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"From Stargazers to Starships"

A note for high school teachers, by David P. Stern


    This note was originally written for a CD for high school science teachers. That CD contained "From Stargazers to Starships" where this file now resides--a course and resource on astronomy, physics, space and related mathematics. It also contained non-mathematical courses on the magnetism of Earth and of space around it, and more. The file you are reading focuses on ways in which a teacher (or an independent student) might use all that material. A somewhat different description is found on the file prospect.htm whose addresses are given below and which is also included on the disk.

    All these files (except for solutions to problems) can also be found on the world-wide web, and this note applies equally to those accessing them via the web. The files can be reached from

        http://www.phy6.org/readfirst.htm (prime site),
or mirror sites
        http://istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/readfirst.htm (alternate names also exist)

    If you have the disk and mount it on your computer, or copy it (about 45 Mb), you can access all of the material directly, using a web browser in an "off-line" mode with no internet link (i.e. by commanding"open file" rather that "open location"). Capital letters in any address must stay capitalized, and the above file is named simply "readfirst.htm".

    If your link is the internet, you can download everything in condensed format ("zipped" or ""tarred and zipped"), following instructions in "prospect.htm". After everything is expanded to conventional HTML format (images are in GIF or JPG), you again have all the files on your own hard disk. Be aware, though, that condensed files are updated less frequently than regular ones, and the most up-to-date files are usually on the "www.phy6.org" server.

    All files were created by Dr. David P. Stern, a physicist retired from NASA research at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland (his personal page is linked at the end of each web file, along with his e-mail address). This has been his personal project, not supported by any NASA program, and comments or questions should be addressed to him.

    Feel free to copy this material onto your school computers and distribute it by disk to students and to other teachers, non-commercially. The only restriction is on the list of solutions to the problems, meant for teachers alone (see below).


The three large collections of files here are:

    "From Stargazers to Starships"
                    home pagestargaze/Sintro.htm
    "The Great Magnet, the Earth"
                    home page earthmag/demagint.htm
    "The Exploration of the Earth's Magnetosphere"
                    home page Education/Intro.html

(plus a few additional files, described at the end.)

    "From Stargazers to Starships," from which this page is linked, is the largest, and should be especially useful to high school teachers and students. Its early sections can also be used in middle school, while more extended applications (e.g. spaceflight to Mars, analyzing the transit of Venus, Lagrangian points) may fit beginning undergraduates. It is an algebra-based, extensive course currently containing 100 numbered sections, covering

  • (a) Basic astronomy (35 sections)
  • (b) Newtonian mechanics (28)
  • (c) The Sun and associated physics (15)
  • (d) Spaceflight and spacecraft (22)

Additional web pages (also described further below here) support this material. Most are listed at the bottom of the home page and include a short " Math Refresher " (14 units) on the related algebra and trigonometry. The collection also includes 42 lesson plans and translations into Spanish and French.

Topics Covered

Below is a list of the main topics in each of the divisions, with the numbers of the relevant sections. You might compare this list to one made several years ago.

  • (a) Basic astronomy
      --The celestial sphere (1 - 2)
      --Sundials (2a)
      --Seasons of the year (3)
      --The moon and its exploration (4 - 4b)
      --Latitude, longitude and navigation (5 - 5a)
      --Calendars (6)
      --Columbus and the shape and size of Earth (8)
      --Distance to the horizon (8a)
      --Parallax (8b)
      --How ancient Greeks found the distance of the Moon (8c)
      --Why Aristarchus concluded the Sun, not Earth, was the center (9a)
      --Copernicus and Galileo (9c)
      --Kepler and his laws (10) (+ extensive discussion of the laws, 10a - 12a)

  • (b) Newtonian mechanics
      --Free fall of objects (13)
      --Vectors (14)
      --Mass (and measuring it in weightlessness) (17 - 17b)
      --Newton's "Universal Gravitation" (20, incl story of apple)
      --Frames of reference (22)
      --Frames of reference, applied to airplane flight (22c)
      --Frames of reference and centrifugal force (23 - 23a)

  • (c) The Sun and associated physics
      --Sunlight on Earth, the source of weather and climate (S1 - S1B)
      --Sun's layers (S2)
      --Sun's magnetism and sunspots (S3)
      --Colors of sunlight, include spectra, E-M waves, photons (S4 - S5)
      --Observing Sun in X-rays, etc. (S6)
      --Solar energy from fusion, also ultimate fate of Sun (S7)
                    Plus added sections:
      --The black hole at the center of our galaxy (S7A)
      --Power from nuclear fission (S8)
      --Nuclear weapons (S9)

