Discovering the Universe in Your Own Backyard

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Close to 500 Finley Middle School earth and physical science students recently enjoyed Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium’s “Discovering the Universe” traveling classroom.

The mobile exhibit rolled into the Finley parking lot and set up shop for the final days of classes, thanks to a grant written by parent Patricia Unger. “Discovering the Universe” consists of multiple stations that offer hands-on interactive exhibits that engage students in different topics. While each station is a self-contained module, the classroom is designed to show how astronomers acquire knowledge about the Universe.

Each module presents a different part of the process of obtaining information. They are: a “light station,” which explains how light contains information about distant objects and shows how this information can be decoded; a “telescope station” that introduces the basic tool astronomers use to collect light and shows why telescopes are superior to human eyes as light-gathering tools; a “digital imaging” station that shows how images recorded by telescopes can be stored, analyzed, and enhanced by computers; a “3-D universe” station that shows how astronomers create three-dimensional maps that help them visualize the universe and let them “fly” through simulated 3-D space; and a “gravity station” that explores how gravity, weight, weightlessness, and orbits are produced by a universal force that shapes the structure and motions of all the objects astronomers study.

Students were provided with worksheets to complete as they rotated through the different stations.