Chapter 19 Celestial Distances

19.5 Collaborative Group Activities

Collaborative Group Activities

  1. In this chapter, we explain the various measurements that have been used to establish the size of a standard meter. Your group should discuss why we have changed the definitions of our standard unit of measurement in science from time to time. What factors in our modern society contribute to the growth of technology? Does technology “drive” science, or does science “drive” technology? Or do you think the two are so intertwined that it’s impossible to say which is the driver?
  2. Cepheids are scattered throughout our own Milky Way Galaxy, but the period-luminosity relation was discovered from observations of the Magellanic Clouds, a satellite galaxy now known to be about 160,000 light-years away. What reasons can you give to explain why the relation was not discovered from observations of cepheids in our own Galaxy? Would your answer change if there were a small cluster in our own Galaxy that contained 20 cepheids? Why or why not?
  3. You want to write a proposal to use the Hubble Space Telescope to look for the brightest cepheids in galaxy M100 and estimate their luminosities. What observations would you need to make? Make a list of all the reasons such observations are harder than it first might appear.
  4. Why does your group think so many different ways of naming stars developed through history? (Think back to the days before everyone connected online.) Are there other fields where things are named confusingly and arbitrarily? How do stars differ from other phenomena that science and other professions tend to catalog?
  5. Although cepheids and RR Lyrae variable stars tend to change their brightness pretty regularly (while they are in that stage of their lives), some variable stars are unpredictable or change their their behavior even during the course of a single human lifetime. Amateur astronomers all over the world follow such variable stars patiently and persistently, sending their nightly observations to huge databases that are being kept on the behavior of many thousands of stars. None of the hobbyists who do this get paid for making such painstaking observations. Have your group discuss why they do it. Would you ever consider a hobby that involves so much work, long into the night, often on work nights? If observing variable stars doesn’t pique your interest, is there something you think you could do as a volunteer after college that does excite you? Why?
  6. In Figure 19.8, the highest concentration of stars occurs in the middle of the main sequence. Can your group give reasons why this might be so? Why are there fewer very hot stars and fewer very cool stars on this diagram?
  7. In this chapter, we discuss two astronomers who were differently abled than their colleagues. John Goodricke could neither hear nor speak, and Henrietta Leavitt struggled with hearing impairment for all of her adult life. Yet they each made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the universe. Does your group know people who are handling a disability? What obstacles would people with different disabilities face in trying to do astronomy and what could be done to ease their way? For a set of resources in this area, see


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