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The following resources are intended to help children further explore the Sun and Earth's close relationship with it! These activities and materials will enhance the Native American tale of “Coyote Makes the Sun,” as retold by Lynn Moroney. Ms. Moroney draws heavily on a version collected by Mody Boatright in 1935 and shared in The Sky is My Tipi ( Texas Folklore Society, 1966).


Share the Story

After the program, invite the children to retell the Native American story and the science story. This will help them to revisit the content as a flowing narrative, not unrelated facts, and underscore that both stories are a way of understanding our universe. Storytelling will challenge the children to make connections from one piece to the next and help identify where they do not have an understanding of the material.

Help the children begin the Native American story, “What was the first thing that happened in the coyote story?” Prompt the children through the discussion by asking, "What happened next?" Help the children remember incidents that are left out or are out of order. You may wish to keep a list of events as the children build the story. Follow the Native American narrative with a discussion of the science story in the same way.

You may wish to have the children reenact the story as a play, taking turns as the narrator. They can create songs or dance the stories. Alternatively, invite the children to illustrate each stage of the story and to connect the events in the Native American story to the events in the science story where they can.


What's Inside the Sun? Jane Kelly Kosek, 2003, Rosen Publishing Group, ISBN 0823952797. Kosek describes each layer of the Sun and its type, position, and role in our Milky Way galaxy. Intended for young children (ages 4–8).

Why the Sun and Moon Live in the Sky. Niki Daly, 1995, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, ISBN 0688133312. Daly's retelling of the Nigerian Sun myth complements the Native American version of the Sun's birth (ages 4–8).

The Sun (Eye on the Universe). Niki Walker and Bobbie Kalman, 2000, Crabtree Publishing, ISBN 0865056927. The relationship between the Sun and Earth is explained in this book for young children (ages 4–8). Photographs and illustrations augment the text.

The Sun, Our Nearest Star. Franklyn M. Branley, 1989, Crowell Publishing, ASIN 0690046804. Facts about the Sun presented with eye-catching artwork. An experiment on the Sun's effects on plant growth is included for young children (ages 4–8).

Sun (Jump Into Science). Steve M. Tomecek and Carla Golembe, 2001, National Geographic, ISBN 0792282000. Following the lead of two children and a purple cat, young children (ages 4–8) learn facts and practical information about our star. Sunspots and solar flares are also discussed.

The Sun, from Wonder Books Level 1 Series. Alice K. Flanagan, 2003, Child's World, Inc., ISBN 1567664547. Large type, full-page color photos, and a word list make Sun astronomy easy to read and accessible for young readers (ages 4–6).

Our Very Own Star: The Sun. NASA's Central Operation of Resources (NASA CORE) offers this set of booklets to help children ages 5–9 investigate solar flares, sunspots and why scientists study the Sun. Available on line with graphics, text, interaction, and animation in both English and Spanish. Go to and type in "Our Very Own Star: the Sun.”

The Sun. Gregory Vogt, 1996, Millbrook Press, ISBN 1562946005. In this book for children (ages 6–11) Vogt describes details about the Sun and demonstrates the corresponding physical principles. He touches on phenomena such as why the outer layer of the solar atmosphere is hotter than the inner. A considerable volume of information and illustrations.

The Sun: The Center of the Solar System (Countdown to Space). Michael D. Cole, 2001, Enslow Publishers, Inc., ISBN 0766015084. Cole describes the physical properties of the Sun, solar phenomena, and the Sun's relation to other bodies in space, and covers the current emphasis on the Sun-Earth connection (ages 9–12).

Science Project Ideas About the Sun. Robert Gardner, 1997, Enslow Publishers, Inc., ISBN 0894908456. Gardner offers a mix of simple solar experiments, facts, and activities that utilize everyday materials. Diagrams and drawings are clear and helpful. Some science fair projects are presented as well as a few more involved ones, such as making a solar car. Recommended for children (ages 9–12).

Legends of the Sun and Moon. Eric and Tessa Hadley, 1983, Cambridge University Press, ASIN 052125227X. Illustrations accompany this collection of multinational legends explaining the existence of the Sun and Moon. Reading level targeted to ages 9–12, but these tales will appeal to all ages.

