Chapter 15 The Sun: A Garden-Variety Star
Collaborative Group Activities
- Have your group make a list of all the ways the Sun personally affects your life on Earth. (Consider the everyday effects as well as the unusual effects due to high solar activity.)
- Long before the nature of the Sun was fully understood, astronomer (and planet discoverer) William Herschel (1738–1822) proposed that the hot Sun may have a cool interior and may be inhabited. Have your group discuss this proposal and come up with modern arguments against it.
- We discussed how the migration of Europeans to North America was apparently affected by short-term climate change. If Earth were to become significantly hotter, either because of changes in the Sun or because of greenhouse warming, one effect would be an increase in the rate of melting of the polar ice caps. How would this affect modern civilization?
- Suppose we experience another Maunder Minimum on Earth, and it is accompanied by a drop in the average temperature like the Little Ice Age in Europe. Have your group discuss how this would affect civilization and international politics. Make a list of the most serious effects that you can think of.
- Watching sunspots move across the disk of the Sun is one way to show that our star rotates on its axis. Can your group come up with other ways to show the Sun’s rotation?
- Suppose in the future, we are able to forecast space weather as well as we forecast weather on Earth. And suppose we have a few days of warning that a big solar storm is coming that will overload Earth’s magnetosphere with charged particles and send more ultraviolet and X-rays toward our planet. Have your group discuss what steps we might take to protect our civilization?
- Have your group members research online to find out what satellites are in space to help astronomers study the Sun. In addition to searching for NASA satellites, you might also check for satellites launched by the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency.
- Some scientists and engineers are thinking about building a “solar sail”—something that can use the Sun’s wind or energy to propel a spacecraft away from the Sun. The Planetary Society is a nonprofit organization that is trying to get solar sails launched, for example. Have your group do a report on the current state of solar-sail projects and what people are dreaming about for the future.