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Starting Points for Science - Windows to the Universe

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Become a nitrogen atom in the nitrogen cycle in our Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit/Game. See all our games, activity kits and classroom activities.
The periodic table of the elements, one way to describe the properties of matter.
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Starting Points for Science

Some ideas are used in many, many places throughout science. We have grouped these "starting points for science" into three clusters: space, time, and matter.

"Space" is the word we use for everything beyond Earth. However, "space" is also the way we refer to location and the distance between objects. We live in a world with three dimensions, so coordinate systems that describe locations and distances are an important tool for describing space. The many units we use for measuring distance are an important part of our notion of space. Our modern view of the Universe, based on Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, includes the idea that space is curved.

Time is a second key idea. Many of our measures of time, such as days, months, and years, are based on astronomical phenomena. Armed with the concepts of space and time, we can specify the "where" and the "when" in our observations of the world around us.

Out third cornerstone concept is matter, the "stuff" without which the Universe would be a lonely place. We specify the amount of matter in an object in terms of the object's mass. There are four basic forms that matter can take on: solid, liquid, gas or plasma. Matter can be classified and grouped, as is done with the chemical elements in the periodic table. Matter and energy can be transformed into one another, as expressed in Einstein's famous equation relating the two: E = mc2.

Last modified September 11, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF