Students use authentic spectral data from the Cassini mission of Saturn and Saturn's moon, Titan, gathered by instrumentation developed by engineers. Taking these unknown data, and comparing it with known data, students determine the chemical composition of Saturn's rings and Titan's atmosphere.
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- Colorado: Science
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 5. Describe qualitatively the functional relationship between two quantities by analyzing a graph (e.g., where the function is increasing or decreasing, linear or nonlinear). Sketch a graph that exhibits the qualitative features of a function that has been described verbally. (Grade 8)  ...show
- 4. For a function that models a relationship between two quantities, interpret key features of graphs and tables in terms of the quantities, and sketch graphs showing key features given a verbal description of the relationship. Key features include: intercepts; intervals where the function is increasing, decreasing, positive, or negative; relative maximums and minimums; symmetries; end behavior; and periodicity.<sup>★</sup> (Grades 9 - 12)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- F. New products and systems can be developed to solve problems or to help do things that could not be done without the help of technology. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Explain that spectral data correlates to chemical compositions.
- Match plots of real data to experimentally known data.
- Describe how engineers design tools to help advance our knowledge of planetary science.
Each student needs:
- 1 copy of Using Spectral Data Worksheet
- 1 pencil
|spectrum (plural: spectra):||The pattern light produces as can be seen through a spectrograph.|
|spectrometer (also spectroscope, spectrograph):||A tool that allows the components of light to be seen easily with the eye.|
|Titan:||A moon of Saturn that has an incredibly thick atmosphere.|
|microwave:||A type of light that can be detected with a microwave camera.|
|ultraviolet:||A type of light that can be detected with an ultraviolet detector.|
Before the Activity
With the Students
- Hand out the worksheets.
- Today, we will look at two spectra from the ultraviolet imaging spectrograph (UVIS) that traveled to Saturn aboard the Cassini spacecraft.
- After you look at these images (on the first page), look at the known spectra of four elements (H), helium (He), nitrogen (N) and krypton (Kr) (on the second page).
- Match the patterns of peaks and valleys in the known spectra with those you see on the UVIS spectra to determine what elements UVIS is seeing in Saturn's rings and on Titan. Enter your answers on the worksheet.
- Roam around the room to talk to individual students about the graphs.
- Ask students questions about what they see in the plots and why the pictures correspond to a graph.
- Have students answer the remaining questions on the worksheet.
- Conclude with a class discussion of the worksheet answers.
Fisher, Diane. "Taking Apart the Light." "The Technology Teacher." March 2002.
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder
© 2007 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: June 2, 2015