Secrets of Our Sun: A Closer Look at Our Star. (Space Explorer). Patricia Barnes-Svarney, 2000, Raintree/Steck-Vaughn, ISBN 0739822241. Children are included as part of a team of scientists exploring the birthplace of stars. They explore how solar scientists use state-of-the-art instruments in their study of the Sun and learn about solar winds, sunspots, and other solar phenomena (ages 9–12).

The Sun. Ron Miller, 2002, 21st Century Books, ISBN 0761323554. NASA photos and space paintings illustrate this account of the Sun's past, present, and future and its effects on Earth. Instructions for building a safe pinhole solar projector are included in this book for children (ages 9–14).

The Storytelling Star: Tales of the Sun, Moon and Stars. James Riordan, 1999, Pavilion Books Limited, ISBN 1862052026. These nine illustrated stories from different cultures around the world lend themselves to enjoyment by children and adults alike.

A Look at the Sun (Out of this World Series). Ray Spangenburg, Kit Moser and Diane Moser, 2001, Franklin Watts, Incorporated, ISBN 0531117642. An in-depth look at the Sun along with a unique graphic timeline, biographical sidebars, sidebars on scientific theories, tables and charts, and a resources section are presented in this compendium of solar information for young astronomers (ages 12–16).

Living with a Star: From Space Weather to Sun Screen with CD (Audio). David Glaser, Kevin Beals, Stephen Pompea, 2003, Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, ISBN 0924886730. This GEMS unit (Great Explorations in Math & Science) with accompanying CD for ages 12–15 begins with a mystery of alarming electronic catastrophies, the "culprit" being the Sun. Children learn how this is possible through mock scientific missions. Living with a Star addresses numerous national standards, utilizing expertise from NASA's Sun-Earth Connection Forum.

Storms from the Sun: The Emerging Science of Space Weather. Michael Carlowicz and Ramon Lopez, 2002, Joseph Henry Press, ISBN 0309076420. Carlowicz, a space-science-education specialist, and Lopez, a University of Texas Physics Professor, present the Sun's impact on our electronically networked civilization. The authors explore the physics and effects involved in solar weather and present it for a general audience.

Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Sun. Kenneth R. Lang, 2001, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521780934. Lang offers a comprehensive tool for adult solar science enthusiasts of all ages. Abundant photos, a glossary of terms, charts and drawings supplement the text.

Nearest Star: The Surprising Science of Our Sun. Jay M. Pasachoff and Leon Golub, 2001, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674004671. Astrophysicist Golub and astronomy professor Pasachoff provide an overview of the study of the Sun-Earth connection, including an explanation of solar physics and its effects on society. Information about solar missions and projects contributes to this work targeted to general adult audiences.

Dynamic Sun. B. N. Dwivedi (Editor), 2003, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521810574. Dynamic Sun presents chapters written by leading scientists in solar physics. Illustrations along with a comprehensive overview of Solar physics enhance this 20-chapter compendium of cutting-edge information about our star.

Journey from the Center of the Sun. Jack B. Zirker, 2001, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0691057818. Speculative answers (based on current research) to intriguing questions about solar dynamics makes this book both interesting and provocative. The adult reader begins with an imaginary voyage from the center of the Sun to its surface, showing us how sunlight is made, and ends by following the Sun's energy to the far reaches of the solar system. Illustrations are included in this concise explanation of modern solar physics.

The Sun. Kenneth Lang, 1999, in The New Solar System (Kelly Beatty, Carolyn Collins Petersen, and Andrew Chaikin, Editors), pp. 23–38, Sky Publishing Corporation, ISBN 0933346867. A concise overview of current scientific knowledge of the structure and dynamic nature of the Sun. Written for adults.

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NASA's Central Operation of Resources (CORE) has a search index for a complete list of Sun resources for educators, including a variety of information, activities, and tools to spark investigations of our star.

The Sun. Bill Nye, 1995. Search the alphabetical listing for "Sun". In this video for ages 4–18 Bill gives an overview of solar flares, eclipses, sunspots, fusion, and other topics.

Library Video Company. 1-800-843-3620. Offers media products about the Sun from a variety of sources. Links to state science standards and descriptions of videos are also provided on their website. Listed below are video/DVD titles along with their order numbers and targeted age groups:

  • All About the Sun, from Schlessinger Science Library,1999, V7120. Simple and comprehensive for children ages 5–9

  • Sun from Schlessinger Science Library, 1999, N6678. Children ages 10–14 can explore topics including black holes, light years, and space exploration.

