Our Sun as a Star

This unit investigates the structure and evolution of the Sun (and other stars) and the processes within stars that are responsible for their energy and the production of heavier elements.

Workshop Presentations

PowerPoint. Click to download the MS Powerpoint file (52 Mbytes).

PDF. Click to view or download the presentation in PDF (17 Mbytes).

HTML Click to view the presentation in html format.

Online lecture Pt. 1 Click here to view a streaming lecture covering the structure of the Sun and solar activitiy such as sunspots (~20 minutes)

Online lecture Pt. 2 Click here to view a streaming lecture discussing the source of the fusion energy in the Sun and the formation of heavier elements (nucleosynthesis). (~37 minutes)

Online lecture Pt. 3 Click here to view a streaming lecture discussing the light (spectra) from the Sun and other stars. (~18 minutes)

Online lecture Pt. 4 Click here to view a streaming lecture discussing the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram that is used to classify stars and illustrate the evolution of stars. (~14 minutes)

Classroom Activities

Spectroscopy of the Stars. Word Document PDF In this activity, students investigate continuous spectra and emission spectra. If gas emission lamps are not available, the activity can be edited to only investigate the continuous spectra from an incandescent light bulb and mercury emission spectra from a normal fluorescent light. Various spectrum tubes with different gases (EISCO) and a power supply (Elenco) are readily available online for less than $200.

Can We Measure the Diameter of the Sun? Word Document PDF In this activity, students use a pinhole camera to estimate the diameter of the Sun. This is an excellent activity to integrate mathematics with science. Be sure to check out the video "Shadow Illusion" below.

Sunspots. PDF Click to download the observation sheet for recording sunspots. We use Sunspotter Solar Telescopes for safely observing sunspots. Although they are a bit expensive, over $300, they are durable and many students can observe the sunspots at the same time. Students can record observations and compare to current images from the Solar and Heliopsheric Observatory. In addition, students can record their observations over several days to observe the movement of sunspots due to the rotation of the Sun.

Solar Pizza. PDF Click to download the solar pizza activity where students develop a scale model for the relative sizes of the Earth and Sun and the distance between them. This activity permits students to consider was developed by NASA.

How Close is It? PDF Word Doc In this activity, students compare two lights on opposite sides of a room to compare the apparent brightness of lights as a model for the Sun and a distant star. This activity addresses the 5th grade Performance Expectation 5-ESS1-1 and gives students the opportunity to practice the NGSS Crossing Cutting Concept about Scale, Proportion and Quantity. Click Download to see some instructions for teachers and more details. Click the photo below to see an example.


Online Video and Media Resources

Solar Wind's Effect on Earth This video examines solar activity and affects of solar activity on Earth. NASA/GSFC

How Big is the Sun? This short video discusses the size of the Sun and the relative sizes of objects in the solar system. Minute Physics.

Where Does the Sun Get Its Energy? This short video discusses how the Sun creates energy through nuclear fusion and the conversion of protons to form neutrons. Veritasium.

Shadow Illusion Click here for a version with captions. This short video discusses the projection of the image of the Sun through a pinhole. Check out the activity "Can We Meausre the Diameter of the Sun?" above. Veritasium.

Solar Granulation Video This short time-lapsed video shows granulation on the surface of the Sun due to convection. Big Bear Solar Observatory.

Sunquake Video This short video shows a quake on the surface of the Sun (due to the eruption of a solar flare. Stanford University/A.G Kosovichev & V.V. Zharkova

Pulsar recordings This website contains sound files for several pulsars. Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics

Useful Websites

SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) SOHO is an international collaborative project between ESA and NASA to study the Sun from its deep core to the outer corona and the solar wind. There is a ton of imagery, multimedia, and educational resources.

Solar Dynamics Observatory The SDO is designed to study how solar activity is created and understand the causes of solar variability and its impacts on Earth.

NASA (main website) This is the main entry point for NASA's extensive web resources. You can enter different areas such as NASA mission websites including data and news, educational resources and image/multimedia collections.

NASA Missions This page lists past, current and future NASA missions and is a great starting point for investigating the wide variety of NASA missions and investigations.

NASA Education Resources Database This NASA website is a searchable database on NASA-developed educational resources, activities, lesson plans, and webquests.

NASA Science This is the website of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. It includes mission information, data and resources for current missions in the following areas: Earth, Heliophysics, Planets and Astrophysics.

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

Grade 1
ESS1.A: The Universe and its Stars Patterns of the motion of the sun, moon, and stars in the sky can be observed, described, and predicted.
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System Seasonal patterns of sunrise and sunset can be observed, described, and predicted.

Grade 5
ESS1.A: The Universe and its Stars The sun is a star that appears larger and brighter than other stars because it is closer. Stars range greatly in their distance from Earth.
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System The orbits of Earth around the sun and of the moon around Earth, together with the rotation of Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, cause observable patterns. These include day and night; daily changes in the length and direction of shadows; and different positions of the sun, moon, and stars at different times of the day, month, and year.

Middle School
ESS1.A: Patterns of the apparent motion of the sun, the moon, and stars in the sky can be observed, described, predicted, and explained with models. Earth and its solar system are part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of many galaxies in the universe.
ESS1.B: The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them. This model of the solar system can explain eclipses of the sun and the moon. Earth's spin axis is fixed in direction over the short-term but tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. The seasons are a result of that tilt and are caused by the differential intensity of sunlight on different areas of Earth across the year. The solar system appears to have formed from a disk of dust and gas, drawn together by gravity.

High School
ESS1.A: The Universe and Its Stars The star called the sun is changing and will burn out over a lifespan of approximately 10 billion years. The study of stars' light spectra and brightness is used to identify compositional elements of stars, their movements, and their distances from Earth. The Big Bang theory is supported by observations of distant galaxies receding from our own, of the measured composition of stars and non-stellar gases, and of the maps of spectra of the primordial radiation (cosmic microwave background) that still fills the universe. Other than the hydrogen and helium formed at the time of the Big Bang, nuclear fusion within stars produces all atomic nuclei lighter than and including iron, and the process releases electromagnetic energy. Heavier elements are produced when certain massive stars achieve a supernova stage and explode.
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System Kepler's laws describe common features of the motions of orbiting objects, including their elliptical paths around the sun. Orbits may change due to the gravitational effects from, or collisions with, other objects in the solar system.

Common Scientific Misconceptions

The Sun goes around the Earth.

The Sun will last forever.

The Sun contains only hydrogen and helium.


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