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Inquiry 3: How Can I Learn More About Telescopes?

Scientific and technological advances have caused telescopes to change significantly over the years. However, it is still unclear exactly what the earliest telescope was like since there is still some confusion about who the inventor of the instrument was. Have students work in groups, each group researching one of the following people: Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Hans Lippershey, or James Metius. Each group will share results by presenting their "case" to the class. Then have the class decide who, if anyone, they think should be given credit for inventing the telescope and why.

Students could design an instrument that summarizes their findings and ask others (parents, friends, other teachers and students) whom they think was the first person to use a telescope. In addition, students should discuss if it is important to give credit at all. As an extension to this activity, once students have decided who they believe should get the credit, have them look in a variety of encyclopedias, textbooks, and other media and record which inventor was given credit most often.

Current Issues - At a cost of two billion dollars the Hubble telescope is the most expensive scientific instrument ever built. Built jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency, it was designed to allow astronomers to look at the universe in new and different ways. There have, however, been problems with the telescope. Have students research the problems scientists have had with this telescope and how scientists and astronauts fixed these problems.

Writing - Set the scene by explaining to students that the Hubble space telescope just had a tune-up. Just like a car, the giant telescope that orbits Earth needs a checkup every year or two. The Hubble telescope uses instruments called gyroscopes to point it at stars and galaxies and to keep it in place while a picture is taken. It has six gyroscopes, and needs at least three working perfectly in order to point itself correctly. Recently four of the six gyroscopes broke, and had to be repaired.

Then, have students research how the astronauts fixed this problem and require them to prepare a "repair journal" that includes what they would do daily during a space mission to prepare and repair the telescope. John Grunsfeld, an astronaut on the space shuttle mission to Hubble kept a repair journal. Have students read parts of his journal on the Internet.

Working in Space - One of the difficult things about working in space is doing work with gloved hands and spacesuits. During the recent Hubble telescope repair mission, astronauts had difficulty with the seemingly simple task of using a screwdriver to remove or tighten a screw. Have students design a task for a partner to do while they are wearing gloves. For example, students could use gardener's gloves or work gloves to simulate the gloves astronauts use to put a nut on a bolt, use a screwdriver to put a screw into a block of wood, or some other job. In their science notebooks, students should write a paragraph describing what they experienced while doing this activity.

Make a Telescope - Use this story about how Hans Lippershey (1570-1619) may have invented the first telescope to introduce the activity.

Hans Lippershey was handling some lenses in his shop when he happened to look through two lenses that were shaped differently. He was holding them up toward the light of the open doorway when he was startled to see a distant church tower seem to jump to the door of his shop. He was amazed to see even the weathervane on the church spire clearly. His first idea was to use this curious effect he discovered to attract customers. He set up a display with the two lenses, so people who came to his shop could look through them and see how the church appeared to be so close. Lippershey eventually enclosed the two lenses in a tube to make what he called a looking glass.

Afterwards, have students design their own telescopes. To do this they will need lenses, tape, scissors, cardboard tubes of varying diameters, and flat pieces of cardboard that may be cut to be the "lens holders." Have them experiment with the lenses and the two cardboard tubes of different diameters. They should put the tubes together so that one of the tubes can move back and forth inside of the other one and devise a way to attach the lenses at opposite ends of the tube. When they are completed, students should share their telescopes with the class.

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