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Solar Flare Curriculum

This is a sample curriculum developed and tested at San Leandro High School, San Leandro, California. This curriculum has been successfully used in a high school sophmore general science class.

1. Four Forces, electromagnetic, frequency vs. wavelength

On this day, students are introduced to the four forces: strong and weak nuclear, gravity, and electromagnetic. They will focus on light and how it has properties of both a particle and a wave. The relationship between frequency and wavelength will be looked at as well as the spectrum of light from radio to ROYGBIV to gamma rays.

2. Spectroscope Lab

The students construct spectroscopes and use various light sources to investigate the importance of spectroscopy in determining the nature of the Sun's composition. They will also try to figure out what chemicals are used to make flourescent light tubes glow. (Simple cardboard spectroscopes have been developed and are distributed (free) from the Stanford Solar Center.)

3. Defract of light, why is the sunset red?, demonstration

This day includes a demonstration of why the Sun turns red as it sets. Students will also use coins in water to explore how light it defracted by water. Using an aquarium, a projector, and Pinesol cleaner, a demonstration can be performed of a sunset turning from white to red.

4. Fusion and E=MC2

How the famous E=MC2 equation relates the fusion of elements and the proudction of the Sun's elements. Explains why all matter in the universe except hydrogen and helium was made inside stars and thus we are made of stars. Students also explore the dust cloud hypothesis in a lab to see how all matter in our solar system previously came from the death of a blue giant star. We are all made of stars!

5. Blackbody radiation

The Sun acts as an almost perfect blackbody. Students will use Stefan-Boltzmann equations and Wein's law to figure out the maximum radiation of our Sun and how much energy the Sun emits. Can solar energy fill our energy needs? A calculation will see. This is a guided activity that takes the students through each of these useful yet complex equations.

6. The color of stars (HR diagram)

Although it appears white in our sky, our Sun is classified as a yellow dwarf star. How does it compare with other stars in the universe? The relationship of a star's brightness or size to its color or temperature is shown with a Hertzprung-Russell Diagram. Students will use the data from several observable stars to reconstruct this diagram. Parallax will be discussed to explain how we can figure out the distance from nearby stars, thus determining their actual brighness. "Is a star's color related to its temperature?" activity. Parallax activity.

7. The life and death of stars (using hydrogen balloons)

Not all stars are alike. Some have short intense lives and go out with a bang. Some are dim and live an exceptionally long time. Using balloons to represent stars of relative sizes, the teacher will demonstrate how star size relates to an HR diagram. Using a hydrogen-filled balloon, the teacher dramatically explains their explosive deaths. It is a good idea to warn Campus Security this day! Demonstration.

8. Structure of the Sun and how long for a photon to leave the Sun

Photons are born deep within the Sun. They can take millennia to actually leave the surface and head for Earth. The game demonstrates why the photons take so long to get there. Photon game.

9. Importance of Sun to humans

The Sun historically has been very important to human civilizations. If humans missed the planting seasons, starvation could occur. Using the examples of Chaco Canyon, Stonehenge, and the Mayan Indians, we look at how humans have tracked the change of the seasons since ancient times. The class will also explore how the tilt of the Earth governs the change of the seasons. Watch "The Mystery of Chaco Canyon" video, read "The First Astronomers," and "What causes the Seasons" worksheet.

10. Sunspots

The class is presented with a PowerPoint presentation about solar flares. They then look at the Sun-Earth Viewer or SOHO website to see several views of solar activity in different wavelengths of light. The class will then construct a sunspot viewer with paper and aluminum foil. A telescope with a solar filter will be used to make telescopic observations of sunspots. A SunSpotter telescope can also be used. Students will also view the Sun with their own sunspot finders and try to correlate what they observed at the SOHO site and with the telescope.

11. Solar flares and mass ejections from the Sun

The students will use a series of images of the Sun taken from SOHO to calculate the velocity and acceleration of a solar ejection as it leaves the Sun. The teacher will then demonstrate how to calculate the total mass the Sun loses per second to the solar wind. "Measuring the Motion of a Coronal Mass Ejection" worksheet.

12. Protection from the Sun. Part 1 -- Ozone

Students will watch a short film about the ozone layer and how it protects us from harmful UV. Using UV sensitive beads and various brands and SPF factors of sunscreen, the students complete the first part of a two-day lab on what protects us from the Sun's harmful radiation. "Give Me Shelter" lab, part one. [Ed. note -- Many brands of sunscreen give little or no protection to the UV beads. Long's brand is the most effective we have found.]

13. Protection from the Sun. Part 2 -- Magnetosphere

The students will now use iron-fortified cereal and magnets to simulate how the magnetosphere protects us from the Sun's harmful radiation.

14. History sunspot frequency over years and months; sunspot cycle (computer lab, preferable)

Computer lab or graphing. Students will use online data to track data of sunspots back to 1750. Each student will be given a different 12-year period and will graph it by year and by month. Is the pattern yearly or monthly or ???? Students will then calculate the standard deviation for a year for their data. Students can create their graph by hand if computers are not available.

15. Solar activity from SID data

This day uses Excel and NOAA data. Students will use data from their SID monitor to make a graph of solar activity for a day from this unit. They will compare it to online data to label all solar flares. They will have to convert from universal time and figure out why their SID monitor only detected certain flares (the rest occurred during the students's local nighttime).

16. Solar activity research

This activity takes about 3 days. Students collect data and produce a poster or PowerPoint presentation and a paper. For this project, they must predict some effect solar activity has on human life and collect data from times of high and of low solar activity. This study is based on reports from Russia of increased heart attacks during periods of high solar activity.
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