Lunar and Planetary Institute

Explore! Fun with Science
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Education and Public Outreach

Explore! News
August 2006

Previous News Announcements

August 2006


September 3, 2006 ESA’s SMART-1 will crash into the Moon. For more information visit Universe Today.

September 15, 2006 Explore! Fun with Science Northeast Texas Library System Workshop held at the Allen Public Library.

October 3– 6, 2006 – Navy Pier in Chicago will be the site for ILA's Annual Conference.

November 11, 2006 – Pennsylvania Library Association Annual Conference at the Hilton in Pittsburgh, PA.

November 29–December 1, 2006 – SCLA Annual Conference at Hilton Head. The conference will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Explore News

Jackie Sollers of the Carroll County Public Library in Eldersburg, Maryland has been quite busy utilizing the Explore! program in her area. She started doing general science programs at the library beginning in September of 2005 as part of a state grant. The funds from the grant enabled her to do several of the Explore! activities including Explore! Rocket’s programs for children ages 7-11 at branches throughout their library system. Jackie has also conducted 2 programs on Comets and Meteors in the spring of 2006. She has trained over 50 librarians around the state of Maryland on Explore! and beginning in September of 2006 and running through November 2006, she will be doing 2 Explore! programs a month. Future plans are to have as many Explore programs on the calendar as possible. Jackie does want to let everyone know that her library patrons “LOVE these programs - they fill instantly!”

Workshops and Courses

LPI and ARES One-Day Educator Workshops
Offered at the Harris County Department of Education
September 8, 2006--The Fire Within, Part I: Plate Tectonics & Volcanos
Learn about the different types of volcanos and igneous rocks as we investigate plate tectonics. Once we build an understanding of Earth’s volcanos, we will take a tour of volcanos across the solar system. Participants will receive extensive presentation materials on CD, reference materials, and hands-on activities for the classroom. Part II strongly recommended.  Fee: $75, Credits: 6 CPE hours. Audience: 5–8 Teachers – and interested librarians!

October 6, 2006--The Fire Within, Part II: Making Metamorphic and Sedimentary Rocks
Learn to identify different metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, explore how they form, and relate their formation to plate tectonics and the rock cycle. The day will close by examining evidence of these types of rocks on other planets. Participants will receive extensive presentation materials on CD, reference materials, and lesson plans for hands-on classroom activities. Part I strongly recommended.  Fee: $75, Credits: 6 CPE hours. Audience: 5–8 Teachers  – and interested librarians!

Explore Workshop
Steve Seales and Reggie Burns will be heading up the Explore! Fun with Science Northeast Texas Library System workshop held at the Allen Public Library on Friday, September 15, 2006.  There are hands-on activities, crafts, suggestions for learning extensions, videos, presentations, and book and Internet resource lists. It will be a fun, action packed day. Attendees willreceive Explore! materials, including activity notebooks, videos and posters, learn how to customize Explore! activities for a variety of programs and audiences, and discover the on-going benefits of joining the Explore! community. Registration starts at 12:30 p.m. The workshop is from 1 to 4 p.m. Attendees receive 3 hours of credit from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission or 3 CPE hours from the State Board of Educator Certification (CPE # 500989).  For sign-up visit:

Online Science Courses
The American Museum of Natural History’s (AMNH) Seminars on Science offers its online graduate courses this fall, including one on Space, Time, and Motion.  Designed for K-12 educators and co-taught by Museum scientists and educators, each six-week course features web-based discussions and contemporary research. Graduate credit and certification are available to meet professional development needs, NCLB, and salary gradation requirements. Fall sessions run August 28–October 8 and October 30–December 10. For more information on individual courses and to register, visit or call 800-649-6715. The AMNH course website also offers free sample resources for each course and a video explaining how scientists duplicate DNA at

Tuition Scholarships Available
This is a sixteen week, three-credit graduate level, Internet-based, distance learning course designed for K –6 educators. This four module course will improve Earth science content knowledge using practical classroom approaches. Class begins August 21, 2006 and class ends December 9, 2006. To enroll online, you will need a student ID and PIN number. To obtain these, you need to be a Degree, Non-Degree Post-Baccalaureate, or Non-Degree Visiting Graduate Student. See Apply Online on the UNL Graduate Studies website for details . Course Information: NRES 896a. Independent Study: Lab. Earth. Concept & Appl. 3 credits. Section Number: 700. Call number: 9036. For More Information contact: Dr. Dave Gosselin, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 402-472-8919.

