Title: "Stuff In Space"

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heme: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Title: “Stuff In Space”
Overview: Space is filled with “stuff.” Some of this stuff is easy to see, some is detectable with common instruments, and some can only be detected by complex machines designed for the task. “Stuff” can include the tangible matter such as stars and comets, and intangible, theoretical matter that has not been proven to exist. It can include exotic things like Black Holes and White Dwarfs. However, space is also filled with energy. Space was once thought of as empty space – scientists don’t think that anymore.
Grade Level: 9-12
Subject Matter:

  • Astronomy

  • Space Science

Duration: 3-5, 50-minute periods
National Standards Addressed:

Earth and Space Science

  • Origin and Evolution of the Solar System


By the end of the lesson, the students will be able to:

  • Identify, discuss, and describe the different aspects of massive objects in space.

  • Identify, discuss, and describe the different aspects of energy in space.


  • Computers

  • Internet access

  • Word processing program

  • Tri-fold presentation board


  1. Hook – “Stuff in Space” could be matter or energy.

    1. Engage the students by showing them some of the different things they will research in this lesson.

    2. Make a slide presentation of the following:

      1. Black Hole (artist’s rendition) http://lisa.nasa.gov/gallery/images/stellar-mass-black-hole.jpg

      2. White dwarf (small bright dot in the center of the photograph): http://www.williamsclass.com/EighthScienceWork/ImagesEighth/WhiteDwarf.jpg

      3. Dark Matter (computer simulation): http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/HIGHLIGHT/2002/fig0206_1.jpg

      4. Stars – Red Giant: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/ug/hilditch/low-mass.html, main sequence: http://btc.montana.edu/ceres/html/LifeCycle/images/current_fdha_stamp.gif

      5. Nebula – crab nebula: http://www.caffeinenebula.com/nebula04%20(Main)-edit.JPG

      6. Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (computer simulation of temperature differences caused by CBR): http://faculty.washington.edu/jcramer/ILC_b_2.jpg

      7. Comet: http://www.astro.ex.ac.uk/people/mbate/comet2.jpg

      8. Meteor Shower: http://www.nightskynation.com/pics/meteor-showers-alpha-monocerotids.jpg

  1. “Stuff in Space” project/presentation fair/assessment.

    1. Introduce the project.

      1. Students will work in groups of two or three. Each group will research some aspect of matter or energy found in space and make a tri-fold presentation board on the topic.

      2. All presentation boards will be displayed in a “Stuff in Space” Fair. Refreshments will be provided by the teacher.

      3. The students will takes notes on each presentation board during the “Stuff in Space” Fair.

      4. There will be an assessment (test) a few days after the “Stuff” fair. The content of the test will be determined by the content on the presentation boards.

    2. Hand out the “Stuff in Space” project details

      1. Note: as there are not enough items to research as you have students, some students will be researching the same topic. Limit duplicate research to two or three.

      2. You may wish to provide an opportunity for students to pick a topic of interest (not listed below) as long as it fits with matter and/or energy found in space.

  2. Stuff in Space research prompts and resources

    1. Allow the students to select the “stuff” they wish to research.

    2. When they have chosen, give each group the research prompts and resources hand out for each topic.

    3. You may wish to provide class time for research as this will provide opportunity for direction and questions.

  3. “Stuff in Space” Fair

    1. Setup:

      1. Set the desks up in a large circle, or provide enough room for the class to move around.

      2. Each group will set up their tri-fold presentation board around the room as well as the titled outlines.

      3. Food and drinks can be provided to add a little extra to the day. Two ideas on food:

        1. Dehydrated ice cream: http://www.funkyfoodshop.com/index.php

        2. Dippin’ Dots – “The Ice Cream of the Future”


    1. The body of the fair

      1. Students will be required to circulate around the room and take notes on the information they see from the boards.

      2. This portion of the fair should be informal but the students should stay focused on their task.

      3. You may wish to leave to boards displayed somewhere so that students can add to their notes before the test.

      4. At least on student should remain at their board to answer any questions that come up. Since all students need to take notes, the students in each group must take turns staying with their boards.

  1. Assessment on “stuff”

    1. Create a test that is based on the student-generated content.

    2. Administer the test a few days after the fair to provide study time and time for the students to get any extra notes they missed from the boards.

Stuff in Space” Project Details

  • Research a type of matter or energy in space.

  • Provide a presentation of your research in the form of a tri-fold board.

  • Gain knowledge and details of other types of matter and energy found in space through a sharing of ideas with your classmates (“Stuff in Space” Fair).

