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Collaborative Group Activities

AstronomyCollaborative Group Activities

  1. You are captured by space aliens, who take you inside a complex cloud of interstellar gas, dust, and a few newly formed stars. To escape, you need to make a map of the cloud. Luckily, the aliens have a complete astronomical observatory with equipment for measuring all the bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. Using what you have learned in this chapter, have your group discuss what kinds of maps you would make of the cloud to plot your most effective escape route.
  2. The diagram that Herschel made of the Milky Way has a very irregular outer boundary (see Figure 25.3). Can your group think of a reason for this? How did Herschel construct his map?
  3. Suppose that for your final exam in this course, your group is assigned telescope time to observe a star selected for you by your professor. The professor tells you the position of the star in the sky (its right ascension and declination) but nothing else. You can make any observations you wish. How would you go about determining whether the star is a member of population I or population II?
  4. The existence of dark matter comes as a great surprise, and its nature remains a mystery today. Someday astronomers will know a lot more about it (you can learn more about current findings in The Evolution and Distribution of Galaxies). Can your group make a list of earlier astronomical observations that began as a surprise and mystery, but wound up (with more observations) as well-understood parts of introductory textbooks?
  5. Physicist Gregory Benford has written a series of science fiction novels that take place near the center of the Milky Way Galaxy in the far future. Suppose your group were writing such a story. Make a list of ways that the environment near the galactic center differs from the environment in the “galactic suburbs,” where the Sun is located. Would life as we know it have an easier or harder time surviving on planets that orbit stars near the center (and why)?
  6. These days, in most urban areas, city lights completely swamp the faint light of the Milky Way in our skies. Have each member of your group survey 5 to 10 friends or relatives (you could spread out on campus to investigate or use social media or the phone), explaining what the Milky Way is and then asking if they have seen it. Also ask their age. Report back to your group and discuss your reactions to the survey. Is there any relationship between a person’s age and whether they have seen the Milky Way? How important is it that many kids growing up on Earth today never (or rarely) get to see our home Galaxy in the sky?
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