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.
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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
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 http://core.nasa.gov/index.html 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
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
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
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
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
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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.
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.
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
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
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NASA's Space Science Resource Directory is
a useful tool for locating NASA Sun resources. Go to http://teachspacescience.org/cgi-bin/ssrtop.plex and
type in keyword "sun" to produce the comprehensive list
for NASA's resources about the Sun.
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
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.
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.
Planetary Society presents information
about the Sun in a narrative format with images, phenomenon,
and facts. Targets older children and young adults.
Stanford Solar Center features news articles,
lesson plans (including "Interview with Mr. Sol"),
activities, solar folklore, posters, and other Web resources.
Creative and informative.
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.
Society of the Pacific offers a large collection
of images, facts, hands-on activities, and projects designed
for children and young adults.
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.
from Calvin J. Hamilton, offers current images of the Sun with
pertinent information for all audiences.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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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The Sun is our nearest star. Its light and heat make life on Earth
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
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:
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
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 (http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/edmissns.htm).
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.
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