ISTAT Banner

Course Outline
Six-week Unit

This course outline is designed to follow a unit which introduces earth science and geology along with the scientific method and basic science skills. It begins with phenomena students are already familiar with, such as moon phases, and the differences in scales between earth bound science and astronomy. Students begin daily observations of sunspots.

Students learn about gravity in the context of the solar system and its many orbiting bodies, also considering conditions and characteristics of planets, moons and comets. Make a Comet requires a little simple equipment and introduces ideas about solar system evolution and life origins. With access to some funds, students can use a kit to make a simple telescope.

At this point, emphasis shifts to the examination of the Sun as a model star, then to larger structures, the Big Bang theory, the expanding universe, and the prevalence of dark matter.

Hands-on activities include observing the Sun and spotting planets, making a comet, simulating the moon's phases and eclipses of the Sun and moon, and simulating changing day length in different seasons.  If the class or grade has a scheduled camping trip, take advantage of the opportunity to do some real observing.  You can get help preparing for naked eye observations in the activity "Find That Planet!,"  You can make sky maps for any date, time and place using the program "Your Sky" at Fourmilab's north American reflector site. Here is a useful on-line list from ASP* . See also the  backyard observing tips from Sky and Telescope magazine. And don't forget to look up a local amateur astronomy club! Amateur astronomers are often more than willing to help out with educational groups.

Week 1: Scale of the Universe

Resource page: Distance, Scales, and Units, Measurement in Astronomy

Science Probe Reading: VoIume §14.3, Distances to Stars, Volume I § 14.5, The Brightness of Stars

One or both of the following, as time allows:

  • Science Probe I: Activity 14E Indirect Measurement Using Triangulation 
  • Desktop Stars, part I  illustrates the inverse square law, which governs how light intensity falls off with distance. This develops an appreciation of how precious the light from distant objects is. Requires inexpensive light sensors and light bulb light.

Week 2: Observing the Sky: The Sun, Moon, and Nearby Planets

Resource pages: Phases and Eclipses, Seasons, Clocks and Calendars

Science Probe Reading: Volume I, §14.2 The Stars You See in the Sky

Students or groups begin sunspot observations using Observing the Sun Safely and the Sunspot Observation Form.

Week 3: What's interesting about the solar system?

Resource pages: Planets , Moons, Comets, Meteoroids and Asteroids

Science Probe Reading: Volume I §13.1 The Sun and the Planets, 13.2 A Closer Look at the Planets , Volume I §13.3 Other Objects in the Solar System

Week 4: Motion and Light: Gravity and Electromagnetic Radiation.

Resource pages: Gravity, Orbits and Planetary Motion, The Electromagnetic Spectrum , NASA Astronomy Missions

Science Probe Reading: Volume I § 19.1 Forces, Volume II § 7,1 Electromagnetic Radiation, Volume I: 15.2 Tools of the Modern Astronomer, Satellites, Space Probes, and Computers.

  • Orbits and Escape Velocities activity, either at computers or from printout; students work the "How Do You Do That" problems and answer review questions at the end. May be finished as homework.
  • How is evidence of orbital motion observed? Periodic phenomena like seasons and comets are the give-away. In How Big is That Star?, students determine the orbit of a binary star from periodic variations in its brightness.
  • Students take The Light Tour , completing wavelength tables and spectrum charts.
  • Sunspots: Student groups attempt to establish whether solar x-ray activity and sunspots are connected.
Independent Research Project: Research an astronomy satellite mission using NASA Space Resources as a starting point Students gather information on missions that use different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum and prepare presentations using viewgraphs or PowerPoint.

Week 5: Are All Stars the Same?

Sunspot Observation Reports or Journals due.

Resource pages: Why Do Stars Shine? , Stellar Life Cycles

Science Probe Reading: Volume I § 16.1 The Life of a Star

Week 6:  Where Did the Universe Come From?

Resource pages: What is a Galaxy?, History, Composition and Fate of the Universe, Life in the Universe

Science Probe Reading: Volume I § 15.3 Galaxies and Star Clusters, Volume I § 16.3 Possible Origins of the Universe