Grants and Funding

YSA Grant Opportunity
Youth Service America and the Civil Society Institute are excited to announce the Red, White & Green Climate Change Grant. This opportunity offers $500 to implement a service-learning project about climate change. The Red, White & Green Climate Change Grant is open to all young people in the United States between the ages of 15-25 and to organizations that engage youth ages 15-25. Adults may apply and assist the youth but projects should be youth-led, and the service must take place between October 1 and November 30, 2006. Applications are accepted by airmail only. Applications must be postmarked no later than Thursday, September 1, 2006. For applications visit: Red White and Green Climate Change Grant Application.

Educator Researcher Workshops The SCORE program offers grants to assist in the development and implementation of local professional development workshops for educators in the SCORE six-state region of Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Workshop design is flexible and should meet the needs of the local community.  Funding deadlines are June 15 and January 15.

Educator Researcher Collaborative Projects The SCORE program offers grants of up to $1000 to collaborative teams of educators and Office of Space Science researchers in the SCORE six-state region of Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.  The grants are intended to help initiate new partnerships between educators and Office of Space Science researchers. Funds can be used to purchase materials and resources to increase student or public understanding of space science content.

Events and Opportunities

Dallas Librarian Conference
There is still time to register for the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, October 11th through 15th in Dallas, Texas. This unique conference is relevant to all librarians, whether you consider yourself "of color" or not; presenters and topics cover a broad spectrum of ethnicities and cultures that reflect current demographics. Preliminary programs for the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color are now available from the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS). For more contact: Amy Stone, OLOS communications specialist,, 312-280-5281 (800-545-2433, ext. 5281).

Ready, Set, Register!
Registration for NSTA’s Fall Conferences in now underway: Omaha, October 19-21; Baltimore, November 2-4; and Salt Lake City, December 7. Featured speakers, sessions and presentations, short courses and professional development institutes, field trips, and a new learning dissemination conference are detailed online. Start your registration process with the Personal Scheduler. There, you can create your own professional development itinerary and get help for funding. The earlybird deadline for best prices to attend the first event in Omaha is right around the corner (September 15), and many of the pre-registration-required events will sell out fast.

Polar Exploration: Going to Extremes!
This art contest challenges U.S. students to pick a polar region, explore it and then draw a picture showing what they learned. This is the 11th annual art contest held by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) and is for children in grades 2-4. The winning artist will receive a $250 savings bond, and his or her artwork will be printed as the 2006 IGES holiday card. Second- and third-place winners receive a $100 and $50 savings bond, respectively. Entries are due Nov. 10, 2006. For more information, including contest rules and entry form, fun polar facts, lesson plans and links to national science and geography standards, and a listing of recommended books, movies and Web sites, please visit the website.

Dark Skies in Texas!
Ever been to a star party? There is an August Star Party at Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus on the August 19. The focus will be on several star clusters and galaxies that are over 14,000,000,000,000 miles away! Each telescope will have a trained volunteer to assist you view the many incredible sites of our universe from the special dark skies of Texas. If you wish to camp or RV contact: 3 Rivers Foundation for the Arts & Sciences, Crowell, Texas 79227, 940-684-1670.


NSTA's E-Newsletters: Science Class and NSTA Express
Science Class is e-mailed the first Wednesday of the month; each grade-specific issue features a theme that corresponds to the themes of NSTA's peer-reviewed journals. NSTA Express is sent every Monday; each issue keeps you up to date on the latest legislative, science education, and NSTA news. You already know that these e-newsletters are free, but your colleagues may not. Feel free to forward this issue to them or to send them the link to sign-up for their own copy.

USGS Resources
The US Geological Survey has two new educational resources to help teachers explain earthquake science. Earthquake Science Explained: A Series of 10 Short Articles for Students, Teachers, and Families highlights how scientists study earthquakes, what evidence they collect, and what they have learned since the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. The publication also covers liquefaction of sandy soils during earthquakes, tsunamis produced by earthquakes, and the efforts of scientists and engineers to make buildings safer. Living in Earthquake Country: A Teaching Box, an earthquake hazard resource, offers lessons including fully developed hands-on earthquake curriculum, teaching points, and easy-to-reproduce handouts.

