Grades 9-12 Notes & Discussion Topics
This page corresponds to the Learning Activities section of the Toolkit for Grade 9-12 page.
Here you'll find:
Discussion Questions & Answers
- Choose a Theme:
- Astronomical Objects in the Day and Night Sky
- Solar System
- Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions
- Life of a Star
- Space Exploration
- Big Bang Theory and Cosmology
Theme: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky
The sun gives us heat and light.
- Discussion Question: What does the Sun do for us?
- Answer: Supports all life on Earth through the process of photosynthesis, provides us with heat and light, powers the water cycle which creates our weather and climate, and provides us with seasonal cycles and even sleep cycles.
Theme: Solar System
Overview of solar system: 1 star, 8 planets, and many small objects
NOTE: There are only eight planets. Since 1992, we have discovered hundreds of icy bodies like Pluto with tilted oval orbits past the orbit of Neptune. These bodies are called Kuiper belt objects. Pluto is one of the larger members and has been reclassified as a dwarf planet. There are currently 5 dwarf planets: Makemake, Haumea, Ceres, Pluto, and Eris.
Theme: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions
The Sun and other celestial objects move across the sky.
- Discussion Question: The Sun, Moon, and stars are always in the same places in the sky.
- Answer: False. As the Earth rotates, the Sun, Moon and stars appear to move across the sky. They rise and set. Also, the Moon orbits the Earth once a month and the Earth orbits the Sun once a year, so the Moon and Sun pass through different parts of the sky.
- Discussion Question: If the Earth is moving, why don’t we feel it?
- Answer: We don’t feel it because the Earth is rotating at approximately 1000 miles per hour. We don’t “feel” that we are traveling at this speed because the Earth, our frame of reference, is traveling with us. The same is true of traveling in a car at a constant speed, unless you are looking out the window
- Discussion Question: What is an eclipse?
- Answer: There are two types of eclipses: Solar and Lunar.
1. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun, and the moon's shadow falls upon the Earth. Solar eclipses are rare and only people in a limited area are able to see a total eclipse.
2. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes behind the Earth in its shadow. The Earth's shadow falls on the surface of the Moon. At this time, the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned in a straight line with the Earth in the middle. Lunar eclipses occur the night of a full moon.
Phases of the Moon
- The Moon's phases are caused by two things:
1. The Moon revolving around the Earth
2. The Moon reflecting sunlight towards the Earth
Half of the Moon is always lit; however, we only see the lit portion of the Moon that is facing Earth. The light and the shadow on the Moon's surface creates the Moon phases. The Moon's orbit is responsible for the phase changes we see.
There are eight phases that the Moon goes through and they always occur in the same order. The Sun's light seems to move from right to left across the surface of the Moon.
The phases of the Moon are:
1. New Moon
3. First Quarter
4. Waxing Gibbous
5. Full Moon
6. Waning Gibbous
7. Last Quarter
8. Waning Crescent
... and back to the New Moon.
- Discussion Question: Is the Sun closer to the Earth during the summer months than during the winter months?
- Answer: No. The Earth is not closer to the Sun in the summer.
The seasons happen because the Earth's rotation is tilted compared to its orbit around the Sun. In Summer our part of the Earth is tilted toward the Sun, and in winter we are tilted away. Oddly, the Earth is slightly farther away from the Sun when we are experiencing summer in the northern hemisphere. It is the tilt that causes the Sun to reach different heights in our sky at different times of the year and to shine for longer periods of time than others. The parts of the Earth where the Sun appears high in the sky experience summer and those where the Sun is low in the sky experience winter. Spring and fall occur when the sunlight is directly over the equator (in the middle) and so, neither hemisphere sees the sun at particularly high or low positions in the sky.
Modern 88 official constellations, Seasonal versus circumpolar, and some Basic Constellations
- Discussion Question: What are Constellations?
- Answer: Constellations are patches of sky that contain a characteristic pattern of stars.
- The patterns are often named after characters from ancient Greek and Roman mythology (although individual stars have mostly Arabic names). There are 88 official constellations. Common constellations visible from Milwaukee include the Big Dipper, Gemini, Orion, and Leo, to mention a few.
- Some basic constellations Always visible at Midwestern latitudes: Big Bear (contains Big Dipper), Little Bear, Cassiopeia Spring: Gemini, Leo; Summer: Cygnus, Summer Triangle; Fall: Pegasus, Andromeda; Winter: Orion, Taurus
NOTE: Ancient people observed that the Sun, Moon, and planets always seem to move across the sky through a series of twelve constellations, knows as the zodiac. In particular, a person's zodiac sign was the name of one of the 12 constellations of the zodiac that the Sun was closest to at the time of the person's birth.
