A Solar Icebreaker Activity

If you are not familiar with the term "icebreaker" it is generally used to describe an activity at the beginning of a meeting, workshop or class to "break the ice" or get everyone talking to one another.

X-ray picture of
the Sun

This activity allows people to work together in groups to match up printed X-ray and visible light images of the Sun. Although those participating in the icebreaker do not need to know this ahead of time, solar scientists have found that active regions in the the Sun's corona are corelated with sunspot locations in the photosphere. The corona is observed in X-rays, the photosphere is observed in visible or white light. It is this relationship on which we base this activity.

How to Run the Icebreaker

Before the meeting or class at which you want to use this activity print out all the images in one of the sets below. You should have five white light images with a date stamp and five X-ray images with only a letter stamp. You will want to xerox this set of images so that each group will have their own set. Have people work in groups of three or four.

Print out a copy of the key to take with you.

At the beginning of your meeting or class have everyone break into small groups of three or four people. Pass out one set of ten images to each group.

It works well to start the activity by asking everyone

"What are we looking at?"

Entertain answers, encourage discussion. Once everyone understands that we are looking at the Sun, you might explain that one set of images is the "surface" of the Sun or photosphere and the other set of images is of the Sun's outermost layer, the corona, which we observe most regularly from space.

Now, ask the groups to match each white light image to an X-ray image. Give them five to ten minutes to complete this task. I do not provide any instruction about what features in the images to use in the matching. It is enjoyable to see the different patterns people come up with.

Allow the groups to move around the room if they choose. In one of my most successful icebreaker activities one group came up to the front of the room and put the pieces of paper on the overhead projector so they could use the bright lighting to better match up the sunspots and active regions.

Once each group has a matched set lead a discussion about which images go together and why. You'll find that most people do in fact match the active regions with the sunspots. Write each group's matching scheme on a chalk board or large piece of paper for everyone to see. If you have differences among groups discuss the differences and see if they can come to agreement.

If some groups matched the images based on a different pattern scheme have them explain what they did.

Once the discussion period is over, talk about how solar scientists have found a connection between the dark sunspots on the Sun's photosphere and the hot active regions in the Sun's corona. A nice discussion of this can be found in the Cycles Lesson in the Solar Classroom. This matching activity is also a part of that lesson.

Finally, if you choose, read them the key so they can see how they did.

This activity really gets people talking to each other and it is a bit more intellectual than typical icebreaker activities. It has proven to be a big hit at scientific meetings and workshops, but I suspect it will prove popular almost anywhere. Enjoy!

All of the images below will print out nicely on a black and white printer. Enjoy!

Small Version -- Set I
White Light
(with Date Stamp)

1992 January 23
1992 February 07
1992 April 22
1992 May 22
1992 October 05
(no Date Stamp)


Small Version -- Set II
White Light
(with Date Stamp)

1992 February 22
1992 March 08
1992 March 23
1992 September 19
1992 October 19
(no Date Stamp)


Small Version -- Set III
White Light
(with Date Stamp)

1992 April 07
1992 May 07
1992 July 21
1992 September 04
1992 November 03
(no Date Stamp)


Small Version -- Set IV
White Light
(with Date Stamp)

1992 June 06
1992 June 21
1992 July 06
1992 August 05
1992 August 20
(no Date Stamp)


Here is the key for these groups of images.
The Image Matching Key!

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