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6-8 > Astronomy/Space
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Astronomy/Space Duration: One class period
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The Great Hubble

Students will understand the following:
1. The Hubble Space Telescope lets us see farther into space than ever before.
2. The Hubble gives us images that are thousands of years old because light travels at a finite speed across vast distances of space.
3. The Hubble could be used to search the universe for other Earthlike planets, but such exploration is expensive.
4. There are arguments for and against spending money to look for other Earthlike planets that might be thousands of light-years away.

For this lesson, you will need:
Computer with Internet access

1. With the lights turned off, direct your students’ attention to an electric light in the classroom. Then turn the light on.
2. Ask students how long it took for the light to reach their eyes. Make sure they understand that light takes time to travel across space. Light travels so quickly that over short distances it appears to take no time at all; however, scientifically speaking, the light did take a miniscule fraction of a second to reach their eyes.
3. Have students conjecture about how long it takes the light from a star to reach our eyes. Explain that light from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star beyond the sun, takes more than four years to reach Earth. Therefore, when we view Proxima Centauri, we are really seeing that star as it appeared more than four years ago. (In other words, Proxima Centauri is more than four light-years away.) Tell students that the Hubble telescope can view objects in space that are thousands of light-years away.
4. Encourage students to use the Internet to view images from space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope (see Links). Remind them that the images show objects in space as they appeared not in the present but in the distant past.
5. Introduce to your students the possibility of using the Hubble to search the universe for other Earthlike planets. After mentioning the considerable expense involved and the fact that any planets found are likely to be thousands of light-years away, lead the class in a brief discussion on the merits of such a search.
6. Divide the class into two fairly large groups to debate the issue you have raised and a smaller group to serve as a moderating panel. Assign each large group one side of the following resolution: Money should be spent to look for other Earthlike planets, even though they may be thousands of light-years away.
7. Allow time for the two debating groups to meet and come up with salient points to support the pro or con side of the resolution.
8. Hold a formal debate. Have the moderating panel keep notes on the debaters’ points and decide which side presented the stronger arguments.
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Adaptations for Older Students:
Encourage students to do research to find out how the Hubble Space Telescope “sees” and produces images from space. Have them write brief essays reporting their findings.
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Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the idea that rocket and satellite technologies are the direct results of wars—World War II and the Cold War. Can such quick technological advances be made during times of peace or is competition essential to achievement? Can you think of any modern-day technologies that parallel rocket and satellite technologies?
2. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of having over 10,000 scientists and engineers contribute to the building of the Hubble space telescope. Does quality control become a problem when so many people are involved?
3. Debate whether or not the information gathered by the Hubble has been worth all of the time, money, and effort involved. Could we do without this information? Why might some people be opposed to spending government money in this way?
4. Discuss the idea that while Hubble has confirmed many astronomical theories it has also revised and even overturned others. For example, some results show that some of the stars in the universe are older than the universe itself is thought to be. Does it seem reasonable that scientists who are experts in their field could be so wrong in some of their theories?
5. Discuss the significance of the “funny stars” in the Orion Nebula. Is it scientifically worthwhile to watch this particular area over a long period of time, or should Hubble be pointed in different directions?
6. Discuss the Origins program that is designed to search out other Earth-like planets around other stars similar to our sun and look for traces of life. Why is a program like this valuable? Who might oppose such a program?
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You can evaluate your students on their debating skills using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:arguments logical, well organized, and supported by facts
Two points:arguments logical, sufficiently well organized, but lacking factual support
One point:arguments lacking in logic and organization, lacking factual support
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A Look at Celestial Time
Invite your students to pretend that another civilization is looking at Earth through a Hubble-type telescope from one thousand light-years away. Ask them to describe what Earth was like at the time the light they are seeing today was emitted. Challenge them to predict what Earth will be like when the light emitted from our planet today reaches the imaginary distant civilization one thousand years from now.

A Look at the Hubble
Have students use the Internet (see Links) to research the development and history of the Hubble Space Telescope. Challenge them to find out and report on the problems encountered by the early developers of the Hubble and how the great space telescope was “rescued.”

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Suggested Readings

Hubble Vision: Astronomy with the Hubble Space Telescope
Carolyn Collins Petersen and John C. Brandt. Cambridge University Press, 1995.
This lavishly illustrated book traces the space telescope from its inception, including its problems, the people involved with it, and its eventual successes transmitting photos of the universe.

Origins: Our Place in Hubble’s Universe
John Gribbin and Simon Goodwin. Overlook Press, 1998.
Dozens of detailed photographs taken by the Hubble space telescope, the Anglo-Australian telescope, and the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite are accompanied by clearly written text which tells how the big bang gave us galaxies, stars, planets, and people.

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It's About TIMED [PDF]
Find information and additional activities on this topic at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab website.

