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Star Spectra Science: Using Balloons and Buttons to Model Spectroscopy
written by Rebecca Vieyra
This lesson blends physics and Earth science as students explore the spectra of stars using a physical model composed of balloons and buttons. It was inspired by "Balloons and Button Spectroscopy: A Hands-On Approach to Light and Matter", an article by Joseph Ribaudo, published in The Physics Teacher magazine. The lesson initiates with the task of finding wavelength (in nanometers) and corresponding energy (in eV) for each color in the visible spectrum. Next, students identify energy transitions and corresponding color for energy-level diagrams. In the next phase, they pop the balloons and sort buttons by color, plotting the color incidence on a histogram. They will then identify peak emission wavelengths for each balloon "star" and calculate an estimated surface temperature for each.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
- Fundamentals
= Spectra
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Modeling
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Problem/Problem Set
= Student Guide
- Assessment Material
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Assessment
- New teachers
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Available by subscription
This material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 license.
Rights Holder:
American Association of Physics Teachers
Record Creator:
Metadata instance created February 17, 2017 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
February 19, 2017 by Bruce Mason
Last Update
when Cataloged:
January 30, 2017

Next Generation Science Standards

Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer (HS-PS4)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (9-12)
  • Use mathematical representations to support a claim regarding relationships among the frequency, wavelength, and speed of waves traveling in various media. (HS-PS4-1)

Earth's Place in the Universe (HS-ESS1)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (9-12)
  • Communicate scientific ideas about the way stars, over their life cycle, produce elements. (HS-ESS1-3)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Electromagnetic Radiation (PS4.B)
  • Electromagnetic radiation (e.g., radio, microwaves, light) can be modeled as a wave of changing electric and magnetic fields or as particles called photons. The wave model is useful for explaining many features of electromagnetic radiation, and the particle model explains other features. (9-12)
  • Atoms of each element emit and absorb characteristic frequencies of light. These characteristics allow identification of the presence of an element, even in microscopic quantities. (9-12)
The Universe and its Stars (ESS1.A)
  • The study of stars' light spectra and brightness is used to identify compositional elements of stars, their movements, and their distances from Earth. (9-12)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Patterns (K-12)
  • Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena. (9-12)
Scale, Proportion, and Quantity (3-12)
  • The significance of a phenomenon is dependent on the scale, proportion, and quantity at which it occurs. (9-12)
Systems and System Models (K-12)
  • When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models. (9-12)
Energy and Matter (2-12)
  • Energy drives the cycling of matter within and between systems. (9-12)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)
  • Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)
    • Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution. (9-12)
Developing and Using Models (K-12)
  • Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds. (9-12)
    • Use a model to provide mechanistic accounts of phenomena. (9-12)
Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)
  • Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)
    • Use mathematical representations of phenomena to describe explanations. (9-12)
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
R. Vieyra, , 2017, WWW Document, (http://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14318&DocID=4677).
R. Vieyra, Star Spectra Science: Using Balloons and Buttons to Model Spectroscopy, , 2017, <http://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14318&DocID=4677>.
APA Format
Vieyra, R. (2017). Star Spectra Science: Using Balloons and Buttons to Model Spectroscopy. Retrieved May 26, 2017, from http://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14318&DocID=4677
Chicago Format
Vieyra, Rebecca. "Star Spectra Science: Using Balloons and Buttons to Model Spectroscopy." 2017. http://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14318&DocID=4677 (accessed 26 May 2017).
MLA Format
Vieyra, Rebecca. Star Spectra Science: Using Balloons and Buttons to Model Spectroscopy. 2017. 26 May 2017 <http://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14318&DocID=4677>.
BibTeX Export Format
@techreport{ Author = "Rebecca Vieyra", Title = {Star Spectra Science: Using Balloons and Buttons to Model Spectroscopy}, Month = {January}, Year = {2017} }
Refer Export Format

%A Rebecca Vieyra
%T Star Spectra Science: Using Balloons and Buttons to Model Spectroscopy
%D January 30, 2017
%U http://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14318&DocID=4677
%O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Report
%A Vieyra, Rebecca
%D January 30, 2017
%T Star Spectra Science: Using Balloons and Buttons to Model Spectroscopy
%8 January 30, 2017
%U http://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14318&DocID=4677

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Citation Source Information

The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

The APA Style presented is based on information from APA Style.org: Electronic References.

The Chicago Style presented is based on information from Examples of Chicago-Style Documentation.

The MLA Style presented is based on information from the MLA FAQ.

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