I saw several “Nebula in a bottle” or “Galaxy in a bottle” photos and DIY tutorials on Pinterest and Google and thought this would be a good activity for our guests at the Branched Oak Observatory.
Depending on the time allotted, we could have an accompanying educational program on what nebulae are, what their composition is, and how we can study them. If it is at night and the sky is clear, we could then show them different nebulae through the telescopes.
The basic recipe simply includes water, food coloring, cotton, and glitter.
On our trip to St. Paul, MN for the Academic High Altitude Conference (AHAC) 2016, we stopped at a salvage store called Ax-Man. I was amazed at the amount of little bottles that they had available.
I purchased some small plastic tubes with lids as well as some small glass tubes to get a feel for what size and price would be good for a space craft activity.
I tried some Poly-fill and some cotton balls. The Poly-fill looked very uniform when it expanded in the tube. I like the look of the cotton better.
One thing we tried that I have not seen anyone else do is to use black yarn threaded within the cotton. I think it gives it a nice look and depth to the “nebulae,” like dark dust lanes.
All I had on hand was the standard silver glitter. I think it might look better with smaller (micro) pieces of glitter.
I also wanted to try to minimize the mess. Toothpicks worked fine to poke the cotton into the liquid and the little squeeze bottles of food coloring added directly to the tubes worked better rather than trying to take colored water and add it using a funnel or syringe.
I think the small plastic tubes would be the most economical and the lids stay on tight enough to prevent spills and staining.
I like the looks of the final product and think that this would make a nice keepsake for the younger guests at the observatory.