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Experiment Sonnenfinsternis / Beobachtung der totalen Sonnenfinsternis 1999

Experiment Solar Eclipse

Connection of different school subjects by
learning in the surroundings of astronomical phenomena

A.Wendt¹, P. Stinner²


Kopernikus-Gymnasium, Pirzenthalerstr. 43, D-57537 Wissen, Germany

1. Introduction

Our project "Experiment Solar Eclipse" was performed on the central path of the total solar eclipse on 1999-08-11. Students aged from 11 to 18 observed the progression of the eclipse with Schmidt-Cassegrain-telescopes. They also registrated, documentated, and evaluated the temporal development of climatic physical concomitants during the day of the eclipse.
First we are going to describe our project and its method. Then we will explicate, how our experiments may be redone with respect to connecting the school subjects physics, astronomy, geography, and mathematics.

2. Total solar eclipse on 1999-08-11: Observing and specific experimentating

Since 1993 students of the astronomy team at Kopernikus-Gymnasium in Wissen (Germany) are engaged in astronomy and especially in astrophotography. The total solar eclipse on 11th of August 1999 gave the opportunity of expanding the working range to climatic physical matters, which are caused by celestrial mechanics. As a result several younger pupils joined the team. So there was a group of twenty students from the 5th up to the 12th class, who took part in a five days` excursion to the total zone of obscuration to Augsburg and Violau. The aims of this excursion were the observation of the eclipse and the documentation of the climatic physical concomitants.
The natural phenomenon solar eclipse provided an optimal chance to connect contents of the school subjects physics, astronomy, geography, and mathematics.
During a one year preparatory period the astronomy team developed extensive programs for photography and measuring climatic data. The elder pupils mainly decided to take part in photographic experiments using three Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes and different objective lenses from fisheye to a 500mm telephoto lens. Most of the younger ones preferred participating in experimental work on climatic physical questioning [1; 2]. They documentated the progression of temperature and air humidity, of velocity and direction of the wind, of air pressure and cloud cover, and of the brightness as well of the total sky and the zenith.
The early decision for the participation in a special experimental group made it possible that the teams worked independent from the teachers to a large extend partly using self-made instruments. This method of organisation provided the possibility to work self-dependently and to take over responsibility for the own work and for the work of the experimental group. A special challenge for the participants was the necessary coordination with the other teams [3].
In the first partial phase we succeeded in taking different long-focal length photos of the partly eclipsed sun, some of which could be published. A violent thunderstorm on time for the totality made further photographic experiments impossible. In spite of hostile circumstances all climatic physical values cloud be completely registrated.
During the evaluation process all data produced on the day of the eclipse were converted into Excel graphics. Relations between the different variables were analysed and causal connections were shown (see e.g. figure 3). The pupils created a 3D-modell to document velocity and direction of the wind. They combined the photos of the sun, the graphics, and the wind model with explanatory texts to an exhibition.

3. Redoing the project in the surroundings of astronomical phenomena

In the next years the described measurements and experiments (see chapter 2. and table 1) may be performed on occasion of other astronomical phenomena:
  • Total solar eclipses (29.03.2006)
  • Partial solar eclipses (31.05.2003, 03.10.2005): Photography, photometry, climatic geographical experiments
  • Total lunar eclipses (16.05.2003, 09.11.2003, 04.05.2004, 28.10.2004): Photography, photometry
  • Partial lunar eclipses: Photography, photometry
  • Penumbral lunar eclipses (24.06.2002, 20.11.2002): Photometry
Concerning the experimental setups note the remarks in the following chapter 4.. For simple photometric experiments on the eclipsed moon use a parallactic mounted optics as it is described in table 1.

4. Redoing the method occasioned by project days and project weeks

The described experiments may be integrated in every day lessons in the school subjects physics, geography, astronomy, and mathematics. A favourite address for the project are students aged from 13 to 16 years.
Its possible to involve a complete school class by using the following concept (see table 1):

Table 1: Physical and climatic geographical experiments

Team number

Values to be measured by the team, tasks of the team

remarks concerning the equipment needed

Number of participating students

Air humidity and temperature Use standard thermometers and hygrometers
Velocity and direction of the wind, air pressure Two crossed wind gauges (from track and field events) as shown in fig. 2; use Pythagoras` theorem for evaluation
Brightness of the sky, registration of the cloud cover Use a commercial lux meter or a self-made low cost optics built out of outlets and a lens with +2dpt (f=50cm), that projects a part of 1°of the sky on a LDR
path of the sun: photographic documentation Camera mountet on a stand, sun filter, numerous exposures on the same negative
Documentation of the all the students` activities Take photographs, create a poster showing performance and results of the project

For further information concerning the climatic physical and geographical experiments see [4] and the agenda for a project week in table 2. The program may be extended on one of a class trip. Then it will be necessary to combine it with different cultural and pedagogical activities.

Table 2: Plan for a project week
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Preparation of the experiments in the teams Construction of the experimental setups (4 hours) Sunrise - Midday:
Performing the measurements in the teams 1, 2 and 3
Documentation of the students` activities
Photographic program (team 4)
From 10.00h
Starting with evaluation of the experimental data
Constructing of tables and graphics (using a computer or calculating by hand)
Developing of the photos (for a documentation)
Basing on tables, graphics, photos:
Interpretation of the experimental values, Working out and explaining of possible relations (working in the teams)
puzzle of the results
Photographic program
Remaining tasks, e.g. inserting the photos of the day before in the result puzzle
Presentation of the results to the school community

All physical and climatic geographical measurements are to be performed using devices most of them usually are available in every school. Others may be constructed out of low cost materials as described in table 2. Instead of the sun photography as performed on the day of the eclipse we decide to document the path of the sun during a day. Within two days you will be able to proof differences (for explanations see figure 1).
If your students are very interested its possible to perform a short program even for only one day. The preparation and evaluation meetings may be integrated in the regular lessons.

Table 3: Plan for a project day
Preparation meeting Project day Evaluation
Agenda and preparation of the experiments in the teams From sunrise to midday:
Performance of the measurements by the teams 1, 2, and 3
  • Evaluation at suitable points of the lessons in different subjects
  • Constructing of tables and graphics (by calculator or by hand)
  • Feedback at different levels (in the Teams and in the total group
  • Interpretation of the experimental results, working out and explaining of possible correlations
  • Puzzle of the results

5. Conclusions

In our opinion the described experiments are suitable to combine different school subjects with a experimental work in outside learn-stations. In this way you will succeed in rising the students` interest in science by various experimental activities.

6. Literature

[1] G. Meiser: Reise zur Finsternis, Saarlouis 1989
[2] W. Petri, Beobachtung totaler Sonnenfinsternisse, in: Handbuch für Stern- freunde, Band 2, Berlin 1989
[3] A. Wendt, P. Stinner: Experiment Sonnenfinsternis, in: Praxis Geographie 1/2000
[4] P. Stinner, A. Wendt: Mit Schülern zur Sonnenfinsternis, in: Journal für Astrono- mie, Heppenheim, Sommer 2000

7. Figures

Figure 1: The path of the sun along the sky. Note that within one day the path varies for about a total diameter of the sun (30 arcmin). Do not forget to use a sun filter! Take an exposure without sun filter when the sun has left the region of the picture.

Figure 2: Two crossed wind gauges (as they are used in track and field events) allow to determine the velocity and the direction of the wind.

Figure 3: The curves of temperature and air humidity are showing opposite courses caused by the rather high heat capacity of water.