Field Trips

Astronomy Program

Viewing the Milky Way through a telescope.
Viewing the Milky Way through a telescope.

NPS / Kristi Rugg

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Several astronomy-related programs are offered:

Why Is The Sky Dark At Night?
If the stars were distributed uniformly throughout the vastness of space, then the night sky should blaze as brightly as the Sun. The fact that it does not is known as Olber's paradox and it reveals something extraordinary about the origin of the universe.

Think Big!
What is the biggest thing that you can imagine? On the Earth, maybe it's a luxury cruise ship, a super tanker, a skyscraper, a mountain or an ocean. In space, it could be the sizes of planets, the solar system, stars or galaxies. What about the distances that separate these objects? How do astronomers measure these distances? What is their yardstick?

Alien Worlds
Are we alone? What do we mean by "life"? In recent years astronomers have found many exoplanet candidates. Now the search is focused on Earth-like planets that exist within a stable, habitable zone and that possess life-sustaining atmospheres. How do astronomers detect these exoplanets? Do astronomers expect any intelligent civilizations to exist in the universe and, if so, why haven't any been detected?

Birth, Adolescence, Maturity and Death - The Life Cycle Of The Sun
Like all living creatures, the life stages of the Sun include birth, adolescence, maturity and death. For the Sun the evolution time scale is much longer. How and where did the Sun makes its appearance? What does the Sun use for food? What will happen when the food source diminishes? Currently in mid-life how much longer will the Sun last and how will it die? What will happen to the Earth?

Greeks, Gears And The Universe
More than 2000 years ago a geared mechanism was built that could show and predict the motion of the Sun and Moon among the stars, including lunar phases and eclipses. The Antikythera mechanism was discovered in 1901 in a shipwreck and only most recently has been studied in detail to reveal its incredible workings and the extraordinary knowledge of the universe possessed by its creators.

Our Parents Were Right - We Are All Star Material!
The human body is mostly made up of Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen and Calcium. There are even trace amounts of Gold in us. But astronomers believe that the early universe contained only Hydrogen and Helium. So what is the origin of all of these heavy elements that are in our bodies? What happened in the universe since its early beginnings that could have produced these heavy elements?

Living With Relatives!
What would happen if we moved relative to each other at tremendous speeds, close to the ultimate speed limit –the speed of light? Time and dimensions would become distorted. People would age at different rates.  Our world would indeed become strange. And what are the impacts to astronomy?

The Big Bang –What A Beginning!
Astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding with the implication that sometime in the distant past all matter and energy was created in a single explosion. And what a firecracker it must have been! In 1965 the remnant of that explosion was discovered. In fact, we have all witnessed it ourselves growing up watching TV! What does the future hold for the universe? The answer reveals speculation that most of the universe is made up of dark energy.

Keeping Time
Time has only one direction –forward. There are many phenomena in the sky that demonstrate a continuous, cyclical repetition which the ancients used for a variety of reasons. These include the daily motion of the Sun and stars as viewed from various locations on the Earth, the monthly motion of the moon around the Earth (i.e., lunar phases), the annual motion of the Earth around the Sun (i.e., seasons) and the long-term wandering of the Earth's poles relative to the stars.

The Sun And Its Domain
The Sun is by far the most dominant object in our solar system. It keeps hold on the planets and provides a life-sustaining environment for the Earth. But the Sun is also quite violent in an unpredictable manner –a source of solar flares, magnetic storms, material ejections, sunspots etc. Energy is emitted in the visible region of the spectrum, in the ultra-violet as well as in the form of X-rays. The Earth is often impacted by this activity - aurorae, radio communication interference, Earth satellite operations and extensive power outages.

Our Galaxy
Ever wonder what the Milky Way really is? Where do think all of the stars in the night sky reside? What are the major components of our galaxy? It turns out that our galaxy contains a multitude of different objects that are often viewing favorites at star parties. These include glowing interstellar gaseous regions where stars are being born, double stars that display beautiful, contrasting colors, sparsely populated groupings of very young stars, very compact clusters of stars that are among the oldest objects in the universe and dying stars that have become unstable and have exploded.


Michael Marion


Astronomy, Space Science
National/State Standards:
Space Systems: Stars and the Solar System
5-PS2-1. 5-ESS1-1. 5-ESS1-2.

Space Systems
MS-ESS1-1. MS-ESS1-2. MS-ESS1-3.

Space Systems
HS-ESS1-1. HS-ESS1-2. HS-ESS1-3. HS-ESS1-4.
science, astronomy, Planets, stars, universe, solar system, Galaxy, exlipse, sun, Moon
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