Resource Materials

Teacher Toolkits

Grade K-2

Learning Activities

Theme One: Astronomical Objects In The Day/Night Sky

  1. The Sun is the closest star to us
    The Sun is a Star!
    Online Book: Our Very Own Sun (English / Spanish)

    The Sun is the Largest Object in our Solar System
    Video: Bill Nye on The Sun is the largest object in our solar system
    Website: Kids Astronomy: Our Solar System
  2. The Moon is the Earth’s only Natural Satellite
    Moon light is Reflected Light from the Sun
    Activity: Bouncing Sunlight (Sun’s reflected light on the Moon)
  3. Planets (Earth is a planet) go around Stars

Theme Two: The Solar System

  1. Overview of Solar System: 1 star, 8 planets, and many small objects
    Activity: Solar System in your Pocket (Shows the relative distances between the Sun and the planets)

Theme Three: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions

  1. Rotation of the Earth: Evidence is Day and Night
    Activity: Relative size of Sun, Moon, Earth (G1 – 3)
    Activity: What Makes Day and Night?
    Activity: What Makes Light? (Observing day and night)
  2. Interaction of the Earth and Sun
    Activity: What Makes Shadows? (Observing shadows)
  3. Eclipses
    Video: Partial Solar Eclipse (Jan. 2011 as seen from around the world)
    Video: Total Solar Eclipse

Discussion Questions

Theme One: Astronomical Objects In The Day/Night Sky

The Sun gives us heat and light

  • Discussion Question: What does the Sun do for us?
  • Answer: The Sun supports all life on earth through the process of photosynthesis. It provides us with heat and light. It powers the water cycle which creates our weather and climate. It provides us with seasonal cycles and even sleep cycle.

The Sun is the largest object in our solar system

  • Discussion Question: If the Sun is the largest object in the solar system, why does it look so small?
  • Answer: Because it is so far away.

Theme Two: The Solar System

Planets revolve around stars

  • Discussion Question: What star does Earth orbit?
  • Answer: (The Sun) The Sun is located at the center of our solar system.

The Sun and other celestial objects move across the sky

  • Discussion Question: Are the Sun, Moon, and stars are always in the same places in the sky?
  • Answer: No. As the Earth rotates, the Sun, Moon and stars appear to move across the sky. They rise and set. Also, the Moon orbits the Earth once a month and the Earth orbits the Sun once a year, so the Moon and Sun pass through different parts of the sky.

Theme Three: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions

  • Discussion Question: Does the Moon gives off its own light?
  • Answer: No. The Moon light we see is actually reflected light from the Sun. The shape or phase of the Moon is determined by the Moon’s position in its orbit around the Earth with respect to the Sun.

Interaction of The Earth and Sun

  • Discussion Question: Does the Sun turn off at night?
  • Answer: No. The Sun is always shining. We just don’t always see it. Earth is always rotating on its axis, so the Sun appears to move across the sky. At sunrise, the Earth’s rotation brings our homes into sunlight. By midday, the Earth has rotated so the Sun is high in the sky. At sunset, the Earth rotates so that the Sun goes below the horizon. During the night the Earth keeps rotating so the Sun can rise again.

Readings

  • Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown
  • If You Decide to Go to the Moon, Faith McNulty
  • Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System, Joanna Cole
  • The Magic School Bus Sees Stars, Joanna Cole
  • Autumn Leaves, Leland B. Jacobs, Harcourt Science, T50
  • Our Tree, Marchette Chute, Harcourt science, T51
  • Our Changing Year, Kathryn Corbett, Harcourt Science, T54

Vocabulary

A – G H – Q R – Z
Absolute Magnitude H-R Diagram Radiation
Altitude International Space Station Red Giant
Apparent Magnitude Irregular Galaxy Reflecting Telescope
Artificial Satellite Leap Year Refracting Telescope
Asteroid Light Year Revolution
Asteroid Belt Low Earth Orbit Right Ascension
Astronomy Main Sequence Rocket
Astronomical Unit Meteor Rotation
Big Bang Theory Meteorite Satellite
Black Hole Meteoroid Solar System
Calendar Month Space Junk
Celestial Equator NASA Space Probe
Comet Nebula Space Shuttle
Constellation Neutron Star Spiral Galaxy
Cosmic Background Open Cluster Spectrum
Cosmology Day Orbit Supernova
Declination Orbital Velocity Telescope
Eclipse Parallax Terrestrial Planets
Elliptical Galaxy Period of Revolution Thrust
Escape Velocity Phases White Dwarf
Galaxy Planetesimal Year
Gas Giant Prograde Motion  
Geosynchronous Pulsar  
Globular Cluster Quasar  



