Science Milestones: A New Astronomy with Johannes Kepler

Each month, I like to share a post celebrating the accomplishments of a scientist whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives. To honor the work of these amazing people, I provide a little peak into their life and share an unschool-style learning guides or unit study to guide you and your children on a path of discovery.

This month, I chose to honor the Johannes Kepler, who lived in an era when there was no clear distinction between astronomy and astrology. There was, however, a strong division between astronomy (a branch of mathematics within the liberal arts) and physics (a branch of natural philosophy).

Science Milestones: A New Astronomy with Johannes Kepler @EvaVarga.netJohannes Kepler

In 1596, the German astronomer published his first important work on astronomy, Mysterium Cosmographicum (The Cosmographic Mystery). As well as defending the heliocentric model of the universe previously proposed by Copernicus in 1543.

Kepler explained the orbits of the known planets around the Sun in geometric terms in an attempt to unravel “God’s mysterious plan of the universe.” To do this, he dow upon the classical notion of the “harmony of the spheres” which he linked to the five Platonic solids – octahedron, icosahedron, dodecahedron, tetrahedron, and cube.

Science Milestones: A New Astronomy with Johannes Kepler @EvaVarga.net

The Platonic solids, when inscribed in spheres and nested inside one another in order, correspond to the orbits of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

In 1619, he published Harmonices Mundi (The Harmony of the World) wherein he stated his third law of planetary motion. He described the relationship between a planet’s distance from the Sun and the time taken to orbit around it as well as the speed of the planet at any time in that orbit.

Biography

Science Milestones: Johannes KeplerKepler was born in the small town of Weil der Stadt in the Swabia region of Germany and moved to nearby Leonberg with his parents in 1576. His father was a mercenary soldier and his mother, the daughter of an innkeeper. Johannes was their first child.

When Johannes was just five, his father left home for the last time and is believed to have died in the war in the Netherlands. As a child, Kepler lived with his mother in his grandfather’s inn. He tells us that he used to help by serving in the inn.

Kepler’s early education was in a local school and then at a nearby seminary. Intending to be ordained he went on to enroll at the University of Tübingen, a bastion of Lutheran orthodoxy.

Throughout his life, Kepler was a profoundly religious man. All his writings contain numerous references to God, and he saw his work as a fulfilment of his Christian duty to understand the works of God.

At Tübingen Kepler was taught astronomy by one of the leading astronomers of the day, Michael Mästlin. The curriculum was of course, geocentric astronomy, in which all seven planets – Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – moved around the Earth, their positions against the fixed stars being calculated by combining circular motions.

This system was more or less in accord with current Aristotelian notions of physics, though there were certain difficulties. However, it seems that on the whole astronomers were content to carry on calculating positions of planets and leave it to natural philosophers to worry about whether the mathematical models corresponded to physical mechanisms. Kepler did not take this attitude. His earliest published work, Mysterium Cosmographicum, proposed to consider the actual paths of the planets, not the circles used to construct them.

 “I am satisfied…to guard the gates of the temple in which Copernicus makes sacrifices at the high altar.” ~ Johannes Kepler

Kepler was one of the few pupils to whom Mästlin chose to teach more advanced astronomy by introducing them to the new, heliocentric cosmological system of Copernicus. Kepler seems to have accepted almost instantly that the Copernican system was physically true.

Soon after moving to Regensburg in 1630, he became seriously ill with fever and on November 15 he died.

Bring it Home

What are Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion? How were his ideas viewed by his contemporaries?

Learn more about star polyhedra, discovered by Kepler in 1619 and prominently featured in the architecture of European churches.

Build models of the five Platonic solids; consider The Finnish Craft of Himmeli or Paper Models of Polyhedra.

Research the epitaph inscribed on his gravestone (sadly swept away in the Thirty Years War):

I used to measure the heavens,
now I shall measure the shadows of the earth.
Although my soul was from heaven,
the shadow of my body lies here.

 

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Interested in learning about others who were born in the month of January? Hop over to Birthday Lessons in December to read posts by other iHomeschool Network bloggers.

Autumn Astronomy: Activities for Middle School

Autumn Astronomy: Activities for Middle School @EvaVarga.netHave you ever looked at the night sky and been amazed by all the stars? Though the nights are cool, I love stargazing in autumn. There are tremendous opportunities for night science activities throughout the fall months.

