Using a balloon helps astronomy students measure distance in space


Aliza Porter

Astronomy classes spent Monday examining a balloon in hopes of learning how to measure distances in space.

Aliza Porter, Assignment Editor

A balloon was more than a party favor for astronomy classes on Monday as students were taking measurements and learning about the process of parallax, which is the apparent change in the position of an object resulting from the change in direction or position in which it is viewed.

“Today [Monday] we are talking about this concept called parallax which is how we figure out distances to nearby stars and the galaxy,” astronomy teacher Kenric Davies said. “It’s literally just looking at angles so taking an angle in February and then again in August, six months later, when we’re on the opposite side of the sun, and using those angles to figure out the distance to a star. So we’re just modeling it in class today by trying to find distant to a balloon on the opposite side of the cafeteria using the same concept.”

The activity will require multiple trials, with senior Hannah Bletsch hoping to learn about the brightness of the stars around her that can’t be learned in another science class.

“It’s basically about stars and trying to figure out distance so I guess the main stars that we see, the fact that they’re closer, means that they’re brighter to us,” Bletsch said. “Trying to understand distant and the brightness that come from a star.”

While measuring angles is a common concept among math classes, science comes into play when there are angles needed to be measured that are far away.

“There are a couple of things that nearby stars are really easy to get distance to just using the concept of geometry and trigonometry that they’ve learned in their math classes but also if a star gets too far away, we can’t use this method,” Davies said. “We have to reply on other methods to be able to try and figure out distances because it becomes too hard to measure.”

Monday’s lesson was just one component of the class, but it’s something senior Kyle Slack is hoping will give him a better understanding of the cosmos.

“I really do like astronomy,” senior Kyle Slack said. “I kind of would hope this whole class would give me a better insight on not just the world around me, but I guess the universe.”