|Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Views from the Hubble Space Telescope
Lesson Subject Matter: Astronomy and Hubble Space Telescope
Lesson Time: 1-2 hours (Individual slides from the accompanying PowerPoint presentation can be used as mini-lessons or content from individual slides can be expanded into multiple hour-long lessons as part of a larger astronomy curriculum. The referenced website provides a great deal of background information as well links to additional resources.)
Audience Level: 4th grade and up
Materials Needed: Extraordinary in the Ordinary PowerPoint files (Available at: http://bork.hampshire.edu/~sam/extraordinary/PowerPointFiles.html), lots of crayons, colored pencils, and colored markers, a sheet of drawing paper or GOOSO (used printer paper that is only Good On One Side Only) paper for each student, a few US dimes (optional), 35mm film camera (optional), 20mw laser pointer (optional), telescope for after presentation (optional), pre/post assessment questions (included below), grapefruit (optional), ball point pen (optional), 100 tape measure (optional).
National Science Standards:
Earth and Space Science Standards
Physical Science Standards
Properties and changes of properties in matter
Structure of atoms
Structure and properties of matter
Interactions of energy and matter
Slide 2: Extraordinary in the Ordinary
This title slide can be used solely as a title slide to be shown on a projector as the students arrive in class. However, it can also be utilized at a much deeper level to establish a theme for the entire lesson and to put the lesson into context. Using this picture of the interacting Antenna Galaxies I try to convey to the students the meaning of the phrase extraordinary in the ordinary. I suggest that this has at least two different meanings. The first meaning is that there is an extraordinary nature to all the ordinary things we see around us. Secondly, some people find some things to be ordinary while others find those same things to be extraordinary. I explain that almost everyone has something or does something in their lives that they find extraordinary. It’s the thing in peoples’ lives that makes them shine and brings them joy. At this point, I name a few possibilities including: art, music, horseback riding, skiing, etc. Then I ask the students to tell me their extraordinary in the ordinary. I transition to the next slide by saying that although the content of the following presentation is astronomy, the theme is extraordinary in the ordinary. (Note: the subtitle of the lesson pertaining to the Hubble Space Telescope is not included in this slide purposefully so that the students remain unaware that they will be drawing an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. That activity is described on slide 4.)
Slide 3: So What? Why learn about Astronomy?
Theme Statement: What are the potentially interesting aspects of astronomy? Why is astronomy extraordinary?
If there are still some students who are not quite sold on the idea of learning about astronomy, hopefully this slide will begin to capture their interest. After slowly going through the five rationales for studying astronomy, I ask the students which of the rationales they feel most strongly about and why. Asking the students to provide their reasons behind why they selected specific rationales potentially expose some of the things the students find extraordinary. (Note: Having a laser pointer in hand and pointing it around the room for the five rationale works well to engage the students.)
Optional Short Movie Engager: What’s Out There?
This is where the astronomy content portion of the presentation can begin. To further engage the students I show them a short video (approx. 3 min.)on the Care2 website (http://www.care2.com/ecards/build/1/6043). This video introduces a large number of astronomical concepts. While watching the video I ask the students to write down two things: 1. What is one thing that you learned about astronomy from watching the video? 2. What is one question you have about astronomy from watching the video? After the video is over I write most if not all of the students responses from these two questions on the whiteboard in front of the room. (Note: At the very end of this movie the word “bugger” is used. “Bugger” is a swear word in the UK. I have never had a problem with this while using it with many adults and other teachers in the U.S., but it is something to be aware of. Occasionally one of the students notices that the image of the galaxy on the video is spinning in the wrong direction. Many of the questions that come up can be answered later in the program when looking at the Hubble Deep Field (HDF) and the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) images. This is a good opportunity to clear up any major misconceptions that become apparent from the students responses. However, resist the urge to answer too many of the questions at this point.)
Slide 4: Stars doing what they do
Theme Statement: Stars are some of the most common, or in other words ordinary, objects in the Universe. However, the processes that go on inside them are truly extraordinary. We are going to learn about some of those extraordinary processes.
