Educator Guide: Starlab (Grades 6-8)

Educator Guide: Starlab (Grades 6-8)
This document is a resource for teachers whose classes are participating in the Museum of Science’s Grade 6‐8 Starlab Traveling Program. The information in this document may be used as a classroom resource and/or as background information for the teacher concerning the subject of astronomy. Table of Contents:
Vocabulary List……………………………………………………………………………2
Further Background Reading…………………………………………………………...6
Suggested Classroom Materials…………………………………………………….....9
Activity Description……………………………………………………………………...10
Video Description…………………………………….……………………………..….. 11
PowerPoint Descriptions…………………………………………………………………12
Vocabulary List This is a list of common astronomy terms that teachers may wish to be familiar with for the Starlab program. This list is also a suggestion of vocabulary for students participating in the Starlab program to learn, though prior study of these words is not required for student participation. Asterism – a recognizable pattern of stars that is not an officially recognized constellation, i.e. the Big and Little Dippers (as they are smaller parts of larger constellations) Asteroid – a small rock or metal object of any shape in orbit around the sun, usually found in the Asteroid Belt
Asteroid Belt – the region between Mars and Jupiter where a large field of asteroids orbits the sun
Astronomy – the study of space
Black Hole – a region of space with such density that light cannot escape from its gravity; created by an extremely large supernova event
Comet – a small object that orbits around the sun in an extremely elliptical orbit and is made up of dust and ice, which may burn off from it and leave a tail
Constellation – one of the 88 patterns of stars officially recognized by astronomers
Dwarf Planet – an object in orbit around the sun that is large enough to be round, like a planet, but has not cleared its orbit of other objects significant in size compared to itself
Ecliptic – the plane of our solar system that is marked by the apparent path that the Sun, Moon, and planets appear to take across the sky
Extrasolar Planet – a planet found outside of the solar system that is orbiting around another star; may also be referred to as an “exoplanet”
Galaxy – a large system of stars held together by gravity Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram – a graph that shows the relationship between a star’s absolute brightness (called luminosity) and its temperature. The HR diagram is a great tool for classifying stars.
Lightyear – the distance light travels in one year, approximately 6 trillion miles Local Group – a group of over 30 galaxies around and including our Milky Way galaxy Lunar Eclipse – when the sunlight which usually is reflected off the Moon is blocked by Earth, causing a darkened moon
Main Sequence – the stable, middle stage of a star’s existence during which is uses nuclear fusion to fuse hydrogen into helium
Meteor – also known a shooting star, this is not a star but a small object from space that falls through Earth’s atmosphere and is heated up so that it burns brightly as it crosses the sky
Meteorite – a meteor that does not completely burn up before hitting Earth, leaving a solid object from space that can be studied
Meteoroid – a small object currently in space that has not yet fallen through Earth’s atmosphere
Moon – a naturally formed object that orbits a planet
Moon Phases – the varying appearances of the moon as it is in different parts of its orbit
Nebula – a cloud of gas and dust in space. Some nebulae like the Orion Nebula are the birthplace of stars and others like the Crab Nebula in Taurus are the remnants a supernova explosion.
Neutron Star – the extremely dense collapsed core of a supernova; they are only a few miles across, composed of neutrons, and spin extremely quickly.
Orbit – circling a larger object; also known as revolution
Planet – a round object in orbit around the sun that has cleared its orbit of other dust and debris
Planetary Nebula – a round or oval shaped nebula that forms when a star sheds most of its outer layers of gas into space after finishing its red giant phase. The Sun will eventually evolve into a planetary nebula with a white dwarf star at its center.
Protostar – the early stage in the evolution of a star, after it has collapsed into a rounded shape, but before nuclear reactions begin
Red Giant – the later stages of a star after it has exhausted the hydrogen in its core, and begins to fuse together heavier elements. This causes the star to expand and its outer layers cool and take on a reddish hue.
Red Supergiant – an especially large red giant star. Red supergiant stars can have dimeters greater than 500 times that of the Sun. Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion and Antares in Scorpius are red supergiant stars.
Rotation – spinning on an axis
Solar Eclipse – when the Moon moves directly between Earth and our Sun, blocking the sun from view
Solar System – the Sun (our star) and everything in orbit around it; can refer to any star along with whatever orbits around it
Spectroscopy – the science of learning the elemental composition of something by looking at the light it emits
Star – a huge ball of plasma (a type of gas different from normal gasses) which produces light
Stellar Evolution – the study of the life cycle of stars. A star’s evolution depends primarily on its mass and its composition.