The Life of Edwin Hubble
Edwin Hubble was recognized by the astronomical community in 1983, thirty years after his death, when the Space Telescope was renamed in his honor. Along with his biography, this hypertext website describes many of his contributions to astronomy.

The Best of the Hubble Space Telescope
This gallery provides the latest and the best of images from space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. A website with great visuals for bulletin boards and for making transparencies for your talks on astronomy.

Amazing Space
Amazing Space is a set of web-based activities primarily designed for classroom use, but made available for all to enjoy. Be sure to check out their “Solar System Trading Cards” activity and the “Student Astronaut Challenge.”

The Hubble Space Telescope: Design and Development
This clickable map of the Hubble Space Telescope will help your students to understand how the telescope works one part at a time.

Earth and Space Lesson Plans
Many interesting links to lesson plans that will help your students understand the difference between various kinds of telescopes and their history from Galileo to Hubble.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    nebula
Definition:A cloud of gas or dust in interstellar space.
Context:Three thousand light years away from Earth we are seeing the Cat’s Eye Nebula as it was in 1000 B.C.E. This nebula formed after the dying star in the center shed its outer layer.

speaker    cosmology
Definition:A branch of astronomy that deals with the origin, structure, and space-time relationships of the universe.
Context:Hubble gave us an expanding universe and his observations really led to today’s modern cosmology—our explanation of the origin of the universe.

speaker    spectrograph
Definition:An instrument for dispersing radiation (as electromagnetic radiation or sound waves) into a spectrum and photographing or mapping the spectrum.
Context:The put two new instruments into the space telescope: an infrared camera and a new spectrograph. Using the spectrograph, astronomers will be able to analyze incoming light to determine the chemical makeup of the objects they observe.

speaker    phenomena
Definition:Observable facts or events.
Context:Hubble’s picture of the Crab Nebula really illustrates what the space telescope is all about. It’s giving us a new fresh look at phenomena throughout the universe.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:6-8
Subject area:science
Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
Understands the nature of scientific explanations (e.g., emphasis on evidence; use of logically consistent arguments; use of scientific principles, models, and theories; acceptance or displacement based on new scientific evidence).

Knows that scientific inquiry includes evaluating results of scientific investigations, experiments, observations, theoretical and mathematical models, and explanations proposed by other scientists (e.g., reviewing experimental procedures, examining evidence, identifying faulty reasoning, identifying statements that go beyond the evidence, suggesting alternative explanations).

Knows possible outcomes of scientific investigations (e.g., some may result in new ideas and phenomena for study; some may generate new methods or procedures for an investigation; some may result in the development of new technologies to improve the collection of data; some may lead to new investigations).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:space science
Understands essential ideas about the composition and structure of the universe and the Earth’s place in it.
Knows that evidence suggests that our universe is expanding (e.g., the Doppler shift of light from distant galaxies reaching telescopes on Earth suggests that galaxies are moving away from the Earth; the relationship of the redshift to the big bang theory of the origin of the universe).

Knows that although the origin of the universe remains one of the greatest questions in science, current scientific evidence supports the big bang theory, which states that between 10 billion and 20 billion years ago, the entire contents of the universe expanded explosively into existence from a single, hot, dense chaotic mass; our solar system formed from a nebular cloud of dust and gas about 4.6 billion years ago.

Knows the ongoing processes involved in star formation and destruction (e.g., stars condense by gravity out of clouds of molecules of the lightest elements; nuclear fusion of light elements into heavier ones occurs in the stars’ extremely hot, dense cores, releasing great amounts of energy; some stars eventually explode, producing clouds of material from which new stars and planets condense).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the nature and operation of systems.
Knows that complex systems are subject to failure and are designed with various elements and procedures (e.g., performance testing, overdesign, redundancy, more controls) that help reduce system failure.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.
Knows ways in which social and economic forces influence which technologies will be developed and used (e.g., personal values, consumer acceptance, patent laws, availability of risk capital, the federal budget, local and national regulations, media attention, economic competition, tax incentives).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:science
Understands the nature of scientific knowledge.
Understands how scientific knowledge changes and accumulates over time (e.g., all scientific knowledge is subject to change as new evidence becomes available; some scientific ideas are incomplete and opportunity exists in these areas for new advances; theories are continually tested, revised, and occasionally discarded).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:science
Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
Knows that scientists conduct investigations for a variety of reasons (e.g., to discover new aspects of the natural world, to explain recently observed phenomena, to test the conclusions of prior investigations, to test the predictions of current theories).

Knows that conceptual principles and knowledge guide scientific inquiries; historical and current scientific knowledge influences the design and interpretation of investigations and the evaluation of proposed explanations made by other scientists.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:science
Understands the major responsibilities of the national government for domestic and foreign policy, and understands how government is financed through taxation.
Understands the tensions that result from citizens’ desire for government services and benefits and their unwillingness to pay taxes for them.

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Karen Kennedy, physics and chemistry teacher, T.C. Williams High School, Alexandria, Virginia.
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