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SAVY 2019: Session 6, Day 1 – Stellar Astronomy (Rising 5th/6th)

Posted by on Monday, July 22, 2019 in Grade 5, Grade 6, SAVY.

We had a mind blowing day in astronomy today!  The students are so excited to learn and ask all of their questions about astronomy!
We started out the day with introductions of each other – it’s great to learn what people have in common and to learn about something new and to practice speaking as all scientists have to be able to communicate their work verbally and in writing.  We also designed our Classroom Expectations – I was impressed with the thoughtfulness of many of the students regarding what makes a great classroom.
Students were very excited to start learning about stars themselves and really enjoyed our Orion image and learning about the different star names and then about the colors of stars.  We also looked at how the area looks different using infrared light versus optical light!  In general, when one looks at an image of stars, one sees colors and color of a star = temperature of the star!  The symbol used for temperature wasn’t Fahrenheit or Celsius, scientists use Kelvin!  Another part of the Orion region is the Orion Nebula, one of the closest star- and planet-forming regions to us (see some proplyds in Orion) so that got students thinking.
Perhaps the most mind-blowing topic of today was scientific notation!  As the numbers in astronomy are generally huge, we have to use a different way to write them or it’s just too cumbersome.  For instance, the Sun’s mass is 2 nonillion kilograms.  We practiced and did a little bit of arithmetic with the exponents.  During our discussion, students were very interested in terms I used like “light years” (and thinking about light travel time) and the size of our galaxy – 100,000 light year diameter, wait, it’s 200,000 light years in diameter! See this press release from the Institute for Astrophysics in the Canary Islands!!  Science is awesome!
During the middle of the day, students got to see one of the most important diagrams in all of astronomy – the Hertzprung-Russell diagram.  We discussed things they recognized and things they found interesting and it’s a great springboard for more discussion.
At the end of our day, we were all about basic stellar evolution where I showed images of various stages of star lifetimes.  These pictures, as I had hoped, really got students thinking and asking questions!
In order to get a bigger picture, we first looked at the basic life cycle of material within a star and how we’re just part of a big cosmic recycling cycle.
Then we start with clouds of gas and dust Statue of Liberty Nebula, Mystic Mountain (in the Carina Nebula), Fox Fur Nebula, Bubble Nebula, Eagle Nebula) that form more and more stars (cluster NGC 2244 in the Rosette Nebula) and then will eventually form star clusters (open cluster: the Pleiades and globular cluster: NGC 6039 (Messier 80)).  Once a star cluster is formed, then it may dissipate or it may stay together – we’ll be talking more about that later this week.  We’ll also be seeing images of planetary nebula and supernova remnants.
Oh, we also talked about false color images so we decided to compare two images of the Eagle Nebula – near true color and false color (specifically the “Hubble Palette” – and here’s an interesting article about “The Thing with Colors in Astrophotography”).
Now that we know about all of these things, we can really start looking at and understanding stellar data and graphs!  Tomorrow we look at gravity, orbits, and stellar evolution!