy collection, analysis and presentation of data ranking multiple astronomical objects. I will present this instrument and the results from three different samples before and after astronomy instruction: middle school students (N = 922), pre-service science teachers (N = 41) and visitors to a public guided astronomy night viewing tour (N > 500).

Author Biographies

Christine Lindstrom, University of New South Wales Sydney

Christine Lindstrom is a Lecturer in the School of Physics at UNSW Sydney. Her research field is Physics Education Research.

Vinesh M. Rajpaul, University of Cambridge

Vinesh Maguire-Rajpaul is a Royal Astronomical Society Norman Lockyer Fellow & Emmanuel College Research Fellow based in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, and a visiting researcher at the University of Oxford.

Megan C. Engel, University of Alberta

Megan C. Engel is a Killam postdoctoral fellow in the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Research Innovation at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

Saalih Allie, University of Cape Town

Saalih Allie is a Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Cape Town, where he leads the Physics Education Research group.