My Angle on Cooling: Effects of Distance and Inclination

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In this activity, learners discover that one way to cool an object in the presence of a heat source is to increase the distance from it or change the angle at which it is faced. Learners perform an experiment that measures how the heat experienced by a test subject changes as the distance or the viewing angle changes. Learners distinguish which effect is more important for determining the seasons on Earth. Learners examine how NASA's MESSENGER mission to Mercury takes advantage of these passive cooling methods to keep the spacecraft comfortable in a high-temperature environment.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Thermometers (with scale at least up to 50 ̊C, preferably up to 100 ̊C)
  • Sheets of black construction paper
  • Pieces of cardboard the same size as the construction paper
  • Bricks or blocks to prop up cardboard
  • Graphing paper
  • Desk lamp or flood lamp (without lampshade)
  • Meter sticks
  • Masking tape
  • Stopwatches
  • Chair and books or blocks to prop up the lamp (if needed)
  • Scissors or knives (to cut slit in paper)
  • Colored pencils
  • Blackboard or flipchart with markers
  • Distance and Inclination student sheets
  • Staying Cool with MESSENGER student sheets


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Astronomy
      • Probes, Satellites and Spacecraft
    • Earth Processes
      • Weather and Climate
    • Earth, Moon and Sun
      • Days
      • Seasons
    • Solar System
      • The Sun
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Aerospace Engineering
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
    • Geometry
      • Plane Geometry
    • Measurement
      • Circles
      • Rate
    • Reasoning and Proof
    • Representation
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Problem Solving
  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
      • Heat and Temperature
      • Heat Transfer
    • Energy
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment
  • Outdoor Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Includes assesments for student learning:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, JHU/APL, 2010

Funding Source:

  • Verizon Foundation Thinkfinity Program