Grade 3-5

Learning Activities

Theme One: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky

  1. The Sun is the closest star to us
    Activity:Have students draw objects in the night (or day sky) on a dark piece of paper with a white or light colored pencil and discuss the objects that students drew. Find out what they know.
    Activity: How can the Sun and moon appear to be the same size?
    Activity: Edible solar cookies
    Video: Space School (Overview of the Sun)
    Video: Our World: The Sun, A Real Star
    Video: Bill Nye The Science Guy on The Sun
  2. The Moon is the Earth’s only Natural Satellite
    Website: Moon phases calendar
    Activity: Craters (Grades 5-12 downloadable guide with activities on exploring the Moon)
    Activity: Observing the Moon
    Activity: Bouncing Sunlight
  3. Planets (The Earth is a planet) go around stars and in our solar system they have to be big enough to form a spherical shape rather than a potato shape.
    Website: How orbits work (Interactive)
    Website: Windows to the Universe
  4. Meteors (AKA shooting stars/falling stars) are brief luminous trails observed when a small piece of rock from space enters the Earth’s upper atmosphere
    Website: Meteor shower calendar (Grade 5)
    Website: Space rocks (NASA Information, simulations on Near Earth Objects) (Grade 5)
  5. Constellation in modern astronomy is one of the 88 designated areas in the sky that often get their names from patterns of bright stars in that area of the sky
    Activity: K-5 information on constellations
    Website: Classzone Simulation (Movement of constellations across the sky)
  6. Galaxies are large groups of stars (Typically 100 billion) held together by their mutual gravitational attraction

Theme Two: The Solar System

  1. Overview of solar system: 1 star, 8 planets and many small objects in it
    Activity: Edible solar system
    Activity: Solar System in your Pocket(Shows the relative distances between the Sun and the planets)
    Website: Kids Astronomy: Our Solar System
    Website: Shoot a cannonball into orbit
  2. Characteristics/properties of different planets
    Activity: Properties of planets Students work in groups and try to recall all the information they can about the Sun and the planets; they write one fact/property/idea on a post-it and put it on the appropriate poster; each group is assigned a poster to organize their facts in correct, incorrect, uncertain statements for their assigned poster. Older students can discuss how they would check the uncertain statements.
  3. Special objects such as Asteroids, Comets, Kuiper Belt objects, Oort Cloud, Dwarf Planets (Such as Pluto) (Grade 5)
    Website: NASA Information on comets
    Website: NASA: Space Rocks (Meteors, asteroids, comets)
    Website: ASU Activities on comets (Middle of page)

Theme Three: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions

  1. Rotation of the earth: Evidence is day and night
    Activity: Students make 50 balls of playdough and count them. They find an average-sized ball (with help if need be), which is the Moon. They take turns squashing the other 49 together to make the Earth. The Moon is 30 diameters of the Earth away from the Earth.
    Activity: Rotation and Revolution
    Video: Earth Rotation & Revolution around a moving Sun (Earth moves in a helical motion around the Sun as it travels through our galaxy)
    Video: Our World: The Sun, A Real Star (Relationship between Earth and Sun)
    Website: Explore a model of the Earth rotating on its axis
    Website: Earth turns on its axis
    Website: Kids astronomy Sun location
    Audio: Rotation of the Earth Lesson
  2. Rotation of the Earth: Evidence are Seasonal Constellations
    Activity: Students make 50 balls of play-dough and count them. They find an average-sized ball (with help if need be), which is the Moon. They take turns squashing the other 49 together to make the Earth. The Moon is 30 diameters of the Earth away from the Earth.
    Website: Classzone applet on seasonal constellations are evidence of revolution of the Earth
  3. Eclipses
    Activity: Students in dark room with a lamp (the Sun). Have one student be the Moon and one the Earth so they can figure out how to get a solar or a lunar eclipse.
    Website: Simulation on eclipses
    Video: Partial Solar Eclipse Jan 2011 seen from around the world
    Video: Total Solar Eclipse
  4. Phases of the Moon
    Activity: The student is the Earth, a bright light is the Sun, and a 5-inch ball on a pencil is the Moon. A dark room is essential. Students can explore how different phases form and when they are visible (2010).
    Activity: NASA: phases of the Moon
    Activity: Lunar Lollipops
    PDF: Moon Journal from Madison Planetarium
  5. Seasons
    Activity: Students explore the shadows of a toothpick projected on a manila folder when a flashlight moves. Stick a toothpick into a 1″square piece of Styrofoam. Stick the Styrofoam on the manila folder. Project the flashlight onto the toothpick. Students notice that the direction and length of shadow move. They find they can reproduce those changes even if the Sun stays stationary and the folder moves (2009).
    Video: What Causes Earth’s Seasons?
  6. Historical perspective

Theme Four: Constellations

  1. Cultural references and myths
    Website: Windows to the Universe (Information on constellations)
    Video: The Universe: The Constellations (Grade 5)
  2. Modern 88 official constellations, Seasonal versus Circumpolar constellations, and some basic constellations
    Activity: Stardate activity on constellations (Grades K-5)
    Activity: The Sun was a yellow Styrofoam ball in the middle of the Planetarium. I was the Earth going around the Sun and you were stars twinkling. As I moved around the Sun, I could see the constellations away from the Sun only.
    Website: Classzone Applet: movement of constellations across sky (Interactive)
  3. Sky maps and stargazing
    Website: Sky Maps (Look for free downloads)
    Video: Teacher sky video-map

