Variable Stars
High School

Ways to Incorporate Astronomy Into High School

Below is a list of ways astronomy and variable stars can be incorporated into the senior high school curriculum.

Data Management – Recording and Analyzing Observations

One of the projects listed on AAVSO is “Hands on Astrophysics”. Following one of the things they’ve suggested to do, students can be assigned to observe variable stars in the night sky and estimate the stars’ brightness. For schools or students without access to telescopes or binoculars, naked eye variables like Delta Cephei can be used. Students can contribute their measurements to a class database, and supplement this with data from the AAVSO website. Students can then estimate the magnitude of the star and plot light curves, find the lengths of stars’ periods, and so on based on their own observations. This can fit well into a Data Management class, which works to analyze and find trends in data.

Data Management / Physics – Estimating Distances

Either with professional observations or the naked eye ones done above (if done on a Cepheid), one can find the period, find the luminosity from the period-luminosity relation, and use the inverse square law to find the distance to a star. Students can be challenged to find distances for prominent objects in the night sky.

Moreover, students can be encouraged to use different methods like parallax, RR Lyrae Stars, and possibly Supernovae as well.

Computer Science – Programming Models and Simulations

Some schools offer advanced programming courses in 11th and 12th grades that deal with JAVA or C++. Students can be challenged with final programming projects to design models and simulations of variable stars or systems. Some projects may include:

- Have students simulate binary star systems and the way brightness level is affected during an eclipse.
- A program that may be able to track bright changes in stars using astrophotos from the Internet.
- A program that scans online data of different stars and looks for flares or sudden changes in brightness.

Physics / Chemistry / General
    – AAVSO’s Solar Observing Program

If a school is fortunate enough to be equipped with a solar filter and a telescope (or you can have the school plan some sort of fundraiser if they do not), you can have students learn about the physics and chemistry behind sunspots, and have them participate in the Solar Observing Program, where the amount of sunspots is recorded for AAVSO. This might also be done without a telescope, but using online image resources or possibly instead.

Interdisciplinary Courses – General

Within some schools, it is possible to partake in an interdisciplinary course where you get a special credit at the end of the year. For example, a student may want to try and build a robot. When doing so, he or she must take into account different topics covered in computer science and physics. Astronomy is a perfect area to create such interdisciplinary courses, as it focuses on chemistry, physics, math, and its early studies can even be focused on subjects like philosophy.

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Site created by JoAnne Hosick and Vince Velocci, and extended by Akos Bakos and Artur Chudolinski. Last updated July 19, 2004.