Lesson Plan: Sagittarius A* and NASA's Perseverance Rover

Sagittarius A*

Barnard College’s Janna Levin discusses recent reactions to new images of the black hole Sagittarius A*.


This lesson plan opens with reflective questions that ask students to reflect on their understanding of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the purpose of space exploration. Students then read, analyze, and respond to two introductory articles that provide background information on the groundbreaking imaging of Sagittarius A* and the purpose and scope of NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover. Next, students engage in an choice exploration activity, where they choose to study either Sagittarius A* or the Mars Rover, watching video clips and responding to questions as they prepare to share their new knowledge with their peers. The lesson concludes with two reflective video clips and writing prompt.


  • SET UP

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handout and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following Google resource for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: Graphic Organizer (Google Doc).

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.


    Pose the following brainstorming questions to your students, directing them to record their responses in their graphic organizer, share with a partner, and then with the class if they choose.

    • What does the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) do?
    • Is exploring and studying space a valuable endeavor? Why or why not?

    To prepare your students for the lesson, have them read the two following articles that provide background information on both the imaging of Sagittarius A* and of NASA's Perseverance Rover mission. Direct your students to answer the following questions on their graphic organizer.

  • Article: Astronomers snap first-ever image of supermassive black hole Sagittarius A (MIT News).

    • According to the article, what is the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) and what has it recently “captured?”
    • Why was it an “imaging challenge” to photograph Sagittarius A*?
    • Describe “the fundamental challenge” in creating an image of Sagittarius A*.
  • Article: Mars 2020 Mission Overview (NASA).

    • What will the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover “search for,” and why?
    • Based on the article, what are the four science objectives of the mission?
    • Describe the “technologies” utilized on the mission.

    Direct your students to their graphic organizers to view and define the vocabulary terms that will appear in the lesson in the chart in their graphic organizer handout. The vocabulary words are also listed to the right on this webpage. We recommend having your students define and present the terms in a jigsaw activity to save time.

    Depending on time and resources, you may consider having your students define and present the terms in a Frayer's Model activity, where each student takes one or two items. Students can then post their models around the room for reference throughout the lesson. Note: This is not an all-encompassing list of terms included in each video. We recommend you previewing the video clips to determine any necessary additions/subtractions to this list for your specific students.


    Direct students to the choice exploration section of their graphic organizers. Have students select to study either the Sagittarius A* imaging (Clips #1-4) or NASA’s Perseverance Rover mission (Clips #5-8), based on their interest from the introduction activity. Have your students watch all of the video clips for their topic, recording their notes and answers to the questions in their graphic organizers. Direct students to prepare to present their findings with the class in a short presentation when finished.

  • Clip #1: Sagittarius A (4:20).

    • Based on the opening clip, what “revealed the presence” of Sagittarius A*?
    • According to Janna Levin, how and why is Sagittarius A* part of “our reality?”
    • How does Levin describe Sagittarius A*’s characteristics? What did the new imaging “tell” scientists, and what may the future offer?
  • Clip #2: Sonification (3:10).

    • What do you hear in the sonification clip?
    • According to Janna Levin, what is sonification and how is it produced?
    • Summarize the Nobel Prize-winning experiment, as described by Levin.
  • Clip #3: Black Holes (6:36).

    • Based on the clip, what are black holes and how do they form? What is the “event horizon?”
    • According to Janna Levin, do scientists understand how black holes function? Describe the historical progression of understanding.
    • What roles do black holes play, and how do they “change?”
  • Clip #4: History of Discovery (7:48).

    • According to Janna Levin, when were scientists first aware of Sagittarius A* and what was the “evidence” of the black hole?
    • How was the “consortium” of scientists created, and how did they make a telescope “the size of the Earth?”
    • Describe the challenges and solutions that the scientists encountered and developed while developing the image of Sagittarius A*.
    • Based on the clip, what will be the “next generation” of efforts?
  • Clip #5: NASA’s Perseverance Rover (8:06).

    • According to Jessica Whiteside, why is the Mars Rover in a delta?
    • How is the Rover like a “Swiss Army knife?”
    • What is the Rover sending back to Earth? How will the Rover determine what samples to collect?
    • When will the Rover’s samples return to Earth? Why?
  • Clip #6: Ingenuity Helicopter (6:12).

    • Based on the clip, what is Ingenuity?
    • According to Jessica Whiteside, what “adaptations” does the helicopter have?
    • What is Ingenuity’s “potential,” according to Whiteside, and what does it “pave the way” for? What example does she provide?
  • Clip #7: Microphone and Lifespan (4:15).

    • What has the Mars Rover’s microphone been capturing, and what have scientists learned from the “wind study?”
    • According to Jessica Whiteside, how does the current Mars Perseverance Rover compare to past iterations?
    • Based on the clip, what is the “anticipated lifespan” of the current Rover?
  • Clip #8: Exploring Mars (2:05).

    • Which countries are exploring Mars alongside the United States’ efforts?
    • According to Jessica Whiteside, why is the study of Mars “valuable to humankind?” What are the potential “implications?”
    • How might life have been transported between Mars and Earth?

    Allow time for your students to prepare their presentations from the choice exploration section and share with their peers. Then, direct your students to view the following two clips that offer reflective thoughts. Have your students record their notes and answers to the questions in their graphic organizers.

  • Clip #9: Personal Work and Interest in Black Holes (4:51).

    • According to Janna Levin, how are black holes “fundamental” and “mysterious?”
    • How might we “harness” gravity in a different way as a result of studying black holes?
    • What is Levin’s “motivation” for studying astrophysics?
  • Clip #10: Personal Work and Interest in STEM (7:13).

    • Based on the clip, how did Jessica Whiteside arrive at the University of Southampton and what is the University’s role in studying Mars?
    • What “prompted” the direction of Whiteside’s career in science?
    • How did Whiteside’s attendance at a STEM school serve as a “life changing experience?”

    After your students are finished with the reflective clips, direct them to complete the final culminating writing prompt in their graphic organizers, and have students share their responses, comparing their perspectives with their classmates' perspectives: Having now learned about the imaging of Sagittarius A and the mission of NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover, describe their impact on current scientific understanding and future scientific endeavors. Be sure to include evidence from the video clips in the lesson to support your argument.

Additional Resources


  • Astronomical
  • Atmosphere
  • Black Hole
  • Constellation
  • Delta
  • Event Horizon
  • Galaxy
  • Hematite
  • Hydrocarbon
  • Jezero Crater
  • Lightwave
  • Lightyear
  • Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover
  • Mass
  • National Aeronautics And Space Administration
  • Orbit
  • Quasar
  • Solar System


Science & TechnologyU.S. History


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