The Earth and the seven other planets that revolve around the sun make up our solar system. Astronomers have evidence that the solar system is about 5 million years old and formed by the nebular theory that states the solar system began as a huge cloud of dust and gas then condensed to form the sun and eight planets. Projects can be done with students as young as early elementary school through the older grades and can involve any aspect of the sun or planets.
Elemetary School Projects
Students can choose a planet or the sun to base their projects around. For a project based on the sun, use a pair of binoculars held upside down and focus the image of the sun on paper. Sunspots will appear as dark spots and can be observed over time for changes in position.
Students can also research the cause and effects of solar flares. Are they harmful to your health? Or explain why the sun is hot.
Students can make a model of the solar system for display. This is also a good way to understand that even a small scale model would cover a football field. The model can also show the planets revolve around the sun and at different speeds and locations--not lined up in straight line.
Students can build their own sundial and learn or explain how sundials have been used for centuries by cultures all over the world to tell time.
Middle School Projects
Middle school students can also learn about the solar system through projects. Track sunspots and see how they can be used to measure the sun rotation accurately. Track the sunspots using the simple method described above or by using a telescope or pinhole camera. Explain how Christopher Columbus and other early explorers were able to determine their location based on the sun. Make three ancient tools such as an astrolab, Ptolemy's box and a gnomon to see which was the most accurate in finding location.
Since solar flares can affect the Earth's magnetic field, build a simple soda bottle magnetometer to monitor changes within a few hours of a flare. A magnetometer is like a sensitive compass that will let you monitor small changes in the magnetic field in the classroom. It can be made by using a soda bottle, about 2 pounds of sand, a plastic soda straw, a small bar magnet, an index card, some thread and a small mirror or sequin.
High School Projects
As a high school student, you can do a research based project using historical data that analyzes the correlation between the 11 year sunspot cycle and coronal mass ejections or CMEs. Do these electrified gas blasts follow a similar cycle to sunspots?
Measure the amount of skyglow or background light in the night. Does the amount of skyglow differ more with location changes or seasonal changes? Use a digital camera to record quantitative measures of skyglow and compare by using the Bortle Dark Sky Scale.
Count the amount of craters in a section of the moon and divide them into diameter classes. Using the Consolidated Lunar Atlas, make a histogram that shows the sizes and approximate ages of the craters in your lunar sample.
Investigate globular clusters, the oldest objects found in space. What can they tell us about our own Milky Way? Compare and contrast the Milky Way to the M87 galaxy. Using research of globular colors and elements, what can you infer about the ages and composition of these two galaxies? Use globular cluster data and simple statistical analysis to answer these questions.
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