Level 3 Physics – Astronomy (Understanding Stars, Distances and Cosmology) (Exploring Space)


Part 1 – Understanding Stars, Distances and Cosmology

Task 1 – P1, M1

Produce a flow diagram that illustrates the life cycle of a star and the specific star types that exist in our own galaxy.

Your diagram should include the following information:

• Details of the structure of the specific stars at each stage (P1)
• A brief description as to how each star type forms (P1)
• An explanation of the Nuclear/Chemical reactions taking place in the core that allow the star to sustain itself, and, where appropriate, an explanation as to why a Gravitational Collapse has taken in the core (M1)

In addition, for Main Sequence, White Dwarf, Red Giant and Supergiant Stars only:

• Spectral classes of these stars (M1)

• A copy of the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram with the approximate location of each star type identified (M1)

How far away is Polaris? – Please read this information before attempting Task 2

Polaris is a star that has been used for navigation purposes for centuries, due to its orientation directly above the North Pole.

Despite this, only recently have Astronomers been able to determine how far away Polaris is and there is dispute as to its actual distance from earth.

Facts about Polaris

Fact 1: Between 1989 and 1993, the Hipparcos spacecraft measured the Parallax angle measured at 0.0075 arcsecs.

Fact 2: Spectroscopic Analysis (HR diagram) determines and Absolute Magnitude of -3.6 and an Apparent Magnitude of 1.98

Fact 3: Polaris is a Cepheid Variable, with a period of variation measured at 3.97 days

Now complete the task below:

Task 2 – P2, M2

Your task is to determine the distance to Polaris using 3 different methods and analyse your findings:

• Parallax Method

• Spectral Analysis of Absolute Magnitude
• Cepheid Variable method

1) In your own words and using appropriate diagrams, describe how Astronomers use Parallax Method and the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram to measure distance to stars (P2)

2) Explain what is meant by the term “Cepheid Variable” and explain how they can be used to measure distances. (M2)

3) Using the data provided and showing your working, calculate the distance to Polaris using:

a. Parallax Method
b. Spectroscopic Analysis Method
c. Cepheid Variable Method (M2)

Task 3 – The fate of the Universe – P3, M2

Before starting is task, make sure you have read the article “written in the stars” (uploaded, please find file)


1) Produce a comparison table that BRIEFLY outlines the main theories as to how the Universe began and may end. To do this correctly you must state:

• Brief description of what the theory suggests
• Arguments in favour of the theory
• Problems/Limitations with the theory (P3)

2) What is Red-Shift? Explain how it can be used to measure distances to distant Galaxies (M2)

Please add any further information if needed to meet all grading criteria

Grading criteria

P1: explain the stages and processes involved in the life cycle of a star

P2: illustrate how distance can be measured in astronomy

P3: discuss the theories for the origins and the fate of the universe

M1: discuss the variations of star types which occur

M2: explain the different methods of determining distance to astronomical objects.

Part 2 – Exploring Space

Task 1

You are to carry out some research into Earth-based and space observatories. To do this you need to produce a summary table to show how and why we observe each part of the Electromagnetic Spectrum. You need to include the following:

– Name of at least 6 famous observatories

– Which section of the spectrum they observe
– What aspects of astronomy each observatory studies.
– A sample image obtained from each observatory

Task 2

Download the Excel file “sunspot data”, obtained from Solar Influences Data Analysis Centre in Belgium (Uploaded, please find file)


This file contains 3 tables of sunspot data:

1) Yearly average data for past 100 years (the average number of sunspots for each year)
2) Monthly average data for past 25 years (the average number of sunspots for each month)
3) Daily average data for past 15 years. (the average number of sunspots for each month)
You are required to use this data in order to reach conclusions about Sunspot behaviours on the sun.


a) Produce 3 scatter graphs number of sunspots vs date. Make sure the axis of the graphs are properly formatted and that each graph has a suitable title.

b) Analyse each graph explain what they show about sunspot behaviour in the sun. To do this successfully you should highlight and explain any patterns shown on the 3 graphs

Task 3

Your team has been assigned the task of designing a space craft that is suitable for a return journey to Mars. This Mission is due to last approximately 18 months and the Spacecraft needs to accommodate a crew of 4, along with their scientific instruments.

Using the table below as a template, produce a Specification Sheet for your Spacecraft. To do this successfully you should outline the factors (choose 3) (E.g. No gravity, freezing temperatures) that you will need to take into account when designing the space craft. Next to each factor, describe the importance of it and suggest some possible solutions.

You should also explain the effects of spaceflight on the human body (E.g. Bone density)

Factor Why it is of importance Possible solutions

(P, M)