Getting to know SOHO

The Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) mission is a joint ESA/NASA mission that studies the Sun. Like Earth, SOHO follows an orbit around the Sun, studying its interior, surface, atmosphere and solar wind. SOHO sends continuous images of its observations back to Earth which scientists can use study to understand the nature of the Sun and predict how its activity will affect Earth and its environment.

In this activity, students are introduced to the ESA/NASA joint mission, SOHO and the instruments on board it.

They will look into SOHO’s orbit and its position in the Solar System relative to the Sun and Earth. They perform mathematical calculations and apply scientific concepts within their curriculum to this real-life context. Students are able to develop their understanding of concepts such as speed and distance calculations and gravitational potential energy.

Age Range:
Prep. Time: 0
Lesson Time: 1 hour
Cost per activity: Low (print costs)
Includes the use of: Worksheets

Teacher Guide

Student Guide

Activity Resources

Hertzsprung-Russell Diagrams

For this activity, students will make a classroom-sized, Hertzsprung-Russell diagram showing the lifecycle of stars. Students will be given a number of different stars of different luminosities and temperatures and they will need to create a graph with appropriate axis to plot the stars on.

Age Range: 11-16
Prep. Time: 10 minutes
Lesson Time: 1 hour
Cost per activity: Low
Includes the use of: String, large space (4 x 4 m)

Teacher Guide

Student Guide

Activity Resources

How long will the Sun live?

The Sun converts hydrogen to helium in its core, under enormous pressure and temperature. When this core hydrogen runs out, the Sun will swell up into a giant and new fusion sequences will start. In this process, inner planets, like the Earth, will be damaged, even destroyed.

But, how long is it before this happens?

In this activity, students will follow their worksheets to explore stellar lifespan. They will make calculations based around our Sun and its life by looking at mass defect and the use of equations.

Age Range: 16-18
Prep. Time: 0
Lesson Time: 1 hour
Cost per activity: Low (printing costs)
Includes the use of: Calculator

Teacher Guide

Student Guide

3D model of Orion

In this activity we are going to calculate the distances between the stars in the Orion constellation. We use simple mathematics to convert real distances between the stars in space to 3-dimensional positions in a model built on a table in your classroom. Through this excercise we will experience how astronomers find distances using parallax and how much a constellation will change if we change our perspective. 

Age range: 12 – 16 years
Prep. time: 30 minutes
Lesson time: 90 minutes
Cost per activity:  low budget

Student guide

Download these instructions with your students/pupils.

Blackbody Radiation and Wein’s Law

In this activity, students will use a combination of NAAP labs and interactive applications to explore blackbody radiation and spectral classification, including use of a Hertzsprung-Russel diagrams and graphs. Students will experiment with the applications to find answers to questions and complete tables.

Age Range: 16-17
Prep. Time: 0 minutes
Lesson Time: 40 minutes – 1 hour
Cost per activity: Low (printing costs)
Includes the use of: Internet Access, calculator

Teacher Guide

Student Guide

Children of the Stars

Have you ever wondered what your body is made of? Or how much of each element you contain? Use this calculator to find out! Every element you contain that is heavier than hydrogen and helium was created over billions of years during the various developmental stages of stars. So we are made of star stuff!

This material is also available in:

Keywords: elements, stellar evolution, human body

Introduction to stellar evolution

“Stars are much like humans. They are born, live their lives and die.” Ilgmars Eglitis, astronomer

Observing the spectra of stars allows us to look deep into their origin and characteristics. A large catalog of star spectra exists at Baldone Observatory in Latvia, which is being made available online this year.

In the picture above, each horizontal “line” is the raw spectrum of one star. These are investigated with simple graphical tools, allowing us to determine each stars characteristics, origin and evolutionary state.

More educational material will appear on these pages over time. So far, you can play with this Black Body radiation calculator.

Baldone observatory, Latvia
A lot of details are hidden in the spectra of stars. To study them, even using just a fraction of the techniques and theory available to professional astronomers, allows us to identify the spectral type of stars, their current age and evolutionary state. For simplicity, we model stars as being Black Bodies, so simulations like this can help us understand the light output of stars of different temperatures.
Black body radiation spectrum generated using the online simulator.
The user interface from the online simulator.

Stars are born in huge clouds of gas and dust, such as those seen below in images obtained from the Faulkes Telescope Project.

Stars can die in a number of ways, but the more massive stars (maybe those 10 times or more massive than our Sun) explode in spectacular supernovae, such as those seen in the images below.