Columbia Education Center

Science

Dorothy Diehl, Mt. Angel Elementary, Mt. Angel, OR INTERPLANETARY DISTANCE AND TRAVEL TIME Appropriate for grades 5-9. OVERVIEW: Most people have a very inaccurate notion of what real-life space travel among the planets or between star systems is like. There are two reasons for this. One, it is impossible to print an accurate scale model for distance of the solar system in a textbook. Even a classroom-sized model is ineffective because choosing a scale that allows Pluto to be at the opposite from the Sun, puts the inner planets almost on top of each other. A scale of 1 A.U. = 15 inches requires a space of at least 50 feet. (At that scale, the size of the planets is microscopic and the diameter of the Sun is about 1/4 of a millimeter. Using the same scale for size and distance requires a space of about 3 miles between a barely visible scale model of Pluto at one end and a 32 inch diameter Sun at the other end.) At least a scale of 1 A.U. = 15 inches will fit inside a hallway or gymnasium and the inner planets will have a recognizable separation. Constructing a scale model for distances to our closest neighboring stars requires a space as large as the contiguous United States. If you put the our solar system where Portland, Oregon is, then Alpha Centauri would be at Los Angeles, California, Sirius at Little Rock, Arkansas and Procyon at Miami, Florida. The second reason people do not understand true space distances is because popular space and/or science fiction employs multiple warp drive or hyperspace in order to cross astronomical distances in a short enough time frame to contain a story plot. To be a realistic spacefaring people we need some way to express the experience of traveling astronomical distances accurately in our own space-time. PURPOSE: The Travels of Slimey the Slug and Sunscout I the Starship in an interactive fable the increases knowledge. People understand how long it take to travel specific distances at different speeds by modeling and comparisons. OBJECTIVES: Participants will be able to: 1. Use metric measurements for distances. 2. Round off numbers to specific place values and multiply them. 3. Use Mach numbers, units of light speed and ratios. Solve problems to find needed information. ACTIVITIES: The teacher uses a transparency of the activity sheet that tells the fable of Slimey's and Sunscout's travels with Key information left blank. The students follow on their own activity sheets and refer to what's on the overhead projector. When the group comes to missing information, the teacher guides the students through calculating the answer on scratch paper and then filling in the blank. When all the blanks are filled in, the fable makes sense. RESOURCES/MATERIALS NEEDED: Activity Sheet Master and Answer Key from: Dorothy Diehl P.O. Box 441 Mt. Angel, OR 97362-0041 (Free with a self addressed stamped envelope.) TYING IT ALL TOGETHER: In an era of increasing technology we need even smarter scientists and engineers to invent even greater technology to make possible propulsion systems capable of relativistic velocities. By describing this engineering challenge to today's students, some of them may be inspired to become these pathfinders and make possible star travel in our real space-time and in our future.

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John Kurilecjmk@ofcn.org