Distance in Space


Students will investigate how we determine distances in space through phases of Moon and planets, lunar eclipses, planetary transits of the Sun, parallax, and standard candles.

Objectives [+ relevant WI standards for science]

  1. Study phases, eclipses & planetary transits

    1. Observe the relative apparent size of the Moon and the Sun in the sky.
    2. Use the half phase of the Moon to find the Ratio of the Sun-Earth distance to Moon-Earth distance.
    3. Use the time of lunar eclipse totality to estimate distance from Earth to Moon.
    4. Create a scaled model of Venus and the Sun and observe how the variation in apparent path of Venus across Sun depends on location of observation.
      [SCI.CC3.m, SCI.CC4.m, SCI.CC4.h, SCI.SEP2.A.m, SCI.SEP2.h, SCI.SEP5.A.m, SCI.SEP5.h]
  2. Investigate parallax & standard candles

    1. Observe that the apparent position of thumb against the background changes as you look with only the left or the right eye and use that fact to measure the distance to a faraway spot.
      [SCI.SEP3.A.m, SCI.SEP3.A.h, SCI.SEP5.A.m, SCI.SEP5.A.h]
    2. Compare data of a close star’s apparent angle change against farther stars with time to determine the stellar parallax and distance of that star.
      [SCI.CC3.M, SCI.CC3.m]
    3. Measure the size of an image of a light source at fixed distances and discover that the area of the image increases linearly with distance, implying that the luminosity of a fixed area decreases with the square of the distance.
      [SCI.SEP3.A.m, SCI.SEP3.A.h, SCI.ESS1.A.h]

Hawthorn Hollow Schoolyard Observatory: https://www.hawthornhollow.org/observatory

Wisconsin Standards for Science: https://dpi.wi.gov/science

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