Unit E Space Exploration

University of Alberta observatory domes

Summary of Coverage

"Thank you so much for visiting our class on Friday! The kids loved it...they thought it was pretty cool to meet a "real" Astronomer! Thanks again, Janine"

Updated November 19, 2011

The Sky Scan project provides a resource designed to meet the learning outcomes for Unit E Space Explorations and parts of other units in Alberta Learning's new Grade 9 Science curriculum as outlined on pages 29 - 32. The full curriculum can be found at this link.

What follows is a point by point survey of how the Sky Scan project addresses each aspect of Unit E. There are also cross-curricular tie-ins that are noted below as well. For a summary of the coverage follow this link.

Legend (A guide to interpreting the text)

Text that looks like this is from Alberta Learning's curriculum. Italicized text like this is from the curriculum but has been highlighted to show sections that the Sky Scan project relates to in particular.

Text that is indented and shaded like this is commentary from the Sky Scan project and is not text from Alberta Learning.  


Unit E: Space Exploration (Science and Technology Emphasis)

Overview: Technologies have played an essential role in the study of space and in the emerging use of space environments. Our modern understanding of space has developed in conjunction with advances in techniques for viewing distant objects  

and not so distant objects such as meteors in the upper atmosphere  

for transmitting images and data through space, and for manned and unmanned space exploration. A study of space exploration provides an opportunity for students to examine how science and technology interact and to learn how one process augments the other

Sky Scan offers a direct means to use simple remote sensing technology to study the environment of near space

Students become aware that technologies developed to meet the challenges of space are applied to new purposes. This unit builds on ideas introduced in Grade 6 Science, Topic C: Sky Science and introduces ideas that will be developed further in Science 30, Unit C: Electromagnetic Energy.

Focusing Questions: How have humans attained a presence in space? What technologies have been developed and on what scientific ideas are they based? How has the development of these technologies contributed to the exploration, use and understanding of space and to benefits on Earth? 

Earth itself has a presence in space, and the process of bombardment affects us without leaving the home planet (ask the dinosaurs!).  We have developed a number of technologies and observational methods over the years to analyze our immediate environment and the risks and benefits associated with this process.  Sky Scan will use one of these technologies, namely radio detection of meteors.

Key Concepts

The following concepts are developed in this unit and may also be addressed in other units at other grade levels. The intended level and scope of treatment is defined by the outcomes below.

Technologies for space exploration and observation  

Sky Scan technology includes FM radio receiver, antenna, computer, shareware

Reference frames for describing position and motion in space 

Meteors are the direct result of small particles with differing positions and motions intersecting with those of Earth

Satellites and orbits 

Meteor showers are the result of large collections of particles sharing a common orbit  which intersects with that of Earth

Distribution of matter through space 

Meteoroid streams and swarms are an important component of interplanetary space

Composition and characteristics of bodies in space

In addition to the meteoroids themselves, both individually and as a collective, by extension we will be learning about comets, asteroids, and Earth itself and how it copes with bombardment

Life-support technologies

Communication technologies 

At its roots Sky Scan uses radio technology; students will be encouraged to share data, results, and conclusions with project coordinators, other participating schools, and even the at-large science community, primarily through the use of the Internet

Outcomes for Science, Technology and Society (STS) and Knowledge

Students will:

1. Investigate and describe ways that human understanding of Earth and space has depended on technological development 

one example directly related to Sky Scan is the study of daytime meteor showers, which were unknown until radio techniques were applied

Identify different perspectives on the nature of Earth and space, based on culture and science (e.g., describe cosmologies based on an Earth-centred universe [Note: detailed knowledge of epicycles is not required]; describe aboriginal views of space and those of other cultures; describe the role of observation in guiding scientific understanding of space)

Investigate and illustrate the contributions of technological advances-including optical telescopes, spectral analysis and space travel-to a scientific understanding of space

Describe, in general terms, the distribution of matter in space (e.g., stars, star systems, galaxies, nebulae)

Identify evidence for, and describe characteristics of, bodies that make up the solar system; and compare their characteristics with those of Earth 

comets, asteroids, interplanetary dust; by extension, formation of the Moon which was caused by a catastrophic collision

Describe and apply techniques for determining the position and motion of objects in space, including:  

Remote sensing techniques will be applied

  1.  constructing and interpreting drawings and physical models that illustrate the motion of objects in space (e.g., represent the orbit of comets around the Sun, using a looped-string model)
  2. describing techniques used to estimate distances of objects in space and to determine their motion.
  3. describing the position of objects in space, using angular coordinates (e.g., describe the location of a spot on a wall, by identifying its angle of elevation and its bearing or azimuth; describe the location of the Sun and other stars using altitude-azimuth coordinates, also referred to as horizon coordinates or local coordinates) [Note: A description of star positions based on right ascension and declination is not required.]