Theme Five: Life of a Star

  1. How do stars live?
    Video: Hubble Video (Grade 5)

Theme Six: Forces and Physical Properties

  1. Gravity
  2. Inertia

Theme Seven: Electromagnetic Spectrum


Discussion Questions & Answers

Theme: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky

  • Discussion Question: If the Sun is the largest object in the solar system, why does the Sun look so small?
  • Answer: Because it is so far away.
  • Discussion Question: What does the Sun do for us?
  • Answer: Supports all life on Earth through the process of photosynthesis. Provides us with heat and light. Powers the water cycle which creates our weather and climate. Provides us with seasonal cycles and even sleep cycles.
  • Discussion Question: The Moon gives off its own light.
  • Answer: False. The Moon light we see is actually reflected light from the Sun. The shape or phase of the Moon is determined by the Moon’s position in its orbit around the Earth with respect to the Sun.NOTE: We always see the same side of the Moon because it does rotate. Because it takes about the same amount of time to rotate as it does to revolve around the Earth, we always see the same side. The side we don’t see is known as “the far side of the Moon.”
  • Discussion Question: What star does Earth orbit?
  • Answer: The Sun.
  • Discussion Question: What is the shape of Earth’s orbit around the Sun?
  • Answer: Earth’s orbit is an ellipse that is close to a circle with the Sun on one focus of the ellipse.Note: Planets orbit the Sun on slightly elliptical, or oval-shaped, paths. In addition, planets closer to the Sun complete their orbits faster than planets farther away; Mercury orbits the Sun every 88 Earth days, and Neptune orbits the Sun once every 164.89 Earth-years.Theme: Solar System

Theme: Solar System

  • Discussion Question: What is the difference between a star and a planet?
  • Answer: A star is a ball of very hot gas where nuclear fusion can occur and which produces the light that make stars shine. A planet, on the other hand, gets its light reflected from its companion star.Note: All planets are not made of the same material. Planets are separated into two categories: inner and outer planets. The inner planets are smaller and made of rock. The inner planets include the planets closest to the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The outer planets are often called gas giants because they are very large and made of gases. The outer planets include: Jupiter, Saturn Uranus and Neptune
  • Discussion Question: What is a comet?
  • Answer: Comets travel though the solar system in irregular orbits from regions beyond the orbit of Neptune. A comet is a large ball of ice and rock. Comets can be seen as they approach the Sun because the Sun’s heat melts a comet’s ice to form glowing gases that stream out into a long tail. Comets look like bright streaks in the sky.

Theme: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions

  • Discussion Question: If the Earth is moving, why don’t we feel it?
  • Answer: We don’t feel it because the Earth is rotating at approximately 1000 miles per hour. We don’t “feel” that we are traveling at this speed because the Earth, our frame of reference, is traveling with us. The same is true of traveling in a car at a constant speed, unless you are looking out the window.
  • True or False: The Sun, Moon, and stars are always in the same places in the sky.
  • Answer: False. As the Earth rotates, the Sun, Moon and stars appear to move across the sky. They rise and set. Also, the Moon orbits the Earth once a month and the Earth orbits the Sun once a year, so the Moon and Sun pass through different parts of the sky.
  • True or False: An eclipse of the Sun happens when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth.
  • Answer:rue. During a solar eclipse, the Moon does not come between the Sun and the Earth. The Moon’s shadow falls on the Earth. Solar eclipses are rare. Because the Moon is so small compared to Earth, the shadow it casts on Earth’s surface is very small. Only people in a limited area are able to see a total solar eclipse.
    Note: There are two kinds of eclipses: solar and lunar.
    • Lunar Eclipse: Earth moves between the Sun and the moon, blocking part of the Sun’s light from reaching the Moon. During this time, you will see the Earth’s shadow on the Moon.
    • Solar Eclipse: The Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun. This causes part of the Sun’s light to be blocked. The sky will get dark when this blockage occurs.
    • A “Total” eclipse is when the Moon and the sun are in a perfect line. This occurrence is very rare.
  • Discussion Question: What causes the phases of the Moon? What are the phases?
  • Answer: The Moon’s phases are caused by two things: 1. The Moon revolving around the Earth. 2. The Moon reflecting sunlight towards the Earth. Half of the Moon is always lit, not just the portion we see: however, sometimes we only see a profile of the lit portion of the Moon. Certain phases of the Moon result depending on its orbit, and the Moon’s orbit is responsible for the phase changes we see. Since we only see the lit portion of the Moon that is facing Earth, we see a Moon phase.
    • There are eighth phases that the Moon goes through and they always occur in the same order. The Sun’s light seems to move from right to left across the surface of the Moon.
    • The phases of the Moon are: 1. New Moon, 2. Waxing Crescent, 3. First Quarter, 4. Waxing Gibbous, 5. Full Moon, 6. Waning Gibbous, 7. Last Quarter, 8. Waning Crescent, and back to the New Moon.
  • Discussion Question: Is the Sun closer to the Earth during the summer months than during the winter months?
  • Answer:No. The Earth is not closer to the Sun in the summer. The seasons happen because the Earth’s rotation is tilted compared to its orbit around the Sun. Summer happens for us when our part of the Earth is tilted toward the Sun, and winter happens when we are tilted away. In fact, the Earth is slightly farther away from the Sun when we are experiencing summer in the northern hemisphere. The tilt causes the Sun to reach different heights at different times of the year and to be up for longer periods of time than others. Parts of the Earth that have the Sun appear high in the sky experience summer and those that have the Sun low in the sky experience winter. Spring and fall occur when the sunlight is directly over the equator (in the middle) so for neither hemisphere the sun appears to be particularly high or low in the sky.