Up until this slide the lesson can be pretty much the same for the entire range of age groups specified above. However, the content presented here can vary widely depending on the grade level of the audience. This slide can used to cover Physical Science Standards including: light for levels K-4; properties and changes of properties in matter for levels 5-8; structure of atoms, structure and properties of matter, and interactions of energy and matter for levels 9-12. Regardless of the level, the goal here is to make sure the students understand how stars produce light and energy as well as what importance that process has for us on Earth, namely providing the energy needed to sustain life.
I usually tell the students that they already know the equation that describes how stars make energy. They just don’t know that they know it. The equation is Einstein’s famous E = mc^2. It’s important to make note that stars are always working to balance the force of gravity inward with the outward pressure they create from nuclear reactions. This keeps them from collapsing, which is what happens at the end of their existences when they run out of fuel. For more information about these concepts go to: http://bork.hampshire.edu/~sam/extraordinary/Stars.htm and http://bork.hampshire.edu/~sam/extraordinary/Dying.htm
Optional additional activities during Slide 3
As another way to help the students remember the concepts I cover with this slide I play a recording of the “Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas” by the band They Might be Giants. This band recently recorded this song under the title “The Sun is a Measma of Incandescent Plasma”—thus correcting their previous mistake that the Sun and all stars are made of gas and not plasma (superheated gas).
To help the students understand just how big stars like our Sun actually are and how much space there is in the solar system I sometimes do a short kinesthetic sizes and distances activity. This activity consists of using a grapefruit to represent the sun and a mark made by a ballpoint pen to represent the Earth. The two should be placed about 50 feet away from ach other for a proper distance scale. I have the students walk the distance so they can feel how much space there is between Earth and the Sun. This activity can be expanded to include distances to other planets and stars. This activity comes from the Kinesthetic Astronomy Sky Time Lesson, which can be found at: http://www.spacescience.org/education/extra/kinesthetic_astronomy/index.html
Slide 5: What Would You See?
Theme Statement: Astronomy is unique among the natural sciences in that the objects that we study are far removed from the lab and from Earth. Although cameras and even telescopes may seem like ordinary devices without their use our knowledge of the extraordinary nature of the Universe would be quite limited.
This is when I have the students begin to think about the Hubble Deep Field, without them knowing about it. I begin by showing the students how cameras and telescopes work. If a telescope is available I use is to explain how the light is collected by the primary mirror or lens. If it is not present some diagrams on the whiteboard suffice.
I use an old 35mm film camera to explain how a camera works. The shutter works like our eyelid does—either preventing or allowing light to enter the camera or enter our eye. The lens of the camera is similar to the pupil of our eye—it’s where the light enters. The analogy of the camera and the eye breaks down with the concept of light absorption. The film on the camera will continue to absorb light and to accumulate it as long as the shutter is kept open. However, the human eye has a limit to how much light it can absorb and register before that light dissipates to be replaced with continuously absorbed light. So, our eye doesn’t accumulate light like a camera does. I take two pictures in front of the students. One of the pictures is a 1/250 second exposure and the other is a ½ second exposure. I ask the students which of those two pictures would be brighter if the film were developed. The longer exposure, ½ second, would be brighter because there was more time with the shutter open. Thus, there was more time for light to accumulate on the film. (Note: Ask some clarifying questions here to check for understanding).
Once the students seem to understand cameras and telescopes I ask them to imagine a tiny dark spot in the sky that could be covered up by a US dime held 75 feet away. I tell them to imagine taking a 10-day exposure of that spot with a special camera that can follow that dark spot no matter what happens. They can ignore bad weather, the rotation of Earth, the sun and anything else. After asking for clarifying questions I give them 5-10 minutes to draw and/or paint what they think the picture would look like. (Note: Having the students repeat back the instructions and to have them ask clarifying questions to me has been important for them to understand what I am asking them to do. For more information about this slide go to: http://bork.hampshire.edu/~sam/extraordinary/Dark.htm).
Slide 6: The Hubble Space Telescope
Theme Statement: Although the Hubble Space Telescope works like an ordinary Cassegrain reflector telescope, its location above Earth’s atmosphere and the sensitive instruments it has on board have had extraordinary results.
