Monday, June 29, 2009

Herschel and Planck in the classroom

To mark the launch of the Herschel and Planck space observatories, ESA has participated in the production of a wide-ranging series of educational materials related to these two cornerstones of its science programme.

These materials were originally disseminated to German teachers through a collaboration with the German “Wissenschaft in die Schulen!” (WiS! - Science into Schools!) project and the “Sterne und Weltraum” magazine. ESA is now making them available online through its education website.

The launch of Herschel and Planck on 14 May 2009 marked the beginning of a new era in observational astronomy. When they reach their operational orbits later in the year, Herschel will provide new insights into the births of stars and galaxies, while Planck will map the Cosmic Microwave Background – the relic radiation of the Big Bang – with unprecedented accuracy. The first observatory to cover the entire range from far-infrared to sub-millimetre wavelengths and bridge the two, Herschel will explore further in the far-infrared than any previous mission, studying otherwise invisible dusty and cold regions of the cosmos, both near and far.

WiS! recognised the importance of this scientific milestone by dedicating a special edition of “Sterne und Weltraum” to the pair of pioneering missions. This issue included numerous articles written by scientists involved in the missions, as well as didactical material written by educational experts in the field. The teaching materials, mainly aimed at secondary school students, covers various mission-related topics such as orbits, Lagrange points, the Big Bang and electromagnetic radiation.

The articles and corresponding exercises can be downloaded in English and in German from the ESA Education website. The original publication, which was made available to teachers during workshops in Germany, included a DVD that contained three educational videos. These can also be found on the ESA Education website.

“Wissenschaft in die Schulen!”

The “Wissenschaft in die Schulen!” project started in 2005 with support from the German Klaus Tschira Foundation, a non-profit organisation designed to support research and public understanding of science and mathematics. Through close collaboration with the magazine “Sterne und Weltraum”, it includes a wide range of interesting subjects derived from recent astronomical research and space travel for use in lessons.

Thanks to the publisher Spektrum der Wissenschaft, the project has developed teaching materials for lower and upper secondary classes, based on subjects covered in its monthly scientific magazines. These materials are made available to a wide audience through a magazine and a website. Teachers can now find 80 lessons online on the “Wissenschaft in die Schulen!” website.

Herschel and Planck educational materials