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Astronomy

Monthly Star Gazing Guide

Orbax, Production Specialist for Physics Education Content, Department of Physics, University of Guelph
orbax@uoguelph.ca

Greetings everyone! Orbax here. For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been a member of the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph as an instructor for over 13 years now, and most recently as a production specialist in physics education content. Just like you, I love physics and I love teaching physics. I remember when I was young laying in my parents’ bed and poring through a book my father had from his university class on astronomy. I had very little understanding of what I was looking at in those pictures but I knew that the fantastic images in front of me showed a universe that laid just beyond the clouds, one that captured my imagination and that sent me down a path to becoming a physicist.

Since then my career has taken me to many places but I have never lost the fascination I’ve always held for outer space. I feel there are few things more galvanizing to scientists and interesting to the population as a whole than space exploration. As such, I’ve started a video series of monthly ‘Star Gazing Guides’. Very much in the tradition of the old Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer series (does anyone else remember those?), we take a look around the night sky for upcoming events of interest. The videos are very much aimed at the general population with little or no astronomy experience, but as a physics teacher, I try to use a portion of the video to slyly backdoor some actual physics education content. We talk about wavelengths of light, rotational axes, basic planetary interactions, and try to explain things like the solstice or an eclipse. Read More...

Review: How Far Away Is It?

Robert Prior, ePublisher OAPT Newsletter
science@robertprior.ca

There’s a lot of good physics (and math) embedded in the grade nine space unit, if you know where to look for it. David Butler is a retired computer scientist who is fascinated with space, and he’s applied his mathematical background to explaining, in simple terms, what’s behind the fancy pictures we see from NASA, and how we know what we know about the universe. To do this he’s created a series of video books focusing on different topics, as well as hundreds of short classroom-ready video clips on topics ranging from astronomy to quantum mechanics. Read More...

Rich Problem-Solving Challenges for Virtual Students

Chris Meyer
Past-President, OAPT
Chris_meyer1@sympatico.ca

Are you looking for exciting tasks for your students now that we have made the sudden switch to virtual teaching? You have come to the right place! A staple of our grade 12 physics classes is our physics challenges: cooperative-group problem-solving tasks that involve a physical apparatus, measurements, a prediction, and an experimental confirmation. One of my COVID projects has been making careful videos of these challenges that allow students to understand the problem and make measurements directly from the video. A separate solution video allows students to experimentally verify their predictions. Normally, I would write a long-winded, exhaustive article about the pedagogical design of the challenge process, but not this time! Instead, this will be a quick article so I can share these with you as quickly as possible! Looking for an engaging and rich task to wrap up your physics course with? Read on! Read More...

Teaching Astronomy by Inquiry: Light and Chemistry!

Chris Meyer, OAPT Past President, TDSB hybrid teacher-coach
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

Back in the day, I used to teach at the Ontario Science Centre and present their school programs. I would meet the visiting teacher and mob of grade 9 students in advance of my “Cosmic Connections” program and ask, “So has your class covered the astronomy unit yet?” On more than one occasion, the teacher answered, “No. You’re it!” That’s right; my 45-minute extravaganza was all the astronomy that students would get in grade 9. Despite fifteen years passing since then, the topic of astronomy still does not fall within every teacher’s comfort zone, so I hope that sharing the resources for our inquiry-based unit on grade 9 astronomy will help. In this article I will explain the ideas and pedagogical design of our unit and hopefully encourage you to check it out!

This is the second part of Chris’s article on teaching astronomy by inquiry. For the first part, please go here. Read More...

Teaching Astronomy by Inquiry: The Sun, Moon, and Math

Chris Meyer, OAPT Past President, TDSB hybrid teacher-coach
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

Back in the day, I used to teach at the Ontario Science Centre and present their school programs. I would meet the visiting teacher and mob of grade 9 students in advance of my “Cosmic Connections” program and ask, “So has your class covered the astronomy unit yet?” On more than one occasion, the teacher answered, “No. You’re it!” That’s right; my 45-minute extravaganza was all the astronomy that students would get in grade 9. Despite fifteen years passing since then, the topic of astronomy still does not fall within every teacher’s comfort zone, so I hope that sharing the resources for our inquiry-based unit on grade 9 astronomy will help. In this article I will explain the ideas and pedagogical design of our unit and hopefully encourage you to check it out! Read More...

The Hole Truth: Why black holes aren’t what you’ve probably been told they are!

Philip Freeman, teacher at Richmond Secondary School (Richmond BC), Executive member BCAPT
freeman@sphericalcows.net

Black holes are big news these days. Unfortunately a significant number of statements in the press are not only mistaken but wrong in ways that obscure the truly interesting and important things we know about black holes. This article hopes to clarify a number of points about what black holes are and are not. Read More...

Event Horizon Telescope Captures First-ever Image of a Black Hole

Damian Pope, PhD, Senior Manager Scientific Outreach, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
dpope@perimeterinstitute.ca

What is the Event Horizon Telescope?
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is a network of radio telescopes spread across the globe. By pooling data from each instrument, it achieves the same effective resolution as a dish the size of the entire planet!