  • (d ) Spaceflight, its physics and its history
      --Principle of the rocket (25)
      --Story of Robert H. Goddard. (26)
      --History of spaceflight (27 - 29)
      --Types and uses of unmanned spacecraft. (29a - 29e)
      --Unusual methods of spaceflight. (30 - 33)
      --Orbits, incl. those of spacecraft suspended betw. Earth and Sun (34 - 34c)
      --"Gravity assist," extra boost by encounters with moving planets (35)

  •       Some "hands on" experiments here, with section number:
      --Cut-out cardboard sundial (#2a)
      --Cross-staff, pre-telescope instrument of astronomers and navigators (#5b)
      --Estimating distance outdoors using an extended thumb (#8b)
      --Galileo's free-fall experiment (#13)
      --Inertial balance, using hacksaw blade (#17b)
      --Drawing interplanetary magnetic field lines (#S-3A)
      --Color mixing (#S-4, S-4A)

    Using these Resources

        How is this material best used? To cover all the "Stargazers" material might take several years, so most teachers will probably pick up just a few select units.

        The file prospect.htm not only describes and links the main sites, but also lists and describes 85+ specific topics, with links to the relevant files. In addition, the list below identifies parts relevant to various courses. If any item sounds interesting, consult the appropriate web files directly.

        Astronomy classes may choose sections #1 to #8-c, (omit #4-b and #5-b), then perhaps #9-a, #9-c and #10, possibly tidbits from #10-a to #12-a, then #S-2, S-3, S-6, S-7 and S-7a then #25 to #29-c. Frank Lock who teaches high school science at Lakewood, Florida has created and tested a course based on a somewhat similar selection, with a sound pedagogical methodology.

        Physics teachers may like the section on Newtonian mechanics, including interesting applications in space-also those on Kepler's laws, on light and photons (#S-4 and S-5), on nuclear energy (#S-7 to S-9), perhaps #25, #35 and #35a. They will also find material on magnetism in "The Great Magnet" and on ions, electrons and plasmas in "Exploration."

        Earth Sciences teachers may use #S-1 to S-1b on weather and climate, as well as sections on space. In addition "The Great Magnet" has a section on magnetic reversals and plate tectonics, and "Exploration" among other things has a long self-contained web file "Secrets of the Polar Aurora."

    An additional use

        Apart from providing a resource for a regular science program, these sites have an additional use. Most classes will have a few strongly motivated students, or exceptionally bright ones, who feel held back by the pace of the class. They would like to rush ahead--but of course, out of deference to the majority, the teacher cannot speed up the pace of the class.

        Here is an opportunity to let them explore supplementary material, relevant to the lessons yet not covered in class. Let them look into precession of the equinoxes, librations of the Moon (after learning Kepler's laws), details of airplane flight, deriving the Sun-Earth distance from a transit of Venus, derivation of an orbit to Mars (or of the Lagrangian points, where a spacecraft seems to just "hang in space"), or into the Sun's source of energy and nuclear power.

    Other Parts of "Stargazers"

        "From Stargazers to Starships" contains a large number of files rounding out its material. They include

        ----"A Math Refresher" a self-contained quick course on algebra and trigonometry, with some exercises.

        ----A set of 42 lesson plans on its main files (Note: created in 1999, these lesson plans leave out more recent additions). Each one lists the web files used, followed by a list of goals, new terms introduced, stories and extras, then a suggested introduction to the subject, followed by questions and answers, examples presented in class and optional extensions.

        ----A section on guidance for teachers, and another on relation to national education standards. Also a draft version of the article "Using Space to Teach Physics," explaining the ideas which guided the creation of "Stargazers"--use the exploration of space, stories from history, applications from technology and ties to society and culture. The article appeared in "The Physics Teacher" of February 1999.

        ----A glossary, at two levels. Indexed terms are first listed, then clicking on any of them brings up its definition. Clicking on the term there may bring the user to the section in "Stargazers" where the term is introduced or explained.

        ----A timeline, in two colors, extending to 2003. Events mentioned in "Stargazers" are displayed in red and clicking on them (as in the glossary) brings the user to the appropriate reference. Black dates, in between red ones, refer to the history of society and technology. As students learn about advances in science, they are also made aware of their place in the larger scheme of things. As a by-product, this timeline may perhaps kindle more interest the framework of the general history of humanity.

        --Two lists of problems, covering the material. Solutions are not on the web, but are provided on the teacher's master disk. Since some of the problems may appear in homework or on tests, please do not place the solutions on computers open to all, and do not circulate them except to other teachers who are willing to abide by the same restriction.

        ----A list of questions and answers from users, currently 135 and counting. About 1-2 questions or comments now arrive each day from users (the three sites have some 500,000 page accesses per month) and those which might interest a wider audience are given here.

