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The Exoplanet Physics Project

The Exoplanet Physics Project is available to Year 9 students from Partner Schools and is based on the popular Astronomy topic of extrasolar planets. Classes work in teams and are matched with an AS or A2 level physics Advisor from another school in England. Advisors are available to talk to students and support them throughout the project via an online mentoring platform that is both easy to use and secure.

Teams work through a series of activities in a science club supervised by their teacher.  Activities address the following learning objectives for KS3:

  • Thinking like a scientist;
  • Understanding the applications and implications of science;
  • Practical enquiry skills;
  • Critical understanding of evidence; and
  • Science communication skills.

Over eight weeks, classes complete the following:

Week 1 - HOW TO FIND AN EXOPLANET
Students learn about the transit method and how to read light curve graphs of a transiting exoplanet. They use apparatus to model a transit, demonstrating the drop in brightness of a star as a planet passes by.

Week 2 - THE GOLDILOCKS ZONE: PART ONE
The Inverse Square Law is explored by modelling and drawing light curve graphs.

Week 3 - THE GOLDILOCKS ZONE: PART TWO
Students learn about the habitable zone, what it means for orbiting planets, and how to calculate it.

Week 4 - ATMOSPHERE: PART ONE
Students are introduced to astronomical spectroscopy and how elements in a planet’s atmosphere can be identified by this technique. Students make their own spectroscope and capture spectra from different light sources.

Week 5 - ATMOSPHERE: PART TWO & SURFACE CONDITIONS
Students discover how to identify whether a planet is solid or gaseous by using the Density = Mass/Volume formula.

Week 6 - GARDEN GNOMES & GRAVITY
Students explore surface gravity with the help from a little gnome called Kern.

Week 7 - PROPOSAL& MISSION BRIEF
Students pull together what they have learnt in previous weeks and are asked to analyse three sets of data. Each set contains one habitable exoplanet which they are asked to identify and propose a mission to. Proposals are posted on blog and compete nationally with 19 other schools. Judges from the Planet Hunters team and the National Space Academy will determine the winner.

Week 8 - STUDENT SURVEY & PLANETHUNTERS.ORG
Students are introduced to a real-life hunt for exoplanets through the Planet Hunters website and are encouraged to participate. Proposals are uploaded to the project website and the student survey is released.

The winning class receive iTunes vouchers and a Sony Bloggie Camcorder!

For more information, please speak to your Teaching and Learning Coach or contact Jemma Duncombe at 020 7470 4821.