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By Kelly O'Donnell

Science Forward

In this video, we talk to astronomers and astrophysicists that use data collected by telescopes to learn about our universe. We discuss how different types of light can tell us different things and about how we search for exoplanets.

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Version 1.0 - published on 25 Jul 2018 doi:10.25334/Q4CM5V - cite this

Licensed under CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms



For millennia, human beings have wondered about the lights in the night-time sky.  Astronomy lets us learn more about them–even about the ones that we can’t see with our eyes.

Science Senses:

Number Sense

  • Having a sense of scale

Data Sense

  • Using proxies

Knowledge Sense

  • Using multiple lines of evidence to support conclusions
  • Repeating experiments

Classroom Ideas:

  • Using spectra – One way astronomers get important information about the chemical composition of distant objects is through their emissions spectra. Activities can be built around observing different spectra (if you have access to optical spectroscopes) or print outs of spectra from objects in our universe. Students can determine what elements are being detected and what conclusions can be drawn from this information.
  • Detecting exoplanets – NASA is a great resource for activity ideas related to detecting exoplanets. They have activities appropriate for every student level here:
  • Proxies – Since we can’t get to the places that astronomers want to investigate, we have to learn as much as we can from the light that reaches Earth. Have a discussion in class about what proxies are, what assumptions are behind them, and how we know they are reliable.

Possible Readings:

  • Billings. 2014. Astronomers Search for Moons Circling Distant Exoplanets. Scientific American. 310(1).
  • OpenStax. 2016. Chapter 1: Science and the Universe: A Brief Tour from OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax. OER
  • OpenStax. 2016. Chapter 17: Analyzing Starlight from OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax. OER

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