Supercluster – a large group of neighboring clusters of galaxies, stretching from 10 million to 1 billion lightyears in diameter
Supergiant Star – an enormous star which is thousands of times brighter than our Sun and has a much shorter lifespan. Supergiants can either be red (like Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion and Antares in Scorpius) or Blue (like Rigel in Orion or Deneb in Cygnus).
Supernova – the explosive death of a massive star
Universe – everything out there!
White Dwarf – the remnant of a star after it has finished its main sequence and red giant phases and shed off its outer layers as a planetary nebula. White Dwarfs have such small surface areas and high densities that they remain hot for millions of years even though there is no longer any fusion reaction inside.
Further Background Reading
This is a suggested reading list for teachers looking to improve their understanding of astronomy. Books
Secrets of the Night Sky by Bob Berman. Harper Paperbacks. 1996.
The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H. A. Rey. HMH Books. 1976.
Bad Astronomy by Philip Plait. Wiley Publishers. 2002.
365 Starry Nights by Chet Raymo. Fireside Publishers. 1990.
General Astronomy Education:
NASA’s webpage for educators –
NASA’s Imagine the Universe –
NASA’s Amazing Space –
Astronomical Society of the Pacific –
Astronomy Education Review –
General Astronomy:
Museum of Science planetarium’s monthly sky chart –
Sky and Telescope Magazine –
Moon Phases and Eclipses:
NASA’s eclipse website –
Teaching about Moon phases and Eclipses –
Scale and Age of the Universe:
NASA The Hidden Lives of Galaxies downloadable powerpoint shows, images,
and activity guides) –
Age of the Universe: How Astronomers Know the Vast Scale of Time –
Stellar Evolution:
NASA Stellar Life Cycles (downloadable powerpoint shows, images, and activity
guides) –
Star Color and Temperature –
National Geographic: Supernova Explosions –
Stellar Life Cycles –
NASA’s webpage for educators –
Astronomical Society of the Pacific –
Classroom Materials
Below are some suggestions for books, videos, and websites to help students increase their understanding of astronomy. Books
The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H. A. Rey. HMH Books. 1976.
Kids to Space: A Space Traveler's Guide by Lonnie Jones Schorer. Collector's
Guide Publishing, Inc. 2006.
Astronomy (DK Eyewitness Books) by Kristen Lippincott. DK Children. 2008.
Space Exploration (DK Eyewitness Books) by Carole Stott. DK Children. 2004.
Free Software
Where is M13? – A Three Dimensional Galactic Atlas (great for illustrating the
scale of the universe)
Bill Nye the Science Guy: The Planets Classroom Edition (Interactive DVD).
Imagine the Universe (NASA site with games, resources, and activities)
Chandra X-Ray Telescope –
Hubble Space Telescope –
Spitzer Space Telescope Student Page –
Activity Description
See the “Documents” section on the website to download this activity. Our Place in Space
This activity consists of a series of 15 cards that include images of astronomical objects on the front and information about these objects on the reverse. The card backs include information on the location of the object, its size, and its distance from Earth. Once you have printed out and assembled the cards, they can be used for a variety of activities in the classroom that focus on the scale of the universe, the relative sizes of astronomical objects, and the classification of astronomical objects. 10
Video Description
See the “Media” section on the website to download this video. Moon
This 30 second video shows the phases of the moon over an entire month, beginning at the New Moon, then waxing into the Full Moon and waning back to the New Moon. 11
PowerPoint Description
See the “Documents” section of the website to download this PowerPoint file. Scale of the Universe
This PowerPoint presentation illustrates the size of our universe starting within our own solar system and extending outward toward the edges of the observable universe. It starts by looking at the distance of objects in our own solar system which we can measure in miles or kilometers. Then we travel throughout our Milky Way galaxy to the nearest star and learn about using light year as a measure of distance. Moving beyond our galaxy we discuss the local group of galaxies including some satellite galaxies of the Milky Way and our largest neighbor the Andromeda Galaxy. Our local group of about thirty galaxies is still in our neighborhood of the universe though. The local group is part of an even larger grouping of galaxies called the Virgo supercluster which spans an incredible 10 million light years in diameter. And beyond our supercluster is the rest of the observable universe stretching outwards for billion of light years. 12