Known Universe: Education Worksheet

Video highlights from The Known Universe 3

Junior and Senior Secondary

PROGRAMME TITLE    Known Universe

SCHOOL LEVEL   Junior Secondary and Senior Secondary


Known Universe, a spectacular eight-part series, explores some of the most fascinating mysteries of our cosmos, including the physical challenges of surviving in space, the violent power of supernova death and a treasure hunt of cosmic proportions. It presents the views of theoretical physicists, astrophysicists, aerospace engineers and astronauts, highlighting the latest discoveries in space exploration – the ultimate triumph of human endeavour. Each episode has a special focus. The first looks at the practicalities of staying alive in an alien environment. The second episode details the powerful lifecycle of stars from birth to death, investigating our sun and some truly massive stars along the way. The galactic treasure hunt in the third episode undertakes a quest for cosmic riches, including gold, diamonds and the very key to life itself.


This superb series presents cutting edge discoveries in the scientific study of space. Dramatic experiments, enlightening computer generated imagery and fascinating interviews with scientists from different disciplines illustrate how scientific understanding about our universe changes over time.  The series also highlights the intrinsic value of simulations and modeling in investigating predictions about space.

The first episode, Surviving Outer Space, examines how the effects of micro-gravity, volatile temperatures, air pressure – or lack of it – and radiation, challenge human survival. Perfectly adapted to life on planet Earth, we take for granted daily activities such as eating, sleeping, having sex and going to the toilet. This episode reveals how such basic aspects of survival can be managed during space exploration.
Episode 2, Most Powerful Stars, explores how stars grow even more powerful in their violent supernova death, and how the most intense place in the universe may not be a star at all, but a black hole. Interestingly, we see how these mighty stars affect the planets around them, from the utter devastation caused by their enormous energy, to the possibility of creating the ideal environment for life.

Episode 3, Treasure Hunt reveals some innovative ideas that could allow humans to harness raw materials in space, including water from the moon and helium 3, which may help address our future energy needs. One concept includes using Kevlar ribbons to anchor astronauts to mineral-rich asteroids so they can mine metals. We also see how meteorites have created huge deposits of gold and other precious metals here on Earth.

Throughout the Known Universe series, scientists illustrate the importance of experimental evidence in formulating explanations and conclusions. As well, they use evidence as the primary criterion to test the validity of their ideas and arguments.


Junior Secondary Curriculum

Science is a dynamic, collaborative and creative human endeavour arising from our curiosity and interest in making sense of our world through exploring the unknown, investigating universal mysteries, making predictions and solving problems.
Australian Science K-10 Curriculum 2010: Rationale

Senior Secondary Curriculum

By studying the senior secondary Earth and Environmental Science curriculum, students appreciate both the changing and expanding body of contemporary knowledge in earth and environmental science, and the study of earth and environmental science as an independent and collaborative human endeavour.
Australian Earth and Environmental Science Curriculum 2010: Rationale


Junior Secondary

In undertaking these tasks, students of Science will:

•    Develop an interest in science and a curiosity and willingness to explore, ask questions and speculate about the changing world in which they live
•    Develop an ability to investigate questions about the world using scientific inquiry methods, including questioning, planning and conducting experiments and investigations based on ethical principles, collecting and analysing data, evaluating results, and drawing critical, evidence-based conclusions.
Australian Science K-10 Curriculum 2010: Aims

Senior Secondary

In undertaking these tasks, students of Earth and Environmental Science will:

•    Draw on their curiosity and willingness to speculate about and explore the world to expand their interest in earth and environmental science
•    Engage in communication of and about earth and environmental science, value evidence and scepticism, and critically evaluate the scientific claims made by others
•    Appreciate earth and environmental science as both an independent and a collaborative human endeavour
•    Appreciate the changing and expanding body of contemporary knowledge in earth and environmental science.
Australian Earth and Environmental Science Curriculum 2010: Aims


Junior Secondary

Episode 1 Surviving Outer Space

Task 1
Write down six challenges humans face when we travel into space. Choose one of these six and explain in 50 words why it’s a problem and what can be done to overcome it.

Task 2
Draw a diagram of a “space potty” and label the different parts. Write a set of instructions to go with the potty. Add a sentence to explain what you think would be the most difficult aspect of using a space potty and why.

Task 3
All of the planets in our solar system have their own unique composition. Choose either Mars or Venus, and in 100 words describe what would happen to a human who travelled to this planet and why. As part of your description, explain the role that the planet’s atmosphere would play in the ensuing catastrophe.

Episode 2 Most Powerful Stars

Task 1
In 50 words, explain what stars are made of, how they are born, and how they die.

Task 2
The largest star we know is called Canis Majoris (Big Dog). Use the Internet to help compile a list of ten facts about Big Dog. Include its distance from Earth in light years, its place in our solar system, and its size in comparison to the sun.

Task 3  
Write a definition of a magnetar. In 100 words, describe what would happen – and why – if a magnetar came within 80,000 km of Earth.

Episode 3 Treasure Hunt

Task 1
Sudbury Basin in Canada is the home of North America’s largest metal deposits, with a trillion dollars’ worth of material mined during the last 100 years. Name five of the valuable minerals found at Sudbury Basin and, in 50 words, describe how and when they were transformed from scattered metal atoms to rich veins of heavy metals.

Task 2
The 3106.75-carat Cullinan diamond is the biggest on Earth and is worth $400 million.
Find answers to the following questions about diamonds:
•    What are they made of?
•    Where are the formed?
•    How are they formed?
•    What makes them so strong?
•    Why are they difficult to melt?
•    Why are they so valuable?
•    Name three ways diamonds can be used.
•    Which planet has diamond icebergs in its outer core and why?

Task 3
In 100 words, explain what Helium 3 is, where it can be found and why it might be the solution to our energy needs.


Senior Secondary

Episode 1 Surviving Outer Space

Task 1
Write a 50-word explanation of the dangers each of the following challenges poses to human survival in space:

•    Microgravity
•    Temperature volatility
•    Pressure
•    Radiation

Task 2
Now write a 50-word description of how each of these challenges may be overcome.

Task 3
In 150 words describe what happened to Joseph Kittinger’s hand, and why, during atmospheric pressure tests conducted in 1960.

Episode 2 Most Powerful Stars

Task 1
In Most Powerful Stars, scientists used modelling and experimental evidence to formulate explanations and conclusions. Describe the following in 75-100 words each:

•    How NASA tests heat shields for spacecraft
•    How to recreate solar flares
•    How to test materials to be used in NASA’s solar probe
•    How to replicate what happens at the edge of the sun’s heliosphere
•    How to estimate the energy in the core of a supernova
•    How to recreate the asymmetry of a supernova explosion
•    How to demonstrate the power of a magnetar

Task 2
In 150 words, explain what powers stars, including the parts played by radiation, pressure and temperature.

Task 3
One theory about the hottest, most powerful spots in the universe is that they are found inside micro black holes. Write about 100 words to describe a micro black hole and explain this theory.

Episode 3 Treasure Hunt

Task 1
Explain how the mineral wealth of Sudbury Basin in Canada was created. As part of your 200-word answer, name the minerals that are found there, at least two uses for each, how and when the site became commercially viable.

Task 2
Write about 150 words to describe the composition of an asteroid, the challenges humans would face trying to obtain samples from an asteroid, and suggested ways of overcoming these challenges.

Task 3
Explain in 200 words why Helium 3 is a valuable treasure, where it is found, and how it might be harnessed to address our energy challenges.


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