Misconceptions creep into the science of astronomy perhaps more than any other science. Would you believe that many college graduates have wildly incorrect ideas about the phases of the moon or the cause of the seasons?

You can help dispel these misconceptions by reading quality non-fiction materials and providing opportunities to engage in hands-on experiments or demonstrations designed to test hypotheses. With the help of DK Publishing, I’ve created an in-depth unit study around our autumn night skies utilizing two DK books as my spine. I hope to release the complete curriculum by years end.

Autumn Astronomy: Activities for Middle School @EvaVarga.netMany thanks to DK Publishing for providing these books to us for review. Please see my full Disclosure Policy for more details.

Most objects you can see in the night sky are within our own spiral, disc-shaped galaxy. Did you know that when you’re looking at the Milky Way, you’re looking into the heart of the galaxy from Earth’s position on the outer fringes of one of the spiral arms? The Milky Way is at least 100,000 light years across, and contains perhaps 200 billion stars. The milky band you see in the sky is a layer of dust, gas and stars that is closer to the “galactic center”. The dust is so thick, no one has seen beyond it to the dark side of the galaxy. There’s probably a humungous Black Hole at the heart of the Milky Way, but astronomers can’t be 100 percent sure. Turns out we know more about deep space objects than we do about the center of our own little spiral, disc-shaped galaxy.

The Practical Astronomer takes you on a step-by-step journey from the basics of what can be seen with the naked eye, to how you can view more distant objects such as the planets of the solar system, and even galaxies far, far away-all in your own backyard. It is the perfect spine for a homeschool astronomy study. It provides maps of the constellations and detailed information on the planets and stars of our own galaxy.

With this book as a guide, you will be able to find planets, identify stars, track movements, find constellations, and even begin star hopping from one constellation to another. The first part of the book explains the kinds of objects you will be looking for such as planets, stars, and nebulae. Additionally, with a spherical shape in mind, it details how to navigate around the night sky. The second part of the book provides practical information regarding telescopes and keeping a log of your observations.

During the course of the year, our view of the night sky changes from month to month. Some constellations are always in the sky, while others appear and disappear over different regions.  The Night Sky Month by Month by Will Gater and Giles Sparrow shows the sky as it is seen around the world in both the northern and southern hemispheres. It is the perfect guide for amateur astronomers – the illustrated pictures and monthly sky guides will help you recognize patterns and track changes in the each hemisphere.

Autumn Astronomical Events 2015

      • A brilliant double planet: October 26

        For the second time in 2015, Venus and Jupiter will engage in a close conjunction, this time separated by just over 1 degree, Venus passing to the southwest (lower right) of Jupiter and shining more than 10 times brighter than the huge gas giant.

      • Full Moon, Supermoon: October 27

        The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at 12:05 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Hunters Moon because at this time of year the leaves are falling and the game is fat and ready to hunt. This moon has also been known as the Travel Moon and the Blood Moon. This is also the last of three supermoons for 2015. The Moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.

      • Conjunction of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter: October 28

        A rare, 3-planet conjunction will be visible on the morning of October 28. The planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter will all form a triangle in the early morning sky. Jupiter and Venus will be only one degree apart with Mars just a few degrees to the east. Look to the east just before sunrise for this spectacular event.

      • Taurid meteor shower ‘fireballs’: October & November

        The Taurid meteors, sometimes called the “Halloween fireballs,” show up each year between mid-October and mid-November. The shower should peak from Nov. 5 to Nov. 12 in 2015. Meteor expert David Asher has also discovered that Earth can periodically encounter swarms of larger particles, which can produce fireball meteors in certain years, and 2015 is predicted to be one of those years.

      • Geminid meteor shower: December 13-14

        If there is one meteor display guaranteed to put on a very entertaining show it is the Geminids. Considered by most meteor experts to be at the top of the list, surpassing in brilliance and reliability even the August Perseids. The moon will be a narrow crescent and will set early in the evening, leaving the sky dark all through the rest of the night – perfect conditions for watching shooting stars.

Autumn Astronomy: Activities for Middle School @EvaVarga.netExpand Your Horizons

Hands-on activities encourage children to explore astronomy concepts in a way that is fun, yet meaningful, and to broaden their awareness of astronomy as they develop and apply new skills in other subject areas. Carefully selected demonstrations are one way of helping students overcome misconceptions, and there are a variety of resources available.