  • Prove your mastery of the knowledge/details through an assessment.

Research and Presentation Procedure:

  1. Choose the topic you wish to research.

  2. Obtain a research guide for this topic from the teacher.

  3. Each topic provides you with a list of resources in which you may use to start your research. This is not limited to science journals (periodicals) and books.

  4. Each topic also includes a list of ideas to get you started. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list. If you find additional information from your research feel free to include it.

Presentation Procedure

  1. Once you have completed your research, you will need to purchase a tri-fold presentation board. This will be your mode of presentation.

  2. Create a colorful, accurate, engaging, and logical presentation.

  3. A titled outline for each student will accompany your board on the day of the fair. The titled outline will be filled out based on the content of your board. Since you will determine the majority of the content the titled outline must be generated by your group. The outline should direct the person on what to fill out.

  4. Everyone in the class will need to collect the outlines and take notes on the boards.

  5. There should be at least one member of your group at your board at all times. You will be there to answer any questions or provide guidance. You must take turns doing this since everyone needs to collect outlines and take notes.


Types of Rocks

Characteristics of Sedimentary Rocks





  • You will be graded on following:

    • Presentation Board

      • Organization of content

      • Thoroughness of content

      • Creativity

      • Neatness

    • Titled Notes

      • Simplicity in design

      • Easy to follow and fill out

      • Includes all necessary information

Dark Matter
Dark Matter research ideas:

  • Microwave radiation

  • Dark Matter definition

  • Composition of dark matter

  • Why does the theory of dark matter exist?

  • Acceleration and expansion of the universe

  • Matter and gravity

  • Percentage (or ratio) of the universe made of Dark Matter.

  • WIMPs

  • Detecting dark matter

Dark Matter Resources:

  • Pulse of the Planet Program #3146: “Origins of the Universe: Dark Matter”

  • Pulse of the Planet Program #3018: “Missing Matter: Wimps”

  • Pulse of the Planet program #3016: “Missing Matter: Nature of Dark Objects”

  • Pulse of the Planet program #3017: “Missing Matter: White Dwarfs”

  • http://www.pbs.org/wnet/hawking/strange/html/dark.html

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:DarkMatterPie.jpg

  • http://science.hq.nasa.gov/kids/imagers/ems/waves3.html

  • http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/science/mysteries_l1/dark_matter.html

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/space/deepspace/darkmatter/index.shtml

  • http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/dark_matter.html

  • http://zebu.uoregon.edu/~soper/Mass/WIMPS.html

  • http://www.space.com/common/media/video.php?videoRef=150407Dark_matter (VIDEO)


Stars research ideas:

  • Composition of stars

  • Star life cycle

    • How are stars born?

    • Contraction, fusion, expansion, energy

    • Why does a star become a red giant?

    • Small star life cycle – white dwarfs and black dwarfs

    • Large star life cycle – supernovae

Stars Resources:

  • Pulse of the Planet program #3016: “Missing Matter: Nature of Dark Objects”

  • Pulse of the Planet program #3017: “Missing Matter: White Dwarfs”

  • http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/teachers/lifecycles/LC_title.html

  • http://chandra.harvard.edu/xray_sources/white_dwarfs.html

  • http://ssc.spitzer.caltech.edu/documents/compendium/galsci/greene.jpg

Compounds in Space
Compounds in Space research ideas:

  • What chemical compounds exist in space?

  • How are the chemical compounds detected?

  • How did the chemical compounds get there?

  • Describe the conditions that allow the compounds to form and exist. Why are these conditions necessary?

  • Explain the importance of carbon in space.

  • Why are complex molecules in space important to study?

Compounds in Space Resources:

  • Pulse of the Planet program #4226: “Science Diary: Chemistry – Molecules”

  • Pulse of the Planet program #4227: “Science Diary: Chemistry – Waves”

  • Pulse of the Planet program #4228: “Science Diary: Chemistry – Machine”

  • Pulse of the Planet program #4231: “Science Diary: Chemistry – Collecting”

  • Pulse of the Planet program #4232: ”Science Diary: Chemistry – the search”

  • http://www-691.gsfc.nasa.gov/cosmic.ice.lab/interstellar.htm

  • http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/I/ismols.html

  • http://www.cv.nrao.edu/~awootten/allmols.html

  • http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/mmw/mmwlab/ismmolecules_organic.html

  • http://shantanurastogi.homestead.com/files/ismol.html

  • http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/06/040622012211.htm

Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB)
Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation Research Ideas:

  • Definition of Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB)

  • Temperature of CMB

  • Wavelength and frequency of CMB

  • Isotropic

  • Big Bang Theory, energy, and matter

  • Uniformity

Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation Resources:

  • Pulse of the Planet program #3795: “Origins of the Universe: Cosmic Background Radiation”

  • http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/bb_tests_cmb.html

  • http://www.astro.ubc.ca/people/scott/faq_basic.html

  • http://www.astro.ubc.ca/people/scott/cmb_intro.html

  • http://www.pbs.org/wnet/hawking/strange/html/backg.html

Gamma Ray Bursts
Gamma Ray Bursts research ideas:

  • What are gamma rays?

