Teacher Feature

Stars Behind Bars
By Rosemary Harding
Science and Math Teacher at MDC
Teaching science in the jail setting can be challenging. Often I have to rely on videos and photos to help my students visualize what is going on in the world beyond the “bars” of the jail. Lately, there have been some interesting astronomical events that the inmates have not been able to go outside to observe or to keep up with in the latest breaking news.

On July 14, 2015, the New Horizons Spacecraft did a phenomenal flyby of Pluto. We are still receiving images from that close encounter. Through websites such as Nasa’s New Horizons,  science students have been able to view some fascinating images of Pluto and its moons. We have learned about space travel and discussed many aspects of the science of space.

On Sep 27, 2015, there was an unusual occurrence of a "super blood moon." This was an astronomical event in which the moon was at perigee (its closest approach to Earth, making it appear larger than usual), which was combined with a total lunar eclipse. As the moon passes into the shadow of the Earth, reflected light makes the moon appear red. A combination of these two events will not occur again until the year 2033.
At a recent “star party” event, I was able to view all eight planets in our solar system in one night. Back in the classroom, I drew a diagram of what I was able to see in the night sky. The students and I discussed why it looks like the planets are in a straight line. We also discussed why some planets appear brighter or red or blue. Through repeated discussions and drawings, it is hoped that when the science students are able to view the night sky again, they will be able to recognize a planet versus a star, as well as what planet they are looking at.

In an upcoming unit on the Sun, the science students will be able to view the sun using a specially designed pair of solar binoculars. We will be tracking sunspots to understand how the sun rotates. We will also be learning what a sunspot is, as well as solar flares, solar weather, and the composition of the sun.