Sun Teaching Box

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Solar Active Regions: Sunspots on the left and UV image of the Sun on the right

This Teaching Box will help your students learn to identify features of the Sun using images with "light" from different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Many solar features play roles in the eruption of space weather storms, so knowledge of these features is a prerequisite for understanding and predicting space weather events.

UCAR Center for Science Education Teaching Boxes  are themed collections of classroom-ready educational resources to build student understanding of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Resources highlighted within teaching boxes are from various science education programs and all have been vetted by the UCAR Center for Science Education team.

  • Topic: Sun & Space Weather
  • Level: Middle and high school

Features of the Sun

Sun in Space

Goal: Students learn the major features and regions of the Sun.

Activity: Students observe images of the Sun and describe and identify features in those images.

Science Education Standards:

  • NGSS Performance Expectations: MS-ESS1-3 (modified) Analyze and interpret data to understand features of the Sun.
  • NGSS Science and Engineering Practices: Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations
  • NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea: MS-ESS1.A: The Universe and its Stars
  • NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns
  • CC.ELA/Literacy WHST.6-8.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content

Engage students with images of the Sun.

  • Have students view a photo of the Sun that is mostly "bland" and featureless (like this Photo of the Sun without Sunspots). Ask them whether they think the Sun always looks so plain. If they answer "no", ask them to describe the sorts of features they expect to see on images of the Sun. If they answer "yes" then show a Photo of the Sun with Sunspots and have students compare the two photos.
  • If your students are familiar with the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, tell them that this image was taken with light from a specific wavelength in the red part of the visible light spectrum (then colored with a yellow-orange tint). Ask them whether (and how) they think the appearance of the Sun is different in other wavelengths of light and in images showing other parts of the EM spectrum, such as infrared or ultraviolet "light".

Explore by describing features seen on photos of the Sun.

Explain by identifying features on Sun photos with the help of background reading.

  • Have students read about various features and "parts" of the Sun, referencing the web pages below. You may wish to divide the readings among different groups of students and have groups explain the feature of the Sun they explored. This reading strategy guide might help your students focus on key points in these readings.
  • After they have learned about solar features, ask students to look over the images (listed in the Explore sectionabove) a second time. Have them describe (in writing) the features they see in the images using the terminology they just learned by reading about the features.  If you are divvying the readings among groups of students, you may wish to have student groups serve as experts on their topics during a whole-class discussion of the images, with student "experts" chiming in on the features they learned.

Extend student learning through a web scavenger hunt.

Evaluate students' ability to observe and identify features.

There are three opportunities to assess student learning during this lesson:

  1. During the Explore phase, do students make careful observations of the images, noticing and describing details in the photos?
  2. During the Explain phase, do students correctly identify features by name in the images?
  3. During the Extend phase, can students identify the features they've learned in different images that they haven't seen before? During the scavenger hunt, are they able to find images with the features they have learned to identify?

If you'd like a more structured writing assignment as an assessment option, here's a sample writing prompt and rubric for grading:

You have been transported through time to the ancient city of Ugarit where you meet an ancient astronomer who made the first known record of a solar eclipse. The astronomer is amazed about the features that she was able to see during the total solar eclipse. You have only a short time to explain the features of the Sun you have learned about in this lesson. Your written explanation should include the following:

  • The names of the features of the Sun and the major regions or "parts" of the Sun 
  • Describe the features using words and/or drawings.
  • The important solar features on images of the Sun using links to images you found on the web.
  • Grading Rubric (PDF)

Performance Expectations and Standards:

  • NGSS Performance Expectations: MS-ESS1-3 (modified) Analyze and interpret data to understand features of the Sun.
  • NGSS Science and Engineering Practices: Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations
  • NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea: MS-ESS1.A: The Universe and its Stars
  • NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns
  • CC.ELA/Literacy WHST.6-8.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content