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Spaceship Earth    Mystery 1

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In this Mystery, students will realize that the setting sun isn’t moving, Earth is spinning. In the activity, they'll compare two different models of what's happening.

Why does the sun rise and set?

Beginning Exploration (1 of 5)
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Beginning Exploration (2 of 5)

Brainstorm: How could you test out these two ideas to see if they both can explain what you see in the sky?

Sun moving Earth spinning

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Beginning Activity Prep
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Activity Prep

Step 1: Get supplies and print worksheets.

Each student will need:

Each pair of students will also need a paper Sun. To make these, you’ll need a sheet of red, orange, or yellow construction paper for each pair of students.

Step 2: Cut out paper Suns.

Cutting 15 paper suns (enough for a class of 30) will take about 5 minutes.

A paper sun is just a large circle of construction paper, about the size of a paper plate. It doesn’t have to be precise — a sloppy circle is fine. We suggest cutting half a dozen suns at the same time.

Beginning Activity: Sky Viewer
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Beginning Activity: Sky Viewer
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Beginning Exploration (3 of 5)
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Beginning Exploration (4 of 5)

Check it out:

Even though you've now seen the Earth spinning from space, when you're watching a sunrise or sunset from the ground it can still be hard to imagine that the Earth is moving.

To really help you visualize it, go to the next slide and check out this one final video we made!

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Beginning Exploration (5 of 5)
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Beginning Complete!

You've completed the Exploration & Activity!

If you have more time, view the assessment, reading and extension activity in the optional extras.

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Optional Extras

Below are ideas for extending this topic beyond the activity & exploration which you just completed.
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Activity: Earth in the Sun

Position a globe so that light from the Sun shines on it in just the same way that sunlight shines on the Earth. As the Earth spins, the boundaries between ‘day’ and ‘night’ will move steadily across both your globe and the Earth. (Follow these instructions to position your globe.)

Over the course of the day, compare the light on your globe to the light shown on this interactive map.

A more detailed version of this activity can be found at Earth Learning Ideas.

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Activity: On the Move

To track the sun's movement, you need a windowsill in the sun, a small mirror, and sticky notes. Place the mirror on the windowsill so that it reflects sunlight onto a wall. Write the time on a sticky note and place it in the spot of light.

Have students predict where the spot of light will be in 15 minutes and mark that spot with a sticky note. While you wait to see if the prediction is right, have students discuss why they chose the spot they did.

As the Earth turns, the angle of the sunlight on the mirror changes and the spot of light moves.

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Video: Sunrise and Sunset

Use these time-lapse videos of sunrise and sunset to review what students know. Here are some discussion questions:

  • Why does it look like the Sun is moving?
  • Which way would you face to look in the direction of the Sun in the morning? In the middle of the day? In the afternoon?
  • Do any other objects in the sky seem to move in the same way as the Sun? Explain.
  • Does the Sun really move this fast? Why do you think it looks like it's moving fast in the video?
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Extra Activity

Have each student make a sky dome, an activity which lets them practice mapmaking skills and model the path of the Sun across the sky.

Supplies

  • 1 half of a transparent sphere (order single or order 12 spheres, 24 halves) - The spheres we linked to are Christmas ornaments which easily snap into two parts. We recommend you get these exact ones. Similar spheres may also be available in stores such as Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart.

    Alternatively, if you would like to save money you can also stop by a gas station that sells frozen drinks (e.g. Slurpees or ICEEs) and grab one dome lid for each student (picture of lids)
  • 2 yellow sticky notes
  • 1 piece of 4.5" x 4.5" card stock
  • 1 small binder clip (3/4" size or larger)
  • Dry erase marker
  • Tissues
  • Pen

Instead of drawing a map of the classroom, students could draw a map of their bedroom or floor plan of their house as a homework assignment.

Image & Video Credits

Mystery Science respects the intellectual property rights of the owners of visual assets. We make every effort to use images and videos under appropriate licenses from the owner or by reaching out to the owner to get explicit permission. If you are the owner of a visual and believe we are using it without permission, please contact us—we will reply promptly and make things right.

Exploration
boarding train by John Phelan , used under CC BY-SA / cropped
grass field by Jsayre64 , used under CC BY-SA / heavily modified
shoes by C & J Clark archive , used under CC BY-SA / heavily modified
sitting on train by m01229 / heavily modified
boy looking out train window by Robert Huffstutter , used under CC BY / heavily modified
train footage by Isma Monfort Vialcanet , used under CC BY / heavily modified
book by Honou / heavily modified
sunset by Johann Mynhardt , used under CC BY / cropped and flipped
columns by unkown / heavily modified
men by Albert Kretschmer / heavily modified
earth by Celestia / part of a diagram
sun by cheifyc / part of diagrams
Galileo by Félix Parra / cropped, adjusted contrast
Nicolaus Copernicus by Marcello Bacciarelli / significant mods
drawing 1 by vincemmuseum , used under CC BY-SA / merged together with other images
drawing 2 by Christiaan Huygens / merged together with other images
drawing 3 by Christopher Wren / merged together with other images
feather by S. Seyfert , used under CC BY-SA / cropped
wood by KeithMisnerPhotography
rocket by U.S. Air Force/Carleton Bailie / heavily modified
triangle by Spigget , used under CC BY-SA / heavily modified
Earth rotating by plodicus , used under CC BY / added border
screen by Mike Gonzalez , used under CC BY-SA / heavily modified
Moon crossing Earth by NASA / added border
Hoag's object by NASA / heavily modified
sunset close-up by oldstuff4all , used under CC BY / sped up
Activity
globe by Christian Fischer , used under CC BY-SA / heavily modified
hand by Johnny Magnusson / heavily modified
girl by Dirk , used under CC BY / cropped
paperclips by Jan Ainali , used under CC BY-SA / heavily modified
Other
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