  • Solarmax (IMAX) from The National Science Foundation and The Museum of Science and Industry, 2000,V0606. Facts about the our powerful star. Recommended for ages 11–adult.

  • Savage Sun from Discovery Channel, 2000, N1786. Technological advances in solar research and the energy of our Sun. For ages 11–adult.

  • Sun and Stars: Vol. 2 from Phoenix Multimedia, 1999, N0342. Lessons about the birth of stars and humankind's historical fascination with them. Features animation, graphics, film, and photos for ages 11–adult.

  • The Sun — Our Closest Star from The Learning Channel, 1997, N1524. A look at how the Sun sustains nuclear fusion and its relationship with Earth. Ages 13–adult.

  • Home Star from The Learning Channel, 1996, N1132. Examines the birth, life, and death of our star using solar topography and computer graphics. For ages 13–adult.

  • Our Sun and Solar System from Discover Magazine, 1994, N0297. For ages 15–adult, this program unlocks the mysteries of the Sun and solar system.

  • The Sun and Other Stars from World Almanac, 2000, N1314. How stars form, their stages, and deaths as supernovae, neutron stars, or mysterious black holes are presented here for ages 15–adult. Three-dimensional graphics are featured to demonstrate difficult theories and principals.

Our Mr. Sun. Rhino Video, 1956 (no kidding!), ASIN 6302043174. In this classic from Bell Labs the Sun's history, power, and potential are investigated. For ages 10–13.

Program 6: The Sun. (The Standard Deviants Series) from Cerebellum Corporation, 2002, ISBN 1581987315. A group called the "standard deviants" takes a trip to the Sun to explore sunspots, solar flares, and the fusion process in this educational video for ages 12–16.

American Indian Star Tales. Lynn Moroney, Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Children as well as adults will enjoy these audiocassettes of Native American sky legends told by storyteller Lynn Moroney.

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Internet Resources

NASA's Space Science Resource Directory is a useful tool for locating NASA Sun resources. Go to and type in keyword "sun" to produce the comprehensive list for NASA's resources about the Sun.

The Sun-Earth Connection shares NASA discoveries and knowledge from past and current missions and research with a focus on the active Sun and its effects on Earth. Abundant resources for educators, students, and the general public.

Living with a Star as part of Goddard's Sun-Earth Connection theme, offers information on a wide variety of Sun-related topics, including space weather. With a space library, a link to national standards, lesson plans, student lab activities, and a "playground" link to NASAKIDS, this site is a valuable tool for both students and teachers.

StarChild is a learning center for the young astronomer that presents space information for both young and older children, with a special section on the Sun. StarChild includes student activities, excellent graphics, and a glossary, and is offered in several languages.

SpaceLink provides instructional and curriculum support materials via televised Starfinder Series and Web sites. Lesson plans and programs are provided for grades 5–12. Companion guides, products, and free posters are also available.

The Planetary Society presents information about the Sun in a narrative format with images, phenomenon, and facts. Targets older children and young adults.

The Stanford Solar Center features news articles, lesson plans (including "Interview with Mr. Sol"), activities, solar folklore, posters, and other Web resources. Creative and informative.

Starlore of Native America, developed by the Western Washington University Planetarium, showcases several very short Native American stories about the Sun along with the tribe and region from which they originated. While applicable for all age groups, some material may be inappropriate for children and screening is suggested.

Astronomical Society of the Pacific offers a large collection of images, facts, hands-on activities, and projects designed for children and young adults.,astroactsprint.html

The SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) mission investigates the internal structure of the Sun from deep space. Dedicated to Sun-related topics, the Web site shares information pertaining to the mission and provides a multitude of other resources including images, resources, the latest "hot shots" of the Sun, and "Ask Dr. Soho".

SolarViews, from Calvin J. Hamilton, offers current images of the Sun with pertinent information for all audiences.

From Stargazers to Starships. The National Science Teacher's Association shares an extensive course on basic astronomy with a special section on the Sun. It includes lesson plans, teacher guides, a linked glossary, Q & A section, and experiments. Material is also available in Spanish.