Theme: Constellations

  • Discussion Question: What are constellations?
  • Answer:Constellations are patches of sky that contain a characteristic pattern of stars.
    • The patterns are often named after characters from ancient Greek and Roman mythology (although individual stars have mostly Arabic names). There are 88 official constellations. Common constellations visible from Milwaukee include the Big Dipper, Gemini, Orion, and Leo (to mention a few)
    • Some basic constellations Always visible at Midwestern latitudes: Big Bear (contains Big Dipper), Little Bear, Cassiopeia Spring: Gemini, Leo; Summer: Cygnus, Summer Triangle; Fall: Pegasus, Andromeda; Winter: Orion, TaurusNote: Ancient people observed that the Sun, Moon, and planets always seem to move across the sky through a series of twelve constellations, knows as the zodiac. In particular, a person’s zodiac sign was the name of one of the 12 constellations of the zodiac that the Sun was closest to at the time of the person’s birth.
  • Discussion Question: How can you tell the difference between a star and a planet in the sky?
  • Answer:The stars in the sky appear to be in fixed positions with respect to each other. They can seem like they are attached to an imaginary “celestial sphere” around the Earth. Planets move in complicated paths across the sky. They exhibit a behavior called “retrograde motion” where they appear to go backwards for a period of time relative to the background stars in the celestial sphere as they move in their orbit around the Sun. Also, planets almost never twinkle.

Theme: Life of a star

  • Discussion Question: How do stars form?
  • Answer: Stars are continually being formed and destroyed. Stars are formed, or born, in clouds of gas and dust in the interstellar medium. Gravity squeezes the mass of these “star nurseries” so that the centers become incredibly dense and hot. These extreme conditions allow hydrogen fusion to begin. The outward pressure from the fusion balances the inward force of gravity. The gas stops collapsing and a star is born.

Readings

  • What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees, Nancy Tafuri
  • The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System, Joanna Cole
  • The Magic School Bus Space Explorers, Joanna Cole
  • The Solar System, Cathy Imhoff
  • Follow the Drinking Gourd, Jeanette Winter
  • The Usbourne Internet-Linked Book of Astronomy and Space, Lisa Miles and Alastair Smith
  • Black Holes and Other Space Phenomena, Young Observer
  • Nature Activities Star Gazer, Ben Morgan
  • 1000 Facts About Space, Pam Beasant

Vocabulary

A – G H – Q R – Z
Absolute Magnitude H-R Diagram Radiation
Altitude International Space Station Red Giant
Apparent Magnitude Irregular Galaxy Reflecting Telescope
Artificial Satellite Leap Year Refracting Telescope
Asteroid Light Year Revolution
Asteroid Belt Low Earth Orbit Right Ascension
Astronomy Main Sequence Rocket
Astronomical Unit Meteor Rotation
Big Bang Theory Meteorite Satellite
Black Hole Meteoroid Solar System
Calendar Month Space Junk
Celestial Equator NASA Space Probe
Comet Nebula Space Shuttle
Constellation Neutron Star Spiral Galaxy
Cosmic Background Open Cluster Spectrum
Cosmology Day Orbit Supernova
Declination Orbital Velocity Telescope
Eclipse Parallax Terrestrial Planets
Elliptical Galaxy Period of Revolution Thrust
Escape Velocity Phases White Dwarf
Galaxy Planetesimal Year
Gas Giant Prograde Motion  
Geosynchronous Pulsar  
Globular Cluster Quasar  



Grade 6-8

Learning Activities

Theme One: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky

  1. The Sun is the closest star to us
  2. Moon is the Earth’s only natural satellite
    Activity: NASA Impact Craters (Page 61 activity, G5-12 downloadable guide with activities on exploring the Moon)
    Website: Moon phase calendar
  3. Stars are big balls of gas that make their own light
  4. Planets (the Earth is a planet) go around stars and in our solar system they have to be big enough to form a spherical shape rather than a potato shape
  5. Meteors or shooting stars or falling stars are brief luminous trails observed when a small piece of rock from space enters the Earth’s upper atmosphere
  6. Galaxies are large groups of stars (typically 100 billion) held together by their mutual gravitational attraction

Theme Two: The Solar System

  1. Overview of the solar system: 1 star, 8 planets, and many small objects in it
    Activity: Students work in groups and try to recall all the information they can about the Sun and the planets; they write one fact/property/idea on a post it and put it on the appropriate poster; each group is assigned a poster to organize its facts in correct, incorrect, uncertain statements for their assigned poster. For older students, they can discuss how they would check the uncertain statements. Also, we connected these properties to how the solar system formed.
    Website: Kids Astronomy: Our Solar System (Grade 6)
  2. Characteristics/properties of different planets. How do we know the physical properties of a planet?
  3. Special objects such as Asteroids, Comets, Kuiper Belt objects, Oort Cloud, Dwarf Planets (such as Pluto) (Grade 5)
    Activity: ASU activities on comets (“Issue 6: NASA’s EPOXI mission…” near the bottom of the page)
    Website: Kuiper Belt objects and outer planets
    Website: NASA information on comets
    Website: NASA; Space Rocks (Self-guided website on comets, meteors, and asteroids)
  4. Formation of the Solar System

