ERIC Number: EJ1046203
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2014-Jul
Reference Count: 4
Discovering Our Stellar Neighborhood
Black, David V.
Science Teacher, v81 n5 p31-37 Jul 2014
The stars closest to Earth are not particularly remarkable or exciting. They are average stars typical of the spiral arms of our Milky Way galaxy. In fact, until recently, most astronomy and Earth science textbooks ignored all but the largest of them to focus on distant, more exotic objects like red supergiants or black holes. The recent discovery of exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars outside our solar system, has changed all that. The closest star system, Alpha Centauri, has at least one Earth-size planet that orbits its second star, Alpha Centauri B, and a recent study suggests as many as five planets could orbit Tau Ceti (Tuomi 2013). Our stellar neighborhood is becoming a lot more interesting. To help his physics and astronomy students grasp the concepts of stellar coordinates, constellations, star names, and star classes, David Black has spent the last 20 years perfecting a crowning activity for the star unit described here. In this activity, student teams work together to build a three-dimensional model of "nearby" space, made up of star systems 13 light-years (i.e., the distance light travels in one year) from the Sun. Students consistently remark that this project is among the most memorable of the year. Their unit test scores and essay assignments, such as the Interstellar Voyage Proposal, show a deep understanding of stars and nearby space. This activity helps kindle an appreciation for the majesty of the night sky and inspires students to continue their studies of astronomy.
Descriptors: Astronomy, Space Sciences, Space Exploration, Learning Activities, Models, Science Activities, Assignments, Teamwork, Student Evaluation, Instructional Development, Teaching Methods, Discovery Processes, Instructional Materials, Material Development, Concept Teaching
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
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