        ----Translations of the major files by volunteers, into Spanish (mostly by J. Mendez of Algorta, Spain), and into French (by Dr. Guy Batteur of Bethune, France). Other languages may follow.

    Other Material on this Disk

    The disk provided to teachers contains two other educational collections of web pages, and some individual files. The files are:
    1. The web page prospect.htm with links to home pages of "Stargazers" and the two other collections (below), and to home pages of their main sections. In addition, it lists 85+ topics covered, with links to the files relevant to each.

    2. Solutions to the two sets of problems in "Stargazers," in rich text format (RTF). To allow use of the problems in homework and tests, these are to be restricted to teachers only and should not be copied onto openly available computers.

    3. "Program for a 3-4 week course on the Earth's magnetism in 9th grade," outline of a course based on material of "The Great Magnet, the Earth" (see further below)

        (If you are accessing this file over the internet, be aware that the three files below can also be reached from here)

    4. A web page standard.htm containing a proposed curriculum outline for K-12 on physics, space and earth sciences. This list was presented to the state of Maryland, but was not adopted.

    5. Two web pages on enrichment subjects in mathematics:

      • (a) roman.htm on the method used by Romans and other early civilizations for multiplying two numbers, even though they did not possess the decimal system. The Romans did not know the reason it worked, which is connected to way numbers appear in binary notation.

      • (b) confract.htm, on continued fractions. Decimal fractions can represent any number to any desired accuracy, by including enough decimal places. Continued fractions achieve the same for ordinary fractions.

    6. A copy of this file.

        The two non-mathematical web resources on the disk (and on the web) are briefly described below. They are mainly concerned with magnetism on Earth and in space. Somewhat shorter than "Stargazers," they too contain guidance sections for teachers, glossaries, timelines, collections of questions-and-answers, and translations.

    (a) "The Great Magnet, the Earth"

    What It Contains:

        A non-mathematical historical overview of the Earth's magnetism, written for the 400th anniversary of William Gilbert's book "De Magnete." The book is reviewed (twice) together with its historical background.

        That is followed by a discussion of the work of Halley and Coulomb, electromagnetism and its discovery by Oersted, lodestones, magnetic surveys, solar magnetism, dynamo theory, ocean floor magnetization and plate tectonics, and the magnetospheres of Earth and planets. Also included is a long scientific review "A Millennium of Geomagnetism," a detailed article on teaching magnetism in high schools and translations to Spanish, German and French (one to Polish is in preparation).

    Where it might be used in schools:

        A 4-week unit on the Earth's magnetism is described and could be included in a non-mathematical course on Earth sciences. It would discuss the magnetic compass, the interior of the Earth, reversals of the magnetic field and plate tectonics, originally discovered through the magnetization of the ocean floor. As an important by-product, such a course will also bring a basic understanding of magnetism--a subject often not reached in high school physics and therefore omitted.

        The unit includes a draft article "Teaching Geomagnetism in an Earth Sciences Class" (not published) and a long talk given before the National Association of Science Teachers on the planning of such a course. If you are accessing this via disk you will also find there a separate outline of such a course, in rich text format (RTF).

        One section "About Electronic Magnetometers and Tobacco Smoking" contains an interesting story of an experiment performed by Dr. David Cohen of MIT.

        Two quick demonstrations/experiments are described--Gilbert's experiment on induced magnetism and Oersted's experiment on magnetism caused by an electric current.

    (b) "The Exploration of the Earth's Magnetosphere"

    What It Contains:

        The main aim of this web collection is to open up to non-scientists one of the areas of space research, the study of the magnetic environment of Earth in space. It is non-mathematical and requires no previous knowledge, but goes into a fair amount of detail. Written by an active researcher in the field, it also covers relevant history and extends to recent achievements. Conceptual understanding is stressed, and some basics are provided about electrons, ions and their motion in space, plasmas and energy.

        Contains about 80 files, illustrated, plus a Spanish version and one in French (incomplete). Also a glossary, timeline, Q&A, teacher guidance, a history overview and articles "Birth of a Radiation Belt" and "Secrets of the Polar Aurora."

    Where it might be used in schools:

        Contains some basic physics of magnetic fields, including the story of Oersted's experiment (with instructions for repeating it in class) and about electromagnetic waves.

        It can introduce students to electrons, ions and plasmas, with a discussion of the fluorescent lamp as an applied example of a plasma (also gives the origin of word "plasma").

        Includes sections on the Sun and sunspots, with the story of the discovery of the sunspot cycle, also the discovery of the radiation belt by the first US satellites. And in addition to the long self-contained article "Secrets of the Polar Aurora" (see above), it also has sections on space weather and magnetic storms.

  • Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
         Mail to Dr.Stern:   stargaze("at" symbol)phy6.org .

    Last updated: 9-22-2004