Composition of the Solar Wind: SOHO Solar and Heliospheric Observatory

Ginger Sutula
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Model
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



SOHO, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory is a joint mission between NASA and the European Space Agency.  The SOHO Spacecraft studies our Sun from deep within the core of the sun, to its corona, all the way to its solar wind. The Composition of Solar Wind is a series of 5 lessons that use real data from SOHO spacecraft to analyze the abundance of elements in the solar wind.  Each lesson will take approximately 1 class period.

Note:The link in the lesson to the periodic table is not active.  An alternate site from the Amercian Chemistry Society is

Additionally the poster on the Electromagnetic Poster is not active.  An alternate poster in pdf format can be found at

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 12
  • Grade 11
  • Grade 10
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-ESS1-3 Communicate scientific ideas about the way stars, over their life cycle, produce elements.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the way nucleosynthesis, and therefore the different elements created, varies as a function of the mass of a star and the stage of its lifetime.

Assessment Boundary: Details of the many different nucleosynthesis pathways for stars of differing masses are not assessed.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This series of lessons uses a star that students are already familiar with – our sun. The lessons prepares students to analyze the real data from the SOHO spacecraft to determine the elements found in the solar wind. Students begin by examining the abundance of different elements and isotopes found on Earth. Depending upon your students’ experience with spectral analysis of the elements using diffraction grating, you may choose to omit lesson 2 and 3. In lesson 4 and 5 students use the actual data from the CELIAS (Charge, ELement and Isotope Analysis System) instrument on SOHO to determine the abundance of elements in the solar wind and analyze how these amounts compare to those on Earth, discovered in lesson 1.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Through the series of lessons, students are manipulating and analyzing the actual mathematical data from SOHO to make scientific claims about the composition of elements and isotopes found in the solar wind. In the data, the isotopes are represented in distributive curves that at times overlap others. If the students have not had experience with distributive curves, students may not be able to determine the exact amount of the isotope. With instruction on how to read the graphs, students can determine the approximate quantities of the isotope.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Starting with our sun, our closest star, is key to helping students better understand other stars. In Activity 5 students analyze the data from CELIAS, a spectrometer on SOHO ( Solar and Heliospheric Observatory). Just like a fingerprint, each element of the periodic table gives off an unique pattern of wavelengths of light. Students use data to determine the elements from the sun found in the solar wind.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Lesson 1 is an essential first step in the series of lessons. The students determine the abundance of elements and isotopes on Earth and use data to study the similarities and differences of elements from the sun. In Activity 5, students determine the quantity of elements found in the solar wind by examining data from CELIAS, a spectrometer onboard the NASA SOHO Mission. Using the Cross Cutting Concept of Scale, Proportion, and Quantity students will obtain a deeper insight on the elements that exist in a star.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The series of lessons was written prior to the publication of the NGSS. While mostly implicit, the three Dimensions of NGSS are there but need further development. These lessons provide a valuable context for students to use authentic data from a real space mission to study the abundance of elements in our closest star, the sun. Further ways to develop the lesson are: - adding phenomena of the solar wind, - modeling the lifespan of a star, and - finding ways for students to communicate their findings.

  • Instructional Supports: The lessons engage students in authentic research using real data. The data sets are provided, however further support is needed in the development of the three dimensions and anchoring phenomena. This can be accomplished by having the students students analyze the data sets prior to the start of the unit and begin to make a claims based upon evidence they see. As students progress through the unit of study, they can determine if their claim based upon new evidence still holds. Guidance will need to be created for differentiated instruction. A link is provided to the American Geophysical Union for independent research projects but no directions are given.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This resource did not provide any means for monitoring student progress. Although expected answers to student questions are provided. Monitoring student progress could be accomplished in the classroom by having the students model the phenomena of solar wind and sharing their explanations with others. Additionally students can make a claim and back it up with evidence from CELIAS about what the composition of stars are.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The teacher will need to access several resources online.