  • “BATSE”

  • Origin and location of gamma ray bursts.

  • Duration of gamma ray bursts.

  • Brightness of bursts vs. size.

  • Energy output from the source.

Gamma Ray Bursts resources:

  • Pulse of the Planet program #1606: “GAMMA RAYS: Breakthrough”

  • Pulse of the Planet program #1608: “GAMMA RAYS: Clues“

  • Pulse of the Planet program #1609: “GAMMA RAYS: The Quest”

  • http://chandra.harvard.edu/xray_sources/grb.html

Black Holes
Black Holes research ideas:

  • Where do black holes come from?

  • Density of black holes.

  • Event horizon

  • Singularity

  • Gravity and escape velocity.

  • Black hole visibility and evidence of their existence.

  • Curvature of space

  • What happens when you fall into a black hole?

  • What is a binary system and how does it fuel a black hole?

Black Holes resources:

  • Pulse of the Planet program #1508: “BLACK HOLES: Basics”

  • Pulse of the Planet program #1509: “BLACK HOLES: Detecting”

  • Pulse of the Planet program #1510: “BLACK HOLES: Falling in”

  • http://hubblesite.org/explore_astronomy/black_holes/

  • http://cosmology.berkeley.edu/Education/BHfaq.html

  • http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/htmltest/rjn_bht.html

Space’s Vacuum

Space’s Vacuum research ideas:

  • Define a vacuum.

  • How much of space is a vacuum?

  • Why does nature hate a vacuum?

  • Why doesn’t space’s vacuum take away our atmosphere?

  • “Clumping” of matter

  • What would happen to you if you were to be found out in the middle of space? Why?

Space’s Vacuum resources:

  • http://science.howstuffworks.com/question200.htm

  • http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/1997-12/873755066.As.r.html

  • http://www.cartage.org.lb/en/kids/science/Astronomy/Universe/Vacuum.htm

Meteors, Asteroids, and Comets
Meteors, Asteroids, and Comets research ideas:

  • Compare and contrast the following:

  • Anatomy of a comet

  • Types of asteroids/sizes of asteroids

  • Main belt

Meteors, Asteroids, and Comets resources:

  • http://www.nineplanets.org/comets.html

  • http://www.nineplanets.org/asteroids.html

  • http://www.nineplanets.org/meteorites.html

  • http://www.kidscosmos.org/kid-stuff/asteroid-facts.html#sub2

  • http://www.ioncmaste.ca/homepage/resources/web_resources/CSA_Astro9/files/html/module5/module5.html

Nebula research ideas:

  • Define nebula

  • Describe the different types of nebulae and what occurs in each?

  • What are nebulae responsible for?

Nebula resources:

  • http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/astronomy/stars/nebulae.shtml

  • http://www.seds.org/messier/nebula.html

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebula

Additional Resources

Web Sites
Stephen Hawking’s Universe – PBS Online

Gamma Ray Bursts – Chandra X-Ray Observatory / Harvard University

The Comic Ice Laboratory – NASA
Cosmicopia: Stars – NASA

Dark Matter (see left column for more topics) – NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Life Cycle of Stars (PDF posters, PowerPoint presentation, activities and tutorial) - NASA

White Dwarf Stars (see left column for more topics) – NASA

White Dwarfs and Planetary Nebulas – Chandra X-Ray Observatory / Harvard University

WIMPS – University of Oregon

Cosmology, Deep Fields, X-Ray Background - Chandra X-Ray Observatory / Harvard University

Discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background – NASA


“Dark Matter” (4:55) – Space.com

“Dark Matter” (16:09 – in depth lecture with visual presentation) – Ted.com / Patricia Burchat


“Listen to the Echo of the Big Bang” (scroll down) – Astroscience Berlin


Interactive Graphics

The Universcale (interactive universe ruler – click on ruler at the bottom) - Nikon

