Past Saturday Morning Astrophysics Events

Saturday Morning Astrophysics at Purdue provides ample opportunities for students to engage in activities related to popular and newly emerging areas of scientific research and exploration. The following examples illustrate some of our SMAP lessons and activities.

Impact Craters

Could the impact of an object from outer space actually have caused the sequence of events that led to the demise of the dinosaurs? In Impact Craters, SMAP students assembled a sling shot apparatus to propel objects of various mass into a bed of paint-covered sand, calculating and comparing the potential and kinetic energy components. By graphing the relationship between measured crater diameter and the combined energy of the projectile, students were able to model the kinds of strategies, and data collection and analytical methods used in authentic crater research.

Students learning about impact craters Students learning about impact craters Students learning about impact craters

While crater formation is more complicated than a giant mass striking the surface of a planet, the mass, velocity, and angle of trajectory provide opportunities to model and investigate characteristics of crater formation. This session concluded with calculations aimed at determining the energy of the impact believed to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The Search for Exoplanets

How do astrophysicists explore new worlds – planets in orbit around stars when, even with the most powerful telescopes, stars are only pinpoints of light? Could any such planets lie in what scientists refer to as the habitable zone?

The Search for Exoplanets introduces SMAP students to one of the current research methods to answer that question. Using a computer simulation created by computer science major Guna Kondapaneni, SMAP students analyzed the miniscule changes in luminosity that occurs when a planet transverses across its host star.

Selecting from five possible planet/star simulations, SMAP students graphed the change in luminosity as the planet passed across the star. From their collected data, students were able to determine the orbital radius (distance to the host star), period of orbit, and the mass and radius of the planet. This led student to form their own conclusion to the question: could the planet be habitable?

Students using a computer simulation Students using a computer simulation

Scaling the Cosmos

Students in Astronomy and planetary science often construct scale models of the planets in our solar system based on relative size or compared to the sun. Similarly, educators have used various scales to model the relative distances among our planets. In Scaling the Cosmos, SMAP students combined these related ideas to construct scale models of our 8 planets and then distribute them by relative distance to the sun…on the same scale!

Students learning about planets Students learning about planets Students learning about planets

Stars - What are they?

Looking through glasses

In Stars – What Are They?, students learned how every atom and molecule emits its own characteristic set of wavelengths or colors of light when it is excited. Using glasses that diffract light from various sources, students were able compare identifiable features of emission spectra.

In a kinesthetic approach to learning, Physics and Astronomy Outreach Coordinator, David Sederberg used modeled protons, neutrons and electrons using students to provide them first-hand experience and a visual approach to understanding the mechanics of atomic excitation and photon emission.

Students learning about photo emission

Last Updated: May 17, 2017 3:41 PM