Misconceptions of Astronomical Distances

Miller, Brian W. and Brewer, William F. (2010) Misconceptions of Astronomical Distances. International Journal of Science Education, 32 (12). pp. 1549-1560. ISSN 0950-0693 (Print), 1464-5289 (Online)

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Previous empirical studies using multiple-choice procedures have suggested that there are miscon-ceptions about the scale of astronomical distances. The present study provides a quantitative estimate of the nature of this misconception among US university students by asking them, in an open-ended response format, to make estimates of the distances from the Earth to the Moon, to the Sun, to the nearest star, and to the nearest galaxy. The 83 participants were asked to give their estimates on a scale with the Earth the size of a baseball, using a familiar local landmark for its position, and asked to indicate the appropriate location of the other astronomical objects on this scale. These psychological estimates were then compared to the actual physical distances. The data showed that while there is great variation, a general pattern emerged that US undergraduate participants overestimated the distance from the Earth to the Moon, moderately underestimated the distance from the Earth to the Sun, and dramatically underestimated the distances to the near-est star and to the nearest galaxy. The results suggest that these distance misconceptions should receive direct instructional attention in science courses.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Astronomy Education Research
Depositing User: Dr Michael Fitzgerald
Date Deposited: 28 May 2018 10:36
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2018 05:55
URI: http://istardb.org/id/eprint/1846

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