Now that we are all attuned to energy, both in our daily lives and in the formation of objects in the Solar System, let's investigate just how stars like our Sun produce energy. Although we may know that the Sun fuses hydrogen to form helium in its core, how does that happen and why does that produce the vast amounts of energy that pour from the Sun every second? These are mysteries that we would never know were it not for physics and mathematics. Astronomers and nuclear physicists have created mathematical models that simulate conditions and processes inside the Sun, a place that nobody or no space probe will ever visit. Read about this in the textbook and be amazed.
Of course, we can directly view what happens on the surface of the Sun. We can even make movies of incandescent gas as it follows magnetic field lines that whip and undulate. Put on your director's cap and create your own movie using the HelioViewer web application. Choose your space telescope and camera, set your time frame that will become the script, and call out “action”! We can then have our own film festival in the Solar Disc Activity discussion forum.
Finally, since we are now officially into spring, we can pretend we are ancient astronomers and mark our horizons with the position of sunrise or sunset. Using high-tech computer calculations, we can predict just where the sun will rise or set for any day of the year, so let's mark photographs of our horizon with important points that will tell us where to expect the Sun when spring and fall begin, and during the shortest and longest days of the year. Although we don't need these locations to predict when to plant or harvest, as our ancestors did, we can still appreciate the celestial clock that made our species aware of time.
Oh, and one final note: Speaking of predictions, there will be a total lunar eclipse on the morning of April 4th. Your assignment: observe this event as an astronomer.
Record movies of solar disc activity from space telescope images.
Tabulate Sun positions and complete a worksheet.
Prepare for viewing a total lunar eclipse on the morning of April 4th.
Now that we are all aware of how pervasive energy is in our day to day activities, let's focus our attention to the Solar System and the way energy has shaped our local environment. We have some pretty exciting events to consider, both on the Earth and for our nearest neighbors. These events were often huge and changed the bodies in question forever.
When we look through a telescope, we are detecting energy that has traveled from far away objects to our eyes. If we are amateur astronomers, we engage our minds with what we see and ask ourselves some questions: How does that energy come about? What kinds of energy formed the stars? How do stars produce the energy that they radiate into space?