Spatial Reasoning Training Through Light Curves Of Model Asteroids

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Publication Title

American Astronomical Society, Department of Planetary Sciences


Recent research has demonstrated that spatial reasoning skills, long known to be crucial to math and science success, are teachable. Even short stints of training can improve spatial reasoning skills among students who lack them (Sorby et al., 2006). Teaching spatial reasoning is particularly valuable to women and minorities who, through societal pressure, often doubt their spatial reasoning skill (Hill et al., 2010). We have designed a hands on asteroid rotation lab that provides practice in spatial reasoning tasks while building the student’s understanding of photometry. For our tool, we mount a model asteroid, with any shape of our choosing, on a slowly rotating motor shaft, whose speed is controlled by the experimenter. To mimic an asteroid light curve, we place the model asteroid in a dark box, shine a movable light source upon our asteroid, and record the light reflected onto a moveable camera. Students may then observe changes in the light curve that result from varying a) the speed of rotation, b) the model asteroid’s orientation with respect to the motor axis, c) the model asteroid’s shape or albedo, and d) the phase angle. After practicing with our tool, students are asked to pair new objects to their corresponding light curves. To correctly pair objects to their light curves, students must imagine how light scattering off of a three dimensional rotating object is imaged on a ccd sensor plane, and then reduced to a series of points on a light curve plot. Through the use of our model asteroid, the student develops confidence in spatial reasoning skills.