?Check out the many activities and lesson plans provided by the University of Texas McDonald Observatory to get started.

?Approximate the relative size of the earth and the moon with my free, Balloon Moon activity

?Explore how misconceptions creep into the science of astronomy 

?Take part in the Global Moon Project and learn how the moon and tides are interlinked

?Gather with fellow astronomy enthusiasts for the Annular Lunar Eclipse, the Perseid Meteor Shower, or a Super Moon Viewing Party

?Get to know the autumn night sky in the northern hemisphere with stargazing tips from BBC’s Sir Patrick Moore and his guests on The Sky at Night.

?Focus your study around the contributions of Women in Space 

Misconceptions in Astronomy

In a series of posts this week, I will be sharing 5 Misconceptions in Science and providing lessons and activities to help dispel these conceptual misunderstandings. Today’s post focuses on common misconceptions in astronomy.

Misconceptions in Astronomy @EvaVarga.netMisconceptions in Astronomy

Misconceptions creep into the science of astronomy perhaps more than any other science. Surveys have found that even college graduates carry persistent misconceptions or even wildly incorrect ideas about the phases of the moon or the cause of the seasons.

Considering the following statements, which are true? Which are false?

 

1) The sky is blue because it reflects the blue color of the oceans.
2) The seasons are caused by the Earth’s distance from the sun.
3) The Moon’s phases are due to the shadow of the Earth falling on the Moon.
4) The bright glow of a meteor is not caused by friction as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere.
5) There are no stars seen in Apollo Moon-landing pictures thus proving that these landings were staged.
6) The Hubble Space Telescope is bigger than all Earth-based telescopes.
7) Stars in the night sky do have color.
8) The Moon is bigger near the horizon than when it’s overhead.
9) In the southern hemisphere, winters are much warmer than those in the northern hemisphere.
10) X-rays are emitted from the eclipsed sun but these X-rays do not damage your eyes if you look at the eclipsed sun.

How to Dispel Misconceptions

To help foster the replacement of misconceptions with new concepts, students should be encouraged to ask questions. Additionally, they should be given ample opportunity to engage in hands-on experiments or demonstrations designed to test hypotheses.

Carefully selected demonstrations are one way of helping students overcome misconceptions, and there are a variety of resources available. Let’s take the second statement above and explore how we can dispel this common misunderstanding.

MISCONCEPTION #2

The seasons are caused by the Earth’s distance from the sun.

Studies have shown that as many as 95% of people— including most college graduates—incorrectly believe that the seasons result from the Earth moving closer to or farther from the Sun. In reality, the answer lies in the tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis away or toward the Sun as the Earth travels through its year-long orbit. Distance plays no role since the Earth actually is closest to the Sun during the first week of January.

This video embedded below uses a globe and a strip of thermochromic paper to show how the axial tilt of the Earth as it orbits the sun produces the changing season. This is an excellent hands-on activity in which to engage your students to dispel this commonly held misconception.

To further investigate this common misconception in astronomy, check out National Geographic’s lesson The Reason for the Seasons.

Using demonstrations is a great tool to help dispel misconceptions. Be careful, however, to choose models and demonstrations that do do not mislead or strengthen other misconceptions. A popular model of the solar system that shows the relative distances of the planets from the sun, shows the planets all rotating around the sun on the same plane rather than on independent three-dimensional paths.

5 Misconceptions in Science & How to Dispel Them @EvaVarga.net

Misconceptions in Science & How to Dispel Them (series introduction)

Misconceptions in Geology & Meteorology (coming Wednesday)

Misconceptions in Chemistry & Physics (coming Thursday)

Misconceptions in Biology (coming Friday)

You might also be interested in my 5 day series,  Discovering Peru, where you’ll have the chance to win a travel guide of choice from DK Publishing.

My post is one of many hopscotch link-ups. Hop over and see what others are sharing.

Hopcotch2015Statements 4, 7, and 10 are true.  Statements 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, and 9 are false.

 

Science Milestones: Women in Space

I can vividly recall watching the tragedies of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster unfold on the television. Though I wasn’t particularly interested in astronomy or space exploration, Christa McAuliffe had captured the hearts and minds of school children across the country.