Theme Three: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions

  1. Rotation of the Earth: Evidence are Seasonal Constellations
  2. Rotation of the Earth: Evidence are Seasonal Constellations
  3. Gravity
  4. Tides
    Website: Information on tides (Left side of screen)
  5. Eclipses
    Activity: Kids Eclipse Simulation (Click on “Try this activity”)
    Video: Partial solar eclipse January 2011
    Video: Total solar eclipse
  6. Phases of the Moon
  7. Seasons
    Activity: Lesson from MN Science Teacher Education Project
    Activity: Students explore the shadows of a toothpick projected on a manila folder when a flashlight moves: Stick a toothpick into a 1″ square piece of Styrofoam. Stick the Styrofoam on the manila folder. Project the flashlight onto the toothpick. Students notice that the direction and length of shadow move. They find they can reproduce those changes even if the Sun stays stationary and the folder moves.
    Website: Seasons and other interactions
  8. Historical perspective: geocentric/heliocentric
  9. Aurora Borealis
  10. Solar Flares
    Website: Multimedia NASA presentation on Solar Storms (Under Monday “Learn about the Sun as a star,” Tuesday – “Drawing sunspots from an image”)
  11. Climate, weather, etc.
    Activity: NASA Green house gases with gummies (Bottom of page)

Theme Four: Constellations

  1. Modern 88 official constellations, Seasonal versus Circumpolar constellations, and some basic constellations
    Activity: Graphing constellation coordinates from Texas Space Grant
    Activity: Modeling the night sky: Zodiac constellations (Grade 6)
    Activity: The Sun is a yellow Styrofoam ball in the middle of the Planetarium. Teacher is the Earth going around the Sun and you students are stars twinkling. As teacher moves around the Sun, he/she could see the constellations away from the Sun only.
    Website: Movement of constellations across the sky
    Website: Windows to the Universe information on circumpolar constellations
    Website: Windows to the Universe information and multimedia on constellations
  2. Sky maps and stargazing
    Activity: Sky Maps (Look at the top of the page for the free downloads)
    Video: Star Map

Theme Five: Life of a Star

  1. How do stars live?
    Website: NASA: Summary of life of a star
    Website: How stars live (Grade 8) (See sections on bottom)
  2. Stellar corpses
  3. HR diagram
    Activity: Jewels of the Night
    Website: Overview of HR Diagram (Grade 8)

Theme Six: Forces and Physical Properties

  1. Gravity
  2. Inertia

Theme Seven: Space Exploration

Activity: Rocket building
Video: Space.com (Go to Search tab and type in “Mars through the Eyes of Spirit”)

Theme Eight: Big Bang Theory and Cosmology

Website: NASA Information on evidence for Big Bang (Grade 8)
Video: Before Time and Space (Description of the Big Bang from National Geographic)

Theme Nine: Exoplanets

Theme Ten: Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Theme Eleven: Electromagnetic Spectrum


Discussion Questions & Answers

Theme: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky

  • Discussion Question: If the Sun is the largest object in the solar system, why does the Sun look so small?
  • Answer: Because it is so far away.
  • Discussion Question: What does the Sun do for us?
  • Answer: Supports all life on Earth through the process of photosynthesis. Provides us with heat and light. Powers the water cycle which creates our weather and climate. Provides us with seasonal cycles and even sleep cycles.Note: Stars are suns. Our Sun is the star at the center of our solar system. The Sun is orbited by planets, asteroids, and comets. Astronomers have discovered that many other stars have planets too. If we were on a planet in another solar system, the Sun would look like just another star in our sky. The Sun is considered an average sized star.
  • Discussion Question: Do we always see the same side of the Moon?
  • Answer: We always see the same side of the Moon because it takes about the same amount of time for the Moon to rotate as it does to revolve around the Earth. The side we don’t see is known as “the far side of the Moon.”

Theme: Solar System

  • Discussion Question: What star does Earth orbit?
  • Answer: The Sun
  • Discussion Question: What is the shape of Earth’s orbit around the Sun?
  • Answer: Earth’s orbit is an ellipse that is close to a circle with the Sun on one focus of the ellipse.Note: Planets orbit the Sun on slightly elliptical, or oval-shaped, paths. In addition, planets closer to the Sun complete their orbits faster than planets farther away; Mercury orbits the Sun every 88 Earth days, and Neptune orbits the Sun once every 164.89 Earth-years.
  • Discussion Question: What is the difference between a star and a planet?
  • Answer: A star is a ball of very hot gas where nuclear fusion can occur and which produces the light that make stars shine. A planet, on the other hand, gets its light reflected from its companion star.Note: All planets are not made of the same material. Planets are separated into two categories: inner and outer planets. The inner planets are smaller and made of rock. The inner planets include the planets closest to the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The outer planets are often called gas giants because they are very large and made of gases. The outer planets include: Jupiter, Saturn Uranus and Neptune.
  • Discussion Question: What is a comet?
  • Answer: Comets travel though the solar system in irregular orbits from regions beyond the orbit of Neptune. A comet is a large ball of ice and rock. Comets can be seen as they approach the Sun because the Sun’s heat melts a comet’s ice to form glowing gases that stream out into a long tail. Comets look like bright streaks in the sky.