Free Resources
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Classroom website offers free materials for teachers and students. Publications cover such topics as cell biology; biology and physics; genetics; chemistry; and medicines. The website tells how to teach scientific inquiry and use NIGMS resources with students and how these resources support the goals of the National Science Education Standards. In addition, visitors can access news about the latest NIGMS-funded research being conducted around the nation.

Hurricane Resources needed?
You can find answers to most hurricane questions and play a hurricane word game called Whirlwind Disaster at the SciJinks Weather Laboratory website. SciJinks, a joint effort of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), targets young people of middle school age. The new How Does a Hurricane Form? web page and accompanying interactive game can be found in the How and Why menu on the website.

NASA’s Free Podcast Service
NASA’s Free Podcast Service: NASAcast allows subscribers to download NASA features, news, and other content as part of a new free podcast service. Agency selections include the features from NASA's website,; "This Week@NASA" from NASA TV; interviews with Stardust and Mars Exploration Rover scientists. All the latest NASAcast audio and video will automatically get downloaded. Subscribers can choose to listen or view the content at their computer or download it to a portable digital device for later use. Detailed information about how to use NASAcast can be found on the website.

Black Hole Rescue!
Black Hole Rescue!: Nearby matter is not the only thing attracted by a black hole. These mysterious objects also attract a great deal of curiosity from kids here on Earth. Taking advantage of this interest, NASA's website for kids, The Space Place, has added a new game called Black Hole Rescue! After (or before) reading a short, illustrated article introducing black hole concepts, players "rescue" the vocabulary words, one letter at a time, before they get sucked into the black hole. Play the game yourself on the website.

NSF Resource
National Science Foundation and the Girl Scouts of America have produced Girls Go Tech, an interactive website that provides activities that encourage girls to become interested in how things work. The website has information on role models and career ideas that can spark young women’s curiosity about science, math, and engineering. The site also offers resources for parents and teachers.

Cassini Halftime Show Features a New View of Saturn
The Cassini spacecraft is now halfway into its four-year tour of Saturn, its moons and rings. The following podcasts are available by visiting Cassini: Halfway Point. An audio podcast with highlights from Cassini's first two years and a preview of the second half of the journey and a video podcast exploring two key Cassini discoveries — Earthlike qualities of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, and evidence of liquid water on a smaller moon, Enceladus. The materials are also available by going directly to JPL's Multimedia website.

Free Newsletter
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific is happy to announce the return of the Universe in the Classroom, its free quarterly newsletter for teachers and other educators who want to help children of all ages learn more about the wonders of the universe through astronomy. Each issue contains information on a topic of current astronomical interest, along with hands-on classroom activities to make the topic come alive for students and a list of resources for exploring the topic deeper. Read the current issue, browse the archives and sign up for a subscription.

Mission News and Science

Strange Space Blobs
Modified from:
European astronomers have recently discovered a primordial “blob” of dark matter more than 10 billion light-years away. This gigantic object is twice as large as the Milky Way, but it only emits as much energy as 2 billion suns. The astronomers think they’re seeing large quantities of gas falling into a clump of dark matter, which could go on to build a large galaxy like the Milky Way. The most likely scenario to account for its existence and properties is that it represents the early stage in the formation of a galaxy, when gas falls onto a large clump of dark matter.

The object is invisible in the images taken with various telescopes observing from the infrared to the X-ray wavebands, making it a very peculiar object indeed. It is also the only such object found by the astronomers in their survey. Over the last few years, astronomers have discovered in the distant Universe a few so-called ‘blobs’. These are rather energetic but under-luminous objects, of the size of or much larger than our Milky Way galaxy. Their exact nature is still unclear and several scenarios have been proposed to account for their existence.

Cassini’s Hunt for Atomic Oxygen
Modified from:
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been on the hunt for atomic oxygen since it arrived at Saturn. It has been found! The source turned out to be a thin atmosphere of water vapor surrounding Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Cassini flew past the mysterious moon in July 2005 and discovered that large dark cracks around its southern pole were warm and spewing out water vapor and ice particles. Cassini is due for a second look in 2008 when it will make another close flyby. The cloud of oxygen the Cassini spacecraft encountered as it first approached Saturn turned out to be a calling card from another celestial presence, the tiny moon Enceladus. The oxygen was the first clue that much more is going on beneath Enceladus’ icy surface than it first appeared. Tracking down the oxygen’s source led scientists to a most unusual spot in the solar system, a place that may possess one of the rarest and most sought-after substances in the universe - liquid water.

