Lesson on galaxies.

The image that generated our science lesson: The Pandora Cluster as seen from the Hubble telescope. Did you know all those are galaxies – not stars – galaxies?

Our science topic has been astronomy for the past couple of weeks. Nicholas got a brand new telescope, and an astronomy book, and is loving astronomy.

I found this interesting article on Slate this morning while I was reading my news. It’s all about galaxies and the Pandora Cluster.

So I decided it would be our science lesson for today.

First, we talked about Hubble and what the Hubble telescope is. We went to the Hubble webpage and Nicholas had to read, to me, the “essentials” part of the page.

Then we talked about a light-year. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year. We learned that things we see from far away, like in our telescope, could have happened millions or billions of years ago – depending on how far the light has had to travel.

It’s really hard for kids – and adults – to grasp the vastness of space, so I don’t worry too much about that. But we do learn how far away things are, and talk about time and things we can do in a year, so Nicholas has some relative distance to work from.

Then we went to look at the image I wanted to use: http://imgsrc.hubblesite.org/hu/db/images/hs-2014-01-a-full_jpg.jpg

You can zoom in and out. And notice – those linear things are actually galaxies – not stars or anything else. Those are galaxies. They just look different because of how the light is bending in space.

So the picutre is of 4 galaxy clusters, collectively known as the Pandora Cluster. They are 4 billion light years away. That’s pretty far, and that’s a pretty old image we are seeing. It boggles my mind. But Nicholas just accepts that the picture is what things looked like out there 4 billion years ago. If we want a picture of what it looks like today, we’d have to wait 4 billion years to get that picture.

The reason the light bends and gives us images of galaxies we might not have otherwise been able to see is that the Pandora Cluster has a mass approximately 400 trillion times that of our sun. This image was taken over 67 hours. It shows some galaxies that are 12 billion light years away. That’s almost when the galaxy was born (13.8 billion years ago). The image is of great significance and shows amazing things.

But what was most exciting was being able to explain all this to Nicholas and have him jumping up and down and being excited about astronomy. It’s a fabulous short lesson – or longer depending on the child. Using the resources around on the Hubble website can provide many more lessons – especially for those who like astronomy. I imagine this will be a common lesson that we have every once in a while. It actually goes quite nicely with his Khan Academy choices from yesterday – the scale of space (large and small). It was awesome.

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