Preconceptions…Misconceptions

Alpha Centauri, taken with the Prompt 1 telescope in Chile using an Open filter and a 0.1 second exposure,  at 1:58 a.m. on September 5, 2015.  This is actually a triple star system containing the nearest stars to our Sun.  Let's try a shorter exposure to detect the companion stars.
Alpha Centauri, taken with the Prompt 1 telescope in Chile using an Open filter and a 0.1 second exposure, at 1:58 a.m. on September 5, 2015. This is actually a triple star system containing the nearest stars to our Sun. Let’s try a shorter exposure to detect the companion stars.

We probably all have them.  Maybe we learned them from a classmate who really didn’t know what s/he was talking about.  Or maybe we didn’t understand every word the teacher said in the simplified description meant to help us pass the End Of Course test.

One common misconception is that we on Earth experience warmer, summer-time weather when the Earth is closer to the Sun.  The orbit of our planet is not a perfect circle, but is elliptical in shape, just a little out of circular toward the oval, egg-shape.  And on that part of the orbit when we find ourselves closer to the light and heat emitting sun, we have summer, correct?

In a word, no.

A fellow astronomy teacher introduced me to another, more basic misconception.  At the beginning of my first Lab meetings this semester, I asked the same question I asked last semester and the semester before that.  In a class of 20 to 30 students sometimes one or two but every now and then, five or six students will give the wrong answer I’m looking for.

I tell the class I’m going to ask them to point at a certain thing, to get their pointer fingers ready and go with their initial instinct. “Don’t look around and adjust your aim based on where others are pointed.  Stick with your initial aim.  Here we go,,,everybody…

“Point North”

“Now hold that position.”

In every class I have at least one, and sometimes a half dozen students pointing up.

Pointing up toward the zenith.  Curious.  Why are they pointing there?  Why are they pointing up for “north”?

I then get out a compass and have students determine which way is actually north.  I put  a big “N” on the wall in that direction.

But why point up for “north”?

I think it may be a simple misunderstanding.  Students learn to read maps in school and at home and in the car.  Inevitably which way on the map is north?


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