Posts Tagged astronomy

STEM Tuesday — Planets and Stars — Writing Tips and Resources

Look Up

“We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” ― Carl Sagan

 

Orion Nebula, By NASA, JPL-Caltech, J. Stauffer (SSC/Caltech) – NASA JPL, Public Domain

Estimates calculate our speed traveling on Earth through the universe to be around 492,126 miles per hour. That’s fast! Under such conditions as our tiny planet races through the heavens, our very existence on Earth seems against all odds. We are improbable beings. Nevertheless, we exist. We occupy our tiny niche on our tiny planet revolving around a tiny star inside a tiny galaxy.

There are times, though, when our world seems to be spinning out of control. We drift farther away from each other at the very moment we need each other the most. At times like these, it’s good to step back, take a deep breath, and remember the gift of having our place in the universe. We need to remember humans are designed to explore, discover, create, and share. This holds true not just for STEM but across the spectrum of existence.  

We are improbable beings, yet here we are. Why not make the most of this improbable existence?

This STEM Tuesday Writing Tips & Resources post will seem a departure from the usual fabulous content delivered by Heather Montgomery and Kirsten Larson. The Writing Tips & Resources tip for this month’s Planets & Stars theme (and all year!) is simple and yet often forgotten.

Look up.

Be awed. Explore. 

Be curious. Discover.

Be inspired. Create. 

Be humbled. Share. 

Look up.

Creation. Sistine Chapel. Public Domain.

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files this month has its origins in my childhood fascination with space. It’s fueled by my recent STEM writer’s interest in electromagnetic waves which, in turn, led back to space and the study of our place in the universe. In short, all roads lead to the rabbit hole of curiosity and inquiry.

The Cosmos Series

This family of TV shows, originally by Carl Sagan and revived by Neil deGrasse Tyson, are some screen time I definitely need to catch up on and revisit.

Speaking of Neil deGrasse Tyson…

               

Starts With a Bang

I’ve been reading Ethan Siegel’s stuff for a few years on Medium and recently found out he has a podcast too. Highly recommended by me!

Down to Earth (Netflix)

To say I was skeptical about this Zac Ephron documentary series would be an understatement of galactic proportions. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and despite a bit of pseudosciencey stuff, I learned and/or realized a great deal about our interactions with the planet. It was also my first introduction to superfood guru, Darin Olien, which has been a good thing. My single favorite lightbulb moment was in Episode 2 about the changes Paris has made about their water supply and access to it. After years of water quality issues, followed by the years of generating mountains of plastic waste with the bottled water “solution”, Parisian officials did the most Occam’s Razor thing possible. Instead of continuing to create more problems by solving the basic problem of poor water quality, they simply invested the capital in producing and distributing better quality water. A touch of brilliance I discovered in the most unexpected of places…from the dude who starred in that Disney movie my kids used to love to watch.

I guess there’s a hidden lesson there also –> Look up/Pay attention.

Down to Earth with Zac Efron | Netflix Official Site


STEM Tuesday — Planets and Stars — In the Classroom


Earlier this year, I read a bunch of books about astronauts. For this month’s theme, I read about astronomical things. (Things related to astronomy, not enormous things – although many astronomical things are astronomical. But I digress…)

The books I read were:
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Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet
by Buzz Aldrin and Marianne J. Dyson (2019)

This book imagines what life will be like for the first astronauts and colonists to reach Mars. It looks at how people and things will get there, what their living quarters will look like, and what they might eat for meals. It has activities sprinkled throughout to help understand and think more deeply about different concepts.
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A Black Hole is NOT a Hole
by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, Illustrated by Michael Carroll (2012/2017)

I had only a very general idea of what a black hole was before I read this book. It did a great job of explaining what a black hole is and how astronomers have learned about them – especially since they’re kind of hard to visit.

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Beyond the Solar System: Exploring Galaxies, Black Holes, Alien Planets, and More
by Mary Kay Carson (2013)

If you are curious about how human beings have come to understand what’s out in space, this is the book for you. It chronicles important astronomical discoveries and how they have shaped our understanding of Earth and its place in the universe throughout time. It’s packed with activities that help to understand and further explore different concepts.
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The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (2012/2017) by Elizabeth Rusch

This book tells the story of the Mars rovers named Spirit and Opportunity. This book does a lot more than follow the journey of these robots on Mars. It also gives a glimpse into the world of engineering, geology, and so much more.

 

As always, a great way to explore these books is to do some of the activities in those that have them and explore the back matter (the stuff at the end of the book). Each book recommends additional books and web sites to check out.

Here are a few additional ideas.

Do Some Star, Planet, & Satellite Gazing

Several of the books suggest this activity. It’s a great way to start getting curious about what’s out in space. All you really need is time and a place to sit and watch the night sky. If you want to see things in more detail, a pair of binoculars or a telescope can help.

