WSU Whatcom County Extension

Stewardship is Where You Are

Weather Watchers

The Big Picture

Let’s face it: the sun is the “engine” that sustains all living things on this planet. The sun is about 93 million miles away from us but on a sunny day we still feel its warmth. (93 million miles is like going all the way around the Earth more than 23,000 times). On a sunny day, the sun's rays give off approximately 1,000 watts of energy per square meter of the planet's surface. How far from a 60 watt lamp can you hold your hand before you stop feeling the lamps radiant energy? The sun is a star and it is “burning” through a process called nuclear fusion. The energy produced in one second by the sun is more than mankind has used since the beginning of time, and there are many more kinds of energy coming off of the sun that the human eye can’t see! Non-renewable energies such as oil or natural gas may begin running out in as little as ten years, but the sun is expected to keep churning out energy for about 3 billion more years. Without a doubt, in your lifetime you will see a change in the kinds of energy we use!

What is solar power? What kind of energy comes from the sun and how do we harness it? What are the trade-offs of using solar power? In this unit you will explore the science of light, solar radiation and energy.

Explorer - Skill Level: One Engager - Skill Level: Two Citizen Scientist - Skill Level: Three


Scavenger Hunt: Looking for solar panels

Title: Solar Scavenger Hunt

Objective: Identify how prevalent the use of solar energy is in your community.

Science Skills: Observation

Life Skills: Wise Use of Resources

Preparation Activities: Locate buildings and structures in your area that are collecting solar energy.

Materials: transportation

Help youth identify solar panels on buildings, light posts and other generators. Travel throughout your community and see how many homes and businesses you can find that have some solar panels installed.  Use a GPS receiver or dot stickers and a road map to mark everywhere you find evidence of active solar collection.
You can also point out “passive solar” designs, which are buildings that were designed to make use of natural sunlight but which aren’t using active energy collectors. Some buildings use a combination of active and passive solar designs.

Title: Finding Ourselves on the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Objective: Experiment with the light spectrum

Science Skills: Observe, Use Tools

Life Skills: Communication, Disease Prevention  

Preparation Activities:
Print out “Fun Facts about Light”
Gather experiment items or borrow from the Extension Office.

A lamp with a full spectrum light bulb, and LED light, an incandescent light, sunlight
Crayons or colored pencils, paper

Borrow a Solar Scientist Explorer Kit:
prism, magnifying glass, thermometer

Share “Fun Facts about Light” (see Explore More)
Have the youth position a prism under various light sources. (You will probably discover only sunlight makes a strong enough spectrum of color, so don’t do this activity in the cloudy season.) You can start by trying to make a prism with a variety of different light sources: an LED light, a halogen light, a flashlight, a full spectrum bulb. Tell them it will make a rainbow when the right kind of light shines through it and let them search for sources.  They can also try concentrating light using a magnifying glass.

When they finally discover the rainbow effect, each youth can color the spectrum on a sheet of paper while a partner holds the prism steady.

White light is actually not white, it is a combination of all colors.  By bending the light through a prism the invisible waves of color are stretched apart.  Light travels to us through waves. Our sense organs (our eyes, our ears, our sense of touch) are just sophisticated organs for sensing electromagnetic waves. What other kinds of invisible energy waves move on the same spectrum as visible light?

Asking the Right Questions:
What do you see when you use a prism? Why didn’t some of our light sources make rainbows? What makes a rainbow? What color is light? What is light? What is ultra-violet light and how does it affect us?



Heading using the h3 tag

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WSU Whatcom County Extension, 1000 North Forest Street, Suite 201, Bellingham, WA 98225, (360) 778-5800, Contact Us