After the students have finished drawing their pictures I let them know that the picture that I had them imagine was actually taken. However, before I show them the HDF image I use slides 5 and 6 to show my students just how big the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is and how the image their attempted to draw was taken with the (HST). On slide 5 there is a picture of the last service mission done on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). An astronaut’s feet are just visible sticking out of one of the compartments of the HST. That gives a great size comparison. The HST is about 50 feet long and between 10-15 feet in diameter or about the size of a school bus. For more information about the HST go to: http://hubblesite.org/the_telescope/
Slide 7: How The Extraordinary Image Was Taken
Theme Statement: A picture, or better yet a moving picture, is worth a thousand words. So let’s actually see how this extraordinary picture, which you’re about to it was taken.
There are two animations embedded into this slide. Clicking on the images will play the animations. The animation on the left shows how the HST can point to a place above or below the Earth continuously without interruption. (http://amazing-space.stsci.edu/resources/explorations/hdf/movies/pointing.mpg). The animation on the right shows the part of the sky, near the Big Dipper, (Ursa Major) that the HST pointed at to take the HDF image. This animation zooms into the tiny area of sky described on slide 4. You can stop the animation just before it reveals the Hubble Deep Field to build a bit more suspense. (http://amazing-space.stsci.edu/resources/explorations/hdf/movies/hdf_location.mpg).
Slide 8 and 9: The Hubble Deep Field and the Hubble Ultra Deep Field
Theme Statement: When my college astronomy professor first saw the Hubble Deep Field he printed it out on the best printer he could find, taped the picture up on his wall, and just starred at it. It was one of the most extraordinary images he had ever seen. So let’s just stare at it for a minute or so before we start to talk about it.
Before looking at the Hubble Ultra Deep Field:
Theme Statement: One question you might be asking yourself at this point is: Did astronomers just get lucky in where they pointed the HST to take the HDF? If they pointed the HST at another ordinary dark spot of the sky would they achieve the same extraordinary results?
Note: I like to open up the higher resolution versions of these images (included with the PowerPoint files) using some kind of picture viewer. This really lets the students see the intricate details in each of the two images.
I usually begin slide 7 with the students just looking at the image for one minute without saying anything. This gives them a chance to formulate some questions. Next, I take a few minutes to write down on the whiteboard any questions that the students have. If you are comfortable answering their questions you can do so in a logical order. Otherwise below are some questions and answers that I have found valuable in the past.
(While looking at the real Hubble Deep Field (HDF) and Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) I ask my students to formulate questions about the Universe. No two sessions of doing this have ever been the same, but there are usually several common concepts that are brought up. To learn about the HDF and the HUDF and more about the questions/answers below go to: http://bork.hampshire.edu/~sam/extraordinary/HDF.htm).
Question #1: What are all those things in the picture?
Answer #1: In the HDF and the HUDF they are all entire galaxies separate from the Milky Way Galaxy. The few exceptions are the foreground stars that lie within the Milky Way Galaxy. Those stars appear to have spokes. They are not exploding stars, but rather are overexposed parts of the image.
Question #2: How many galaxies are there in the image?
Answer #2: About 1,500 in the HDF and about 10,000 in the HUDF. This means that there are about 200 billion galaxies in the Universe. (Note: At this point the Drake Equation could be used to calculate the probable number of communicable civilizations in the Universe.)
Question #3: How far away are these galaxies?
Answer #3: Some of them are thousands of light years away, some of them are millions of light years away, and some of them are billions of light years away. (Note: Slide 9 can be used to explain how we know these distances—using supernovas as distance markers.)
Question #4: Why are all the galaxies different colors?
Answer #4: One reason is the composition of the galaxies, which largely has to do with the type of stars in the galaxies. Different stars are different temperature and thus shine with different colors. A second reason, which pertains only to the galaxies that appear as tiny little red dots (shown in an image on the webpage referenced above), is the Doppler Effect.
These four questions provide opportunities to link in the Earth and Space Science Standards of objects in the sky for levels K-4 and origin and evolution of the Universe for levels 9-12. The discussion can include ideas concerning the expanding Universe, the Big Bang theory, and the different possible fates of the Universe. An additional noteworthy mention is that since these objects are many thousand, millions, or billions of light years away we are seeing them as they existed thousands, millions, or billions of years ago. That is because the light took that amount of time to reach the Hubble Space Telescope.
