Klaatu Barada Nikto

We watched the sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, which won the 1951 Golden Globe Award for “The Best Film Promoting International Understanding”.  At the time, the film’s pro-peace message was seen as unpatriotic by some and the War Department rejected the script and would not supply equipment for the filming.

Final question:  Will there ever be a time when there is peace on earth?

Impact Craters, Thin Atmosphere, and Here Comes Open House

Today, students hurled impact objects at an imaginary solar system surface to simulate craters formed from impacts.  Flour and tempera powder resulted in some pretty good crater formations and pretty dirty students, but it was fun.  We also explored the layers of earth’s atmosphere, defined by temperature variations.  The graphed profile of our atmosphere was placed on a scale earth 8 stories high.  We live in 1 cm of atmosphere on this 8 story earth.  Take a deep breath and thank our fragile atmosphere.

The rest of the day, students prepared learning centers and displays for open house.

Space Time at Columbia Heights

Today we viewed Stephen Hawking’s Genius series about the possibility of time travel.  We first learned that time is inseparable from space and that to travel back in time is impossible.  However, hanging out near a black hole, where space and time are stretched, would cause time to move more slowly.    Leaving the area of the black hole, one would experience a journey into the future.

How many pieces of information are needed to identify an event (like a party)?

Students learned how to use spectrometers to study different wavelengths of light.  Hydrogen and helium gas tubes were observed through the spectrometers where students saw bright lines of distinct colors.  These bright emission spectra are specific to each element, like fingerprints.  After discussing how star distances are determined (parallax, Cepheid variables, and inverse square law), students were given data collected by Edwin Hubble which showed the greater the distance to the galaxy, hydrogen’s emission lines were red shifted to longer wave lengths .  This data revealed an expanding universe.  Using overlay maps of galaxies 1 billion years apart, students determined the age of the universe at between 13 and 14 billion years, which implies a beginning when all the galaxies originated from the Big Bang.

Is Math Involved?

Last Thursday, the class went on a field trip to Jackson Middle School.  On this trip, we calculated where we would cross the orbits of our scale model solar system.  Each meter of our journey covered 1 million km in our scale model.  Pluto was about 3.5 miles from Columbia Heights and the size of a pepper seed.  Today students were challenged to find the scale distance to the nearest star.

The solar system can also be scaled by using the length of a dollar bill equaling the average distance between the earth and the sun or 1 AU (astronomical unit).  How big would the earth be on this scale?  This was a math challenge in which 5 students correctly calculated the size of earth if the distance to the sun and earth was the length of one dollar bill.  Answer: 12.8 millionths of a meter (12.8 micrometers).

An activity consisting of 20 canceled checks was an analogy for scientists’ developing theories based on evidence.  Students used the evidence of these checks to create a theory about the lives of two people.  Theories are explanations based on evidence.  They are never proven, only supported or not supported by additional evidence.  Laws are descriptions of some aspect of nature.  Kepler’s laws of planetary motion describe the orbits of planets, they do not explain why.  Theories explain mysteries.  Laws describe nature.

Today we finished viewing the Nova documentary “To the Moon”.

Pretty Near Solstice Day

The sun was out today, so the class went outside with their globes, golf tees, and plastic cups to observe the earth-sun relationship near summer solstice.  Our models revealed the direct rays striking the Tropic of Cancer today.  The Tropic of Cancer is 23.5 degrees north of the equator.  This observation shows that our planet is tilted 23.5 degrees on its axis.  We also observed the sun with our telescope equipped with a special solar filter.  The sun spots observed on Wednesday had moved, showing the rotation of the sun.  Students then completed an activity with the mathematics of ellipses which concluded with an understanding of eccentricity of orbits.  Kepler’s laws of planetary motion were the result of our inquiries.

Question of the day: Today the moon is in the 1st Quarter phase.  When will the sun occupy that same position in the sky?

Field Trip to Jackson Middle School Observatory

On our way to the observatory, our school bus crossed the paths of our scale model solar system: Jupiter (at 50th and Central), Saturn (at the intersection of 694 and Central), Uranus (near Home Depot in Fridley), Neptune (1/2 mile north of 694 on 252), and the planetoid Pluto (just north of Humbolt on 252).  The sun was at Columbia Heights High School.  On arrival, astronomer Ron Schmidt blew our minds with a presentation ranging from sizes and types of telescopes and stars, to the detection of earth-like planets in our galaxy.  Ron also gave the students a tour of the telescope observatory and demonstrated how the telescope and dome operated.

Human Solar System, Sunspots, and the Zodiac

Astrology vs. Astronomy.  Pseudo-science vs. science.  We found out that the zodiac constellations lie on the earth’s ecliptic plane.  2600 years ago the Babylonians established the zodiac signs based on the position of the sun passing through these constellations.  These alignments no longer exist.  However, the sun can still be observed passing through the zodiac constellations.  This complex concept was explored by students creating a human solar system in motion.  We then moved to the classroom and created a zodiac wheel to deepen our understanding of our planet in space.  We also viewed the sun with a telescope equipped with a special solar filter.  We observed sunspots on the surface of the sun and hope to view the sun tomorrow to obtain evidence of solar rotation.

Special note: Field trip tomorrow to the Jackson Middle School Observatory.

Question of the day: What’s your sign?

Day Two of Scaling the Solar System

Using maps of Columbia Heights, students scaled the distance to the planets.  This was followed up by an activity on pacing.  Students practiced counting the number of steps needed to cover a ten meter distance.  Our Teaching Assistant, Ricco, held a scale model Sun at the beginning of our walk through the solar system.  Mercury, about 5 mm in diameter, was 58 meters from our scale model sun, followed by Venus, at 108 meters, Earth, at 150 meters, both the size of a pea, and Mars, at 228 meters and about half the diameter of Earth.  Students returned to the classroom where they were given information about major moons in the solar system.  These were added to the scale drawings of the planets.  Today also began the beginning of a Nova documentary titled “To the Moon –  A History of Early Space Flight”.

Solar System Scaling Day

It is difficult to comprehend the vastness of space.  When distances between planets, stars, and galaxies are expressed in familiar units, like miles or kilometers, we get huge numbers that we have difficulty relating to.  The best way to grasp these distances is by creating an actual scale model of the closest neighbors in our space environment.  Students are creating a scale model solar system.

Star Party to Eagle Lake Observatory

 .              A large group of students and family members took a hot and humid school bus trip to the Eagle Lake Observatory at Baylor Regional Park.  Unfortunately, cloud cover took the same trip.  However, the observatory director, Merle Hiltner, gave us a guided tour of the telescopes and the facilities, so all was not lost.  The field trip could also be viewed as a success for introducing the participants to the potential of visiting the site on a clear night.  Here’s the link to the schedule for future public viewing: