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The Sun, Transits and Eclipses: Shadows of the Sun

The topic of the sun, its characteristics, its influence on currents and weather patterns, and the seasons are present in state and national science education standards at a variety of ages. The sun is a stimulating topic that lends itself to many hands-on activities! You may want to bring your class outside and arrange for them to observe the sun through a projected image or using a special filter. Information about safely observing the sun is available at the Sun-Earth Day site.

In addition to the activities, remember to check out Educational Resources for video, podcasts and more! Be sure to submit photographs, artwork, music, or words of students enjoying these activities to Share Your Stories.


Grades K-4
At this level, students should gain a better understanding of shadows and day and night, and might also learn more about the characteristics of the sun and of seasons. Research suggests that many students at this age will have difficulty conceptualizing the seasons being caused by the tilt of the Earth's axis as it orbits the sun; simply observing the weather changes associated with the seasons, and modeling the Earth-sun system without incorporating seasons might be more appropriate for this audience. (Science Education Standards)

For additional activities about the weather, check out the YSS topic Windy Worlds.

Activity Description
What Makes Shadows? Observing and Drawing Shadows Students learn about shadows as they observe and draw the shadow of a classmate
What Makes Day and Night? The Earth's Rotation In this demonstration of day and night, students learn kinesthetically as they take on the role of the Earth orbiting the rotating sun.
Counting Sunspots Students discover the pattern created when plotting the number of sunspots over a long period of time.
Scale Model of Sun and Earth This activity explores the relative size of sun and Earth, as well as the distance between them.
Eclipsing the Sun Use this physical model to demonstrate how an eclipse occurs.

Grades 5-8
Students in middle school often study why we have seasons, and the characteristics of the sun. They may also examine the various wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Making a Sun Clock Let the Exploratorium show you how to build a working Sun Clock.
Observing Where the Sun Sets This activity is for students to do at home. When they complete it, they will have created a horizon-sun calendar much like ones that were used in many Native American tribes.
Solarscapes Activities In this series of activities, students learn that the sun has many observable features, including sunspots, that can be plotted and analyzed.
Matching Magnetic Activity and Active Regions Students observe images of the sun and match the magnetic images to the corresponding ultraviolet images.
Measuring the Diameter of Our Star
Teacher Notes
Student Brief
Students measure and calculate the diameter of the sun with a meter stick and index cards.
Transit Math The introduction clearly explains the apparent "collisions," eclipses, transits, and occultations. The collection includes problems on synodic periods, planetary conjunctions, geometry, fractions, linear equations, and probability.
Space Weather Action Center Students monitor the progress of an entire solar storm from the time it erupts from our sun until it sweeps past our small planet, effecting enormous changes in our magnetic field.

Grades 9-14
At this level, students can use solar data to conduct their own investigations about the sun, and build models to better understand transits. Curriculum may focus on the sun's interaction with Earth's atmosphere, currents and life on Earth. In physics applications, students can also be interested in studying the sun's affects on Earth's magnetosphere; for more information and activities, go to the YSS topic Magnetospheres.

Activity Description
Transit Frequency This activity by Paper Plate Education models why Venus' transits come in pairs that are eight years apart, followed alternately by spans of 121.5 years and 105.5 years.
Finding the Distance to the Sun The students will apply the concepts of vertical angles and ratios to calculate lengths and angles. Can they determine the distance to the sun?
Tracking Sunspots: Using Real Data from SOHO
Students observe sunspots and analyze their data to calculate the sun's rotation.
SpaceMath: The Transit of Mercury As seen from Earth, the planet Mercury occasionally passes across the face of the sun; an event that astronomers call a transit. From images taken by the Hinode satellite, students will create a model of the solar disk to the same scale as the image, and calculate the distance to the sun.
Solar Math These problems, including proportions, decimals, geometry, and scientific notation, call for students to apply mathematics and science concepts to understand the sun and the work of the Hinode satellite.
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Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014