Astronomy is the study of celestial objects and phenomena outside of Earth’s atmosphere. For most of human existence, until space flight was successful, our study of the stars was limited to what we could observe from Earth. We still rely on Earth-based observations to learn about the wide universe around us. And we continue to improve our tools to make those observations: the 20th-century Hubble space telescope is much more advanced than Galileo’s 17th-century original, for example. But we can also travel into the outer atmosphere of Earth and beyond, sometimes sending humans and other times robots. The more we learn about our universe, the more questions we have to explore!
This collection of adapted research articles introduces students to research on astronomy and space. Engage students with standards-matched adaptations, introductory video content, comprehension questions, and vocabulary to further the lesson outcomes. Each adapted article also comes with additional suggestions for activities to enhance the readers’ understanding and make the class more exciting.
Abstract: Have you ever dreamed of being an astronaut? Exploring outer space sounds exciting, and astronauts get to do that. However, going into space can lead to health problems. The lack of gravity has a negative impact on bones, called bone loss. Astronauts try to compensate for bone loss with a lot of exercise – both in space and on Earth. But even exercising doesn’t prevent bone loss in some cases. We wanted to find out what factors affect bone loss. We also wanted to find a way to predict bone loss in astronauts before spaceflight. We analyzed the leg and arm bones of 17 astronauts before and after a space mission. We also looked for markers of bone change in their blood and urine. We found out that bone loss happens quickly in space. The longer the space mission, the bigger the problem. More exercise before spaceflight predicted greater bone loss! Elevated markers of bone metabolism before flight also predicted greater bone loss.
This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students. An audio version is available in English, and there is a written translation in Bulgarian. This article includes a Lesson Idea video to engage students in examining bone density.
- Key terms: astronomy, gravity, metabolism, physics, space travel
- Scientific figure: line graph
- Scientific method: case study, CT, experiment, field study, representative sampling, risk analysis
Abstract: Have your parents ever told you to eat your vegetables because they’re “good for you”? Well, vegetables have a lot of nutrients in them that are essential to a balanced diet. While you might get these foods at the store, astronauts rely on processed meals. We wanted to find out if there was a way to grow safe and nutritious salad crops on the International Space Station (ISS) to help supplement their diets. We used a growth chamber called Veggie to grow crops of red romaine lettuce over three different years. We found that our lettuce was safe to eat, although the nutrient content of our lettuce varied slightly each year. For future long-duration space missions, it will be important to make sure that astronauts can create the same growing conditions for every crop of salad.
This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students. An audio version is available in English, and there is a written translation in Bulgarian. This article includes an Ask-a-Scientist interview with the original researcher, Dr. Gioia Massa.
- Key terms: astronomy, gravity, infectious diseases, nutrition, physics, plants, space travel
- Scientific figure: bar graph
- Scientific method: agricultural yield data, DNA sequencing, experiment
Abstract: Mars is currently dry and cold and doesn’t have much of an atmosphere, but what was it like in the past? Did Mars ever have a climate or environment that could support life? Luckily, we have rovers on Mars that can help us investigate! We used the Curiosity Rover on Mars to sample the planet’s surface where there might have been a lake long ago. We looked at the carbon in our sample to see how much there was and where it came from. This could give us clues about what the environment was like and if there used to be organisms living in the area. Our data suggest that there is more carbon on Mars than we had expected. Most of the carbon came from meteorites and volcanic rock. We can’t rule out that it came from living things, but we need a lot more information to help us figure it out.
This article is suitable for middle school and high school students. It is available for both upper and lower reading levels, and there is an audio version.
- Key terms: astronomy, molecular biology, physics, space travel
- Scientific figure: bar graph
- Scientific method: experiment, field study, mass spectrometry, proxy data
Abstract: Have you ever looked up at the sky on a dark, clear night and wondered about all those beautiful, shining stars above you? How many are there? What would they look like if we were able to see them up close? Is there another form of life somewhere out there, also looking at the night sky and asking the same questions? We were once children too, standing outside on a cold night, marveling at the sky and all the secrets out there still left to uncover. And now, we are the first scientists to discover a planet that is not in our solar system, not even in the Milky Way – but in another galaxy!
This article is suitable for middle school students. An audio version is available.
- Key terms: astronomy, galaxy, physics
- Scientific figure: none
- Scientific method: data extrapolation, observation, scientific modeling, X-ray scanner
Abstract: Have you read His Dark Materials or seen its movie adaptation The Golden Compass? In the imaginary world created by the author Philip Pullman, dust was the most important thing – the material which connected it to ours. It turns out that even in real life, dust is important to worlds outside of Earth! Especially if we are trying to find out if they are habitable. We learned that dust can cool the hot surface and warm the climate of a planet, making it more suitable for life. On the other hand, larger amounts of dust can make it hard to look for such planets. And actually, if a planet does host life, dust might hide the signs of it!
This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students. A written translation is available in Bulgarian.
- Key terms: astronomy, atmosphere, galaxy, greenhouse gas emissions, physics, space travel
- Scientific figure: map
- Scientific method: climate scenarios, data extrapolation, data reconstruction, observation, proxy data, scientific modeling
Abstract: NASA’s space shuttle has to reach speeds of almost 18,000 miles per hour (29,000 kilometers per hour) in only 8.5 minutes. That’s necessary for it to reach outer space. That’s 300 times faster than a car traveling at 60 mph (97 km/h)! To reach these speeds, rockets need particularly high-energy fuels. It’s the same for airplanes and cargo ships, too. At the moment, these high-energy fuels are made using petroleum – a fossil fuel, and the leading cause of global climate change. So, there’s an urgent need for scientists to develop more sustainable high-energy fuels. We explored whether bacteria could make molecules we could turn into high-energy biofuels. We looked into bacterial DNA and used clever chemistry to produce new biofuels using Streptomyces bacteria. These “POP biofuels” seem to be even better (higher energy) than the current petroleum-made rocket fuels!
This article is suitable for elementary school, middle school, and high school students. It is available for both upper and lower reading levels, as well as a written translation in Spanish. There are audio versions in both English and Spanish.
- Key terms: biotechnology, climate change, genetics, microbiology, renewable energy, space travel
- Scientific figure: bar graph, pictograph
- Scientific method: experiment, gene editing, PCR (polymerase chain reaction)
That’s Not All!
Title image from European Space Agency