Want to know what you’re looking at? Check out Sky and Telescope’s “This Week’s Sky At A Glance” (https://skyandtelescope.org/observing/sky-at-a-glance) or Astronomy’s “The Sky This Week” (https://astronomy.com/observing/sky-this-week) for guidance. You could also download an app like Google Sky or Stellarium. There’s a good list of sky watching apps here: https://astrobackyard.com/astronomy-apps-for-stargazing.

If you want to be more scientific and/or creative, keep a sky watching journal. Any notebook or collection of papers can do. Jot down the date, time, and location for each session. Note the weather and sky conditions – while the weather may be fair, there may be a lot of light pollution from nearby buildings and/or towns that make it difficult to see the planets and stars. Then write down what you see.

Where in the sky was it? (A diagram might help – especially if you can note its relation to known things like the Big Dipper.)
What color was it?
Did its light shimmer or hold steady?
Did it move quickly? (If so, it’s probably a satellite – or perhaps just an airplane.)

You can journal about whatever your thoughts inspire you to. What do you imagine you’re looking at? What if you were able to travel there? Does it inspire you to write a song or a poem? Go for it.

Get a Daily Dose of Astronomy

Even if you can’t get out to gaze at the night sky often, you can get a daily dose of astronomy. NASA posts an “Astronomy Picture of the Day,” often referred to as APoD: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html.

Every day, this site posts a picture related to astronomy, along with some kind of explanation. You can browse the archives or use the index or search features to see images of whatever celestial entity, person, or space tech you’re interested in.

Following the index to a topic gives a short list created by the editors as the most educational. Here is their list for Mars: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/mars.html. For a more thorough listing of photographs, go through the search feature.

Take It With You (?)

Imagine you were one of the first colonists traveling to Mars. In Welcome to Mars, Buzz Aldrin points out that NASA is figuring out what you need to survive and how to get it there. As for personal items, you will be allowed to take items that total up to 5 pounds (2.3 kg).

What would you take with you? Why?

Look at how much each thing weighs. This would be a good time to learn how to calibrate and use a scale. If you don’t have a scale, do a little research online to see if you can find a weight for your item. Or you could build your own balance scale, like the one here: https://www.thoughtco.com/kid-science-make-a-balance-scale-2086574. Then you just need to have items with known weights to compare with your objects.

Add up the weights of the things you want to bring. If you go over 5 pounds, you’ll have to let something go.

You thought getting into space was challenging? I think deciding what to take might be more so.

And if you want to watch a show that imagines the journey to Mars, there is a TV series called Mars – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/shows/mars – that does so. It is currently available on Disney+ and Netflix; it may be available on other streaming services, too.

Make Some Celestial Art

It was pretty clear from reading these books that art plays a big role in astronomy – even if it’s only to convey ideas to the general public. Many of the images we see are “false colored.” There is a great explanation of this on NASA’s Earth Observatory web site: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/FalseColor/page1.php, and another one on the Hubble site: http://hubble.stsci.edu/gallery/behind_the_pictures/meaning_of_color/index.php. Computers translate sensor data into an image we can see. There is a more advanced explanation, with links to other resources, here: https://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/blueshift/index.php/2016/09/13/hubble-false-color.

Now it’s time to get creative with an astronomical spin.

Add Your Own Color

Print out a black-and-white image of something celestial. Here are a few, or you can search around for more:
https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/images/299819main_hs-2005-35-b-print_full.jpg
https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0514b
https://arasteo.blogspot.com/2016/11/helix-nebulangc-7293ha-5nm.html.

Add your own color, using colored pencils, markers, or paint. Try out different color schemes and/or different media.

Create Your Own Starry Night

This blog post – https://artfulparent.com/sticker-resist-starry-night-cards – has instructions for making “starry night” cards. It uses stickers and a salt-watercolor technique. Instead of stickers, you could color in the “stars” with white crayon. The watercolor paint will not adhere wherever the crayon is.

You could use this technique to make cards of different constellations. (There is a set of free printable constellation cards here: https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/constellation-activities.)

To learn more about the salt painting technique, there’s a detailed tutorial here: https://www.scratchmadejournal.com/blog/painting-with-salt-watercolor-tutorial or look around for others.

And if you want to explore Vincent VanGogh’s Starry Night, there are lots of things out there, including this printable: https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/starry-night-for-kids.

Listen to Space-Inspired Music

Lots of artists have been inspired by space and the planets. One of my favorite musical compositions is The Planets by Gustav Holst. Look it up on your favorite streaming service or check a copy out of your local library. There’s a neat listening guide for this piece on ClassicFM: https://www.classicfm.com/composers/holst/pictures/holsts-planets-guide

Composer Eric Whitacre was inspired by the Hubble Telescope’s Deep Field Image. You can listen to the music while watching the images that inspired it here: https://youtu.be/yDiD8F9ItX0.

