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The ESA/ESO Astronomy Exercise Series

The object of this resource, produced by ESA and ESO, is to present various small projects that will pass on some of the excitement and satisfaction in scientific discovery, to students. Using elementary geometrical and physical considerations, students will be able to derive answers that are comparable with the results of much more sophisticated analyses described in scientific literature.

The exercises are suitable for higher ability 14-16 year olds or post-16 groups. All the exercises are constructed with background text followed by a series of questions, measurements and calculations.

The exercises can be used either as texts in traditional classroom format or, as the exercises are quite self-explanatory, be given to smaller groups as part of project work. It is recommended that the relevant parts of the Toolkits are worked through with students prior to working on the exercises, unless the content is already familiar to them. In addition to an introduction to the Hubble Space Telescope and the ESO Very Large Telescope, and the astronomical and mathematical toolkit, the following exercises are included (N.B Exercise 5 does not exist):

Exercise 1: Using supernovae to measure distances in the universe: students use the angular size of the ring and a light curve that shows the evolution of the ring brightness with time, to calculate the distance to a supernova.

Exercise 2: Cepheid Variables and Hubble’s Law: students measure the period and apparent magnitudes of Cepheid variables in the galaxy M100 and find the absolute magnitude, distance, Hubble constant and age of the universe.

Exercise 3: Measuring the distances to planetary nebulae: students measure the expansion velocity of the Cat’s Eye Nebula and with the help of tangential velocity measurements, determine the distance to the nebula.

Exercise 4: Measuring a globular cluster distance and H-R diagrams: students measure the blue and green magnitudes of selected stars in the outer regions of a globular cluster and convert these to surface temperatures. A plot of magnitude vs. temperature can be compared to a distance-calibrated Main Sequence HR-diagram.

Exercise 6: Black Holes: students determine the mass of the black hole and the centre of the Milky Way.

Exercise 7: A new edition of exercise 2 where students are supposed to make their own measurements using a freely available photometry software package, SalsaJ.

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