Don York checked on how the students did yesterday selecting galaxies and recording data. Since they are working with greater speed (very smart, computer-savvy students), Don suggested they collect additional data that will allow them to calculate the mass of the galaxies they selected. This led the teachers into additional questions that then led to further learning and discussion. Again, the theme of how much our understanding of the Universe is changing so rapidly.
I can’t help but get excited about astronomy and astrophysics. If I were a young student of science today, I would give very serious consideration to a career in this field. Of course, following leading-edge science and technologies has been a dominant factor in my choice of career moves over the years, including the fields I choose to learn more about as a science teacher. This fascination translates as enthusiasm about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education and STEM careers I tell my students about.
Today’s lesson focused on X-ray astronomy. Like gamma ray astronomy, this is a fairly new area of study. It has only been about 10 years since x-ray images contain sufficient definition to be able to observe the spectra of heavy elements in fairly clear images. Micro calorimeters hold promise for even greater resolutions in the future.
Tomorrow should be interesting as students plot the data they’ve collected the past two days, and try to interpret results into conclusions they can make about the nature of galaxies, classify them as blue or red, calculate the population of stars in the galaxies, and the total mass of protons and neutrons in the galaxies. It should provide students with a real insight into the wealth of information that can be gleaned from spectral data.