Virtual Idea Lab

Astronomy News-Asterism/Constellation Report (Extra Credit)

Select a current astronomy news story (Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines are good sources, as is the website), as well as one of the 88 celestial constellations, and give a short (roughly 5-minute) report on them to the class, turning in a 2-page, 600-word summary (~1 page/300 words for news report + ~1 page/300 words for constellation) in his/her own words, citing all sources. The constellation portion should focus on scientific and technical aspects, such as brightest stars, galaxies, Messier objects, NGCs, asterisms and other features, location in the sky, best viewing times, and, if it is within a zodiacal constellation, how the earth’s precession has affected the dates that the sun is found within that constellation. A brief overview of the mythology is also acceptable. Make sure you cross check your news story with another source to get a second perspective, and cite that source in your references as well.

Due date: any scheduled classroom date up to and including the final day of class, one week prior to the final exam.

The following is a good example of this type of report:

News Report: Higgs Boson - The God Particle

Peter Higgs first proposed the existence of a particle responsible for giving other particles their mass in 1964 (Markandeya). Nicknamed “The God Particle,” the Higgs Boson can be considered evidence for the Big Bang Theory, as this particle would have had to form right after the Big Bang in order for any other particle with mass to exist.

According to, a boson is a “corresponding carrier particle… that acts upon matter.” In the standard model, used in particle physics to help us understand the universe, each fundamental force (gravitational, electromagnetic, weak, and strong) has a boson. The Higgs boson would act as barrier that would break the symmetry between a pair of forces, as explained by physics and astronomy professor Steve Weinberg in an article from the New York Times. The idea that matter, since it does not initially have mass, would have to pass through a field (in the form of a very large particle) to gain mass prompts the need for the existence of the Higgs field and its “carrier particle,” the Higgs boson (Atteberry).

This year on the fourth of July, the discovery of “a new heavy particle” was the result of the European Large Hadron Collider experiments, which involved studying the collisions of protons (Weinberg). Whether or not this particle is in fact the Higgs boson is yet to be determined, although the discovered particle does have compatible properties with those predicted of the Higgs. If indeed the Higgs boson has been identified, there is still much to uncover about the standard model as well as the universe as a whole. As Weinberg says, “This discovery simply fills a gap in our understanding of the laws of nature… and throws light on what is going on in the early universe.” Understanding this much more about the early universe might be considered simple, while at the same time elegant, meaning that its significance is in no way diminished. 

~Sara Flores

Constellation Report: Scorpius

Scorpio (translated as “the scorpion”) is an asterism within the constellation of Scorpius. Scorpius is a zodiac constellation, meaning it lies within the path followed by the Sun, or the ecliptic. This particular section of the sky is best seen in July, but can be seen between the latitudes of 40 and -90 degrees. Universe Today states, “the constellation of Scorpius resides on the ecliptic plane and was one of the original 48 constellations charted by Ptolemy to be later adopted as a modern constellation by the IAU. It covers 497 square degrees of sky and ranks 33rd in size.” Due to the precession of earth's rotation axis, the sun now passes through Scorpius from November 16 to December 15, so most of you so-called "Scorpios" are actually "Libras", while most of the supposed "Sagittarians" are the real "Scorpios"!

The asterism itself is made up of fifteen stars. Its brightest star is named “Antares.” Found in the heart of Scorpio, Antares has a reddish tint, and looks much like the planet Mars. The constellation also includes four Messier objects: M4, a globular cluster containing thousands to millions of very old stars; M6, The Butterfly Cluster; M7, Ptolemy’s Cluster; and M80, another globular cluster also containing thousands to millions of very old stars.

For the ancient Greeks who named this asterism, Scorpio represented a giant scorpion. There are several theories about the story of Scorpio, but most believe that the giant scorpion was the cause of death for the hunter Orion who claimed to be invincible to any creature. The Greeks believed that the scorpion stung Orion to death, and when the gods immortalized both Orion and the Scorpion in the sky they put them on opposite sides so that they would not fight. Because of the sky’s rotation however, the scorpion is destined to forever chase Orion around the sky.

~Hannah Gaddini

Works Cited (at least two for each part)

Astronomy News Report:

Atteberry, Jonathan. "What exactly is the Higgs boson?"24 January 2012. <> Web. 18 September 2012.

Markandeya, Virat. “Physicists Detect New Heavy Particle: Signature resembles long-sought ‘Higgs boson’” 4 July 2012. <> Web. 18 September 2012.

Weinberg, Steven. “Why the Higgs Boson Matters” 13 July 2012. <> Web. 18 September 2012.

Constellation Report:

Dolan, Chris. "Scorpius." Scorpius. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2012. <>.

Plotner, Tammy. "Scorpius." Universe Today. Universe Today, 13 Jan. 2009. Web. 25 Sept. 2012. <>.

"Zodiac Constellations." ZODIAC CONSTELLATIONS. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2012. <>.