Directions: Students can answer the questions below based on any Science News article. There is even a section of NGSS-specific questions that you can choose to include for your students. The answers provided here are based on the article “Solar sweep.”

Making initial connections:

1. Based on the article’s title, what background knowledge, if any, do you have about the topic?

Possible student response: Scientists have sent robotic spacecraft to other planets in our solar system, and now a robotic spacecraft is on its way to the sun. The sun produces intense light and other forms of radiation, which will make parts of the mission challenging.

2. What do you want or expect to find from the article?

Possible student response: I expect to learn how close the probe will get to the sun, what things the probe will measure and how the probe was designed and constructed to ensure its survival once it reaches the sun.

Summarizing and citing evidence and structure:

3. Scientists frequently use specialized vocabulary and symbols, or assign new or specialized meanings to ordinary words (e.g., gene “expression”). Define any important specialized terms, symbols or phrases mentioned in the article. Use the article’s contextual clues to determine definitions or look definitions up elsewhere.

Possible student response:

Solar atmosphere or corona: A region of very low-density but very high-energy charged particles that extends millions of kilometers beyond the surface of the sun. The sun’s corona is normally visible only during a total solar eclipse, when it is seen as an irregularly shaped, pearly glow surrounding the darkened disk of the moon.

Alloy: A blend of two or more metals in which the individual elements are thoroughly mixed at a microscopic level.
Force: Some outside influence that can change the motion of a body, hold bodies close to one another, or produce motion or stress in a stationary body.

Or, see the Power Words at the end of the Science News for Students article.

4. Summarize the article’s central idea in two sentences or less, then list the other relevant details and topics covered in the article.

Possible student response: The Parker Solar Probe will travel close to the sun, and require special materials to survive in two extreme environments: interplanetary space and the sun’s atmosphere. The materials require specialized testing on Earth to ensure that they work in these environments.

5. What evidence does the article provide to support the central idea? How well does that evidence support the central idea in your opinion? Why would the author have included that particular evidence, but not other evidence that you might know about?

Possible student response: The article systematically presents the purpose of each component of the probe, the design and materials used to help that component function near the sun and the Earth-based methods used to test each component. In support of that presentation, the article quotes seven scientists who helped develop and test each component. It also shows pictures of some of the components and test setups.

6. Good scientists acknowledge the assumptions on which their work is founded, the limitations of their results, and data or theories that may contradict their own. What, if any, inconsistencies or uncertainties does the article mention?

Possible student response: The article mentions how difficult it is to perfectly replicate on Earth the conditions that the probe will experience near the sun. However, the scientists have done their best to test the probe’s components under relevant conditions.

Integrating and evaluating sources:

7. Scientists present their detailed results in primary research articles in scientific journals and/or presentations or posters at scientific conferences. SN and other news outlets then report some of those results for a wider audience. Citations of the primary research studies are listed and linked at the end of the SN article online. What specific scientists, primary research studies, scientific conference presentations and other sources does the SN article quote, mention or cite?

Possible student response:

Stuart Bale is a space plasma physicist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Kelly Korreck is a solar physicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.

Elizabeth Congdon is a mechanical engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

Anthony Case is an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.

Russell Howard is an astrophysicist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

Eric Christian is a solar physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Nicola Fox is a solar physicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe:  

Nicola J. Fox et al. “The Solar Probe Plus Mission: Humanity’s first visit to our star.” Space Science Reviews. December 2016.

8. How well does the SN article explain the scientific work? Does it clearly explain the purpose, methods, results and implications of the scientific work? Does it leave out some details? If details are not included in the SN article, why do you think that decision was made by the journalist?

Possible student response: The SN article explains the scientific work very well, subject to the constraints of being no longer than four pages. The author didn’t include much about the probe’s general orbit or the specific details of its mission. This was not the focus of the article and may have been covered in another article.

9. Compare and contrast the findings in the SN article to findings from a second source, which can be a primary research study cited in the SN article, a related SN video, a related article from the SN archive or an article from a different news source that covers the same research. What are important similarities and differences between the sources? What new things have you learned from fitting all of the information together?