Sun Images. Bill Arnett's "Nine Planets" captures photographs of the Sun for adults of all ages along with image explanations at

How Stuff Works contains a detailed account of "How the Sun Works" and is geared to older children and young adults. Teachers may also find the concise diagrams, illustrations, and clearly stated overviews to be useful.

Genesis Search for Origins encompasses a mission of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to collect solar particles. This site provides detailed news and information about the mission and connects discoveries to the classroom with lesson plans for all grade levels.

Windows to the Universe, a program of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, launches you into a variety of Sun topics on all levels. The site is user-friendly and includes a section on myths and stories from around the world.

YOHKOH, an educational Website from NASA, Lockheed-Martin, and Montana State University, offers online movies of the Sun, solar images, "sunbeam surfing", and a solar classroom that provides hands-on activities for adults of all ages.

Savage Sun and A Star is Born from the Discovery Channel School offer detailed lesson plans for older children and young adults on fusion and stellar evolution respectively. Both have corresponding videos, worksheets, puzzles, and quizzes.

Athena's Sun Page leads adults off all ages to a collection of information on Sun news, legends and folklore, images, and information on sunspots and the aurora. Athena is a collaboration between the Science Applications International Corporation and several public school districts.

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About Our Solar System

The Sun is our nearest star. Its light and heat make life on Earth possible.

When did the Sun form?
Scientists calculate the Sun and solar system formed at approximately the same time, 4.55 billion years ago. This is based on the ages of the oldest objects that we have sampled from our solar system, meteorites.

How did the Sun form?
The solar nebula theory describes how most scientists think the Sun formed. A cloud of hydrogen and helium gas and dust existed in space. It began to compress and eventually gravitational forces pulled the gas and dust together and the cloud collapsed. The collapsing cloud began spinning and flattening into a disk. Much of the material was concentrated in the center of the spinning mass, where compression resulted in a “protosun” of increasing density and temperature. Eventually the heat and pressure increased to the point where nuclear fusion of hydrogen occurred and the Sun ignited. By exploring our universe with tools such as the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists have discovered stars in various stages of formation predicted by the solar nebular theory.

How much longer will the Sun shine?
Scientists predict the Sun will shine for another 7 billion years! They arrive at this estimate by calculating how fast the hydrogen in the Sun's core is being converted to helium. Approximately 37% of the Sun's hydrogen has been used since the time of its formaton, 4.55 billion years ago. (Lang, 1999)

How big is the Sun?
The Sun's diameter is 1,391,020 kilometers, or about 109 times the diameter of Earth.

Structure of the Sun 1

Like Earth, the Sun has many different layers. Unlike Earth, the Sun is made of gas!

The Sun's energy is generated in its core. Gravitational pressures compress and heat the material in the core to over 15 million degrees Celsius!

Energy passes from the core into the cooler radiative zone (5 million degrees Celsius). Here the energy (radiation) moves randomly from atom to atom, with some of the energy moving toward the Sun's surface.

As energy moves out of the radiative zone, it enters the convective zone. Here the atoms do not pass the energy from particle to particle; the atoms themselves move, carrying the heat with them. The hotter material near the radiative zone rises to the cooler surface of the convective zone. As it reaches the top of the convective zone, it cools and sinks.

The photosphere (“sphere of light”) is the “surface” of the Sun; because the Sun is made of gas, it does not have a solid surface. The photosphere has temperatures that reach about 5800 degrees Kelvin and is the layer that releases most of the light that reaches Earth.

The surface of the Sun has continuously changing dark regions or sunspots. The spots are dark because they are cooler than the surrounding gas (about 3230 degrees Celsius). Sunspots can persist for an hour to several months. The number of sunspots increases and decreases in an 11-year cycle, the solar cycle.

The photosphere and sunspots can be viewed safely with special solar telescopes, but not directly with the human eye!

The chromosphere (“sphere of color”) is a 2000-kilometer-thick layer of gas that reaches temperatures between 6000 and 50,000 degrees Celsius. Most of the energy from the chromosphere is released as red light, which means that the chromosphere can be viewed with special telescopes that filter out the other wavelengths. The chromosphere is dynamic; convection cells swirl the surface, and material shoots off the surface as flame-like features.

