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Saturday Morning Astrophysics

Students assembling telescopes
SMAP students learning about optics and assembling telescopes.

Saturday Morning Astrophysics at Purdue (SMAP) is a program for middle and high school students offered by Purdue University Physics and Astronomy Outreach. We draw from current research, resources and expertise from within the department and across the Purdue community to introduce and explore concepts related to astronomy and/or astrophysics at a level appropriate to our participants.

SMAP will engage students in grades 7-12 with learning experiences that are typically not part of their regular classroom instruction. For example, SMAP students will gain an appreciation of the vast distances between objects in space, and learn about the changes that occur in stars as they live and die, and the women and men behind the science. They will also do experiments, like exploring the energies of explosive meteor impacts, the regular motion of planets and other bodies, the principles of radio astronomy, and how gravitational waves are measured. SMAP is offered free of charge to attending grade 7-12 students.

Purdue faculty and research scientists are heavily engaged with SMAP. These experts in their respective fields introduce each SMAP session with confounding question, need to know, or practical research perspective. Student teams will be provided the materials and apparatus required to perform an experiment, collect data and try to make sense and apply their results. Graduate and undergraduate assistants work diligently with and mentor students in setting up and performing their experiments and are on hand to answer questions and guide the learning experience.

SMAP sessions are offered monthly during the academic school year. Registration will remain open, and students can enroll any time throughout each semester, until we reach the maximum number of students we are able to accommodate. Students need only to register once for SMAP, and are free to pick and choose the session(s) in which they would like to participate. The topics for SMAP sessions for each semester will be announced in advance, as well as students and parents receiving monthly email reminders of what’s in store for the current session.

In addition to the regular SMAP sessions, links will be provided to engage in additional "extracurricular" remote or on-site programs that may be of interest to our young learners as well as family and community members.

Students learning about space time   Students learning about eclipses

Left: These students are modeling the warping of space-time in Gravity Waves.

Right: In a session on eclipses, students are discovering why the sky is blue and why sunsets are red.

In the Midst of COVID-19

In wake of the situation with COVID-19, we will continue to offer SMAP remotely, in a format that will allow students to continue to explore the wonders of the cosmos in their own safe setting, with family and friends. Please check back for updates and notices of future events.

What's In Store for SMAP 2020-2021?

Kepler's Laws:

Use actual data to find the mathematical relationships between position and time of orbiting bodies.  How do the orbits of planets and comets differ?  What do they have in common?  Learn about the social and political climate of the times, and maybe even meet the old man himself – not to be missed!

Life Cycles of Stars:

What happens to star as they age?  Some starts have shorter lives, other seem to last forever, (relatively speaking).  You will be able to collect some real data, comparing the lives of stars, their color, how big they are, and how long they last.  You just might learn something about our own future, here on Earth!

Searching for Exoplanets

Stars appear as tiny specks of light in the night sky, even with the most powerful telescopes here on Earth. Planets can be 100 times smaller in diameter than the stars (suns) they orbit.  How do we know they are even there?  Could they possibly support life?  Learn how astronomers answer these questions and more.

Scaling the Cosmos:

Get a first-hand feel, starting with your own model sun, just how tiny the planets in our solar system really are. Then, using the same scale, see for yourself how vast the distances are between them. What else is out there? Join us for this one and find out.

Constellations in the Night Sky

Even across vastly different cultures, East from West, humans have looked to the night skies and envisioned familiar objects real and mythical creatures, many enshrouded by events and destiny.  Have fun finding these patterns for yourself and learn about the stars that comprise them.  Have fun learning about and enjoying your own night sky, wherever you are.

These are just a few of some potential SMAP sessions for 2020-2021.  Check back for announcements of further additions and for upcoming sessions.

In the meantime, if you are a middle or high school student in grades 7-12:

Register Now for 2020-2021 SMAP  Additional Astro Related Opportunities

Win a Purdue Physics and Astronomy t-shirt!

Submit an identifiable photograph of yourself engaged in the monthly SMAP activity.  Our teaching assistants will select their favorite from among the eligible entries for our SMAP Photo of the Month.  The student in the winning submission will win a highly prized and sought after Purdue P&A t-shirt.  Let it be you! 

For any additional information, please contact Physics and Astronomy Outreach Coordinator David Sederberg at

Highlights from past SMAP programs    Selected lessons and activities

Last Updated: Jan 21, 2021 9:13 AM

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