Hello there! If you’re here on this document, you’re probably looking for ways to prepare for Solar System for Science Olympiad, and fortunately you’re in luck! This event is a pretty niche topic, but as we begin to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, it becomes more important that we look for exoplanets and understand how they’re related to our own Solar System!
One of the bigger challenges with this event is the lack of close-up investigations that we can do with astronomical bodies besides Earth. Sure, there’s rovers and satellites that take photos, but we are still left with making theories as to what exactly goes on in these bodies. Thus, your answers will usually be based on well-supported evidence that you should know and understand.
As with many of the other events in Science Olympiad, these are not just facts to know. The statistics and fun facts about planets are going to be things to put on notes, but this event really calls for you to connect how planet formations/structures are not all that different from each other. The ultimate goal, here, is to develop a baseline understanding where you can use what you understand about the formation of our Sun and Solar System and apply it to systems beyond that (hence the topic of exoplanets).
Resources to Look For
If you’re a middle schooler, I’m fairly certain that you have some familiarity with the internet and the variety of websites that are available. This vast amount of information available to us is very useful for Science Olympiad, because it allows us to research specific topics easily, without the need to purchase a textbook. For Solar System, you can expect a large majority of your study time to be spent scouring the internet and taking notes. Of course, textbooks are always an option to supplement your learning, however I’d suggest against using textbooks for the Solar System event, as most textbooks go far beyond the scope of the event.
Of course, with the expanse of the internet available to us, it’s important to make sure the websites used are accurate and of high quality. It’s important to be able to understand the content and be sure that the content is actually true.
Whenever you are considering the quality of a website as a resource, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I understand the majority of what the website is saying?
- Does this content seem relevant to the Solar System event?
- Does the website seem credible?
If you answer “yes” to all three questions, then you’re all set! If not, then you may want to reassess whether the website is worth using or not.
With a topic as broad as Solar System, there are many aspects of space that don’t appear in the event. This year’s topic focuses on planet formation and exoplanets, so an article about galaxy formation probably won’t be super helpful. Many websites go beyond the middle school level as well, so it’s important to make sure that the content isn’t too advanced for a middle school level competition.
Lastly, it’s always important to ensure that the information on the website is actually true. Content from well-known organizations and telescopes such as NASA and Chandra is most likely to be accurate, whereas information from a random website with no sources might be questionable. Also, Wikipedia can be very helpful, but only use it once you’ve exhausted more credible sources. Additionally, cross check information from Wikipedia with other sources to ensure its accuracy.
Here are some good resources to get you started:
ScioCamp Solar System Presentations
More Active Learning
Learning is not as straightforward as it seems. If you’re just listening to your teacher monotonously talk for 50 minutes or reading off of an overwhelmingly wordy textbook while not thinking about all the information being thrown at you, then you’re not actually going to learn that much. There’s tons of more active ways to learn new information, you just need to make sure you know what options are available.
While this is the most time-consuming, one powerful method is note-taking, provided you are not copying everything down word-for-word. All that does is help you remember the statement, but not the meaning of the statement. If you want to prove to yourself that you understand what this all means, rephrase it so that it still has the same meaning, but show that you understand it in your own way. Sure, information ultimately has the same meaning, but people have different ways to understand something.
How do you go about studying images? Knowing to identify features, planets, systems, etc. are all important to Solar System. For this, you would have to memorize it, but as always, there are memorization strategies you can find online. Quizlet is an extremely useful resource to memorize these things if you use the “Learn” feature for a set of flashcards, but you can also create your own slideshow and mimic what Quizlet does.
As for the math, you should understand the principles as well as any basic level math that appears with them. This will make it easier to apply the qualitative aspects of these concepts. Not much more to be said really, math is awful but at least straightforward.
Now, how can you actively learn in more efficient manners after getting the basics? Practice problems or reading checks are vital to understanding. You want to gauge what topic areas you are and aren’t strong at by looking for problems that test these areas. Start off simple and do just factual recall so that you at least know some things exist. Good places for this include…
- SciOly Practice Tests
- SOINC Practice Tests
- Asking to trade invitational questions/tests with other schools. Yes, talking is important!
Only use the note sheet for really obscure facts that have little connection to any other content areas, statistics and numbers that you can’t remember, and any other images/graphs/charts that you may deem important to classify and/or know!
ScioCamp Case Studies
Applying this Knowledge
Now that you have a good base of knowledge in your studies of astronomy, it’s time to apply some of the general concepts you’ve learned to the more specific elements of the rules manual (see page 48).
The easiest place to begin is with the year-specific celestial bodies listed in the manual. This year, they are HL Tauri, HR 8799, Kepler 138, K2-18b, K2-33b, and TOI-561. Similarly, the manual details a few important planetary missions: Magellan, Cassini, Galileo, Juno, Voyager 2, New Horizons, ALMA, Kepler, and TESS. Information on these can be found in the same way you accumulated general Solar System knowledge. Much of the information on these objects and missions will have to do with statistics such as orbital period or launch date, and thus, your cheat sheet (the 4 pages of allotted paper) is the perfect place to dump information like this. 4 pages may seem like plenty of space, but as the season goes on and you take more tests, that space will fill very quickly, so make sure that you are efficient with your space. Here is a sample Solar System cheat sheet which placed 2nd in the 2018 season.
Aside from the celestial bodies and missions, this year’s rules manual focuses particularly on exoplanets. Again: the research skills you previously applied will be very helpful here. We suggest splitting which area of study you are researching, instead of doing all of them at once. For example, you could start by learning about the formation and structure of exoplanets, and then once you have gained an ample amount of knowledge, you can pivot to researching the atmospheres of these objects, and then later detection techniques and specific subsets of exoplanets.
In general, just make sure to stick with the good studying habits you’ve learned, and the more year-specific parts of the event won’t be difficult to learn.
This has been a pretty long read, but hopefully it gave you really good insight as to how to better prepare yourself for the event and all that our Universe has to offer! Again, the key is to make good use of the websites, note-taking strategies, and study habits and learn to apply the concepts beyond just knowing facts. Making those individual connections to find general relationships helps a lot in understanding images, graphs, and other features/structure of astronomical bodies.
Thank you so much for your time, and I hope you’ll go out of this world with Solar System!
For any questions, you can contact any of us three here:
Amir Akbar: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vy Le: email@example.com
Shreyash Singh: firstname.lastname@example.org