Modeling Solar Storms
- Lesson Plan
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The sun is like a giant electromagnet! In this activity students will explore how the sun’s electromagnetic properties interact with Earth’s magnetic sphere, including the effects of solar storms when they hit the Earth.
- 1 Earth picture for each student group
- 1 Lab sheet for each student
- 4 compasses for each student group
- 1 Solar Strom stick for each student group
- 1 ceramic magnet for each student group
- We suggest you watch the “Magnetic Connection” video ahead of time which details the demonstration and the activity. Do not show this to your students. Find the video at http://www.greatbasinobservatory.org/lesson-plans/modeling-solar-storms
- Before doing this activity introduce your students to the Earth and Sun’s magnetic fields through the videos in the video tab, and/or the slideshow on the Powerpoint tab at our website: http://www.greatbasinobservatory.org/lesson-plans/modeling-solar-storms
- It works best to do the 'Build an Electromagnet' activity before this one.
This activity is adapted from Nasa’s Night Sky Network’s Magnetic Connection Activity
The sun has electromagnetic properties. Electrons moving around in the Sun cause electric currents, which in turn create a magnetic field around the Sun. The areas of intense magnetic activity on the Sun are where intense solar activity occurs, caused when magnetic field lines get twisted together.
After magnetic field lines get tangled enough and a large amount of energy builds up, they can violently unwind and cause an eruption, called a solar flare. This burst of electrons can affect Earth’s technological, communication, and navigation systems. Scientists study solar flares to gain scientific knowledge and to make predictions that will help protect our technological systems on Earth.
Doing the Activity
1. Have student groups place the 4 compasses on their Earth sheet in the empty boxes and fill out the Lab sheet answering the question of why the compasses are pointing North.
2. Have students take the bar magnet and carefully circle the compasses. Remind them to keep the magnet an inch away from compasses at all times. What do the students notice? (The compasses should be attracted to the magnet and move to follow it)
3. Challenge students to figure out where the poles are on their magnets. Remind them that opposites attract. Can they determine a north and south pole on their magnet? This provides a fun time for exploration, make sure that all students in each group have a chance to explore and experiment.
4. Ask students if they have determined the poles on their magnet. If they answer incorrectly, encourage them to think creatively in all directions. After a few more minutes of playing see if anyone can answer correctly.
5. Students can now take turns doing something very fun, place the magnet vertically in the center of the page, slowly turn it in circles. What do the compasses do?
6. Remind students about all of the items we use on Earth that work with the help of electromagnets.
7. Remind students that the Earth's magnetic field is relatively weak. Electromagnets in devices are not affected by it.
8. The Earth’s magnetic field is different than the sun’s magnetic field. The sun has many loops of magnetic activity that get tangled and can generate solar storms. In a solar storm, a huge burst of energy can blow into space and can be directed in Earth’s direction.
9. Have students imagine a solar storm has erupted in the direction of Earth. Let them know that it takes 2-3 days for the burst of positive and negatively charged ions from the solar storm to reach Earth. Now they will be the solar storm, passing the Solar Storm stick over the 4 compasses. What happens to the compasses during the solar storm?
10. Have students finish the remaining questions of the Lab Sheet.
11. Conclude by letting students know that only a massive solar storm burst in our direction will affect our technology, nevertheless, scientists study the sun to predict this activity. A more common and super fun effect of solar storm energy is the aurora borealis. You can conclude the activity by showing images or videos of the incredibly beautiful northern lights.
Realigning a Compass
When a compass is exposed to a strong magnet it can become demagnetized. If a compass becomes demagnetized it can be realigned by swiping the rod magnet over the surface using the following steps:
- Select a compass that is working correctly.
- Determine the north end of the rod magnet by holding it against the working side of a compass.
- The north end of the magnet will attract the north arrow of the compass that is working correctly.
- Select the non-working compass and place the north end of the magnet against the south mark on the compass.
Slide it across the top of the compass towards the north compass mark. Your compass will now be realigned to face magnetic North.
Slide 2: Like the Earth, the Sun has roughly the same pole-to-pole field, but below the surface, the magnetic field lines are tangled and irregular. Elections moving around in the Sun cause electric currents, just like the electrons that flow through wires.
Slide 3: This is an image of the Sun taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. It is called a magnetogram. It is a map of magnetic activity on the Sun. The black and white areas indicate there is a high level of magnetic activity, and the gray areas indicate there is no magnetic activity. The white lines represent the complex magnetic field lines around the Sun.
Slide 4: When magnetic field lines get twisted and tangeled together, they can build up a large amount of energy. This energy then can viontley unwind and cause an eruption. When these eruptions move away from the Sun into space, they are called solar storms.
Slide 5: When solar storms head in Earth’s direction the high electric current effects technology here on Earth. The abundant amount of energy can cause problems with our technological, communication and navigation systems.
This is a great video for the teacher to watch before doing this activity with your class. Don't show it to your students!
A great short introduction on solar magnetism for your students.