Formation of the solar system and orbital parameters
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
* the formation of the solar system from nebula collapse,
* the scientific method,
* understanding of simple equations (Gravity equation),
* the creation and use of simple computer models in science.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
* hone observation skills,
* induce comparison between different types of observations to test hypotheses.
Other skills goals for this activity
Description of the activity/assignment
This exercise is designed as a lab, but can also be used as a classroom demonstration. It requires the use of the VPython programs which require Python and VPython to be installed on your computers (this software is free and has been made available on the default image for all computers on our campus). The models show
- the gravitational collapse of a set of particles to create a central "Sun" with other orbiting particles,
- a simple model to demonstrate elliptical orbits,
- a simple model of the solar system showing the planetary orbits (speeded up).
The task is to assess one hypothesis about the formation of the solar system (from a dust and gas nebula) by comparing the computer simulation (model 1) to the shape and form of the actual solar system (model 3). Students can interact with the 3d models by, for example, selecting planetary objects to track, and changing perspectives in 3d space. In doing this students learn about the shapes of the planetary orbits (ellipticity etc) and reasons that they change.
Determining whether students have met the goals
Download teaching materials and tips
- Activity Description/Assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 56kB Feb7 08)
- VPython models (.py files) used in assignment ( 7kB Feb7 08)
The computer models used are hosted on the GeoMod website, and are currently located at:
http://lurbano-5.memphis.edu/GeoMod/index.php/Nebula_Model_Instructions (this link no longer works, but is kept for archival purposes)
link http://lurbano-5.memphis.edu/GeoMod/index.php/Ellipticity_Model_Instructions (this link no longer works, but is kept for archival purposes)
link http://lurbano-5.memphis.edu/GeoMod/index.php/Solar_System_Model_Instructions (this link no longer works, but is kept for archival purposes)
Finally, instructions on the installation of VPython can be found on the website http://www.vpython.org/