Today marks Christa’s 66th birthday and in her honor, I wanted to celebrate the accomplishments of women in space.  I’ve chosen to focus particularly on McAuliffe and her colleague, Barbara Morgan for these women touched my life personally.

womeninspace

Women in Space

Hundreds of people have flown in space, yet the number of women that have made the journey is still relatively small. Although the first woman flew into space in 1963, it would not be until almost 20 years later that another flew.
The first woman in space was a Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova launched with the Vostok 6 mission on June 16, 1963. The United States did not have a woman in space until 1983, when astronaut Sally Ride launched with the seventh Space Shuttle mission.

In the 1980s, female astronauts/cosmonauts went on to become commonplace. Since then, more than 40 American women have entered space. Most served on the various Space Shuttle flights from 1983 to 2010. Six American women have also served on Soyuz flights.

55 different women total including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and foreign nationals have flown in space.

  • 6 different female cosmonauts have flown on the Soviet/Russian program
  • 1 female astronaut or taikonaut has flown in the Chinese program
  • 48 different women have flown with NASA. 43 of these were Americans

As of July 2014, while 24 men have journeyed to the moon, no woman has travelled beyond low earth orbit.

Biographies

McAuliffeMorganSharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe was born on September 2, 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts to Edward Christopher Corrigan and Grace Mary Corrigan. She was the eldest of five children and became a teacher in 1970.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project and McAuliffe learned about NASA’s efforts to find the first civilian, a gifted teacher who could communicate with students to fly into space. McAuliffe became one of more than 11,000 applicants. On July 1, 1985, she was announced as one of the 10 finalists, and on July 7 she traveled to  Johnson Space Center for a week of thorough medical examinations and briefings about space flight.

As a member of mission STS-51-L, she was planning to conduct experiments and teach two lessons from the Space Shuttle. On January 28, 1986, She was one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Barbara Radding Morgan was born on November 28, 1951 to Dr. and Mrs. Jerry Radding and raised in Fresno, California. After high school, she attended Stanford University, graduating with distinction in 1973 and her teaching credential a year later.

Morgan was selected as the backup candidate for the NASA Teacher in Space project on July 19, 1985. From September 1985 to January 1986, Morgan trained with Christa McAuliffe and the Space Shuttle Challenger crew at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.

Following McAuliffe’s death, Morgan assumed the duties of Teacher in Space Designee and resumed her teaching duties at McCall-Donnelly Elementary. Her duties with NASA included public speaking, educational consulting, and curriculum design.

In January 1998, Morgan was selected by NASA as a Mission Specialist and reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1998, making her a full-time astronaut. While training, she continued to present at science conferences across the country and in 2001, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet her at a CESI Luncheon (NSTA Convention 2001) where she was the keynote speaker and I was presented with an award along with Bill Nye.

She flew on STS-118 in August 2007. Three weeks after Morgan’s mission ended, she conducted her first space education assignment at Walt Disney World in Florida, telling those in attendance to “Reach for your dreams … the sky is no limit.” 

Morgan’s words were etched into a plaque on a wall of Mission: Space. The “Wall of Honor” contains quotes from notable people, such as Neil Armstrong, John F. Kennedy, Charles Lindbergy, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Galileo, and Christa McAuliffe. Morgan’s plaque is placed beside McAuliffe’s, which says: “Space is for everybody … That’s our new frontier out there.”

Bring it Home

Explore some of the activities and lessons provided by NASA:

Read one of the many wonderful biographies of pioneering women in space: 

Science Milestones Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Explore additional September Birthday lessons and unit studies with iHomeschool Network bloggers.

Moths & Super Moons: Night Science for Families

Have you ever looked at the night sky and been amazed by all the stars? Have you ever seen bats darting above your head when your sitting by the campfire roasting marshmallows?

The warmer evenings are the perfect time to get outdoors and observe nature after the sun has set. There are tremendous opportunities for night science activities throughout the summer months.
moths_moons

Biology

National Moth Week

National Moth Week offers everyone, everywhere a unique opportunity to become a Citizen Scientist and contribute scientific data about moths. Through partnerships with major online biological data depositories, National Moth Week participants can help map moth distribution and provide needed information on other life history aspects around the globe.

Mothing can be done anywhere- at parks, nature centers, backyards and even in towns and cities. Events are taking place around the world – join up or host an event of your own. Learn more at National Moth Week.

Astronomy

Super Moons

The summer of 2014 also provides wonderful opportunities to learn more about our nearest celestial neighbor.  The earth will be bathed in moonlight as three perigee “supermoons” occur in consecutive months: July 12, August 10, and September 9. The scientific term for the phenomenon is Perigee Moon, the point in the Moon’s elliptical orbit closest to Earth. 

Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side (“perigee”) about 50,000 km closer than the other (“apogee”).  Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon’s orbit seem extra big and bright.

On July 12th and Sept 9th the Moon becomes full on the same day as perigee.  On August 10th it becomes full during the same hour as perigee—arguably making it an extra-super Moon.”

Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid meteor shower, one of the brighter meteor showers of the year, occur every August, peaking around August 9-13. The 2014 Perseid meteor shower will peak between August 10 and August 13. However, a waning Gibbous Moon (the Moon’s phase after a full moon) may make it harder for observers to see the shower.

Consisting of tiny space debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are named after the constellation, Perseus. This is because, their radiant or the direction of which the shower seems to come from lies in the same direction as Perseus. The constellation lies in the north-eastern part of the sky.

Radiant of the Perseid metoer shower. Illustration credit: NASA

Radiant of the Perseid metoer shower. Illustration credit: NASA

Check with local astronomy clubs and park centers in your local area to learn more about public astronomy events.

Just for Fun

Some activities you might also want to consider are:

  • Join up with a park ranger for a guided moonlight kayak tour.
  • Lay on beach or lake shore and enjoy gazing at the stars. How many constellations can you name?
  • Go for a nature walk on the night of a full moon. Can you find bats or other nocturnal animals?
  • Observe the moon each night for a month and record your observations in a moon journal. Get creative and include art and poetry as you feel inspired.

Sun Prints & Moon Journals – Collage Friday

It has been a great week!  We have managed to squeeze in so much learning that it’s hard to believe we have also had quality time with friends and family.  Our endeavors and opportunities this week provided us with a greater understanding of the moon’s phases as we began a year-long moon journal project.  In addition, we explored chemical changes and solubility with ultraviolet light.

sun prints

Sun Prints

My girlfriend brought over a package of large sun print paper so we took advantage of the beautiful day to sneak in a little science.  Sun Prints were originally developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science in 1975 and have been popular in art and science classrooms ever since.  The magic behind this classic activity involves a little chemistry – specifically chemical changes and water solubility.

In the presence of ultra-violet light, two molecules embedded in the paper interact to form a new molecule. Their interaction is initiated by the specific wavelengths of ultra-violet light. The new molecule is colorless so that as the blue molecules are converted, the white of the paper base begins to show through. As the chemical reaction takes place, the areas of the paper exposed to the sun will fade from blue to white.

Areas of the paper covered by objects still contain the original blue molecule, so they remain blue.  According to package directions, when you see most of the color disappear from the paper,  the print has been fully exposed and you are to put the paper into water. This does two things …

First, the original blue compound is water soluble, thus when you immerse it in the water, the blue compound is carried away, leaving only the white paper base. Second, the new colorless compound is not water soluble, and therefore does not wash away. However, water stimulates another chemical change … an oxidation reaction that turns the colorless compound into the deep blue of a finished sun print.

The result is a cool piece of art.  I love that Sweetie did organic items (leaves, seeds, shells, a bird skull, etc.) whereas Buddy used his new Boeing 747 model.

moon jounals

Moon Journals

As we got underway with the World MOON Project earlier this month, the kids have been joyfully pointing the moon out every night. To be honest, it took us a few weeks to get into the habit, but now they delightedly point it out.

Presently, they are recording their observations on a simple sheet I printed out from the curriculum, but as we sat down this week for the first descriptive writing assignment (an essay requirement for the project), they both stated they’d like a special nature journal for the moon. “I’d like to put a poem I wrote about the moon in it and do some special art projects about the moon,” Sweetie exclaimed.

I have been wanting to start year-long moon journals for a long time.  They didn’t have to twist my arm. We will be purchasing a new journal this weekend.  In fact, I have the perfect art project already in mind. You can see some of my moon journal ideas pinned on my Nature Study & Journaling board.

Extras

  • We prepared three of our favorite meals this week – it was all about comfort food: corned beef and cabbage, meatloaf, and meat biscuits.
  • I made homemade vegetable broth with the left over veggie scraps.
  • The kids performed well as their fall recital.
  • Even better, my mom (Grandma R) was able to drive down to see the recital.
  • Mom taught me how to can tuna!!
Homegrown Learners