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Collaborative Group Activities

AstronomyCollaborative Group Activities

  1. Have your group take a look at the list of the brightest stars in the sky in Appendix J. What fraction of them are past the main-sequence phase of evolution? The text says that stars spend 90% of their lifetimes in the main-sequence phase of evolution. This suggests that if we have a fair (or representative) sample of stars, 90% of them should be main-sequence stars. Your group should brainstorm why 90% of the brightest stars are not in the main-sequence phase of evolution.
  2. Reading an H–R diagram can be tricky. Suppose your group is given the H–R diagram of a star cluster. Stars above and to the right of the main sequence could be either red giants that had evolved away from the main sequence or very young stars that are still evolving toward the main sequence. Discuss how you would decide which they are.
  3. In the chapter on Life in the Universe, we discuss some of the efforts now underway to search for radio signals from possible intelligent civilizations around other stars. Our present resources for carrying out such searches are very limited and there are many stars in our Galaxy. Your group is a committee set up by the International Astronomical Union to come up with a list of the best possible stars with which such a search should begin. Make a list of criteria for choosing the stars on the list, and explain the reasons behind each entry (keeping in mind some of the ideas about the life story of stars and timescales that we discuss in the present chapter.)
  4. Have your group make a list of the reasons why a star that formed at the very beginning of the universe (soon after the Big Bang) could not have a planet with astronomy students reading astronomy textbooks (even if the star has the same mass as that of our Sun).
  5. Since we are pretty sure that when the Sun becomes a giant star, all life on Earth will be wiped out, does your group think that we should start making preparations of any kind? Let’s suppose that a political leader who fell asleep during large parts of his astronomy class suddenly hears about this problem from a large donor and appoints your group as a task force to make suggestions on how to prepare for the end of Earth. Make a list of arguments for why such a task force is not really necessary.
  6. Use star charts to identify at least one open cluster visible at this time of the year. (Such charts can be found in Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines each month and their websites; see Appendix B.) The Pleiades and Hyades are good autumn subjects, and Praesepe is good for springtime viewing. Go out and look at these clusters with binoculars and describe what you see.
  7. Many astronomers think that planetary nebulae are among the most attractive and interesting objects we can see in the Galaxy. In this chapter, we could only show you a few examples of the pictures of these objects taken with the Hubble or large telescopes on the ground. Have members of your group search further for planetary nebula images online, and make a “top ten” list of your favorite ones (do not include more than three that were featured in this chapter.) Make a report (with images) for the whole class and explain why you found your top five especially interesting. (You may want to check Figure 22.19 in the process.)
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