Pencil & Paper Activities
Hour of Code

View/Listen Narrator (April Hobart, CXC): For many us, it's probably hard to imagine living a life without computers and technology. In fact, it's become so much a part of our society that we may not realize how dependent we are on technology.

But who does the work that enables these computers to fit into our daily lives? Who gets to learn how to code? A project called "Hour of Code" as well as Computer Science Education Week is seeking to address that question by increasing access to coding opportunities for elementary, middle and high school students. The Hour of Code project is particularly interested in getting more girls and all students from underrepresented people of color involved in coding.

Here at the Chandra X-ray Center, we have tried to be as active as possible in expanding the pool of students who go into the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, also known as "STEM." The inclusion of computer science to this list seemed like an excellent idea, so we gladly signed up for the “Hour of Code” project.

The Chandra X-ray Center has joined forces with other members of the astronomical community, including an astronomer at the American Astronomical Society, others at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, as well as partners at Google's CS First and Pencil Code, to create a project for the "Hour of Code" that combines color, astronomy, and coding.

Working with NASA and other data from exploded stars, to star-forming regions, to the area around black holes, students learn basic coding (for beginners - no experience required) and follow a video tutorial to create a real world application of science, technology and even art.

Kimberly Arcand directs visualizations and other communications projects at the Chandra X-ray Center, and she led Chandra's contribution to the project. She explains why she feels projects like "Hour of Code" are so important.

Here at Chandra, we get to explore the Universe and computers help us do that. I use coding and computers to help tell stories about science, whether that story takes the form of an image of a galaxy, or a 3 dimensional printable model of an exploded star, or a simple program that lets people see a cluster of young stars in different kinds of light.

Computer science allows anyone to create new things and solve problems. Coding isn't just important in astronomy, but all fields of science. I want to help make sure that anyone can feel like coding and computer science is possible for them. Projects such as the "Hour of Code" and "Pencil Code" can help make that a reality.

By enabling students to use real data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, along with other astronomical data, this project helps show just how integral coding is in the pursuit of learning about our Universe. We hope it's an example of the exciting ways that computer science – from routine tasks in our everyday lives to the extraordinary quest to explore the cosmos – is part of it all.

Video Introduction to Coloring Our Universe (Kim Arcand, webinar)

When a satellite observes an object in space, its camera records photons. These photons come down to Earth from the spacecraft via a network in the form of 1's and 0's. Scientific software then translates that data into an event table that contains the time, energy and position of each photon that struck the detector during the observation. The data is further processed with software to form the visual representation of the object. Today, a majority of astronomical images are taken with a Charged Coupled Device (CCD). Find out how X-ray telescopes and others use CCDs to provide information about the Universe in this introductory podcast.
Contact Us
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophisics
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Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Acknowledgements: Recoloring the Universe with Pencil Code was created by volunteers David Bau (developer of Pencil Code and a Google employee at the time), August Muench (astronomer for the American Astronomical Society), Kim Arcand (visualization lead for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory), and Sydney Pickens and Matthew Dawson (both computer science educators with Google CS First.). Further work has been developed with support from the Chandra X-ray Center, at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, in Cambridge, MA. Recoloring the Universe is also supported by NASA with funding under contract NAS8-03060.

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