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Greetings Explore! Community

This newsletter is intended to highlight Earth and space science information and opportunities for informal educators. If you have events, resources, news, or activities to share, or would like to give us feedback, please contact us at

Calendar of Events



After School For All Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., presented by the Afterschool Alliance.

Phoenix Mission lands on Mars


Explore! Ice Worlds Web Cast series. Pre-registration required.
26-July 2


Spotlight On . . .

Ice Worlds

We invite you to tour Ice Worlds, a new — cool — Explore! activity module funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Through fun hands-on activities, children ages 8–13 investigate ice and its extraordinary properties. They discover where ice in our solar system is located — and why we search for it, along with the importance of ice on Earth. Why do we need ice and what is happening to it? Learn the answers to these, and other questions, at Explore! Ice Worlds!.

But wait, there's more!!  Training for Explore! Ice Worlds will be available via a series of three one hour web casts. The first series of three will be June 16/23/30th! See Events and Opportunities below for more information.

Explore! Ice Worlds celebrates The International Polar Year, focusing on the Arctic and Antarctic from March 2007 to March 2009. This is the fourth polar year, following those in 1882-3, 1932-3, and 1957-8. Thousands of scientists from over sixty nations are involved in polar research projects. It is an unprecedented opportunity for children and families to become involved with cutting edge science pertaining to one of the most important topics of our time. To find out more about The International Polar Year and how your community can be involved, visit the International Polar Year website.

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NASA Science Mission Directorate’s IPY Pages
Visit NASA Polar Express  to learn how NASA is helping to better understand Earth’s polar regions and to find out more about NASA’s missions to ice worlds. Be sure to spend time at NASA Polar Express
to discover educational events, resources, and opportunities that you can incorporate into your programs. 


Online since 1993, the Exploratorium museum contains over 18,000 award-wining web pages exploring hundreds of different topics, including polar exploration! Visit Ice Stories and go on an adventure to discover what it would be like to explore and research the Arctic and Antarctica. The journey can be viewed via web casts and real-time video. There are also opportunities to ask questions!

EPA Global Warming Kids Site
Children learn about global warming, why it’s important and what they can do about it. There are also games and other activities on the site. A link to information for teachers is listed as well.

EPA Kids Club
Kids and adults can join this website to learn about the environment.


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New Children's Book Releases

New Children's Books

The following are recently released children’s books focusing on a particular aspect of Earth or space science. Their inclusion is not intended as an endorsement.

Down-to-Earth Guide To Global Warming
Laurie David and Cambria Gordon, Orchard Books, 2007, ISBN 0439024943
This book contains facts about global warming and its effects on our world. Lots of pictures and illustrations accompany the text. Also included are suggestions for how children ages 9–12 (and adults!) can help fight against global warming in their homes, schools and communities.

National Geographic Investigates: Extreme Weather: Science Tackles Global Warming and
Climate Change

Kathleen Simpson, National Geographic Children's Books, 2008, ISBN 1426302819
Children ages 13 and up can join the weather scientists who are using modern technology, including satellites and supercomputers, to produce a weather forecast for Earth’s future. Learn what could be on the horizon for Earth and extreme weather.

Weird Weather: Everything You Didn't Want to Know About Climate Change But Probably Should
Find Out

Kate Evans, Groundwood Books, 2007, ISBN 0888998384
This book explains to children ages 9–13 the science behind global warming, shows how it is progressing, and says what is being and not being done to stop the problem. It is presented in a comedic manner, but offers a carefully researched exploration of climate change.

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Becky Recommends!

Activity iconActivity icon

As the activity designer for several of the Explore! modules, I am always on the lookout for great ways to engage children in Earth and space science.  The following activity is the fourth in a series of activities from Explore! Mars - Inside and Out! All activities in Becky Recommends! are designed for tight budgets and tight spaces, and are always educational and fun!

Mars: The Feature Story

What's Needed?

For the group:

Mars MOLA map

For the facilitator:





Children ages 10–13

How Long?

15–20 minutes


Project the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter map onto a wall using an overhead or LCD projector. Alternatively, print an 11x17 inch copy for each team of 3 to 4 children.



1. Invite the children to examine the picture (the topographic - elevation - map of Mars).

  • What is this picture showing? Answers will vary. Many children will think this is a map showing water and land because of the colors.
  • Is this Earth? No.
  • What planet might this be, given what they have been investigating? Mars!
  • Does water exist on Mars? No. What might the map be showing? Height of the land, or elevation. This is a topographic map of the surface of Mars.
  • What colors are the low areas on Mars? Refer the children to the scale. The low areas are blue. The high areas? Red and yellow and white.

