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Space telescopes
Hubble Space Telescope and space technology
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Reality 1:

The telescope is unmanned and controlled from the Earth. Astronomers request observation time on the telescope and conduct their research on Earth.


Reality 2:

The Hubble telescope can collect more light so that astronomers can see objects more clearly. But the telescope also can detect light that is invisible to the human eye, such as infrared and ultraviolet light.


Reality 3:

The Hubble Space Telescope orbits the Earth. It produces clearer images than ground-based telescopes because it is above Earth's atmosphere. The Earth's atmosphere distorts our view of objects in space.


Reality 4:

The Hubble Space Telescope does not use film to take images. The telescope instead takes digital images, which are transmitted to Earth. Scientists, however, do not think of Hubble as a giant digital camera in space, but rather as a scientific instrument that observes objects for analysis. These observations can be converted into pictures, but pictures are not Hubble's primary purpose.


Reality 5:

The telescope cannot take pictures of everything in space. For example, pointing it near the Sun or other very bright objects, such as the Earth, could damage the instruments. On one occasion, the telescope snapped pictures of the Moon, but this took much effort since the Moon is very bright and appears to move through the sky more rapidly than other, more distant, objects. The Hubble Space Telescope has also never taken pictures of Mercury because it is too close to the Sun.


Reality 6:

Warp drive is an imaginary device used in science fiction. Objects cannot travel faster than the speed of light (300,000 kilometers per second, or 186,000 miles per second).


Reality 7:

Spacecraft travel much slower. For example, the Cassini spacecraft was launched on October 15, 1997, and successfully entered orbit around Saturn in June 2004. The Apollo missions took slightly more than three days to travel from the Earth to the Moon. At the speed of light, it would take about 1 second to reach the Moon and about an hour and fifteen minutes to reach Saturn.


"Myths vs. realities: Hubble Space Telescope and space technology" contains common misconceptions about the Hubble Space Telescope and space technology. The misconception is presented as the “myth” and an explanation of the true concept is the “reality.” Teachers should be aware of the misconceptions students harbor because they impede students' ability to see the “big picture” in the various sciences; hamper students' ability to apply science principles meaningfully to everyday life; and diminish students' ability to appreciate the links among science concepts and generalizations.

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How to use in the classroom

This resource aids teachers in identifying and remedying student misconceptions about the Hubble Space Telescope and space technology. The best way to learn how students think is to ask them. Below are two strategies that can be employed to identify your students' misconceptions concerning the Hubble Space Telescope and space technology. The first is an individual writing activity that allows students to think independently. The other is a group activity that allows students to share their ideas verbally.

An individual writing activity. To prepare for a study of the Hubble Space Telescope and space technology, explain that you are interested in finding out what your students already know about this topic before you start. Ask students to write down what they know about the Hubble Space Telescope and space technology and why they know it. For example, they may say the Hubble Space Telescope is better able to see celestial objects because it is closer to them than telescopes on earth. Collect their papers and compile a list of misconceptions the students display in their writing.

The next day, start your unit by explaining that it is common for people both children and adults to have misconceptions about their world. Explain that you have a list of misconceptions that you would like to discuss with the class. You can read the misconceptions that appear on Myths vs. realities as well as the ones compiled from the students' papers. Ask the students to comment on the misconceptions and discuss the reality of the situation. If your students have misconceptions about the Hubble Space Telescope and space technology that we haven't included on our list, you can send them to us through the Contact us section of this web site, and we'll add them to our list. You may want to make special mention of any new misconceptions the students revealed, and let them know you'll submit them to us for addition to our list.

A group activity. Begin your study of the Hubble Space Telescope and space technology by explaining to students that sometimes the ideas they have about this topic may not be entirely true, and that you are going to try to identify these ideas. Explain that some of these ideas are very hard to remove, and that even their parents may have some of these misconceptions Tell the students that you will read a statement (either a myth or a reality) and they must decide whether it is true or false. Ask them to explain their decision in writing.

Once students have written their responses, discuss their thoughts and the accuracy of the statement. Be sure to establish some ground rules concerning student responses to the thoughts of their peers. Remind them that almost anyone can hold these misconceptions, but they need to be identified and removed before true learning can begin. Ask students if they have any other misconceptions that are not covered in the activity, so you can submit them to us for addition to our list through the Contact us section of this web site. It might help students feel more invested in the activity.

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