The Guest Investigator Puzzle

by Timothy J. Keys and Isabel Hawkins


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Lesson Plan Purpose

The purpose of this lesson plan is to familiarize students with astronomy and with the process of scientific research carried out by professional astronomers using up-to-date data resources available on the World Wide Web. Students will be able to participate in an astrophysics lab accessing data from NASA's Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer (EUVE) satellite. They should come away from this lab with an understanding of some of the processes astronomers go through while doing their research.

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Using this lesson, you will help your students become familiar with various types of stars and how astronomers use spectroscopy to distinguish between them. Your students will also learn how professional astronomers obtain permission to obtain spectra from stars using a NASA satellite through the Guest Investigator (GI) process. For this purpose, students will write their own sample proposal to observe the Moon with the EUVE satellite. Once your students become familiar with concepts of spectroscopy and the GI process they will do a Skymap astrophysics lab. In this lab, your students will point and click on certain stars. The computer will locate the spectrum for that star in the Extreme Ultraviolet wavelength range and display it. Students will then match the spectrum to typical spectra, determine the type of star it is and mark their decision on their own Skymap.

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The first two days of this lesson are mainly to prepare the students for the third day. These days can be taught without computers. I have only provided rough guidelines because you will probably have to adapt these days to your needs and the class' abilities. You will need one computer for each group of four students for the third day. Following are the details for teaching each day's lesson:

Day 1

On the first day you should introduce your students to the subject of astronomy (stars in particular) if they are not already familiar with the topic. The first day lesson structure has been left flexible so that you can adjust the material to your class's needs, with a different level of introduction depending upon the previous experience of your class. In general, I would encourage your students to browse through the World Wide Web by accessing the References for Day 1 (given in Materials Section below). These links contain various background information and animations on the EUVE NASA satellite, images of star sky maps at various wavelengths, and various stellar spectra. Images and animations are one of the best ways to catch the students attention in the context of astronomy.

Students should have an understanding of where Extreme Ultraviolet wavelengths of light occur in relation to other wavelengths of light, such as the more familiar optical region. The Light and Spectrum Illustrations will help you familiarize your students with these concepts.

Students should also review the characteristics of the four types of stars that are specifically addressed during the astrophysics lab of Day 3 by accessing the Star Type Handout.

Day 2

On the second day, your students should review the processes that professional astronomers go through to be chosen as a NASA Satellite Guest Investigator, called GI's (pronounced gee-eyes), and thus be able to use the telescopes aboard the EUVE satellite. Go through the Guest Investigator Handout (given in the Materials Section below) with the class and discuss ways in which your students can present themselves as professional astronomers. Every student can include their educational background and every student has used at least one piece of observational equipment: their eyes! Using the GI Proposal Template, your students can write a proposal to observe the Moon with the EUVE satellite. This exercise can be done individually or in groups.

Day 3

On the third day, your students will do the Skymap Lab. You, the teacher, should now familiarize yourself with the workings of the EUVE Interactive Sky map. Now that you have gone through the Skymap Lab, you can see that the star types white dwarf and cataclysmic variable can be identified quite unambiguously with the stellar spectra templates provided. However, this may not always be the case with the early-type and late-type stars, providing ample opportunity for discussion within each student group and for a class debate after the students go through the Skymap Lab. You should encourage your students to contact scientists with expertise in various star types by accessing the interactive E-mail forms provided in the Interactive Skymap Page.

Give each group of four students a copy of the Skymap (given in the Materials Section below) for record keeping.

Each group should also have copies of the Template Spectra. (Note: Copying the Template Spectra may not be necessary if you can fit the Skymap and the Template Spectra windows onto the screen of your computer. You can accomplish this by shrinking and relocating the windows to fit within your screen).

Each group of students should access the Interactive Sky map which will allow them to see a graphic representation of the Extreme Ultraviolet sources detected by the EUVE satellite. Ask the students to follow the instructions on the Interactive Skymap. Explain to your students that the green triangles show the location in the sky of sources of EUV emission that the EUVE satellite has discovered.

After your students have finished the Skymap Lab and recorded their findings, you can lead a class discussion having each group of students defend their findings and classifications.

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Contact Information:

Timothy J. Keys
My Home Page


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Last Update: April 9,2001

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