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Activity

Sounds of the Sun model

Summary: 
Figure out what is inside a box by listening to the noises it makes. Use as an analogy for how we learn about the sun's interior by listening to it.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Physics: Light and Sound (1)
Earth/Space: Sun, Moon, Solar System, Universe (1, 4, 6)
Science topic (2005 curriculum connection): 
Earth and Space Science: Stars and Planets (grade 3)
Lessons activity is in: 
Materials: 
  • empty shoe boxes
  • small metal balls
  • various materials to add to the boxes for the balls to bang against e.g. metal cups, soft cloth, rice grains
  • tape to seal the boxes
Procedure: 

Make up the activity before the lesson:
Leave one shoe box empty, and tape different times into the others. I used metal cups in one, a ball of cloth in another, and rice in another.
Add a metal ball to each box.
Seal the boxes. Make sure all holes are blocked, especially for a box containing rice grains.

Ask students to tip the boxes, and deduce what is inside from the sounds they hear.

Scientists listen to the sounds coming from the inside of the sun, to learn about its interior structure. (Called "helioseismology".)
The Sun's sound waves bounce from one side of the Sun to the other in about two hours, causing the Sun's surface to oscillate, or wiggle up and down. Because these sound waves travel underneath the Sun's surface, they are influenced by conditions inside the Sun. So scientists can listen to the sun to learn more about how the structure of the Sun's interior shapes its surface.

The Sun's sound waves are normally at frequencies too low for the human ear to hear. To be able to hear them, the scientists sped up the waves 42,000 times, and compressed 40 days of vibrations into a few seconds.
What you hear in this audio track are just a few dozen of the 10 million resonances echoing inside the Sun:
http://solar-center.stanford.edu/singing/SOUNDS/three_modes_l_0_1_2.mp3

Grades tested: 
Gr 6
Gr 7
Teacher: 
Phyllis Daly
Reid McInnes
Teaching site: 
Strathcona Elementary
Activity originally developed and delivered: 

Strathcona Elementary