What did it discover?
The EHT collaboration has just released the first event-horizon-scale images of M87*, a supermassive black hole at the centre of galaxy M87. The image shows an asymmetric ring of light surrounding a circular shadow. The ring of light is not the accretion disk, it is the footprint of the relativistic jet created by M87*. The asymmetry is evidence for the direction of the black hole’s spin. The size of the shadow reveals the mass of M87* which can then be used to calculate the radius of the event horizon. Note, the shadow is not the event horizon. Read More...

Explore Extrasolar Worlds: A hands-on activity for high school science and physics courses

Vjera Miović

Have you ever wondered about life on other worlds? How about what planets outside our Solar System might look like? Do they have an atmosphere? Are they in the habitable zone for their star? Your students most certainly have — especially if they watched any space movies, comics or video games. In that case, leave the motions of our Sun, Moon and Earth behind and let your students go deeper and farther into space in search for exoplanets!

All you need for each station is a light bulb, a box and some play dough balls. Don’t let the cheap materials fool you – there are deep inquiry-based learning opportunities in this activity to satisfy the most curious of minds. Let’s begin. Read More...

Eratosthenes Reloaded

Alasdair Paterson, Teacher at White Oaks Secondary School
Paterson@hdsb.ca

Last spring, I took my students 2200 years back in time. My grade 8 students measured the size of the Earth using shadows — the technique first described by Eratosthenes. Read More...

TRAPPIST-1: Planetary System/Rock Band

Matt Russo, post-doctoral fellow at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA)
mrusso@cita.utoronto.ca

Astronomers and philosophers since as far back as Kepler and Pythagoras have imagined what the music of the spheres would sound like. With the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting in the nearby TRAPPIST-1 planetary system, this becomes possible as never before. Aside from being a prime target in the search for life, the TRAPPIST-1 planets are interesting because they form the longest discovered resonant chain. This means that the ratios of the planets' orbital periods form simple whole number ratios. For example, for every two orbits of the outer planet, the next one in completes three orbits and similar patterns exist among the orbits of every pair in this system. Since whole number ratios are the basis of rhythm and harmony, TRAPPIST-1 may be the most musical planetary system ever discovered. Read More...

Cheap and Safe Solar Observing for Grade 9 Astronomy

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI
roberta.tevlin@tdsb.on.ca
Edited by Tim Langford

It is difficult to get students to make astronomical observations when you live in a large city with lots of light pollution. However, there is one object that all of your students have seen, but probably not observed carefully — the Sun! I start my grade 9 astronomy unit by having my students observe the shadows formed by Sun. Read More...

A Browser-Based No-Fuss Gravitation Simulator

Michel Enns, Teacher Runnymede CI
Michel.enns@tdsb.on.ca

I have been frustrated with gravitation simulators over the years because they stop working when the computers are updated. To avoid this, I have made one that is browser-based and will run on any device. You can find it at www3.sympatico.ca/michael.enns. One non-standard thing that it can do is simulate the formation of a solar system with a thousand random masses. Read More...

Diffraction and Resolution

Phillip Freeman, Teacher, Richmond Secondary School, Richmond, B.C., Executive Member at Large BCAPT
freeman@sphericalcows.net

The diffraction of light limits the resolution of optical systems. This is relevant in a number of real world cases, from the reason you can’t actually zoom in infinitely to read the license plate of the get-away car on the crime drama, to the limit to how small an insect a bat can ‘see’ with echolocation to the current plans for the Event Horizon Telescope. It is possible to observe single slit diffraction and resolution directly with very simple equipment. Read More...

Gravity Waves: The Fast Track to the Best Resources

Margaret Scora, Mhona Russell, James Ball and Roberta Tevlin

The announcement that LIGO has detected gravity waves may have you scrambling to answer your student’s questions. This news connects to many topics in high school physics including waves and vibrations, interference of light, changing models of science and the analysis of data - especially the problem of signal to noise ratios. Many teaching resources have been suggested (listed at the bottom) and these have been examined to select which are the most useful for high school physics teachers. The selected videos are well-scaffolded and paced. They make good use of animations, physical models and analogies and showed a wide diversity in the people interviewed. Demos and activities were selected which require minimal prep time and cost for the teacher and which provide active-learning experiences for the student. Read More...

What’s up? The International Space Station!

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI
roberta.tevlin@tdsb.on.ca

Teaching astronomy in the middle of a big city can be very frustrating. Your students can observe the Sun, the Moon, a few stars and sometimes a couple of planets and that’s about it. Not quite! It turns out that you can also see the International Space Station! Read More...

York University: Teaching Astronomy through Hands-On Activities Summer 2015

Ryan Thompson, OAPT Treasurer, Physics Teacher, Newmarket HS
superryanthompson@gmail.com

On July 8 and 9th I attended a two day workshop at York University. The purpose of the workshop was to bring astronomy professors and graduate students together with teachers and showcase three modules that the organizers had developed for the teachers to discuss, play with and refine for use in the classroom. The organizers were from a variety of institutions, not just York but everyone was committed to increasing interest in astronomy in students and also their capability for understanding the science around this fascinating topic. Read More...

Reflections

George Vanderkuur, Malvern Collegiate, Toronto

A laser, chalk dust and right-angle corner made of mirror tiles show the retro-reflection of light from a corner cube mirror. (Safety note: use a low-power laser beam and take care to avoid directing the beam into the audience.) Students will also enjoy looking into the mirror and observing that the image of their face (or open eye) is always in the corner. Try this with one eye closed. Read More...
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