Runaway Universe

Student Handout

What's in the Box?

How can scientists explain what they have not actually seen? For example, if no light escapes from a black hole, how can astronomers locate it? How can scientists characterize things they can't see with the naked eye, like faraway galaxies? You will use indirect observations to determine the contents of a cereal box universe that cannot be seen.


  1. Your teacher will provide you with a cereal box universe. Your task is to determine what is in the box.

  2. Your team can do any test on the cereal box universe as long as it doesn't damage it. Do not remove the masking tape from the top of the box.

  3. Make two columns on a sheet of paper. Record each item that you theorize to be in the box in the left column and the indirect observation that allowed you to detect it in the right column.

  4. After you've had a chance to test your universe, your teacher will give you a new research tool, a probe (the skewer). Remove the masking tape from the top to expose a small hole.

  5. Using your probe, can you add new items to your list or confirm old ones?

Write your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

  1. What tests done by your team were most helpful in determining the contents of your universe?

  2. How did your view of what was in the box change as you collected additional data?

  3. How does the evidence you collected support your theory about what is in the box?

  4. What, if any, other theories might explain the data you collected?

  5. What other tests might you perform to find out more information about what is in the box?