Theme: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions

  • Discussion Question: If the Earth is moving, why don’t we feel it?
  • Answer: We don’t feel it because the Earth is rotating at approximately 1000 miles per hour. We don’t “feel” that we are traveling at this speed because the Earth, our frame of reference, is traveling with us. The same is true of traveling in a car at a constant speed, unless you are looking out the window.
  • True or False: The Sun, Moon, and stars are always in the same places in the sky.
  • Answer: False. As the Earth rotates, the Sun, Moon and stars appear to move across the sky. They rise and set. Also, the Moon orbits the Earth once a month and the Earth orbits the Sun once a year, so the Moon and Sun pass through different parts of the sky.
  • True or False: An eclipse of the Sun happens when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth.
  • Answer: True. During a solar eclipse, the Moon does not come between the Sun and the Earth. The Moon’s shadow falls on the Earth. Solar eclipses are rare. Because the Moon is so small compared to Earth, the shadow it casts on Earth’s surface is very small. Only people in a limited area are able to see a total solar eclipse.Note: There are two kinds of eclipses: solar and lunar.
    • Lunar Eclipse: Earth moves between the Sun and the moon, blocking part of the Sun’s light from reaching the Moon. During this time, you will see the Earth’s shadow on the Moon.
    • Solar Eclipse: The Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun. This causes part of the Sun’s light to be blocked. The sky will get dark when this blockage occurs.
    • A “Total” eclipse is when the Moon and the sun are in a perfect line. This occurrence is very rare.
  • Discussion Question: What causes the phases of the Moon? What are the phases?
  • Answer: The Moon’s phases are caused by two things: 1. The Moon revolving around the Earth. 2. The Moon reflecting sunlight towards the Earth. Half of the Moon is always lit, not just the portion we see: however, sometimes we only see a profile of the lit portion of the Moon. Certain phases of the Moon result depending on its orbit, and the Moon’s orbit is responsible for the phase changes we see. Since we only see the lit portion of the Moon that is facing Earth, we see a Moon phase.
    • There are eighth phases that the Moon goes through and they always occur in the same order. The Sun’s light seems to move from right to left across the surface of the Moon.
    • The phases of the Moon are: 1. New Moon, 2. Waxing Crescent, 3. First Quarter, 4. Waxing Gibbous, 5. Full Moon, 6. Waning Gibbous, 7. Last Quarter, 8. Waning Crescent, and back to the New Moon.
  • Discussion Question: Is the Sun closer to the Earth during the summer months than during the winter months?
  • Answer: No. The Earth is not closer to the Sun in the summer. The seasons happen because the Earth’s rotation is tilted compared to its orbit around the Sun. Summer happens for us when our part of the Earth is tilted toward the Sun, and winter happens when we are tilted away. In fact, the Earth is slightly farther away from the Sun when we are experiencing summer in the northern hemisphere. The tilt causes the Sun to reach different heights at different times of the year and to be up for longer periods of time than others. Parts of the Earth that have the Sun appear high in the sky experience summer and those that have the Sun low in the sky experience winter. Spring and fall occur when the sunlight is directly over the equator (in the middle) so for neither hemisphere the sun appears to be particularly high or low in the sky.

Theme: Constellations

  • Discussion Question: What are constellations?
  • Answer: Constellations are patches of sky that contain a characteristic pattern of stars.
    • The patterns are often named after characters from ancient Greek and Roman mythology (although individual stars have mostly Arabic names). There are 88 official constellations. Common constellations visible from Milwaukee include the Big Dipper, Gemini, Orion, and Leo (to mention a few)
    • Some basic constellations Always visible at Midwestern latitudes: Big Bear (contains Big Dipper), Little Bear, Cassiopeia Spring: Gemini, Leo; Summer: Cygnus, Summer Triangle; Fall: Pegasus, Andromeda; Winter: Orion, TaurusNote: Ancient people observed that the Sun, Moon, and planets always seem to move across the sky through a series of twelve constellations, knows as the zodiac. In particular, a person’s zodiac sign was the name of one of the 12 constellations of the zodiac that the Sun was closest to at the time of the person’s birth.
  • Discussion Question: How can you tell the difference between a star and a planet in the sky?
  • Answer: The stars in the sky appear to be in fixed positions with respect to each other. They can seem like they are attached to an imaginary “celestial sphere” around the Earth. Planets move in complicated paths across the sky. They exhibit a behavior called “retrograde motion” where they appear to go backwards for a period of time relative to the background stars in the celestial sphere as they move in their orbit around the Sun. Also, planets almost never twinkle.

Theme: Life of a star

  • Discussion Question: How do stars form?
  • Answer: Stars are continually being formed and destroyed. Stars are formed, or born, in clouds of gas and dust in the interstellar medium. Gravity squeezes the mass of these “star nurseries” so that the centers become incredibly dense and hot. These extreme conditions allow hydrogen fusion to begin. The outward pressure from the fusion balances the inward force of gravity. The gas stops collapsing and a star is born.

Readings

  • What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees, Nancy Tafuri
  • The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System, Joanna Cole
  • The Magic School Bus Space Explorers, Joanna Cole
  • The Solar System, Cathy Imhoff
  • Follow the Drinking Gourd, Jeanette Winter
  • The Usbourne Internet-Linked Book of Astronomy and Space, Lisa Miles and Alastair Smith
  • Black Holes and Other Space Phenomena, Young Observer
  • Nature Activities Star Gazer, Ben Morgan
  • 1000 Facts About Space, Pam Beasant

