AAS 197, January 2001
Session 87. Innovations in Teaching Astronomy II
Joint Display, Wednesday, January 10, 2001, 9:30am-7:00pm, Exhibit Hall

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[87.20] "The Search For Object X", a Capstone Laboratory Exercise from Project CLEA

G.A. Snyder, L.A. Marschall, P.R. Cooper (Gettysburg College)

The latest astronomy laboratory exercise from Project CLEA (Contemporary Laboratory Experiences in Astronomy), "The Search for Object X", is similar in principle to the final experiment in a qualitative chemical analysis course. Students are simply given the coordinates of an "unknown" object and asked to describe its characteristics as fully as possible. They have at their disposal several simulated optical and radio telescopes of varying aperture, along with a photoelectric photometer, a photon-counting spectrograph, and a CCD camera. If the object is a star, for instance, they must classify its spectral type and determine its distance. If it is a cluster they may estimate its distance and age. If it is a galaxy, they must measure its radial velocity and estimate how far away it is. If no visible source is present, they may see if it is a radio source, and if so, what kind.

The new CLEA exercise includes a full set of simulated instruments, along with an extensive database containing information on over 15 million stars, several selected star clusters, several tens of thousands of galaxies, over 500 pulsars, and other objects. The student manual describes classification criteria for objects, and provides suggestions for observational strategies. Teachers' materials include suggestions for interesting objects and alternative projects.

Because it makes available a complete virtual sky that is uses real data, the "Object X" exercise breaks new ground for Project CLEA. It can accommodate a wide range of open-ended discovery-based activities. It makes it possible to illustrate techniques of "data mining" as well as multiwavelength observing to the undergraduate astronomy lab.

Beta-versions of the exercise will be available at the meeting. Future development of this exercise will involve the inclusion of a large database of asteroid elements (>90,000), IR and UV spectra, and multi-wavelength images of selected objects. Project CLEA is funded by the National Science Foundation and Gettysburg College.

If you would like more information about this abstract, please follow the link to http://www.gettysburg.edu/academics/physics/clea/CLEAhome.html. This link was provided by the author. When you follow it, you will leave the Web site for this meeting; to return, you should use the Back comand on your browser.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: clea@gettysburg.edu

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