What do you think of Holst and Whitacre’s interpretations of outer space?

To learn more about how Eric Whitacre’s piece came about, listen to SolveItForKids podcast Episode 5: How Do You Compose Music That’s As Big As the Universe? https://solveitforkids.com/podcast/episode-4-how-do-you-compose-music-that-is-as-big-as-the-universe. (And while you’re there, check out the other space-themed podcast episodes.)

Explore Your Universe!

I could go on, but then we’d all never get on with our days. Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas that will inspire you to explore the universe in different ways. Have fun with your explorations!

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Janet Slingerland has written more than 20 books for children, including many about science-y topics. While she doesn’t do a lot of stargazing, her husband is an astronomy buff. In 2017, Janet and her family traveled to Nashville, TN to see the solar eclipse. This picture shows their viewing spot (along with Janet’s husband and her older son). Although clouds got in the way of a good view of the totality (the full blocking of the sun), the experience was still pretty amazing.

To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website: janetsbooks.com.

STEM Tuesday Science in Fiction Books– In the Classroom

We’ve taken a few of the titles from last week’s book list – Science in Fiction Books – and found some fantastic ways to use them in the classroom. There are lots of links and places for teachers, students, and parents to go from here!  Have fun!

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas   by Jacqueline Houtman

Science comes easily to Eddy (Edison) Thomas. Social relationships? Not so much. On her website, Houtman shares a number of classroom activities which will prod middle-grade readers toward deeper discovery and understanding. Here are a couple.  See more cross-curricular classroom activities here. 

Design an experiment to test Fact Number 28 (p. 73): Listening to slow music can lower your heart rate, while music with a faster tempo can increase your heart rate. Who would be your subjects? How would you measure heart rate? What other factors might affect your experiment? How would you make sure that you are only measuring the effect of the music?

Find out how the special effects in your favorite science fiction or fantasy movie were done. (Many DVDs come with special feature discs that explain how the effects were achieved, or you can use the Internet.) How have special effects in movies changed in the last 10 years? 30 years? 50 years? How did they do special effects before there were computers and computer animation?

Eye of the Storm  by Kate Messner

A summer at science camp turns into a life-or-death situation for Jaden and her new friends Risha and Alex in this thrilling science-packed middle-grade novel.  Teachers can find a thorough Eye of the Storm Discussion Guide on author Kate Messner’s website as well as a link to a gallery of Eye of the Storm Resources on Pinterest. 

Is there a Placid Meadows in your state?  Use data from the national weather service to look at where tornados or super storms have occurred in your state in the past year. Map locations and decide if there is a spot that, like the fictional Placid Meadows, seems immune from such disasters. Or, is there a “tornado alley” or path that seems to attract severe weather time and time again?

Using gripping fiction like  Eye of the Storm in conjunction with nonfiction books about climate change and super storms can add a personal element to research and discussion of these topics.

The Same Stuff as Stars by Katherine Paterson

Truly a story of discovery, this novel takes readers along with Angel, the 11-year-old main character, on a journey in which she’ll find out things about herself and about the universe that she never believed possible.

The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) has created a wonderful teacher’s resource for The Same Stuff as Stars here.  (Scroll past the resources for one of Paterson’s other books, but tuck those away for another day!)

As Angel learns more about the constellations, teachers and parents can help young readers do the same with websites such as KidsAstronomy.com and NASA Kids Club.

The Great Hibernation by Tara Dairman

Every great story and every great scientific discovery have started with the same question:  “What if?” So, what if every adult in the whole town of St. Polonius fell asleep and the children were left to run the town?

There’s so much fun to be had with a story that mixes science and problem-solving with  politics and mystery.

The Investigative Process and Premise –  Scientists begin their investigative process by asking questions.  Authors create a premise before drafting a novel. They are both asking and answering the “What if” question. Take a look at the books your class had read this year. What is the “what if” question posed by the author. Now, take a look the science topics you’ve discussed this year. What questions did the scientists ask for their investigations?  Now ask your students the following questions:   Can your science topics lead to new fictional story ideas?  Can fiction stories lead you to further investigate a science topic?

What is hibernation? Using the unexpected hibernation of the adults in St. Polonius to launch a study of real hibernation. Which animals hibernate and why? Where and when do animals hibernate?  Use facts found at How Stuff Works  to chart your findings on graphs or maps.

Add to the list!  If you have a classroom activity to accompany a sciencey-fiction book you’ve read, post it in the comments below. We love sharing your ideas!

Michelle Houts is the author of ten books for young readers. Her Lucy’s Lab series is another example of science-filled fiction. Find Lucy’s Pinterest page with classroom activities and experiments here.