[Prerequisite Skills: Grade 7 Mathematics, Shape and Space, Specific Outcomes 11, 13; Related Skills: Grade 9 Mathematics, Shape and Space, Specific Outcomes 13, 14]

Investigate predictions about the motion, alignment and collision of bodies in space; and critically examine the evidence on which they are based (e.g., investigate predictions about eclipses; identify uncertainties in predicting and tracking meteor showers)  

Sky Scan will provide students the opportunity to directly observe one or more meteor showers and compare their results with predictions

2. Identify problems in developing technologies for space exploration, describe technologies developed for life in space, and explain the scientific principles involved

Analyze space environments, and identify challenges that must be met in developing life-supporting systems 

e.g. investigate the risk of meteoroid swarms such as the Leonids damaging or disabling Earth orbiting satellites (e.g., analyze implications of variations in gravity, temperature, availability of water, atmospheric pressure and atmospheric composition)

Describe technologies for life-support systems, and interpret the scientific principles on which they are based (e.g., investigate systems that involve the recycling of water and air)

Describe technologies for space transport, and interpret the scientific principles involved (e.g., describe the development of multistage rockets, shuttles and space stations; build a model vehicle to explore a planet or moon)

Identify materials and processes developed to meet needs in space, and identify related applications (e.g., medicines, remote sensing, microelectronics, polymers, medical imaging, wireless communication technologies, synthesis of fuels)

Describe the development of artificial satellites, and explain the major purposes for which they are used (e.g., communication, GPS-global positioning system, weather observation)

3. Describe and interpret the science of optical and radio telescopes, space probes and remote sensing technologies 

Sky Scan uses a rudimentary form of radio telescope as a remote sensing device

Explain, in general terms, the operation of optical telescopes, including telescopes that are positioned in space environments

Explain the role of radio and optical telescopes in determining characteristics of stars and star systems 

The direct study will be on meteors, a component of our local star system; by extension, the principles of sensors in radio and across the electromagnetic spectrum can be learned  

Describe and interpret, in general terms, the technologies used in global positioning systems and in remote sensing (e.g., use triangulation to determine the position of an object, given information on the distance from three different points) [Note: This example involves the use of geometric approaches rather than mathematical calculations.]  

The general principles of triangulation can be applied when sharing results among schools.

4. Identify issues and opportunities arising from the application of space technology, identify alternatives involved, and analyze implications

Recognize risks and dangers associated with space exploration (e.g., space junk, fuel expenditure, satellites burning up in the atmosphere, solar radiation)

Describe Canadian contributions to space research and development and to the astronaut program (e.g., Canadarm)

Identify and analyze factors that are important to decisions regarding space exploration and development (e.g., identify examples of costs and potential benefits that may be considered; investigate and describe political, environmental and ethical issues related to the ownership and use of resources in space).

Skill Outcomes (focus on problem solving)

Initiating and Planning

Students will:

Ask questions about the relationships between and among observable variables, and plan investigations to address those questions  

Variables include the relative strength of a meteor shower over a period of days, and differences in the remote sensing systems established at different locations (i.e. other schools)

Identify practical problems 

problems will be largely technological in nature, including proper hook-up of system components, settings of detection software, and the like  

(e.g., identify problems that must be addressed in developing a life-supporting space environment)

Propose alternative solutions to a given practical problem, select one, and develop a plan 

change location and/or direction of antenna to maximize sensitivity 

(e.g., design and describe a model of a technology to be used in a space station)

State a prediction and a hypothesis based on background information or an observed pattern of events 

predict the intensity of a meteor shower based on previous performance of the remote sensing system vs. known observed rates  

(e.g., predict the next appearance of a comet, based on past observations; develop a hypothesis about the geologic history of a planet or its moon, based on recent data)

Performing and Recording

Students will:

Conduct investigations into the relationships between and among observations, and gather and record qualitative and quantitative data 

Comparisons can be done between groups of students, between classes, and between participating schools

Research information relevant to a given problem 

e.g. On-line help available for shareware software

Select and integrate information from various print and electronic sources or from several parts of the same source (e.g., compile and compare information about two exploratory missions) 

Compare information between two meteor showers, or the same shower as observed from multiple stations

Organize data, using a format that is appropriate to the task or experiment  

This is a vital component of the shareware package, and can be customized according to the needs/desires of the individual, group, or class 

(e.g., maintain a log of observed changes in the night sky; prepare a data table to compare various planets)

Analyzing and Interpreting

Students will:

Analyze qualitative and quantitative data, and develop and assess possible explanations 

Explanations can be based on both the phenomenon being observed (a meteor shower) as well as limitations of the detection system

Test the design of a constructed device or system 

remote sensing system a central requirement of Sky Scan  

(e.g., create and test a model device for remote manipulation of materials)

Identify and correct practical problems in the way a prototype or constructed device functions  

These come with the territory 

(e.g., identify and correct problems in the functioning of a model "remote transportation device" that they have designed and built)

Identify the strengths and weaknesses of different methods of collecting and displaying data  

A comparison can be made between visual and radio observation of the same meteor shower 

(e.g., compare Earth-based observations with those made from spacecraft)

Identify new questions and problems that arise from what was learned  (e.g., identify questions to guide further investigation, such as: "What limits the travelling distance and duration of space exploration?", "How old are the planets, and how did they form?")

Communication and Teamwork

Students will:

Work collaboratively on problems; and use appropriate language and formats to communicate ideas, procedures and results 

Students will be encouraged to work in groups, and to interact with other classes, schools, and project coordinators 

Receive, understand and act on the ideas of others (e.g., take into account advice provided by other students or individuals in designing a model space suit or space vehicle)

Work cooperatively with team members to develop and carry out a plan, and troubleshoot problems as they arise  

testing of the remote sensing system will be a vital component of Sky Scan 

(e.g., write and act out a skit to demonstrate tasks carried out by astronauts on a mission).

Defend a given position on an issue or problem, based on their findings (e.g., conduct appropriate research to justify their position on the economic costs or benefits of space exploration)

Attitude Outcomes

Interest in Science

Students will be encouraged to:

Show interest in science-related questions and issues, and confidently pursue personal interests and career possibilities within science-related fields (e.g., express interest in and describe media programs on space science and technology; take an interest in directly observing and interpreting space environments  

all students will be afforded an opportunity to participate in this process

and in personal and group excursions to a space science centre)

Mutual Respect

Students will be encouraged to:

Appreciate that scientific understanding evolves from the interaction of ideas involving people with different views and backgrounds (e.g., show an interest in the contributions that women and men from many cultural backgrounds have made to the development of modern science and technology)

Scientific Inquiry

Students will be encouraged to:

Seek and apply evidence when evaluating alternative approaches to investigations, problems and issues (e.g., seek accurate data that is based on appropriate methods of investigation; consider observations and ideas from a number of sources before drawing conclusions)

Data from multiple schools will be available for comparison purposes 


Students will be encouraged to:

Work collaboratively in carrying out investigations and in generating and evaluating ideas (e.g., work with others to identify problems and explore possible solutions; share observations and ideas with other members of the group, and consider alternative ideas suggested by other group members; share the responsibility for carrying out decisions)  

Sky Scan is designed to be collaborative within working groups, individual classes, other classes in the school, and other schools. 


Students will be encouraged to:

Demonstrate sensitivity and responsibility in pursuing a balance between the needs of humans and a sustainable environment (e.g., consider immediate and long-term consequences of personal and group actions; objectively identify potential conflicts between responding to human wants and needs and protecting the environment)


Students will be encouraged to:

Show concern for safety in planning, carrying out and reviewing activities (e.g., select safe methods and tools for collecting evidence and solving problems; readily alter a procedure to ensure the safety of members of the group)

Grade 9 Science Unit E: Space Exploration

(2002) Alberta Learning, Alberta, Canada

Copyright 1999-2015 by Sky Scan, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the 

Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Department of Physics (University of Alberta)

and the

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

Home    Site Map   Search   FAQ    Links   About Sky Scan   Webmaster  Contact Us