In Milwaukee there are stars that we can see all year round. Some we can see include the stars of the Big Dipper, and Polaris, the circumpolar North Star.
Sky maps and stargazing
- Discussion Question: How can you tell the difference between a star and a planet in the sky?
- Answer: The stars in the sky appear to be in fixed positions with respect to each other. They can seem like they are attached to an imaginary "celestial sphere" around the Earth. Planets move in complicated paths across the sky. They exhibit a behavior called "retrograde motion" where they appear to go backwards for a period of time relative to the background stars in the celestial sphere as they move in their orbit around the Sun. Also, planets almost never twinkle.
Theme: Life of a Star
How do stars live?
- Discussion Question: How do stars form?
- Answer: Stars are continually being formed and destroyed. Stars are formed, or born, in clouds of gas and dust in the interstellar medium. Gravity squeezes the mass of these "star nurseries" so that the centers become incredibly dense and hot. These extreme conditions allow hydrogen fusion to begin. The outward pressure from the fusion balances the inward force of gravity. The gas stops collapsing and a star is born.
- Discussion Question: Can scientists determine the distance to a star?
- Answer: Yes. For example, scientists use parallax to determine the distance to a star. Parallax is used to determine the angle of the star at different points in the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. We know the distance of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun and use trigonometry to calculate the distance to the star.
- Discussion Question: If the stars were evenly spaced and the universe has always existed (eternal), would the night sky be as bright as day?
- Answer: Yes. There would be no dark areas because the light would shine uniformly from space and light up the night sky.
Theme: Space Exploration
- Discussion Question: True or False? Space exploration has changed the lives of you and I.
- Answer: True. Changes that space exploration has brought to our lives include: 1. Medical advances like MRI, CAT scan and kidney dialysis 2. Satellites enable global telecommunications 3 satellites also aide in Earth monitoring to inform meteorologists, scientists studying global warming and other trends on Earth, and homeland security; and 4. Robotics and microprocessors developed for NASA are used in our computers, cell phones, GPS, and manufacturing.
- Discussion Question: Space exploration isn’t worth all the money spent on it.
- Answers may vary. Accept all answers. Some might include the tools and procedures that were developed for missions that now have spin-offs for our daily lives. It might include protecting our planet from Near Earth Objects.
Theme: Big Bang Theory and Cosmology
- Discussion Question: According to the Big Bang Theory, the entire universe and its matter were compressed into a space about the size of an atomic nucleus and then the universe started expanding in all directions. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- Answer: Agree. The Big Bang is the best scientific theory we have regarding the origin of the universe because we see remnant radiation from the early universe.
- Discussion Question: Do you agree or disagree with the statement, “There isn’t any evidence for the Big Bang.”
- Answer: False. There is evidence for the Big Bang Theory:
- Leftover microwave radiation
- Doppler shifted light that confirms an expanding universe
- Dark night sky confirms that the universe is not constant or eternal.
Your visit will help you address some of the following targets and standards (please keep in mind that it isn't possible to cover all these topics in a one-hour presentation):
Wisconsin Model Academic Content Standards and WKCE Assessment Frameworks
E.12.3 Using the science themes, describe theories of the origins and evolution of the universe and solar system, including the Earth system as a part of the solar system, and relate these theories and their implications to geologic time on Earth.
E.12.5 Using the science themes, understand that the origin of the universe is not completely understood, but that there are current ideas in science that attempt to explain its origin.
MPS Learning Targets
- Modeling of Earth's geological history
- Theories about the origins of the universe and solar system
- Space exploration
- Origins of solar system and universe
- Solar system
- Celestial phenomena
- Space exploration
Science Process Skills
- Connecting relevance to students' world
Integration Learning Targets
- Follow oral directions
- Participate in group discussions
- Develop appropriate communication skills
- Write research paper and/or story
- Vocabulary strategies
- Use coordinates to specify locations to represent simple figures
- Parallax -- use of trigonometry
- Models to scale
- Demonstrate self-control and the ability to follow directions
- Identify and compare stories from different cultures
- History of astronomical theories and space exploration
- Law of universal gravitation
- Light pollution
- Equinox (vernal, autumnal)
- Solstice (summer, winter)
- Planetary system
- Solar System
- Solar flare
- Sun spot
- Terrestrial planets
- Asteroid belt
- Gas giants
- Astronomical unit (AU)
- Phases of Moon
- Lunar eclipse
- Solar eclipse
- Kuiper belt
- Hubble Space Telescope
- Deep field
- Space shuttle
- International Space Station
- Light year
- Standard candles
- Big Bang Theory
- Doppler shift
- Red shift
- Blue shift
- Microwave radiation
- Northern Lights
- Star cluster
- Red giant
- White dwarf
- Milky Way
- Interstellar matter
- Black hole
- Dark matter
- Space junk