Astronomical Observation and Measurement including spectroscopy
There are so many great resources on this topic that you might have trouble choosing which to use in your classroom. It's a wonderful topic to teach and teacher's will enjoy the positive response from their students.
Helping students appreciate the size and scale of the universe can be a real challenge. All kinds of large numbers can appear and without clear reference points it can be difficult to make significant comparisons and even harder to appreciate absolute measurements in any meaningful way. The first resource hopes to present some kind of sense of the size of the universe. The famous Powers of Ten video may also be helpful here.
Most of the resources that follow that are aimed at providing background detail and information about various objects in the solar system and beyond. Different specifications will inevitably cover different objects and expect different details but all of these contain good information that will hopefully tap into the natural motivation and interest that many students have in this topic. The Launching a Balloon to the Edge of Space resources is a great story and one that is not beyond the realms of possibility for many schools...
There were so many fantastic films to go with this topic, that we created an additional list and put them altogether. To view them, click here.
Whilst this list provides a source of information and ideas for experimental work, it is important to note that recommendations can date very quickly. Do NOT follow suggestions which conflict with current advice from CLEAPSS, SSERC or recent safety guides. eLibrary users are responsible for ensuring that any activity, including practical work, which they carry out is consistent with current regulations related to Health and Safety and that they carry an appropriate risk assessment. Further information is provided in our Health and Safety guidance
Links and Resources
Lots of teachers will have heard of schools with their own space missions - launching weather balloons to the edge of space. It’s certainly exciting and inspirational but it is a big project so it’s not for the faint-hearted. If you’d like to give it a go, this report is a good place to start.
Measuring the diameter of our star: here’s an astronomical observation that can be made during the school day – although you may need to be flexible with your planning as you do need a sunny day!
In this practical activity, students measure an image of the sun and then use the principle of equivalent triangles to calculate the actual diameter of the sun. It’s a simple experiment requiring no specialist equipment so the whole class can carry it out. Year 11 students should find the calculations straightforward and the suggestion to run the activity as a competition is a good one. Just remember to warn students never to look directly at the sun.
Measuring the number of hours in a day is a slightly more complicated piece of practical work. It will take longer to complete and the mathematics is a little more complicated, but is worth doing if you have the time.
Perhaps following on from work done at Key Stage Three, this is a good activity to remind students about the sheer size and scale of the universe. Even if not used as described here, the data will be useful to teachers when designing their own activities.
This paper based activity is a nice extension to work on spectroscopy and it provides a link to sun spots. The spectra used are real life examples from the sun and although they are rather more complicated than spectra commonly used at GCSE, students won’t find it too difficult to analyse them. It is a good activity to develop independent or collaborative learning.
How better to kick of the topic of astronomy than by letting your students get their hands on some real rocks from the Moon and Mars? Not only will STFC lend you the samples, but they also provide a comprehensive range of practical activities to accompany them. You won’t have time to use them all with your triple science students but there’s something here for the whole school so that you can make maximum use of the samples while you have them.
This is exactly what it says it is. The document folds up makes a little book that’s a big read. Email a copy to your keen students, hand them out as prizes for the best piece of homework or simply read it yourself.
Here’s a resource where video really comes into its own. Written instructions for this role play/kinaesthetic activity would be difficult to explain clearly in writing but it’s so simple when you see it acted out in front of you. It’s a really effective activity but not all the class can observe at once so you may consider showing them the film as well. The part of the film where the animation compares the wavelengths is really effective and would be difficult to show in real life.
Working just with conventional 2D diagrams, students often struggle to appreciate why there isn’t a solar eclipse every month. This films shows how to carry out a demonstration that will dispel those misconceptions immediately. It’s simple, cheap and effective - what more could you want?
Another effective classroom demonstration from the IOP which will really help students understand how the phases of the moon are produced. An alternative to the set up here would be to use a tennis ball. Paint one half black and orbit it around the Earth as in the film. Experience shows that even students not sitting in the Earth’s position can imagine themselves there and picture the portion of the Moon visible to them.
This is a simple activity to carry out but it’s pretty impressive as it allows students to measure the diameter of the sun without leaving their classroom. You want the two pdf documents about Catherine Haymens. Use the information about her to introduce your class to just one of the exciting careers that physics can lead to and use the activity sheet to provide instruction for your students.
This information leaflet details the telescopes available to UK schools and their students – did you even know such facilities existed? If teaching this part of the specification has fired up your enthusiasm then this is a great way to get more involved. This is a natural activity for an extra-curricula club.
Here’s a set of high quality images to include in your presentations about telescopes and the work of astronomers. It’s unusual to get a picture that includes so many telescopes, it can crowded on those mountain tops! Use them to illustrate where and how astronomers work today and to point out the features of telescopes mentioned in the specification.
Follow it up with the lovely images of galaxies from the resource below.
Some stunning pictures of galaxies here to build into your own presentations. Remind students of how far away they are and how many stars they contain and you’ll have them exclaiming and asking you all sorts of questions.
You may like to follow this up by choosing some images from the Hubble Space Telescope gallery at http://hubblesite.org/gallery/ Alternatively, ask your students to explore the website for homework. They could pick three images and write a sentence about each. The starter for the next lesson is then for the students to show each other the images they chose.
Space Science is an area of physics that males and females seem to be more equally attracted to. You can make the most of this by teaching much of the physics specification in a space-linked context. Make sure your female students are aware of the opportunities available to them by giving them a copy of this well produced booklet. The statistics are really rather out of date now though (have they improved since 1999?) so treat this part with caution.
With this resource your class can build their own spectroscopes at almost no cost. Although it’s hard to see the emission spectra from a flame test with a hand held spectroscope students will enjoy comparing the spectrum from daylight with that from projector bulbs or fluorescent lights where the emission lines from particular elements are clearly visible. There’s a bit of an art to learning how to see with them, but it’s quickly mastered. There are some useful background notes for teachers too.
This is a delightful activity. Using real data, students build scale models of alien solar systems, calculate their goldilocks zones and consider the possibilities for life.
Although this set of resources was designed with KS3 students in mind, it provides a great opportunity for KS4 students to work independently from the teacher and will help develop their ability work as part of a team too.
It's a good idea to watch the film first as it will provide a good overview of the whole activity and then stand back and watch as your students do the calculations and get creative with plasticine. You’ll want to photograph the results.
It can be difficult to get hold of expanded polystyrene (ceiling) tiles and they can be expensive too. Try out the long black tubes used to insulate water pipes, cut in half longways, as a much cheaper alternative. Although they are a different shape they also give more scope when it comes to choosing a scale.