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FRAMING PATHWAYS TO ANSWERS: THE SCIENTIFIC PROCESS IN ACTION
STAYING COOL

MY ANGLE ON COOLING
EFFECT OF DISTANCE AND INCLINATION


Level: Middle School
Duration: 1-2 45-minute periods

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, students discuss what heat is and how it travels. They discover that one way to cool an object in the presence of a heat source is to increase the distance from it or change the angle at which it is faced. The students perform an experiment that measures how the heat experienced by a test subject changes as the distance or the viewing angle changes. The students learn to distinguish which effect is more important for determining the seasons on Earth. They also learn how the MESSENGER mission to Mercury takes advantage of these passive cooling methods to keep the spacecraft comfortable in a high-temperature environment.

Essential Question
How do distance and inclination affect the amount of heat received from a heat source?

MESSENGER spacecraft with its solar panels angled toward the Sun for safe power generation.

Essential Concepts

  • Sunlight can be felt as heat when it interacts with matter.
  • The intensity of light decreases as the distance from the light source increases.
  • The angle at which a light source is viewed affects the intensity of light to which the object is exposed and therefore the amount of heat generated in the object.
  • Seasons on Earth are caused by the tilt of the Earth's rotational axis.

MESSENGER Mission Connection

Because Mercury is much closer to the Sun than the Earth, it is exposed to much more sunlight than objects on the surface of Earth. The MESSENGER mission designers have had to come up with a variety of ways to keep the spacecraft cool in the hot Mercurian environment. Two cooling methods are keeping the distance from the sunlit areas of Mercury’s surface large enough to limit the amount of infrared radiation received from the surface and making sure the solar panels do not view the Sun face-on.

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