Questions for Cool Jobs: Exploring the solar system


Some solar-system research can be carried out on Earth. For instance, this analysis of the sun’s bright corona was conducted during a March 2016 eclipse in Svalbard, Norway.

Miloslav Druckmüller

To accompany feature “Cool Jobs: Exploring the solar system”


Before reading:

1.    The solar system contains more than just planets and the sun. What other objects can be found in Earth’s neighborhood?

2.    Scientists explore space in three main ways: with telescopes, sending a spacecraft or sending astronauts. What might be some advantages and disadvantages to each method?

During reading:

1.    Where in space is the Dawn spacecraft?

2.    What and where is the solar system’s main asteroid belt?

3.    Why did NASA choose to visit Vesta and Ceres?

4.    The Dawn spacecraft has reached its final destination. Why does Barber still need to steer it?

5.    What are asteroid “families”?

6.    Why does Thomas study the light bouncing off asteroids?

7.    Why do scientists think that asteroids should have melted sometime in the past?

8.    What is the sun’s corona, and why is it difficult to study?

9.    What happens during a solar eclipse?

10.   Based on the story, why is it so challenging to study solar eclipses?

After reading:

1.    The path of a solar eclipse will cross the United States in 2017. With a partner, research this event. When will it occur? Where will the eclipse be viewable? How many miles would you have to travel to see the eclipse?

2.    Photos from the Dawn spacecraft revealed bright spots on the dwarf planet. Scientists don’t yet know what those spots are. Come up with a hypothesis about what the spots might be. How would you test that idea?


1.    When the Dawn spacecraft arrived at Ceres, it was 500 million kilometers (310 million miles) from Earth. How long (in years) would it take a car traveling at 88 kilometers (55 miles) per hour to reach Ceres? Show your calculations.