Finding Proper Motion Pairs
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Proper Pair Learning Goals

Many people, young and old, view science as an ever-expanding collection of facts to memorize rather than as a process of discovery and understanding. Many haven't yet learned that the process of scientific discovery is a creative, intellectual activity that can be used by anyone as a way of interpreting and understanding nature. The opportunity to participate actively in scientific research and to experience the thrill of original discovery is rare. The incorporation of research and discovery into the astronomy curriculum can help students experience the process of science in an authentic and meaningful way, not through canned laboratory exercises, but through analysis of scientific data. The central learning goal is the concept that scientific investigation involves multiple lines of corroborating evidence. New knowledge is not created from whole cloth, but rather woven from multiple threads of existing and new observations of nature. The new "Proper Pair" web tool from Indiana University engages students in the process of discovering binary stars, while simultaneously requiring them to integrate multiple observations to establish the validity of their discovery.

Students must recognize that multiple lines of evidence (apparent proximity, similar distances, and similar proper motions) must converge to establish the reality of a binary pair. The module gives students an opportunity to experience scientific research and discovery, engaging their critical thinking skills in the scientific process.

Used with an inquiry-based learning approach, the web tool can motivate students to master concepts of parallax, proper motion, angular coordinates, apparent and intrinsic brightness, spatial relationships, and distance and size scales, incorporating both mathematical calculations and graphical analysis of data. Beyond just the discovery of a visual binary, students can, for example, compute the projected physical separation of the stars on the sky, determine the relative brightness of stars in a binary, and explore the relationships between brightness, radius and temperature.

RBSEU is funded through a CCLI grant from the National Science Foundation



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Last updated: 30 November 2008
Comments: astdept [at] indiana [dot] edu
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