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        NOVA Sun Lab Lesson Plan

        In this media-rich lesson plan from NOVA's Sun Lab, students use short videos to explore the following topics: the Sun's structure, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, Earth’s magnetic field, the electromagnetic spectrum, how space weather affects Earth, the physics of light, and telescopes. Students also find our place in the current solar cycle, predict future solar storms, and develop their own research project.


        Lesson Summary

        Using the NOVA Sun Lab, students will explore the following topics: the structure of the Sun, solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), Earth’s magnetic field, the electromagnetic spectrum, how space weather affects Earth, the physics of light, and telescopes.

        Time Allotment

        2-3 class periods. Can be condensed or extended based upon the activities you choose to complete.

        Learning Objectives

        Content Objectives

        Students will learn:

        • The anatomy of the Sun
        • How the Sun produces energy through fusion
        • Solar storms and how they are predicted
        • Space weather and its affect on Earth
        • The importance of Earth’s magnetic field
        • Various wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum
        • How scientists use the electromagnetic spectrum in telescopes and scientific discovery
        Process Objectives

        Students will be able to:

        • Find our place in the current solar cycle
        • Predict future solar storms
        • Develop their own research project


        Prep for Teachers

        Teachers should prepare for this lesson by viewing video clips and completing the research challenge so they are familiar with the lab's activities and platform.



        • Computers with Internet access
        • Students must create an account for the NOVA Sun Lab Research Challenge so their progress can be saved, or use a guest pass for their session

        Introductory Activity

        Part 1:  Introduction to the Sun (5-10 minutes)

        • Explain to students that they will be investigating the Sun, its anatomy, how it produces energy, and how solar storms and space weather affect us here on Earth.
        • Have students brainstorm individually what they currently know about the Sun.  Give students the opportunity to list and/or draw their brainstorm ideas.  
        • After individual brainstorming, students should share in pairs/small groups.  Feel free to create a class brainstorm list so students can see everyone’s ideas.
        • Suggestion:  This brainstorming activity could be done the day before in class to get students thinking about the next day’s activities as well as to give the teacher an idea of students’ previous background knowledge.

        Learning Activities

        Part 2:  Building Background Knowledge  (Approx. 40 minutes; videos: 27 minutes, questions: 10 minutes)

        Have students watch the following video clips and answer the corresponding questions. Ask students to take any relevant notes in their notebooks and discuss the questions as a class. Students can refer to the videos when considering answers to the questions.

        SUN 101

        • Watch Anatomy of the Sun and ask: How might observations of the Sun's outermost layers reveal what's happening in the interior? And how could this information be used to predict solar storms in the future?
        • Watch The Sun's Energy and ask: Which two complementary forces keep the Sun from blowing itself up? A) fusion and Magnetism B) helium and hydrogen C) photons and magnetism D) fusion and gravity
        • Watch The Dynamic Sun and ask: What forces cause the Sun's magnetic field to become both stronger and more tangled? How do these changes influence solar activity and the potential for powerful solar storms?


        • Watch Earth's Magnetic Shield and ask: What’s the most vital function of Earth’s magnetic field? A) It deflects asteroids and meters B) It keeps energy from escaping into space C) it deflects most of the solar wind D) It helps birds and other animals navigate


        • Watch The Electromagnetic Spectrum and ask: Is the following statement true or false? "The longer its wavelength, the more energy light carries." A) True B) False
        • Watch Solar Space Telescopes and ask: If you could work on one of these missions, which one would it be? And what kind of job would you most like to have?

        Part 3:  Solar Cycle (15-20 minutes)

        Have students take the NOVA Sun Lab Research Challenge to create their own scientific questions related to the Sun. In the first challenge, students will estimate the level of solar activity by observing sunspots.  A small number of sunspots indicates a calmer Sun, while an increase in sunspots suggests higher levels of solar activity.  Students will use this method to determine if solar activity is increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same.

        • When students finish counting sunspots in the solar cycle section, ask them the following discussion questions:
        • How do your estimates compare to the scientific estimates?
        • Why do you think that various estimates are different?
        • After completing your five estimates, how do your estimates relate to the solar cycle graph?
        • Based upon the overall sunspot trends, in what year you do think will be the next solar maximum?

        Part 4:  Storm Prediction (15-20 minutes)

        In the second NOVA Sun Lab Research Challenge, students will compare and contrast different sunspots and analyze the data to predict potential solar storms.  As students complete this section, have them answer the following questions:

        • What does the size of a sunspot tell us about the Sun’s magnetic field and how does it help us predict solar storms?
        • What does the complexity of sunspots tell us?
        • What does rapid sunspot growth tell us about the Sun’s magnetic field?
        • How does the mixing of magnetic fields help us to predict solar flares or CMEs?
        • While observing the chromosphere and corona of the Sun, scientists often observe bands of plasma, called filaments.  What can these filaments tell us about the possibility of a solar storm?


        Culminating Activity

        Part 5:  Open Investigation (30+ minutes depending on depth of research)

        In the final NOVA Sun Lab Research Challenge, students have the opportunity to create their own scientific question related to sunspots and use the Helioviewer to gather data.  To get students started, some sample questions and examples are provided.  Students can view the sun based upon the date, time, and various time-steps.  Multiple observatories, instruments, detectors, and measurements are also available. The ability to capture a movie or screenshot is another tool students can use to gather their data and answer their own scientific question.

        Have students record their scientific question, their procedure, data collected, as well as their conclusions.  Students can present their findings to the class and/or turn in their work for assessment.


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