The corona is a thin outer layer of the Sun that is seen during a solar eclipse. The corona emits energy at many different wave lengths. Loops and arches of matter are often seen extending out from the corona along lines of the Sun's magnetic field. This material flows away from the Sun as the solar wind. Some of the particles reach Earth's atmosphere and interact with atmospheric particles to create the aurora.

1Information modified from:
Lang, 1999

Sun Structure

Click on the image for a larger version.

What is the Sun made of?

While approximately 60 different elements make up the Sun, hydrogen accounts for about 92% of the atoms (almost three-fourths of the mass) and helium makes up most of the rest (7.8% of the atoms). This is similar to the composition of our universe; hydrogen is the most abundant element, with some helium and trace amounts of all other heavier elements (such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, and silicon). We do not have any direct samples from the Sun but scientists can identify the elements by observing the solar spectrum. The Sun, like other stars, emits light, and in some cases more light in one color than another (and some colors are not emitted at all, because they are absorbed). Gases of different elements have distinct patterns of emission or absorption that can be determined in the laboratory. Once scientists know which pattern matches which element, they can determine the composition of our star, or other stars in the universe, by examining the pattern of the spectrum.

Where does the Sun's energy come from?

Stars like the Sun generate their power by turning mass into energy through the process of nuclear fusion. Essentially, hydrogen is converted into helium in the Sun's core, and a little bit of energy is produced every time the reaction occurs. Gravitational pressure compresses and heats the core material to over 15 million degrees. In these extreme conditions atoms cannot exist — hydrogen atoms split apart into protons and electrons. Four hydrogen protons get fused into a single helium nucleus in a process that releases energy. The resulting helium atom has a smaller mass than the four hydrogen atoms. This mass difference is released as energy. Every second, 600 million tons of hydrogen are converted to radiant energy. The energy is carried by high-energy gamma rays. The gamma rays collide with the electrons in the core, losing energy and becoming photons of visible light. While the Sun emits energy across much of the electromagnetic spectrum, approximately half the solar radiation is in the visible part of the spectrum and much of the rest is infrared radiation. Because of our distance from the Sun, the amount of energy reaching Earth is small, only about one two-billionth compared to the amount emitted by the Sun. The top of Earth's atmosphere receives about 1,365 watts per square meter.

How does the Sun influence the Earth?

The amount of energy reaching Earth is fairly consistent over time, and is called the “solar constant.” The Sun, however, is anything but constant! Sunspots move across the photosphere, growing and diminishing in number in an 11-year cycle. Solar flares, possibly caused by sudden changes in the magnetic field, accompany the sunspots and spew gases and particles into space. Clouds of gases occasionally rise and erupt from the chromosphere as coronal mass ejections, corresponding to the 11-year periods of solar maxima. During a mass ejection event, plumes of material pass into space at speeds in excess of 1000 kilometers per second. All this material contributes to the solar wind, a stream of radiation and particles that flows into space from the outer surface of the Sun. Earth's magnetic field deflects and protects us from the solar wind. During periods of extreme solar activity, the radiation and particles interact with our magnetic field to produce the polar auroras. These periods of extreme activity, however, can disrupt communications by damaging the delicate electronics in satellites and interfering with radio waves. Even power grids are not immune; the charged particles alter the magnetic fields around power and phone lines and can induce current surges. While these “storms from space” are disruptive, they do not directly threaten human health on Earth. This is not true in space; astronauts are not protected by Earth's magnetic field.

How are we studying the Sun?

The astronomer Galileo initiated our investigations of solar activity with his observations of sunspot movement using the newly invented telescope in the early 1600s (1610–1613). Our investigations continue today but take us beyond the visual realm ( Space scientists are using all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, including the UV, radio, and gamma ranges, to learn more about our star. Their research is aided by satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Some missions, such as the Genesis sample mission, involve the collection of particles carried by the solar wind. Space scientists will use this information to understand the origin of the Sun and the formation of stars and planets. Other missions, such as the Ulysses solar polar orbiter, orbit the Sun to monitor the solar wind intensity and magnetic field to understand solar processes. Researchers are also monitoring solar activity through the Geotail Mission to understand solar impacts on space exploration, communications, and technology. Moving closer to home, scientists are investigating the interaction of the Sun and Earth systems to learn more about how the Sun influences Earth's weather and climate.