2. Ask the children to share what they observe about the map. Invite them to show the feature or pattern they are talking about with the group by pointing it out on the map. Observations may include that:

  • There are mountains or volcanos
  • There are craters
  • The top or northern part of the map is deeper or lower than the bottom or southern part of Mars
  • The bottom or southern part has more craters or is more rough
  • The top has fewer craters or is more smooth
  • The mountains or volcanos occur in just a few places
  • There is a bump or bulge on the surface where there is a cluster of mountains or volcanos

3. Prompt the children to consider how these features were formed.  

  • How do craters form?  Craters form when asteroids, comets, or meteoroids from space collide with a planet or moon.
  • How do volcanos form? Volcanos are openings in the surface of the Earth through which molten, gaseous, and solid material is ejected
  • If a planet has volcanos, what does that tell us about the planet? That it is still – or has been recently - hot enough inside to melt rock and make lava.
  • Do they see any channel-like features or ones that appear to have been formed by a flowing liquid, like water? Prompt the children to look carefully at the areas where the highlands in the south (reds, oranges, and yellows) transition to the lower region in the north (blues and purples). There are some broad channels and teardrop shaped islands that look something like features that could be formed by fast flowing water. Unlike the craters and volcanos, the channels they observe are very small compared to the scale of the map. There are only a few places where the channels are large enough to be observed.

4. Encourage the children to draw conclusions about the surface of Mars.

  • How did the southern half (hemisphere) of Mars become so rough and cratered? Lots of impactors — like asteroids — hit the surface.
  • Do you think the impactors hit only the bottom half of the planet? No, impactors come from all directions, and all locations of a planet or moon are equally likely to being hit by them.
  • Which is an older surface, the cratered southern part or the smooth northern part of Mars? The cratered southern part because it has more craters. Because planets get hit all over with impactors, when geologists see smooth regions on a planet's surface, they interpret that something happened after it was cratered to smooth it out or cover it up. It is important to note that the entire planet of Mars is very old (4.56 billion years old!), and cratered but some of the old surfaces have been covered by younger, more recent, happenings.

If the children have difficulty with this idea, ask them to imagine a sheet of mud in a rainstorm. Early in the rainstorm, when only a few drops have fallen, there will be only a few raindrop patterns in the mud. With time, as the storm continues, more and more raindrop imprints will be left in the mud. The older a planet surface is, the more raindrop/impact craters it will have. After the storm, you have a mud sheet peppered with raindrop imprints; imagine taking a bowl of mud and pouring it across half of the sheet. In the area where the new mud was poured, the imprints will be filled in / smoothed over by a newer surface.

  • What might have caused the northern part of Mars to become smooth? Answers will vary, but may include that it was eroded, that water smoothed it, or that lava filled it in. There is evidence that, below the surface, the northern hemisphere is just as cratered as the southern hemisphere. Scientists are debating why there is such a difference between the southern and northern regions of Mars, and what happened to smooth the surface of the northern region.
  • Can you find any other areas besides the upper half of Mars that also appear smooth? Yes, the area surrounding the volcanos.
  • What does this tell them about the age of the volcanos? That they are young, because they are not very cratered.

5. Congratulate them on applying what they learned – they now are official planetary scientists!

This activity may be used as a stand alone for older children or as a wrap-up to the three previous Mars' activities from Becky Recommends, i.e. Carving Channels, Volcanos Go With the Flow, and Crater Creations. These activities, along with an expanded version of Mars: The Feature Story may be found on the Geologic Scene Investigators: Part 1 - Scratching the Surface website.



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Events and OpportunitiesExplore! Ice Worlds Web Casts
Training for Explore! Ice Worlds will be available via a series of three one hour web casts beginning in June!  Participants will receive training in over fifteen, hands-on activities, receive professional development hours, and have the opportunity to interact with polar scientists about their work and the challenges we face as a result of changes in snow and ice at our fragile poles. For more information about Explore! Ice Worlds web casts, or to register, please contact Katy Buckaloo at:  Prior registration is required in order to obtain Web access information.

POLAR-PALOOZA Find out when this multimedia initiative - supported by NSF and NASA — is coming to a museum or science center near you!  Events in Chicago, Denver, Houston and more (!) include educator trainings and public presentations by polar scientists and Alaskan natives. Video and audio podcasts also are available.  Find out more at:

Send Your Name to the Moon with LRO and LCROSS!
Everyone can participate in lunar exploration by placing their names in orbit around the Moon for years to come. Submit your information through to have your name placed on a microchip that will be integrated onto LRO spacecraft, scheduled for launch in Fall 2008. The deadline for submitting names is June 27, 2008. Don’t forget to print a certificate!

Astronomy - A Hands-on SymposiumPreparing for the International Year of Astronomy: A Hands-on Symposium
This symposium, the Annual Meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), cosponsored with the 2008 Summer Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, will take place June 2–4, 2008, in St. Louis, Missouri. The symposium will bring together education and public outreach professionals, educators in museums, planetaria, and other informal settings, college instructors, and scientists and graduate students who want to become engaged in astronomy outreach during the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in 2009.