Possible student response: Student answers will vary depending on what sources they compare.

NASA’s website,, is a wonderful source for information. It has many explanatory videos, a number of photographs, news updates on the status of the mission, information on Eugene Parker for whom the probe was named, a press kit with explanatory information and other links.

The SN article gives a good overview, but the NASA website gives more technical details about the probe. Students can compare the SN article to the NASA press kit materials.

Analyzing content:

10. Seeing information from the article presented visually can help you better understand the article. It also makes it easier to present key findings discussed in the article to others, as you would in class or as scientists would at conferences. Present the main ideas, experiments or results discussed in the article as a diagram, chart, graph, table or flowchart.

Possible student response: Student answers will vary.

Students may point out that this question is already answered within the article. “In the hot zone,” the diagram about halfway through the article, gives an excellent overview of the spacecraft design, the functions of the probe’s major components and the ways that those components were tested on Earth. Students could be tasked with redesigning the current diagram or thinking of a new idea. For example, a global map could be used to pinpoint the locations of all the experiments mentioned in the article. Additional explanations of the experiments could also be added to the global map. Or, students may want to focus on diagramming the structures of some of the key materials mentioned in the article. Students could research the material structures and what about the crystalline structure makes the material suitable for its function on the probe.

11. Why should people care about the article? What is the importance, impact or significance of the article for you, for your community and for the scientific community?

Possible student response: All life on Earth depends on the sun, so it is in our own best interest to understand how it works. Along the way, we might learn more about the characteristics of stars that make orbiting planets more or less conducive to life, how to design spacecraft that could collect solar energy and send it to Earth or how to design new heat resistant materials for applications such as engines and power plants.

12. Based on information in the article or on your own ideas, in what direction(s) could this scientific work go in the future? What practical applications could the research have?

Possible student response: The Parker Solar Probe could help to inform potential missions of future space probes. Knowing more information about our own star could better inform us about stars in other solar systems. Once the probe’s data are transmitted back to Earth, scientists will be able to learn more about the sun’s super-heated atmosphere and the solar wind. That information may help scientists better predict space-weather events that could affect space mission or even extreme weather events on Earth.

13. What questions remain unanswered and what new questions need to be addressed?

Possible student response: How much closer could a probe get to the sun, and what design and materials would help it get as close as possible? Instead of the white ceramic face of the heat shield, would a highly reflective surface work better, or a surface designed to reflect a wide range of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation? Could the heat shield be thicker, or could there be a series of heat shields? Could the spacecraft generate a magnetic field strong enough to protect it from most high-energy charged particles? Could the radiator be made much larger and extended far out behind the probe in the shadow of the heat shield?

14. What related work might you or other students be able to do, perhaps as a science fair project?

Possible student response: I could design, make and test a model of a heat shield using materials similar to the solar probe’s shield. Or I could design and model other scientific instruments or new scientific instruments. Experimental testing of any space probe instrument model should include calculations and/or explanations about how different the space environment would be from the testing environment.

NGSS-specific questions:

15. Circle or highlight scientific processes that are covered in the article. Such processes may include asking questions and defining problems, developing and using models, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, using mathematics and computational thinking, constructing explanations and designing solutions, engaging in argument from evidence, obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information. Cite an example from the text for one of the processes.

Possible student response: Asking questions and defining problems, developing and using models and planning and carrying out investigations are the scientific processes covered in the article. The article explains how researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany, tested telescope lens materials’ ability to withstand solar dust particles. In the experiment, fast-moving iron particles collided with candidate materials. Researchers measured the damage, which helped inform what material was best to use.


16. Explain how the article represents one of the following concepts: patterns; cause and effect; scale, proportion or quantity; systems and system models; matter and energy; structure and function; rates of change and stability of a system.

Possible student response: The concept of “systems and system models” is demonstrated throughout the design and testing of the Parker Solar Probe instruments. The article describes the numerous experiments used to replicate sunlike conditions that the probe will experience. For example, to model the sun’s heat, the PROMES facility in Odeillo, France allowed engineers to heat materials in a vacuum to 3000° Celsius. Modeling conditions that the probe will experience in space was very important when designing and testing the probe.