Since Saturn’s rings are made mostly of water ice, it wasn’t surprising to find one ingredient of water, oxygen, in Saturn’s atmosphere. The oxygen scientists observed was in the form of single oxygen atoms, called atomic oxygen, like that in water, H2O. Observations in spring 2005 showed that something very odd was taking place on Enceladus. Cassini’s magnetometer showed that the moon had an atmosphere. Too small to have enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere for very long, Enceladus had to have a steady source of gas, such as geysers, to keep an atmosphere going. The cosmic dust analyzer detected a stream of particles around Enceladus. The scientists wondered whether these particles could be coming from the moon or from Saturn’s E ring and if, perhaps, the moon itself might be the source of ice particles for the E ring. The mystery of the atomic oxygen was solved when scientists revealed that Enceladus has an internal heat source and is geologically active. Its geysers throw out enough water vapor and ice to maintain the moon’s atmosphere, feed the vast E ring, and decompose into clouds of oxygen like the one first spotted by Cassini on its way to Saturn. Not far beneath the moon’s snowy white surface may be large pools of liquid water, warmed by the same heat source that powers its geysers. Its potential for water puts Enceladus into an elite group of places where life could exist. The Cassini spacecraft will swing back in 2008 for another look.

ExoMars Mission
Modified from:
A proposed future mission called ExoMars will search for traces of life on Mars. The ESA mission requires entirely new technologies for self-controlled robots, built-in autonomy and cutting-edge visual terrain sensors. The fourth decade of this century could see Europe participating in a manned mission to Mars. A human mission to the Red Planet would be a major, multi-year undertaking with ExoMars being a precursor to this mission. ExoMars is due for launch around 2011 and will explore the biological environment on Mars. Data from the mission will also provide invaluable input for broader studies of exobiology – the search for life on other planets. The main element of the mission is a wheeled, robotic rover vehicle, similar in concept to NASA's current Mars Rover mission, but having different scientific objectives and improved capabilities.
The rover will use solar arrays to generate electricity, and will travel over the rocky surface of Mars, transporting the first-ever lightweight drilling system, as well as a sampling and handling device, and a set of scientific instruments to search for signs of past or present life. Due to distance time-lag and complexity, ExoMars will self-navigate using 'smart' electro-optics to visually sense and interpret the surrounding terrain and will be capable of operating autonomously using intelligent onboard software. It would survey the ground with a 3D camera, create a digital terrain model, verify its present location, run internal simulations and then make an autonomous decision on the best path to follow.

Red Spot Junior
Modified from:
Recent evidence shows Jupiter’s two giant red spots brushing past one another in the planet’s southern hemisphere. Astronomers have been predicting the close encounter for months; Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and its newly formed “Red Spot Jr.”. Both red spots are massive storm systems. Astronomers don’t think anything dramatic is going to happen as the storms slip past each other this time around. The top of the larger one, known for a long time as the Great Red Spot, lies about 5 miles above the neighboring cloud tops and is the largest hurricane known in the solar system. Red Spot Junior is roughly half the size of its famous cousin, but its winds blow just as strong. This mighty new storm formed between 1998 and 2000 from the merger of three long-enduring white ovals, each a similar storm system at a smaller scale, which had been observed for at least 60 years. 

No one is certain why this white oval turned red. One theory is that the merger of the three white ovals led to an intensified storm system. This made it strong enough to dredge up reddish material from deeper in the atmosphere. As this material welled up in the middle of the spot, it is protected from escape by the strong circulating currents at the spot’s edges. Another popular hypothesis contends that the material dredged up from below Jupiter’s visible clouds climbs to an altitude where the Sun’s ultraviolet light chemically alters it to give it a reddish hue.

The white ovals from which Red Spot Junior is made have passed by the Great Red Spot countless times as the atmospheric current in which they are embedded moves at a different speed from the one at the latitude of the Great Red Spot. Each red spot is rotating with Jupiter at slightly different rates and over time, like passing cars on a highway, the two spots change relative positions causing periodic close passages like this. However, this is the first such passage since the new, smaller red spot intensified and turned red. Nothing dramatic is expected to happen as the two storm systems continue their close encounter. But future passages could always allow for the merger and formation of a “Red Spot Senior”.


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Last updated
February 6, 2007