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Solar System Science Fair Project Ideas

— National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Updated on Feb 25, 2009

The best way to learn science is to create your own questions and go after the answer as best you can. This will force you to learn many details about how things work, and how to sift through data to turn up answers. Although the universe is a big place, and is overwhelming as a science fair topic, why not pick something closer to home to study? Here are some projects that students have looked into and succeeded in coming up with pretty cool results!

Francesca Bassa (St. Agnes Academy, 2007) 'Houston...We have a problem', looked into solar storms and tried to find a way to predict when the worst ones might be a problem for satellites working in space .She looked over several data archives from NASA, pulled the data together using Venn Diagrams, and bar graphing, and came up with some vern neat relationships between the different kinds of solar storms. She discovered a way to give satellite owners 24-hour notice that their 'bird' might get damaged! She also won some cool priizes too...Learn more!

Karma Barot (Kemps Landing Magnet School) "A Study on Solar Flares and AM Radio Interference'. The purpose of this Earth Science-related report was to evaluate the impact of natural atmospheric conditions to the impact of solar flares on AM radio transmission. In such a way, the actual effects of solar flares on AM radio communication were able to be determined. The experiment was conducted for two weeks, of which the first was completely a week under the influence of solar activity and the latter a week under the absence of solar activity, which served as the control of this experiment as well. The experiment successfully confirmed that AM radio stations can be affected by solar flares, which significantly relates to today's people and their application of communications. Learn more!

More Neat Ideas to Consider:

Below are some questions and topics you might consider working on. They may seem to be pretty definite, but as you work with the data (or data that you find yourself) be prepared that your first answer will be a gateway to many other questions. As a start to narrowing your research, look at the data and then write down at least five other questions that come to mind that could modify your answer to the previous question you came up with. Sometimes these 'secondary' questions are far more interesting to explore.

  • Do solar storms follow a seasonal pattern on Earth?
  • Do solar flares always cause coronal mass ejections?
  • What kinds of magnetic fields in sunspots are most likely to trigger solar flares?
  • How constant is the 11-year sunspot cycles over time?
  • Do all solar flares produce both x-rays and gamma-rays?
  • Why don't ordinary bar magnets show us how magnetic reconnection works?
  • How can you simulate magnetic reconnection under laboratory conditions, or make a working model of magnetic field changes that demonstrate how solar flares work?
  • Can you predict when the most powerful solar flares will happen?
  • How does magnetic energy cause plasma to heat up?
  • How do sunspots and their magnetic fields change just before a solar flare happens?
  • How far out into the solar system can a solar flare be detected by interplanetary spacecraft?
  • What is space weather like near Mars?
  • Will astronauts traveling to Mars have problems with solar flares?
  • Can we use solar activity cycles to plan the best times to travel to Mars?
  • How strong does a solar flare have to be before an astronaut gets killed or seriously affected by its radiation?

Some useful data:

Archive of Solar Storms - Assembled by Dr. Sten Odenwald and high school student, Mr. Ethan Rosenthal for the years 1996-2003, this is an Excel spreadsheet (660 kby) that gives data for all significant solar and geophysical storms that have occurred during most of the past sunspot cycle.

Space Weather Alerts - NOAA's Space Weather Center has extensive online archives of past and current solar flare and other space weather condition reports.

Solar Proton Events - These are showers of energetic particles produced by coronal mass ejections that reach Earth from 1976 to 2005.

Gamma Ray Flare Catalog - Assembled by the Gamma Ray Observatory between 1991 - 2000.

Coronal Mass Ejections Catalog - Produced by SOHO scientist Chris St. Cyr with the LASCO instrument for the years 1998 - 2005.

Tables of Sunspot Numbers - From 165 BC to the present day.

Big Bear Solar Observatory - Click on 'Data' and 'Activity Reports' on left-hand navigation bar to get archives of reports since 1998 describing flares and solar magnetic field configurations.

Solar-Terrestrial Activity Report- Daily tracking of solar activity and how Earth responds to flares and coronal mass ejections.

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