How Satellites See

by Christina Wilder


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Lesson Plan Purpose

This project will compare and contrast three NASA satellites: The Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer (EUVE), The COsmic Background Explorer (COBE), and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Other satellite information is included, but the project's focus is a simple introduction to the electromagnetic spectrum as used by the three space observatories.

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Lesson Plan Objectives

  1. Students will compare physical parts and orbits of each satellite.
  2. Students will compare images about each satellite and will participate in hands-on experiments to begin to understand visible, infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths.

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Lesson Plan Simulations, Tools, Data, Illustrations, and Images

  1. Maps of Earth at Different Projections and Maps of the EUVE Sky at Different Projections (149407 bytes)
  2. The Visible Sky (161130 bytes)
  3. The Great Observatories (148897 bytes)
  4. COBE Spacecraft (159028 bytes)
  5. EUVE Spacecraft (215066 bytes)
  6. The Electromagnetic Spectrum (166704 bytes)
  7. Extreme Ultraviolet Image of the Sky(143043 bytes)
  8. Near Infrared Image of the Sky (127796 bytes)
  9. Temperature Variations in Cosmic Radiation (COBE) (133419 bytes)
  10. Temperatures of the Great Observatories (169190 bytes)
  11. Wavelengths of the Great Observatories (160396 bytes)

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Lesson Plan Procedure

There are several entry points to this unit: with younger students I would use as many images as possible of the three satellites before discussing the electromagnetic spectrum, but teachers of older students might wish to make the spectrum chart the entry point for this unit, so several images which could be used as an introduction are provided in the "images" section above.

The major part of this lesson are the labs:

The time schedule for these labs:

1 class period to introduce the three satellites with posters, slides and other images, discussion of orbits, some simple math or art. At 3rd grade level students drew a space picture with a cutout of Hubble, or the EUVE, or all three!

2 or more class periods to explore color filters, diffraction gratings and light sources, to understand the spectrum and the effects of filters.

1 class period for infrared demonstration and student write-up, diagram.

1 class period for ultraviolet demonstration, student write-up, diagram.

1 class period to show beautiful images (images, slides, pictures) from all three satellites and compare and contrast the three satellites.

Total: 6+ class periods, 45-50 minutes each.

Discussion of the Electromagnetic Spectrum, finding its parts - students are familiar with radio waves, microwaves, visible light and X-rays and are willing to accept the existence of other kinds of waves they can't see. Use the images provided in this lesson as a resource for this discussion. My students keep science journals in which they draw, diagram and write about what they see and do, with vocabulary assistance on the board. Students should have a handout of the Electromagnetic Spectrum to discuss with their parents. Science words are normally used as our spelling vocabulary words, and I get some puzzled inquiries from parents.

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Lesson Plan Assessment

Varies by grade level

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Lesson Plan Assignments and Extensions

I would send home copies of the simplified Electromagnetic Spectrum found in the NASA resource, Seeing in a New Light: NASA EP274. I've also sent home color filters for students to share with their parents. We showed most of the slides provided in this NASA resource to a group of parents while waiting for it to get dark at our last STAR PARTY.

As a culmination of this unit, after the visible, infrared and ultraviolet lab activities, with associated writing and diagrams in science journals, I would show the Slide Sets available from the NASA Teacher Resource Centers and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (see References ). Most of these slides are also available as NASA posters or similar images can be found in recent issues of Sky and Telescope and Astronomy Magazines.

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Lesson Plan Ties To Science Framework(s)

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Lesson Plan References

On-Line Resources:

Books About Light and Color and NASA Background Information:



Contact the Astronomical Society of the Pacific or your local NASA Teacher Resource Center for slides, posters and other background information. Check with a good bookstore to order the light and color books.

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Related Lesson Plans

Eyes in the Sky, a lesson plan showing how middle school students taking industrial technology classes learn about orbiting spacecraft designed to study astronomical objects.

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