Episode 700: Preparation for astronomy topic

Advance warning
There is little scope for practical work in this topic, so you should look out for paper-based activities, multimedia software etc.


Spectrometers are useful, since spectroscopy plays a central role in astronomy. Hand-held spectroscopes are useful, although you can get away with just looking through diffraction gratings. Check with colleagues from the chemistry department to see what they can make available to you. (Also, ask them what your students may have learned about atomic spectra in their chemistry studies.)

As this is a rapidly-changing area, it is worth making an effort to keep up-to-date by reading magazines such as New Scientist, Scientific American etc. Encourage your students to do the same.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is a good source of booklets and posters.

A visit to an observatory can greatly enhance this topic.

Main aims
Students will:

  • Name different types of spectra
  • Describe the information which can be deduced from spectra
  • Understand how the Doppler effect can give rise to red and blue spectral shifts

Prior knowledge
Most students should have heard of the Big Bang and expanding Universe, whose present age ~ 14 billion years. This topic makes it all plausible. Some points which you will need to draw on:

  • the wave speed formula v = fl
  • diffraction by a grating (qualitative)
  • the electromagnetic spectrum

Where this leads
This topic acts as an introduction to cosmology and ideas about the history of the Universe.

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Episode 700: Preparation for astronomy topic (Word, 50 KB)