Vocabulary

A – G H – Q R – Z
Absolute Magnitude H-R Diagram Radiation
Altitude International Space Station Red Giant
Apparent Magnitude Irregular Galaxy Reflecting Telescope
Artificial Satellite Leap Year Refracting Telescope
Asteroid Light Year Revolution
Asteroid Belt Low Earth Orbit Right Ascension
Astronomy Main Sequence Rocket
Astronomical Unit Meteor Rotation
Big Bang Theory Meteorite Satellite
Black Hole Meteoroid Solar System
Calendar Month Space Junk
Celestial Equator NASA Space Probe
Comet Nebula Space Shuttle
Constellation Neutron Star Spiral Galaxy
Cosmic Background Open Cluster Spectrum
Cosmology Day Orbit Supernova
Declination Orbital Velocity Telescope
Eclipse Parallax Terrestrial Planets
Elliptical Galaxy Period of Revolution Thrust
Escape Velocity Phases White Dwarf
Galaxy Planetesimal Year
Gas Giant Prograde Motion  
Geosynchronous Pulsar  
Globular Cluster Quasar  



Grade 9-12

Learning Activities

Theme One: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky

  1. The Sun is the closest star to us
  2. Moon is the Earth’s only natural satellite
  3. Stars are big balls of gas that make their own light
    Activity: NASA lesson: measuring stars and slopes
    Video: Space.com (Search “How Long is Time?” Then go to “Ep#3-On Cosmic Time” and “Ep#4-On Deep Time-After Earth Ends”)
    Video: Hubble.org on stars
  4. Planets (the Earth is a planet) go around stars and in our solar system they have to be big enough to form a spherical shape rather than a potato shape
  5. Meteors or shooting stars or falling stars are brief luminous trails observed when a small piece of rock from space enters the Earth’s upper atmosphere
  6. Galaxies are large groups of stars (typically 100 billion) held together by their mutual gravitational attraction

Theme Two: The Solar System

  1. Overview of Solar System: 1 star, 8 planets, and many small objects
  2. How do we know the physical properties of planets?
  3. Formation of the Solar System

Theme Three: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions

  1. Rotation of the Earth: Evidence is Day and Night
    Video: Kurdistan Planetarium (Earth moves in a helical motion around the Sun as it travels through our galaxy)
  2. Gravity
  3. Eclipses
  4. Phases of the Moon
  5. Historical perspective: geocentric/heliocentric
  6. Aurora Borealis
  7. Solar flares

Theme Four: Constellations

  1. Modern 88 official constellations, Seasonal versus Circumpolar constellations, and some basic constellations
  2. Sky maps and stargazing
    Website: Sky Maps
    Video: Star map

Theme Five: Life of a Star

  1. How do stars live?
    Website: NASA: Summary of a star’s life
    Video: Space.com: How long is time? (Go to Episodes 2,3,4)
  2. Stellar corpses: black holes, neutron stars
  3. HR diagram

Theme Six: Forces and Physical Properties

  1. Gravity
  2. Inertia

Theme Seven: Space Exploration

Website: NASA: Resources on Mars
Website: Pictorial timeline of space exploration
Video: Space.com (Search “Black Hole Video”)
Video: NASA; New missions

Theme Eight: Big Bang Theory and Cosmology

Theme Nine: Exoplanets

Theme Ten: Electromagnetic Spectrum


Discussion Questions & Answers

Theme: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky

  • Discussion Question: What does the Sun do for us?
  • Answer: The Sun supports all life on earth through the process of photosynthesis. It provides us with heat and light. It powers the water cycle which creates our weather and climate. It provides us with seasonal cycles and even sleep cycle.

Theme: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions

  • True or False: The Sun, Moon, and stars are always in the same place in the sky.
  • Answer: False. As the Earth rotates, the Sun, Moon and the stars appear to move across the sky. They rise and set. Also, the Moon orbits the Earth once a month and the Earth orbits the Sun once a year, so the Moon and Sun pass through different parts of the sky.
  • Discussion Question: If the Earth is moving, why don’t we feel it?
  • Answer: We don’t feel it because the Earth is rotating at approximately 1000 miles per hour. We don’t “feel” that we are traveling at this speed because the Earth, our frame of reference, is traveling with us. The same is true of traveling in a car at a constant speed, unless you are looking out the window.
  • Discussion Question: What is an eclipse?
  • Answer: There are two types of eclipses: Solar and Lunar.
    1. Solar: Occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun having the Moon’s shadow fall upon the Earth. Solar Eclipses are rare and only people in a limited area are able to see a total eclipse.
    2. Lunar: Occurs when the Moon passes behind the Earth in its shadow. The Earth’s shadow falls on the surface on the Moon. At this time, the Sun, Earth and Moon are aligned in a straight line with the Earth in the middle. Lunar eclipses occur the night of a full moon.
  • Discussion Question: What causes the Moon’s phases? What are the phases?
  • Answer: The Moon revolving around the Earth
    Moon’s Phases: there are 8 phases
    1. New Moon
    2. Waxing Crescent
    3. First Quarter
    4. Waxing Gibbous
    5. Full Moon
    6. Waning Gibbous
    7. Last Quarter
    8. Waning Crescent
    9. … and back to the New Moon
  • Discussion Question: Is the Sun closer to the Earth during the summer months than during the winter months?
  • Answer: No. The Earth is not closer to the Sun in the summer. The seasons happen because the Earth’s rotation is tilted compared to its orbit around the Sun. In summer our part of the Earth is tilted toward the Sun, and in the winter we are tilted away. Oddly, the Earth is slightly farther away from the Sun when we are experiencing summer in the northern hemisphere. It is the tilt that causes the Sun to reach different heights in our sky at different times of the year and to shine for longer periods of time than others. The parts of the Earth where the Sun appears high in the sky experience summer and those where the Sun is low in the sky experience winter. Spring and fall occur when the sunlight is directly over the equator (in the middle) and so, neither hemisphere sees the Sun at particularly high or low positions in the sky.