Slide 10: The Hubble Deepest Field
Theme Statement: But, wait…there’s more. We’ve only looked at the Universe through visible light so far. Are there more extraordinary things to be encounter in the other wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum?
This image represents the deepest view of the Universe ever taken. It was captured by the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on the Hubble Space Telescope in August 2009. Although it was taken in the same region as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, this image contains galaxies even farther away than can be seen in the HUDF. The reason that is possible is because this image was taken in the near-infrared wavelengths as opposed to visible light. Light from these extremely distant galaxies is stretched into the near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum because of the expansion on the universe. For more information about this image go to: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2009/31/
Slide 11: All the way from Supernovae
Theme Statement: Back to the extraordinary processes that take place inside ordinary stars like the Sun. Is there a process that connects our star with all the other stars in the Universe, other than how they all make light and energy? And is there something that connects all those stars with everything else right here on Earth? Is there such an extraordinary connection?
I use Slide 9 to address the topics of cosmic distance markers as well as nucleosynthesis. These topics as well as the pictures on the slide are described on the following webpage: http://bork.hampshire.edu/~sam/extraordinary/Dying.htm. An important concept to address with this slide is that when stars go supernovae they can produce all the naturally occurring elements on the periodic table. The elements we have on Earth (silicon in rocks and computer chips, carbon and calcium in our bodies, oxygen in the air, neon in neon signs, etc.) originally came from stars.
Slide 12: Baby Stars and Solar Systems
Theme Statement: ”We are stardust”. The Sun, Earth, and everything else in the Solar System came from the inside of “dying” stars. The same extraordinary process that stars use to make light and energy everywhere in the Universe, the same process that leads to the eventual “death” of stars everywhere in the Universe, are the same processes that helped to form this Solar System , and those extraordinary processes and happening right now!
Slide 10 connects the previous concepts with those of the theory of solar system formation. This can be used to include the Earth and Space Science Standards of Earth in the solar system for levels 5-8 and origin and evolution of the solar system for levels 9-12. Information about the images on the slide as well as information on the concepts can be found at: http://bork.hampshire.edu/~sam/extraordinary/Star%20Formation.htm
Slide 13: Earth
Theme Statement: We’ve looked at galaxies on the other side of the visible Universe. We’ve learned how ordinary stars influence the extraordinary Universe in which we live. Yet everywhere we have looked, we haven’t seen anything quite like Earth. What’s extraordinary about the ordinary Earth?
I use the image of Earth taken by the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra satellite to remind students that all the concepts and processes that have been discussed during the presentation, which occur all over the Universe, also apply to our Solar System and to Earth. I also challenge the studentsd to think about the extraordinary nature of ordinary things here on Earth just as the Hubble Space Telescope does in space. There are some examples of this at: http://bork.hampshire.edu/~sam/extraordinary/Extraordinary.htm.
Slide 14: Extraordinary in the Ordinary
In closing, I tell students that discovering something they find extraordinary—whether it has anything to do directly with astronomy or not—is such an important part of life. That’s extraordinary in the ordinary.
Pre and Post Assessment Questions
The following questions have been used as pre and post assessments of the above astronomy presentation. They have not been used in any specific order and can be modified to suite the needs of the instructor.
When you look up at dark night sky what do you see? How far away do you think those object are from Earth?
What is a star? How and why does it shine?
What is light?
When you look up at a dark sky at night how does it make you feel?
What is a planet? How is it different than a star?
How did the planet Earth form?
What do you think are some of the connections between everything you see up in the night sky and things on Earth?
What are some of the things found in any planetary system?
What is the primary source of energy that sustains life on Earth?
What are the four states of matter? What differentiates those four states?
What is a galaxy? What are some of the things found in galaxies?
What is an atom? What is it made of? What is the nucleus of an atom composed of?
How has the Solar System changed over time? How will it change in the future?
How has the Universe changed over time? How is it changing now on the largest scale?