"What color is the Sun?" - a bar story
An story of science education pathology.

A 5-year-old, two grad students, and some astronomy professors, walk into a bar.

Before reading further, you might want to do "What color is the Sun?" - your answer?

The story

[All the views expressed here are real, with one exception.]

A 5-year-old, two grad students, and some astronomy professors, walk into a bar.

The 5-year-old enthusiastically asks: "You tell me the Sun is a big hot ball? Awesome! I love balls! What color is the ball? I really care about the color of balls."

The astronomy grad student confidently answers "Yellow! The Sun is a G2 class yellow star." When then asked "What color is sunlight?", he says "sunlight is white!"... and begins to look confused.

The non-astronomy physical sciences grad student answers "It doesn't have a color! It's lots of different colors! It's "rainbow" color!". One of the professors laughs beer through their nose.

Among the astronomy professors, two of them, the spectroscopist and another, confidently answer white. Another hesitates, and hedges with 5700 Kelvin.

The 5-year-old looks increasingly puzzled. And less enthusiastic.

Another professor answers yellow, perhaps remembering the National Mall's scale model Sun, the old National Solar Observatory website, or their own grad student days.

Everyone, the two graduate students, the assorted astronomy professors, the 5-year-old, and Joe the bartender, conclude that you just can't teach the color of the Sun to 5-year-olds. They should wait for their spectroscopy post-docs. [That's the one exaggeration.]

The spectroscopist, the only one unsurprised by any of this, drinks.

End of story. But what's going on here? See

"What color is the Sun?" - an example of science education pathology.

Related pages

A 5-year-old asks "What color is the Sun?". Astronomy graduate students get it wrong. Why? K-graduate, content needs better experts.
Clarifying insight... from better experts.
Are you tired of seeing wonderful insights in research talks, and knowing they won't reach introductory content for years? I suggest the importance of direct research expertise, in creating accessible and powerful introductory content, is pervasively underestimated.

Motivation

When there isn't time to walk a group of people through the question themselves, this story can be used to hit the highlights.

Page history

2012-12
Online.
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