Theme: Constellations

  • Discussion Question: What are constellations?
  • Answer: Constellations are patches of sky that contain a characteristic pattern of stars. The patterns are often named after characters from ancient Greek and Roman mythology (although individual stars have mostly Arabic names). There are 88 official constellations.Common constellations visible from Milwaukee include the Big Dipper, Gemini, Orion, and Leo to mention a few. Some basic constellations always visible at Midwestern latitudes: Big Bear (contains Big Dipper), Little Bear, Cassiopeia. Spring: Gemini, Leo. Summer: Cygnus, Summer Triangle. Fall: Pegasus, Andromeda. Winter: Orion, Taurus.Note: Ancient people observed that the Sun, Moon and planets seem to move across the sky through a series of twelve constellations, known as the zodiac. In particular, a person’s zodiac sign was the name of one of the 12 constellations of the zodiac that the Sun was closest to at the time of the person’s birth.
  • Discussion Question:
  • Discussion Question: How can you tell the difference between a star and a planet in the sky?
  • Answer: The stars in the sky appear to be in fixed positions with respect to each other. They can seem like they are attached to an imaginary “celestial sphere” around the Earth. Planets move in complicated paths across the sky. They exhibit a behavior called “retrograde motion” where they appear to go backwards for a period of time relative to the background stars in the celestial sphere as they move in their orbit around the Sun. Also, planets almost never twinkle.

Theme: Life of a star

  • Discussion Question: How do stars form?
  • Answer: Stars are continually being formed and destroyed. Stars are formed, or born, in clouds of gas and dust in the interstellar medium. Gravity squeezes the mass of these “star nurseries” so that the centers become incredibly dense and hot. These extreme conditions allow hydrogen fusion to begin. The outward pressure from the fusion balances the inward force of gravity. The gas stops collapsing and a star is born.
  • Discussion Question: Can scientists determine the distance to a star?
  • Answer: Yes. For example, scientists use parallax to determine the distance to a star. Parallax is used to determine the angle of the star at different points in the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. We know the distance of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun and use trigonometry to calculate the distance to the star.
  • Discussion Question: If the stars were evenly spaced and the universe has always existed (eternal), would the night sky be as bright as day?
  • Answer: Yes. There would be no dark areas because the light would shine uniformly from space and light up the night sky.

Theme: Space Exploration

  • True or False: Space exploration has changed the lives of you and I.
  • Answer: True. Changes that space exploration has brought to our lives include:
    1. Medical advances like MRI, CAT scan and kidney dialysis
    2. Satellites enable global telecommunications
    3. Satellites also aid in Earth monitoring to inform meteorologists, scientists studying global warming, other trends on Earth, and homeland security
    4. Robotics and microprocessors developed for NASA are used in our computers, cell phones, GPS, and manufacturing
  • Discussion Question: Space exploration isn’t worth all the money spent on it.
  • Answers may vary. Accept all answers Some might include the tools and procedures that were developed for missions that now have spin-offs for our daily lives. It might include protecting our planet from Near Earth Objects.

Theme: Big Bang Theory and Cosmology

  • Discussion Question: According to the Big Bang Theory, the entire universe and its matter were compressed into a space about the size of an atomic nucleus and then the universe started expanding in all directions. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • Answer: Agree. The Big Bang is the best scientific theory we have regarding the origin of the universe because we see remnant radiation from the early universe.
  • True of False: There isn’t any evidence for the Big Bang.
  • Answer: There is evidence of the Big Bang:
    1. Leftover microwave radiation
    2. Doppler shifted light that confirms an expanding universe
    3. Dark night sky confirms that the universe is not a constant or eternal

Readings

  • Black Holes and Other Space Phenomena, Young Observer
  • The Usbourne Internet-Linked Book of Astronomy and Space, Lisa Miles and Alastair Smith
  • Nature Activities Star Gazer, Ben Morgan
  • 1000 Facts About Space, Pam Beasant
  • A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
  • Astronomy magazine
  • Discover magazine

Vocabulary

A – G H – Q R – Z
Absolute Magnitude H-R Diagram Radiation
Altitude International Space Station Red Giant
Apparent Magnitude Irregular Galaxy Reflecting Telescope
Artificial Satellite Leap Year Refracting Telescope
Asteroid Light Year Revolution
Asteroid Belt Low Earth Orbit Right Ascension
Astronomy Main Sequence Rocket
Astronomical Unit Meteor Rotation
Big Bang Theory Meteorite Satellite
Black Hole Meteoroid Solar System
Calendar Month Space Junk
Celestial Equator NASA Space Probe
Comet Nebula Space Shuttle
Constellation Neutron Star Spiral Galaxy
Cosmic Background Open Cluster Spectrum
Cosmology Day Orbit Supernova
Declination Orbital Velocity Telescope
Eclipse Parallax Terrestrial Planets
Elliptical Galaxy Period of Revolution Thrust
Escape Velocity Phases White Dwarf
Galaxy Planetesimal Year
Gas Giant Prograde Motion  
Geosynchronous Pulsar  
Globular Cluster Quasar