The Electromagnetic Spectrum Tutorial – Discovery Education

A Self-Guided Tour of the Electromagnetic Spectrum – NOVA Online

Animation of Gamma Ray Burst – Hubblesite.org



“Molecules in Space” (10/01/03) – Physicsworld.com

“Scientists Discover Two New Interstellar Molecules: Point to Probable Pathways for Chemical Evolution in Space” (06-21-04 – provides overview of chemicals in space) – National Radio Observatory

“Understanding Dark Matter and Light Energy” (01-05-01) – Space.com

Life Cycle of Stars (information and activity book for grades 9-12) – NASA

White Dwarf Quiz – NASA

Photos and Graphics
Name: Wow Signal Notation

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Wow_signal.jpg

Caption: The OSU SETI program gained fame on August 15, 1977 when Dr. Jerry R. Ehman, a project volunteer, witnessed a startlingly strong signal received by the telescope. He quickly circled the indication on a printout and scribbled the phrase “Wow!” in the margin. This signal, dubbed the Wow! signal, is considered by some to be the most likely candidate from an artificial, extraterrestrial source ever discovered, but it has not been detected again in several additional searches.

Credit: SETI

Name: Goldstone Deep Space Complex

URL: http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/ABSTRACTS/GPN-2000-000506.html

Caption: Three 34m (110 ft.) diameter Beam Waveguide antennas located at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, situated in the Mojave Desert in California. This is one of three complexes which comprise NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN). The DSN provides radio communications for all of NASA's interplanetary spacecraft and is also utilized for radio astronomy and radar observations of the solar system and the universe.

Credit: NASA

Name: Triangulum Nebula

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebula

Caption: The Triangulum Emission Nebula NGC 604.

Credit: NASA

Name: Formation of a Star Chart

URL: http://ssc.spitzer.caltech.edu/documents/compendium/galsci/greene.jpg

Caption: The evolution of a star.

Credit: NASA / Spitzer Space Telescope

Name: Star Formation Poster

URL: http://heritage.stsci.edu/2007/04/supplemental.html

The young stellar cluster NGC 602 is located in the wing of the SMC, Z~0.004, a low density region far from the main body of the galaxy with low gas and stellar content.
Name: Star Life Cycle

URL: http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/teachers/lifecycles/sc_life_cycles.gif

Caption: The life cycle of stars.

Credit: NASA

Name: Dark Matter

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_matter

Caption: Composite image of the Bullet cluster shows distribution of ordinary matter, inferred from X-ray emissions, in red and total mass, inferred from gravitational lensing, in blue.

Credit: NASA

Name: Sirius A and B

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Sirius_A_and_B_Hubble_photo.jpg

Caption: Image of Sirius A and Sirius B taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Sirius B, which is a white dwarf, can be seen as a faint dot to the lower left of the much brighter Sirius A.

Credit: NASA / ESA

Harvard Center for Astrophysics (image gallery)

Eavesdropping on the Universe (image gallery) - Harvard Center for Astrophysics

Allen Telescope Array Image Gallery – SETI Institute

Gamma Ray Bursts (image gallery) - Chandra X-Ray Observatory / Harvard University

White Dwarfs (image gallery) - Chandra X-Ray Observatory / Harvard University http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/category/whitedwarf_pne.html

Special thanks to the following scientists for their help with this project:
Pulse of the Planet Programs: #1606 “Gamma Rays: Breakthroughs,” #1608 “Gamma Rays: Clues,” #1609 “Gamma Rays: The Quest”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson


Hayden Planetarium

American Museum of Natural History
Pulse of the Planet Programs: #3016 “Missing Matter: Nature of Dark Objects,” #3017 ”Missing Matter: White Dwarfs” #3018 “Missing Matter: Wimps”

Ben R. Oppenheimer

Assistant Curator

Dept. of Astrophysics

Museum of Natural History
Pulse of the Planet Programs: #3146 “Origins of the Universe: Dark Matter,” #3795 “Origins of the Universe: Cosmic Background Radiation”

John E. Carlstrom


Dept. of Astronomy and Astrophysics

University of Chicago
Pulse of the Planet Programs: #4226 “Science Diary: Chemistry – Molecules,” #4227 “Science Diary: Chemistry - Waves,” #4228 “Science Diary: Chemistry – Machine” #4231 “Science Diary: Chemistry – Collecting,” #4232 “Science Diary: Chemistry – The Search”

Lucy Ziurys

Professor of Astronomy

University of Arizona

Pulse of the Planet Programs: #1508 “Black Holes - Basics,” 1509 “Black Holes – Detecting,” 1510 “Black Holes – Falling In”
Header Image

Name: Dark Matter

Credit: NASA

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