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The workshop Exoplanets on Sight teach middle-school students about the science and recent discoveries of exoplanets. The workshop is given every Summer as part of the ISMuL's Summer STEM Academy. This year iteration focused on potentially habitable worlds. Students learned about what makes a planet habitable and that not all of them are necessarily equally habitable. A clip from the upcoming movie Almost Home was used to introduce this point in a fun way. The main activity consisted on visualizing exoplanets according to the their surface and atmospheric composition. Students used NASA's Extreme Planet Makeover to visualize planets and explore the stellar and planetary properties required to support habitable planets. Finally, they painted their own planets according to composition, some taking more artistic liberties than others. Below are photographs of the work of the students against a stellar background. Students were encouraged to share their work in social media.
Individual Exoplanet Frames
Middle-school students visualize exoplanets as part of the ISMuL-NASA STEM Summer Academy 2013
'Exoplanets on Sight' is a workshop for K-12 students where they learn about planets around other stars (exoplanets) and their potential appearance. The main activity of the workshop is to design an original exoplanet based on its composition. A total of 24 middle-school students participated in this three hour workshop as part of the ISMuL-NASA STEM Summer Academy 2013 (June 3-14, 2013) at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.
During the workshop, the students learn the reasons behind the distinctive appearance of planetary bodies in the Solar System, and exoplanets discoveries. Students are free to create realistic or artistic planetary representations by painting Ping-Pong balls. They are encouraged to differentiate between potential and artistic features in their creations and to share them online.
The workshop was given by Prof. Abel Méndez of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory @ UPR Arecibo. The ISMuL-NASA STEM Summer Academy is a two-week intensive program for middle schools students on STEM topics. ISMuL (Integrated Science Multi-use Laboratory) is an innovative, multi-level, multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary center designed to promote the advancement of education in STEM. Funding for ISMuL comes mostly from NASA and Puerto Rico Space Grant (PRSG).
We gave the workshop Exoplanets on Sight
to 30 middle school students (8th and 9th grade) from public and private schools of the northwest of Puerto Rico (near de Arecibo region). In the workshop the students learned about astrobiology science
with a visual tour of the Solar System from NASA imagery
and Earth's past from the PHL's Visible Paleo-Earth
imagery. We presented the current and future efforts to study exoplanets, emphasizing the possibility of Earth-like planets. The students were not happy to learn that scientists are only capable to see exoplanets as simple dots in a few cases, using direct imaging techniques
, but that was not a limitation for the imagination of the students.
The activity of the workshop was to visualize exoplanets, from Earth-like planets to giant planets, by modeling hypothetical exoplanets with ping-pong balls and some paint. The students were very enthusiastic to paint their planets based on what they learned about the planets and moons of the Solar System. Their modeled exoplanets were photographed agains a dark background with a digital camera (see below for the result). We were surprised by the imagination of the students.
The workshop Exoplanets on Sight
was part of the two-week summer program ISMuL's STEM Camp
where the students are learning about current topics in science and technology, participating of hands-on activities in aeronautics, robotics, and rocket science, and guided tours to caves, a planetarium, and the Arecibo Observatory. The program was sponsored by the Integrated Science Multi-use Laboratory (ISMuL)
, NASA Puerto Rico Space Grant
and the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo
These are the 30 modeled exoplanets out of painted ping-pong balls created by middle school students as part of the workshop Exoplanets on Sight
. Of course, you can create exoplanets with NASA Extreme Planet Makeover
, but it is much cooler to create them by hand, they look prettier too. Can you identify the Earth-like planets?
We are helping a pair of high school students with a spinoff of our PHL projects about exoplanets light curves
. The students are constructing sphere models (out of ping-pong balls) of various Earth-like planets and measuring the light reflected from the spheres as a function of the planet rotation (figure 1). This is analogous to what astronomers plan to do in the next decades to determine the presence of ocean and land areas in Earth-like planets. As far as we know, this is the first time anybody tries to study the light curves from Earth-like exoplanets using scale models. Previous efforts included the use of computer simulations
and directly observing Earth from its moonshine or from space missions (i.e. NASA Epoxi Mission
The scale models has the combined advantage in that they test true physical optics including CCD camera effects plus are easily customizable for different conditions. The students are painting the spheres trying to match the colors and reflective properties of land and oceans. They later add a removable white paint to simulate various cloud and ice covers. Living in a tropical area, it was their idea to check how the light curve of an exoplanet will be affected with large localized cloud covers, as those produced by cyclones (i.e.hurricanes
). The title of their project "Exoplanets on Sight" was also their idea, certainly a great name. They will try first to emulate the terrestrial visible light curve and later move forward to different Earth-like planets (figure 2). Their science project will be presented as part of the Google Global Science Fair 2011
This is nice project for students where they learn about astronomy, exoplanets, and astrobiology, and probably contribute to scientific knowledge. We will post more information about the students and their project results on April.
This image is not a low resolution photo of Earth, an Earth-like exoplanet, or computer graphics (CGI). This is a scale model of Earth constructed from a ping-pong ball and painted with the colors and reflectivity of Earth as part of a high school project to study exoplanets. See the animation here
for two full rotations.
Light curves for two full rotations produced by PHL software based on the images created of the first scale model of Earth created by high school students project "Exoplanets on Sight." Although the reproduction of the color of the oceans, including the glint
(a bit saturated), was quite right, the continents were too dark, thus giving a different light curve than current Earth. The students are creating a corrected version and this is now a model for a Dark-Earth exoplanet.