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Gravitational lensing model

Use the bottom of a wine glass to model gravitational lensing.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Physics: Motion and Forces, Newton’s Laws, Gravity (K, 2, 6)
Earth/Space: Sun, Moon, Solar System, Universe (1, 4, 6)
Science topic (2005 curriculum connection): 
Earth and Space Science: Stars and Planets (grade 3)
Lessons activity is in: 
  • wine glass - I used glass, but try plastic
  • white paper and coloured pens

A black hole's gravity bends light, so that galaxies behind it form distorted images, often rings and partial rings of light.
These distorted images of distant galaxies can be used to map where black holes are.
See this image of distorted galaxies:

Model this bending of light using curved glass:
Draw a coloured dot on a piece of white paper.
Slide the wine glass over the dot until the stem is directly above it.
Watch how the shape of the dot changes as the light from it is bent by the curved glass.

Students will enjoy making different shapes and images and finding out how they are distorted.

Astronomers look for rings of light to discover dense masses in the universe, that can bend light around them. They can be universe clusters, or regions of dark matter. Dark matter can be mapped in the universe by measuring gravitational lensing.


Wine glasses break. Test with plastic stemmed glasses.

Grades tested: 
Gr 6
Gr 7
Phyllis Daly
Reid McInnes
Teaching site: 
Strathcona Elementary
Activity originally developed and delivered: 

Strathcona Elementary with the Vancouver School Board's Scientist in Residence Program