Make a Pastel Aurora!

an animated gif of a pinwheel galaxy pinwheel spinning

If you’re ever near the North or South Pole, you may be in for a very special treat. Frequently there are beautiful light shows in the sky. These lights are called auroras. These displays are caused by energy that comes from the sun. Click here to learn all about how auroras happen.

The colors of auroras are the result of atoms in the atmosphere interacting with energy from the sun. The atoms get excited and release bursts of light energy.

Auroras are usually red, green, and blue. The red color is from oxygen atoms in the atmosphere. The greens and blues are the result of nitrogen. Sometimes these colors mix and yellow and pink colors will be seen in the sky too.


In this activity, you can make your own colorful aurora with oil pastels.

What you need:

a photo of a table with a black piece of construction paper, a set of oil pastels, a piece of paper cut with a wave shape, scissors, and a paper towel.

What to do:

  1. Cut out your aurora guide. You may use the provided guide, or you may cut your own wavy shape.

  2. The cut out hexagonal shape of the pinwheel galaxy printout

  3. Trace along the shape of the curve with your pastels. Go back and forth a few times so lots of color gets on the guideline. It's okay to get a little bit on the black construction paper too.

  4. The cut out hexagonal shape of the pinwheel galaxy printout

  5. Hold your guideline down with one hand, and with the other, use your paper towel to push the pastel upward so it smudges onto the construction paper.

  6. The cut out hexagonal shape of the pinwheel galaxy printout with one cut down the side along the line.

  7. You can go over the area again with more pastels and smudge again with the paper towel until you have as much color as you want.

  8. The hexagonal shape of the pinwheel galaxy printout folded in half with the hole puncher centered on it about to punch a hole.

  9. Lift up the guideline to see the colorful band.

  10. One flap is folded so the hole goes over the pipecleaner.

  11. Place the guideline in a different spot and repeat steps 2 and 3 as many times as you like. Try flipping the guideline over or placing it at different angles to add to the overall effect of the painting.

  12. All the flaps are folded so the holes go over the pipecleaner.

  13. Display your aurora masterpiece so everyone can see it. Be sure to tell them what the colors mean and why auroras happen!

Download a PDF of this activity.

Related Resources for Educators

Launchpad: Aurora Lights: Why They Exist and What Causes Them?

article last updated April 22, 2020
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