SpaceMath Home

Grade 3-5
Grade 6
Grade 7 Modules
Algebra I
Algebra II Textbook
Module 6
Applications of Percents

Exploring the Gamma Ray Universe

Objectives: Students will learn about NASA’s Fermi satellite and gamma ray sources through reading a NASA press release. They will also learn about gamma rays and the electromagnetic spectrum by viewing a NASA eClips video segment. Then, students will use percentages to explore the origins of mysterious gamma ray sources in the sky using NASA Fermi data.

Mathematics Skill or Topic Area:

Applications of Percents

Next Gen Science Standards: PS4: Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer; ETS 1: Engineering Design

Common Core ELA for Science: RST.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions. RST.6-8.8. Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text. RST.6-8.9. Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.

Common Core Math Standard: CC.7.RP.3. Use proportional relationships to solve multistep ratio and percent problems.

Video Engagement: Launchpad: The Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope Get an overview of the electromagnetic spectrum and see how scientists are using the new Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope to look at the inconceivable amounts of energy produced by phenomena in space (4 minutes). View Program

Engage your students with a press release:

NASA's Fermi Space Telescope Explores New Energy Extremes

After more than three years in space, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is extending its view of the high-energy sky into a largely unexplored electromagnetic range. Today, the Fermi team announced its first census of energy sources in this new realm.

Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) scans the entire sky every three hours, continually deepening its portrait of the sky in gamma rays, the most energetic form of light. While the energy of visible light falls between about 2 and 3 electron volts, the LAT detects gamma rays with energies ranging from 20 million to more than 300 billion electron volts (GeV).

"Before Fermi, we knew of only four discrete sources above 10 GeV, all of them pulsars," said David Thompson, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "With the LAT, we've found hundreds, and we're showing for the first time just how diverse the sky is at these high energies."

Any object producing gamma rays at these energies is undergoing extraordinary astrophysical processes. More than half of the 496 sources in the new census are active galaxies, where matter falling into a supermassive black hole powers jets that spray out particles at nearly the speed of light.

Only about 10 percent of the known sources lie within our own galaxy. They include rapidly rotating neutron stars called pulsars, the expanding debris from supernova explosions, and in a few cases, binary systems containing massive stars.

More than a third of the sources are completely unknown, having no identified counterpart detected in other parts of the spectrum. With the new catalog, astronomers will be able to compare the behavior of different sources across a wider span of gamma-ray energies for the first time.

Press release date line - January 10, 2012

Press release location: [ Click Here ]

Explore math connections with


Problem I - Fermi Explores the High Energy Universe - Students work with percentages to explore the identities of the 1873 gamma-ray sources detected by NASAs Fermi Observatory. Topics include calculating percentages from tabulated data. [Open PDF]

Problem II - Investigating the Identity of Unknown Objects - Students explore the Fermi catalog of gamma-ray sources and investigate the statistics of the unknown sources by comparing them with known types in the Fermi LAT catalog. Topics include calculating percentages from tabulated data. [Open PDF]

Explain your thinking:

Write your own problem - Using information found in the Math Connection problems, the press release or the video program, create your own math problem that involves the Fermi LAT catalog of gamma-ray sources. Explain why you set the problem up this way, and how you might find its answer.

Evaluate your understanding:

Challenge Problem - A follow-up survey was performed on 11 of the unknown sources in the Fermi/LAT catalog. Use this data to estimate how many unknown sources remain in the catalog. Explain how you arrived at this answer. [Open PDF]

Answer: The answer to this problem is provided in the PDF.



3-D Solar System

Extend your new knowledge - Students use the Eyes on the Solar System simulator to study the statistics of asteroids and Near Earth Objects. [ Open PDF ]