IYA celebrates the 400th anniversary of the astronomical telescope. Activities are being planned in over 100 countries and throughout the U.S. If you are interested in planning IYA programs in 2009, this meeting is an excellent chance to learn more about what various institutions and organizations are proposing to do, to coordinate your ideas and activities with colleagues, and to find out where funding may be available.


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Workshops and Courses

Explore! Ice Worlds Web Casts
Training for Explore! Ice Worlds will be available via a series of three one hour web casts beginning in June!  Participants will receive training in over fifteen, hands-on activities, receive professional development hours, and have the opportunity to interact with polar scientists about their work and the challenges we face as a result of changes in snow and ice at our fragile poles. For more information about Explore! Ice Worlds web casts, or to register, please contact Katy Buckaloo. Prior registration is required in order to obtain Web access information.

American Museum of Natural History Online Courses
The American Museum is offering access to cutting-edge research and world-renowned scientists through two sessions of online courses this summer. Session 1 is June 9–July 20, and Session 2 is June 30-August 10. Topics include “The Solar System,” “Earth: Inside and Out,” and “Space, Time and Motion.” Graduate credit is available.

Astronomy Education Workshops
In preparation for the International Year of Astronomy (2009), the American Astronomical Society and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific are sponsoring a weekend of workshops for formal and informal educators, in St. Louis May 31-June 1. A limited number of scholarships are available to U.S. citizens to cover travel. Registration for the workshops is $25 per day. For more information, see “Preparing for the International Year of Astronomy” under the Events and Opportunities section.


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Mission News and ScienceMission News and Science

A color satellite image of Mars showing dust from an avalanche

Ice, dust, and rock are plummeting down a 700 meter cliff, creating a plume of dust on the right.

Avalanches on Mars
Modified from Universe Today
A NASA spacecraft in orbit around Mars has taken the first ever image of active avalanches near the Red Planet's north pole. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's teams of scientists were surprised to see this activity, and don't yet know the cause of the landslides.

The orbiter's HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Experiment) camera was checking for seasonal changes in the carbon-dioxide frost covering a northern dune field. Scientists plan on taking more images of this region through the changing Martian seasons to see if this kind of avalanche happens all year or is restricted to early spring. Material that fell from the upper portion of the scarp is probably more ice than dust.  

Inside Earth’s Inner Core
Modified from News Bureau University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Geologists have confirmed the discovery of Earth’s inner, innermost core, and have created a three-dimensional model of its features.  Scientists have known for some time that the Earth has an outer core (about 7,000 km wide) surrounding a solid inner core, about 2,400 km wide.  They’ve now confirmed that inside the inner core, the center has different properties than the surrounding region.
Earth's core is composed mainly of iron. While the outer core is liquid, the inner core is solid due to the extreme pressures. The inner core plays an important role in the geodynamo that generates Earth’s magnetic field. Scientists studying the core using seismic waves have discovered that the center region of the inner core (about 1,180 km wide) has a different phase than the rest. The iron in this part of the inner core may be composed of a different phase of crystalline iron, or the iron may be aligned to a different pattern than the rest of the inner core.

Artist's depiction of particles making up rings around Rhea, with Saturn in the background

An artist's depiction of the rings of Rhea, with the density of the ring material exaggerated.

Saturn's Moon Rhea Also May Have Rings
Modified from Cassini-Huygens
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found evidence of material orbiting Rhea, Saturn's second largest moon. This is the first time rings have been found around a moon. A broad debris disk and at least one ring appear to have been detected by six instruments on Cassini.  The discovery was a result of a Cassini close flyby of Rhea in November 2005, when instruments on the spacecraft observed the environment around the moon.

Rhea is roughly 1,500 kilometers (950 miles) wide, and the apparent debris disk is several thousand miles wide. The particles that make up the disk probably range from the size of small pebbles to boulders. These rings may be left from an asteroid or comet collision in Rhea's distant past, which would have exploded large amounts of gas and solid particles around Rhea.

Since the discovery, Cassini scientists have carried out numerical simulations to determine if Rhea can maintain rings. The models show that Rhea's gravity field, in combination with its orbit around Saturn, could allow rings that form to remain in place for a very long time.

A galaxy seen edge-on to depict its disk

A spiral galaxy seen edge-on can show its thickness.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Doubling the Milky Way
Modified from The University of Sydney
It took just a couple of hours using data available on the internet for University of Sydney scientists to discover that the Milky Way is twice as wide as previously thought. The team discovered that our galaxy — a flattened spiral about 100,000 light years across - is 12,000 light years thick, not the 6,000 light years that had been previously thought.

Less than one hundred years ago, astronomers debated the size and shape of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Today astronomers have a much better picture of our galaxy, but it is still somewhat difficult to get the full picture from our position inside a spiral arm filled with gas, dust, and stars. The scientists from the University of Sydney used the data from pulsars to measure their distances and how the pulsar's light interacted with the warm interstellar material that fills the disk of the Milky Way, and were surprised to discover a value twice the thickness that has been widely accepted for decades.





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