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Day 68: Analyzing Spectra


Astronomy: (I tried taking pictures of spectra, but the low lighting didn’t produce good photos.)

Lab 18: Analyzing Spectra

  1. Continuous Spectrum
    Look at incandescent bulb w/ spectroscope.
    Draw what you see and describe in words.
    Why is this called a continuous spectrum?
  2. Absorption Spectrum
    Look at the pink sheet w/ spectroscope.
    Draw what you see and describe in words.
    Why is this called an absorption spectrum?
  3. Emission Spectrum
    Look at the gas tube w/ spectroscope.
    Draw what you see and describe in words.
    Why is this called an emission spectrum?
  4. Element Identification
    Look at gas tubes A, B, & C w/ spectroscope. Draw what you see.
    Use spectra provided (pictured above) to identify each gas.
  5. Solar Spectrum
    Go to
    Use the spectra provided to determine which elements listed are in the solar spectrum.

The “pink sheet” that produces an absorption spectrum is the pink plastic from a “neon glow slate.” I got mine years ago, but it seems similar to this one that Dollar Tree is selling. It absorbs yellow light, so when looking at white light passing through it, you see a continuous spectrum with the yellow part missing.


NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:
#4. Analyzing and interpreting data

Day 62: False-Color Images

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Astronomy: Today we did a false-color image activity.

Devise a color palette for the picture:

  • You may use only 4 different colors.
  • Assign each color a brightness key.


Look at each classmate’s picture and answer:

  1. What is different and what is the same as you look at everyone’s picture?
  2. Compare the pictures in terms of the pros and cons of using different color palettes.
  3. When you choose a different color palette, do the data change, or do we just see the data differently? Explain.

Here’s a copy of the student sheet: ASTRO Color Coding Activity
(Adapted from a Hands-On Universe activity.)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:
#2. Developing and using models
#4. Analyzing and interpreting data

Day 56: Candy Wave Machine

Astronomy: We’re currently learning about light and the electromagnetic spectrum. Which is why this tweet from Alom Shaha over the Thanksgiving weekend couldn’t have been more perfectly timed:

So on Sunday, I got a pack of 75 kebab skewers, 3 boxes of Dots candy (~150 Dots), and some tape:


And today I had the students assemble our own wave machine:


The skewers were spaced 10 cm apart and the whole machine spanned almost 24 feet. Here it is in action:


  • Use duct tape. The tape needs to be under A LOT of tension. Weaker tape will just rip.
  • Buy an extra box of candy. We would’ve had about 5-10 more sticks if kids didn’t sneak a few candies to eat.
  • Put an extra layer of tape over the duct tape. (Non-duct tape is fine.) It keeps the skewers from sliding off at large amplitudes.

Day 47: Astronomy Social Media Project


Astronomy: We’ve been using the activity-based text “Investigating Astronomy” for our semester-long astronomy elective. Each unit ends with a project. For the Earth-Moon-Sun System unit, the project is to make a calendar, with each month about a particular Earth-Sun-Moon phenomena. I decided to spice it up a bit by having kids assume the role of an Educational Outreach and Social Media manager for an astronomical organization. They had to choose a social media platform (Twitter, Facebook, Vine, YouTube, etc.) and create 8 tweets/posts/vines/videos etc, one for each specific phenomena. They were not allowed to copy/paste pictures off the internet. They had to draw their own pictures or model the phenomena in a photograph. The results were due today and some were pretty cool. Some groups made fake tweets (see picture). One group was inspired by Veritasium and made their own “interview” videos (I can’t share the video online because I don’t have permission of everyone interviewed in video). Here’s the project details:

Unit Challenge: Astronomy Social Media

  1. What is the scale of the E-S-M system?
  2. How does the sun rotate?
  3. How does the moon rotate?
  4. What causes the moon phases?
  5. What causes a solar eclipse?
  6. What causes a lunar eclipse?
  7. How does Earth go through phases?
  8. What was the importance of the lunar cycle in ancient cultures?
  • Each post/tweet/etc. must have a model to illustrate the concept.
  • This model may be photos of a physical model (preferred) or a diagram you create. You may NOT copy/paste images directly from the internet, books, etc.

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
#8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Day 19: Retrograde Motion of Mars


Astronomy: First we used Stellarium to keep track of Mars’s location in the zodiac each month for a whole year.

Then we used stoppers to model the motion of the Mars against the constellations as seen from Earth (animated GIF above).

Handouts: Planetary Motions Star Chart and Retrograde Mars Model.

NGSS Science and Engineering Practice #2: Developing and Using Models

Day 9: Double Desmos



College-Prep Physics & Astronomy: Students used Desmos for the first time today in both classes. Physics students graphed their Buggy Lab 2 data, while Astronomy students graphed their sun path data.

Day 7: Tracking the Sun’s Path


Astronomy: Clouds today prevented us from tracking the actual path of the sun outside. So we fired up Stellarium to track the azimuth and altitude of the sun. Each group was assigned a different month during which to track the sun on the 15th of that month. Groups had to find the time for sunrise on that day, and then track the sun for each hour after sunrise until the sunset. Tomorrow, we’ll graph our data in Desmos and look for similarities and differences between each group’s graph.

NGSS Science and Engineering Practice 3: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations.

Day 4: Cosmic Calendar


Astronomy: Each pair of students was given an event in our universe’s history and worked together to guesstimate where they are located on the Cosmic Calendar.

Day 2: Exploring Stellarium


Astronomy: Students got their lab notebooks and took Stellarium (free for desktops, paid apps for mobile) for a test drive today:

  1. 15 minutes of free exploration. In your notebook, make a list of things you can do using Stellarium.
  2. (a) What’s visible at 9 PM (21:00) tonight? Which planets? Which direction should you look?
    (b) The Moon? Which direction? What phase?
    (c) The Big Dipper and Polaris?
  3. Describe/Draw how the stars move during the night when facing N, S, E, and W.
  4. Repeat #3 at the North Pole, the Equator, and the South Pole.

Tomorrow, I’ll have students cut and paste a quick reference guide for Stellarium onto the inside front cover of their lab notebooks. I made the guide with help from here and here.

New Doc 60_1

Day 155: Temperature vs. Wavelength

PhotoGrid_1369091321078College-Prep Physics: I had a clear 250-W bulb plugged into an variac and slowly increased the voltage from 0 to 120 V. We saw the color of the glowing filament change from red to orange to yellow to white. The temperature and the brightness of the filament increased as well. Now that we have a way of measuring the color of light (by its wavelength), we can look for a mathematical relationship between the temperature of the glowing filament and the peak wavelength of the light emitted. We used a blackbody applet to collect data:


AP Physics C: Students wrapped up their investigation of Val’s grouse, concluding with the creation of a bifurcation diagram. Here’s a bifurcation program I made in GlowScript.

Conceptual Physics: Students continued work on their bike light presentations. Some groups used to make professional-looking circuit diagrams for their presentations.