In this first chapter, we are going to introduce three separate investigations that all require making observations of the sky without any instruments. Because two of these need students to try to make observations outside of class over multiple days, at Penn State we work on all three of these first investigations simultaneously so that students can keep making progress on at least one investigation in class each day.
Prior to beginning the investigations, we recommend completing a short exercise to identify the phenomena to be studied in the course. In small groups, you should construct answers to the following two questions and record them in your science notebook:
- Please list the objects and phenomena you can see in the sky with the unaided eye, that is, with no instruments like a telescope or pair of binoculars.
- Please list the objects and phenomena you can see in the sky with the an instrument like a telescope or pair of binoculars.
Many of the items on these lists are the subjects of the investigations in this book, while some are beyond the Solar System, and so they do not fit into the storyline we are constructing here. They are subjects of other types of astronomical investigations, though, and can be studied using some of the same methods we will use in this course.
Practicing using Starry Night Enthusiast 8 as a tool for collecting data
Each of these investigations in this chapter can benefit from students using Starry Night to assist with data collection. Like any new piece of unfamiliar software, it takes practice to get comfortable using the software. During these first three investigations, we assign a Starry Night practice homework that serves the dual purpose of giving you some practice with the software as well as providing some interesting observations that you may wish to investigate using the methods used in our investigations. Using Starry Night answer the following questions:
- Set the software to show you the sky on today’s date at 11pm from your current location. Using one of the tools in the software for identifying the constellations on the sky, record the constellations visible in the southern sky.
- Change the location to the place where you were born, and change the day to the date and year you were born. Set the time for 11pm on that date. Record the constellations visible in the southern sky on the day and year you were born.
- Make a prediction: Do you think the constellations visible on your birthday in your birth year will be visible on your birthday this year? Record your prediction as a yes or a no.
- Reset the view to your birthday this calendar year. Observe the southern sky at 11pm on your birthday this year and compare it to your prediction; were you right? Record your evidence that answers the question “Were the constellations visible on my birthday in my birth year the same as those visible on my birthday this year?”
Resources for further reading
Students often choose astronomy classes because they are intrigued by the phenomena that astronomers study; the planets and moons in our Solar System, the distant bright stars, beautiful gaseous nebulae that glow different colors, and the enormous galaxies of stars visible at great distances from Earth. These may be some of the objects you listed in your notebook entry about the objects you believe you can study by eye or by telescope. If you want to see a different image of these objects and phenomena each day with a brief caption explaining the image, we highly recommend the NASA “Astronomy Picture of the Day” website.