1. A Star Erupts
Betelgeuse is a giant star that is a prominent feature of the constellation Orion, known as “The Hunter.” It is not a part of the three stars that make up “Orion’s Belt” in the night sky, but it is the only red star in the constellation and forms the Hunter’s right shoulder. It also is undergoing changes that have caught the attention of astronomers. In the last several years its brightness has dimmed considerably. And now astronomers think they know why. Using information gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories, scientists believe Betelgeuse (BEE-tel-juice) experienced a massive eruption of material called a Surface Mass Ejection. The eruption caused the star to lose a great deal of its surface area and become dimmer, the Sky and Telescope website reported. The event, which was first observed in 2019, may signal that Betelgeuse is entering its last stages before exploding as a supernova. “We’ve never before seen a huge mass ejection of the surface of a star,” said a scientist at the Harvard/Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which reported the new findings. “We are left with something going on that we don’t completely understand.” Betelgeuse is a massive star that would stretch out to the the planet Jupiter if it replaced the Sun in our solar system. Astronomers are constantly learning new things about planets, stars and the universe. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about something new that astronomers have learned. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor, detailing what has been learned and why that is important.
Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; citing specific textual evidence when writing.
2. Swift for Credit
Taylor Swift fans love her songs and can sing most of the words by heart. In the state of Texas this fall, students will be able to turn that love into college credit. The University of Texas at Austin is offering an undergraduate course called “The Taylor Swift Songbook” as part of its liberal arts honors program. English Professor Elizabeth Scala said the course “is not about celebrity or fame,” but will look at Swift’s songs “as literary writing” and examine “the ways a popular and award-winning writer uses the same literary devices … of traditional poetry in her work.” Scala told CNN News that she picked Swift because the pop star writes her own music, and her lyrics use “references, metaphors and clever manipulations of words” that “draw on richer literary traditions.” The class will mostly focus on songs from Swift’s recent albums, but students will be free to bring up older songs for discussion. The words of songs, raps and rhymes are a kind of poetry. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about a song you like. Print out the words of the song and read them aloud without the music. Circle words, phrases or rhymes that stand out to you. Use what you have circled to write a “review” of the song as a poem, detailing the emotions it makes you feel or how it makes you think about the topic in a fresh new way.
Common Core State Standards: Demonstrating understanding of figurative language; applying knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts; reading prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate and expression on successive readings.
3. High-Tech ‘Marbles’
In colonial times, explorers, soldiers and other officials routinely removed cultural artifacts from occupied territories and took them back to their homelands. Many of these priceless pieces ended up in museums, where they have been displayed for hundreds of years. Today, there is worldwide debate about returning these artifacts to their original countries. One of the most heated discussions involves a European collection known as the “Elgin Marbles” that were removed from the famous Parthenon and Acropolis buildings in Greece and taken to England, where they are displayed in the British Museum. The Marbles were removed in the early 1800s by Thomas Bruce, the seventh earl of Elgin, when he was England’s ambassador to the occupying Ottoman Empire. Lord Elgin claimed he had permission from the Ottomans to remove the statues and pieces of the Parthenon in the Marbles collection but never could produce the documentation. Modern Greece has long sought their return, but the British Museum has resisted. Now there may be a high-tech solution to the dispute. A robot has been developed that can reproduce the Marbles from marble stone, right down to the smallest scratch. “The sculptures we’re creating can break this 200-year-old logjam,” the director of the Institute for Digital Archaeology told the Washington Post newspaper. The return of artifacts taken from colonial cultures is causing debate around the world. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about one case under discussion. Write an editorial outlining what artifacts are involved, why they are significant to their original culture and what should be done with them.
Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.
4. Revealing Droughts
Extreme heat and lack of rain have caused severe droughts in many parts of the world this summer. The droughts have been highly damaging to the environment and natural habitats, but also revealing. Because the droughts have dried up lakes, rivers and other waterways, they have revealed a wide array of things that had been hidden under the surface. On the continent of Europe, droughts have uncovered World War II Nazi warships that had sunk in the Danube River, a village that had been submerged in a reservoir in Spain and a 7,000-year old arrangement of stones under a lake behind a dam that has been called “The Spanish Stonehenge.” In the United States, receding waters of a river in Texas have revealed 113-million-year-old dinosaur tracks, and a drop in the water level of Lake Mead in Utah has revealed five sets of human remains, one stuffed in a barrel with a gunshot wound. Droughts around the world are shrinking or reshaping waterways. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about some of these waterways. Use what you read to write a paragraph or short paper detailing how the changes are affecting communities along the waterways.
Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task.
5. Giant Moth Sighting
The atlas moth is a giant in the insect world, with a wingspan of 10 inches or more. On top of that, the pattern of colors on those wings makes the top tips look like the heads of poisonous cobra snakes! Given that, a university professor in the state of Washington was shocked and surprised this summer when he discovered an atlas resting on the wall of his garage in the city of Bellevue. The giant moths are native to Asia and have never been seen flying free in the United States before now, the Canadian Broadcasting company reports. The professor, who teaches at the University of Washington, took photos of the moth, and scientists verified that it was indeed an atlas. They now want to know if residents have seen other atlas moths in the state, or whether this was an escapee from a shipment from its native area. The adult moths couldn’t travel by themselves for any great distance because they have a lifespan of only 7 to 14 days and cannot feed themselves. (They live off food they have eaten as caterpillars before turning to moths.) “This is a ‘gee-whiz’ type of insect because it is so large,” said a spokesperson for the state Agriculture Department. “Even if you aren’t on the lookout for insects, this is the type that people get their phones out and take a picture of.” Every year, unusual animals, insects and other wildlife make news by turning up in places they wouldn’t ordinarily live. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about one species making news this way. Use what you read to write a letter to a friend detailing why scientists think the species turned up in the new place and how wildlife lovers responded.
Common Core State Standards: Citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.