To introduce students to our local star, the sun, especially its structure and its features such as sun spots, magnetic fields, and solar flares.
Students have started to add more detail to their picture of the universe at this age. Now students should start to learn about individual planets, moons, and the stars. By focusing on physical characteristics of the sun, this lesson will give students a general understanding of what a star is, which can be the basis of understanding the general make-up of other stars in far off galaxies.
There is a pre-activity that you may want to read ahead of time at: How Are Magnetic Fields Related To Sunspots?
Students will need the images at SOHO Images. You can either have students see them online, or print them out on color transparencies before the lesson.
The Stanford Solar Center website has reprinted a humorous interview called An Interview with Mr. Sol from Astronomy Magazine. This offers some general information about the sun and will be a good conversation starter for this lesson.
You may want to have students read the interview aloud before discussing the following:
- How does the sun fit into the galaxy? (Students should have picked up from the article that the sun is one of 100 billion stars in the Milky Way. If they didn't, that's okay. They will be doing an activity on this topic.)
- The sun says he's made up of the right stuff. What is that? (75% hydrogen, 25% helium.)
- Why does the sun describe its job as just sitting around making hydrogen into helium? (He talks about fusion which is what happens in order for the hydrogen to become helium.)
- The sun mentions the tragic death of a star right in our neighborhood - can stars die?
- Do you know anything about those unsightly sunspots that the sun describes as dark magnetic depressions?
- What are the "Solar Flares" or "coronal mass ejections" that the sun refers to as gas?
Have each student describe, either in words or with a picture, how the sun fits into the universe. They should demonstrate that the sun belongs to our solar system, which belongs to the Milky Way Galaxy, which is one galaxy of many in the universe.
All About the Sun
Students will produce a report on the sun by the end of the lesson based on these investigations:
- Draw a diagram of the sun and its layers. (This should include the photosphere, chromosphere, corona, convection zone, radiative zone, core.)
- Below the diagram describe each layer in your own words with a few sentences.
- Describe solar spots.
- What is the sun spot cycle?
- Describe solar flares.
The Sun - A Multimedia Tour is a good introduction to the sun and will help students with their report writing, however other sites should be explored as well. Students should play the movie clips if their computers have the capabilities.
You may want to recommend that students take notes as they go through the tour, and explore the following sites: The NinePlanet's The Sun, Stanford Solar Center's Today's Solar Weather, and the Windows to the Universe's Sun.
Now that students have a better understanding of the sun, there are two activities to follow. Have students work in pairs to do each activity. They should record each experiment by following the directions, and answering accordingly.
For each pair of students, distribute:
- 1 bar magnet sealed inside a sandwich bag
- 2 sheets of white paper
- 1 sheet of transparency film
- small cup of iron filings
Have students do the preactivity at: How Are Magnetic Fields Related To Sunspots?
Then, at the same site, have them do the main activity at How Are Magnetic Fields Related To Sunspots? These two activities will take a whole class period.
Using their notes from the Internet investigations and from the two activities above, students should complete their reports as a homework assignment.
Assess the lesson by revisiting the opening exercise, only this time students will write their own personifications of the sun. They can write a biography, short story, or interview of the sun. They should have enough knowledge to give the sun life and make silly puns about the day to day life of our sun.
This writing assignment in conjunction with the report on the sun will give you a good idea of what your students now know about the sun.
The Solar Flip Book is an activity in which students create flip books that show the progression of two solar events on reversible sides of the flip books.
The Solarscapes curriculum supplement for the middle school level provides an overview of solar phenomena, and then focuses on sunspots. Solarscapes can be downloaded.