40% of children think sun revolves around Earth: poll

A survey of 720 students in the fourth to sixth grades at selected schools shows that around 40 percent of them believe the sun revolves around Earth, while nearly 30 percent were not aware of which direction the sun sets.

The poll by Hidehiko Agata, an associate professor at the National Astronomical Observatory, also revealed that more than 50 percent of the students could not explain why there are phases of the moon.

Reduced instruction on astronomy at elementary schools as a result of the education ministry’s policy to pursue “latitude” in schooling could be a reason for such responses, according to Agata. Less exposure to nature may also be a reason, he added.

Agata is calling for a review of science education. He will make a presentation on the results at a meeting of the Astronomical Society of Japan at Iwate University on Tuesday.

The poll covered students at nine schools in Hokkaido, Nagano, Tokyo, Fukui, Osaka and Hiroshima prefectures.

On the waning and waxing on the moon, 47 percent picked the correct answer that those phases are attributed to the changing positions of the sun and the moon when seen from Earth.

Meanwhile, 37 percent picked an incorrect answer that the shadow of Earth is reflected on the moon.

Nearly 30 percent of students did not pick west as the answer to a question asking which direction the sun sets.

Galaxy gobbled up

Astronomers said Tuesday they have succeeded in observing a large galaxy swallowing a smaller one, an event that may help explain how a galaxy is formed.

Large galaxies are believed to grow by swallowing small ones. The Japanese team’s observation of the phenomenon is the second one reported, following one made during a project in the United States using the Hubble Space Telescope.

“Small galaxies will be swallowed for the coming 2 billion to 3 billion years. By watching those astronomical events, we could gain clues to learning the history of galaxy formation,” said Yoshiaki Taniguchi, a team member and associate professor at Tohoku University.

They observed a band of light between the large and smaller galaxies while the large galaxy was pulling the smaller. Stars of the smaller galaxy were seen as if leaving the band of light when torn off by the large galaxy, they said.

There was an estimated 330,000 light-years between the two galaxies and the length of the light band was 500,000 light-years.

The large galaxy is 1 billion light-years away from Earth.