Greetings Explore! Community

This newsletter is intended to highlight 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


Becky Nelson



Reading iconNew Children's Book Releases

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

Black Holes: And Other Bizarre Space Objects
David Jefferis, Crabtree Publishing Co., March 2006, ISBN 0778728706
Jefferis’ book is from the Science Frontiers series and offers 10 – 13 year olds an introduction to fascinating space science topics like black holes and gamma ray bursts. The stunning pictures are engaging and the format appealing.

Stars (Jump Into Science)
Steve Tomecek, National Geographic Children’s Books, reprint edition May, 2006, ISBN 079225581X
Children ages 4-7 get a solid, basic knowledge about stars from this colorful, easy-to-understand book, told from the standpoint of a little boy. Backyard astronomy beginners will find this book useful. An experiment at the end reinforces star distance and brightness.

Ten Worlds: Everything That Orbits the Sun
Ken Croswell, Boyds Mills Press, May 2006, ISBN 1590784235
Croswell provides a thorough and in-depth overview of every planet, planetesimal, and moon in our Solar System. His book is replete with breathtaking images and information for children ages 9–12.

Exploring the Solar System: A History with 22 Activities (For Kids series)
Mary Kay Carson, Chicago Review Press, February 2006, ISBN 1556525931
Carson combines information about planets with the history of planetary discoveries and hands-on activities. This well organized book is for ages 10 and up, and includes a 20-page field guide to the Solar System, biographical sketches of selected astronomers, and conjectures about what fascinating things await us in the next decade of space exploration.

Space: Exploring the Moon, the Planets, and Beyond
Olivier de Goursac, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2006, ISBN 0810957191
With spectacular NASA photos and beautiful illustrations, De Goursac invites readers ages 9–12 to explore the solar system. With space exploration as a focal point, topics include everything from rockets, to lunar landings, to Martian colonies.

During a recent Web excursion, we discovered NASA eBooks. Children with access to a computer may think these are pretty cool resources!

Line rule


December 21 Winter Solstice (first day of winter)

January 3 Earth at perihelion (closest point to the Sun)

January 1924 The 2007American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting will be held in Seattle, WA. Please consult the website for complete Midwinter meeting information.

February 719 Beyond School Hours will celebrate ten years of after school programming at their national conference in Greensboro, N.C. A special keynote address will be given by Dr. Maya Angelou. For more information visit the website or call 888-977-KIDS (5437).


Line rule

Spotlight On ...
The new look of the Explore! newsletter

We have recently modified the newsletter’s format and style. Please take a few minutes and tell us what you think.  Please e-mail Becky Nelson ( with your comments and suggestions in response to the questions below.

  1. Do you read the newsletter?
  2. Do you find the information helpful?
  3. What resources have you used (for examples, the books, mission news, or opportunities)?
  4. What information is not useful to you?
  5. What additional information would you like to have each month?
  6. Is the new look an improvement (format, style)?  How can we make it easier for you to read and use?
  7. Do you mind getting an e-mail notification and then going to the Web site to access the information?

Thank you for helping us make this a better newsletter!

Line rule

Events and Opportunities

AntarticaEducation Webcast on Meteorite Mysteries
NASA's Digital Learning Network invites you to join them for
Antarctica:  Meteorite Mysteries, The Search for Space Rocks webcasts! They will connect with field researchers who will explain the importance of meteorite research, classification, and origins to participating students. The event will include live on-site descriptions of the Antarctic environment and meteorite collection efforts, subject matter experts on the origins and importance of meteorite research, and a visual inspection of an actual meteorite sample from Mars. The next webcast will be January 22, 2007 at 1 p.m.–2 pm (Central) and January 23, 2007 at 1 p.m.–2 p.m. (Central). For more information, and suggested pre-event activities, or to send a question to the Antarctic team members, go to NASA Digital Learning Network.


ResourcesThe Last of the Great Observatories: Spitzer And the Era of Faster, Better, Cheaper at NASA
The Spitzer Space Observatory is the last of the four “Great Observatories”, which also include the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. George Rieke played a key role in Spitzer and now relates the story of how that observatory was built and launched into space. Up to its official start and even afterward, Spitzer was significant not merely in terms of its scientific value but because it stood at the center of major changes in space science policy and politics. For more information or to purchase, visit the The University of Arizona Press website.

Spanish Language Astronomy Materials Education Center
The National Optical Astronomy Observatory has a web resource on Spanish language educational materials, with recommendations on astronomy books and periodicals in Spanish, broken down by grade level. 

DragonflyTV SciGirls is a collaborative program funded by the National Science Foundation that empowers PBS outreach professionals to partner with local youth organizations, educators (formal and informal) and parents to deliver hands-on science activities, encouragement, and career guidance to girls in their communities. For information about sharing the SciGirls program with your community, visit the Dragonfly TV website.

Line rule

Workshops and Courses

Educator Workshops by Lunar and Planetary Institute and NASA Astromaterials Research and Exploration Sciences Team
Offered at the Harris County Department of Education
Please contact Liliana Maldonado at (713) 696-1306 for registration information.  Go to Harris County Department of Education for more workshop details or to register on-line. Visit HCDE Earth and Space Science Workshops 2006–2007 for a list of workshops offered by LPI and NASA ARES.

January 12, 2007 – Mars!!
Exploring Mars is exciting and in the news. Currently multiple science missions are exploring the Red Planet. This one-day ARES workshop uses up-to-date mission information and images to teach Earth and space science. Through a balance of content and activities, we will investigate the formation of the Red Planet and how it has changed through time, how volcanism, tectonic, impacts, and erosion have affected Mars, and the evidence of water — past and present. All activities are hands-on, fun, and low budget!  Participants will receive presentation materials, activity packets, posters, and fact sheets. Fee $75, Audience: Upper Elementary and Middle School educators

February 9, 2007 – Solar System Survey: The Origin and Characteristics of the Sun, Planets, Moons, and Debris in our Neighborhood
Join presenters from the Lunar and Planetary Institute and learn about the characteristics and formation of the Sun, Earth, and planets. We will also explore moons, comets, asteroids, and other space debris. Participants will receive extensive presentation materials on cd, reference materials, and hands-on activities for the classroom. Fee: $75, Audience: Grade 5–7 educators.

Online Science Courses from the American Museum of Natural History
Need to fulfill degree, certification or professional development requirements? Seminars on Science offers award-winning online graduate courses in the life, Earth and physical sciences. Designed by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) for K–12 educators, each six-week course immerses the learner in an area of contemporary research. Graduate credit is available from several leading institutions. Courses may be used to meet your professional development needs, including degree, certification, NCLB, and salary gradation requirements.  Free sample resources for each course, including essays, videos, and interactive simulations, are available online at the American Museum of Natural History website. Registration is now open for the six-week session that begins January 15 as well as the following session beginning March 19. Register by December 18th and receive a $50 discount. For more information and to register, visit Seminars on Science or call 800-649-6715.



Line rule

Becky Recommends!

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 second in a series of activities on the Moon. All activities in Becky Recommends! are designed for tight budgets and tight spaces, and are always educational and fun!

I think edible activities rock, and this fun activity is both educational and delicious! What better way to familiarize children with lunar phases or reinforce prior learning?!


OREO Moon Phases

Materials for each child:
8 Oreo® cookies (4 for younger children)
½ sheet of poster board
A plastic spoon and/or a plastic knife
Marker (optional)

Halve and scrape Oreo® cookies to illustrate Moon phases. Then arrange cookies on the poster in linear fashion beginning with the New Moon and ending with the Waning Crescent Moon.You may be familiar with other activities that place the phases in a circular formation. We feel this could, however, confuse young children if they attempt to conceptualize the location of the Sun or Earth in relation to the Moon’s orbit. We, therefore, recommend that first children simply learn to correctly match the names with the appearances of each phase. For children younger than 8, you may want to model only 4 Moon phases, i.e. New Moon (completely dark), Crescent Moon, first Quarter (or Half) Moon, and Full Moon. Older children should be able to model all 8 phases, as shown below:



New Moon depicted with OREO coookie
New Moon
Completely (or almost completely dark)

Waxing Crescent depicted with OREO cookie
Waxing Crescent
A small sliver of light on the right


Forst Quarter (or Half Moon) as depicted with an OREO coookie
First Quarter
(or Half) Moon

The right half of
the Moon is light.

Waxing Gibbous - Three quarters of the Moon is light as depicted with an OREO cookie. The light is in the shape of a humpback (which is what the word "gibbous" means!)
Waxing Gibbous
Three quarters of the right side of
the Moon is light.

The light is in the shape of a humpback (which is what the word “gibbous” means!)


Full Moon as depicted with an OREO cookie - The entire Moon is bright.
Full Moon
The entire Moon is bright.

Waning Bibbous as depicted with an OREO cookie - Three quarter so the left side of the Moon is light.
Waning Gibbous
Three quarters of the left side of the Moon is light.


Third Quarter (also Half) Moon as depiced with an OREO cookie - The left half of the Moon in now light.
Third Quarter
(also Half) Moon
The left half of the Moon is now light.

Waning Cresecent as depicted with an OREO cookie. A small sliver of light now appears on the left side.
Waning Crescent
A small sliver of light now appears on the left side.

Modified from Paper Plate Education
Copyright ©2006 Chuck Bueter All rights reserved.


Line rule

Mission News and Science

New Evidence Water Still Flows on Mars
Modified from Jet Propulsion Laboratory News Releases
NASA photographs have revealed bright new deposits seen in two gullies on Mars, suggesting that water carried sediment through them sometime during the past seven years. Liquid water is considered necessary for life, so the new findings heighten intrigue about the potential for microbial life on Mars.The Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor provided the new evidence of the deposits in images taken in 2004 and 2005.

Deposits seen in two gullies on MarsThe atmosphere of Mars is so thin and the temperature so cold that liquid water quickly evaporates or freezes. Scientists propose that water could exist in an underground source and break out through the walls of a crater, carrying debris downslope before totally freezing. Mars Global Surveyor has discovered tens of thousands of gullies on slopes inside craters and other depressions on Mars. Scientists first reported the discovery of the gullies in 2000. To look for changes that might indicate present-day flow of water, they repeatedly imaged hundreds of the sites.  The two fresh deposits are each several hundred yards long. The light tone of the deposits could be from surface frost or a salty crust. This is the first evidence of newly deposited material apparently carried by fluids after earlier imaging of the same gullies.

Mars Global Surveyor began orbiting Mars in 1997. The spacecraft is responsible for many important discoveries. NASA has not heard from the spacecraft since early November. Attempts to contact it continue. Its unprecedented longevity has allowed monitoring Mars for over several years past its projected lifetime.

Early Bacteria Protected from Poisonous Oxygen
Modified from CALTECH Media Relations
Two and a half billion years ago, the process known as photosynthesis suddenly began, releasing molecular oxygen into Earth's atmosphere and causing one of the largest environmental changes in the history of our planet. The organisms assumed responsible were the cyanobacteria, which evolved the ability to turn water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight into oxygen and sugar, and are still around today as the blue-green algae and the chloroplasts in all green plants.  But researchers have long been puzzled as to how the cyanobacteria could make all that oxygen without poisoning themselves. To avoid their DNA getting wrecked by a hydroxyl radical that naturally occurs in the production of oxygen, the cyanobacteria would have had to evolve protective enzymes. But how could natural selection have led the cyanobacteria to evolve these enzymes if the need for them didn't even exist yet?

Now, two groups of researchers at the California Institute of Technology offer an explanation of how cyanobacteria could have avoided this seemingly hopeless contradiction. Reporting in the December 12 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the groups demonstrate that ultraviolet light striking the surface of glacial ice can lead to the accumulation of frozen oxidants and the eventual release of molecular oxygen into the oceans and atmosphere. This trickle of poison could then drive the evolution of oxygen-protecting enzymes in a variety of microbes, including the cyanobacteria. According to Danie Liang, a serious freeze-over known as the Makganyene Snowball Earth occurred 2.3 billion years ago, at roughly the time cyanobacteria evolved their oxygen-producing capabilities. During the Snowball Earth episode, enough peroxide could have been stored to produce nearly as much oxygen as is in the atmosphere now. Cyanobacteria would have evolved enzymes to protect themselves from the oxygen, which then would have been used to protect them when they began to photosynthesize and release additional oxygen into the oceans and atmosphere.

Evidence that Dark Energy Was Present in Early Universe
Modified from NASA News
Scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that dark energy is not new, but rather has been present for most of the universe's history. Dark energy is a mysterious repulsive force that causes the universe to expand at an increasing rate. Investigators used Hubble to find that dark energy was already boosting the expansion rate of the universe as long as nine billion years ago. This data will allow scientists to begin ruling out some competing explanations for dark energy that predict that the strength of dark energy changes over time.

To study the behavior of dark energy of long ago, Hubble had to peer far across the universe and back into time to detect supernovae. Supernovae can be used to trace the universe's expansion. Over the past eight years astrophysicists have been trying to uncover two of dark energy's most fundamental properties: its strength and its permanence. These new observations reveal that dark energy was present and obstructing the gravitational pull of the matter in the universe even before it began to win this cosmic "tug of war." Previous Hubble observations of the most distant supernovae known revealed that the early universe was dominated by matter whose gravity was slowing down the universe's expansion rate. The observations also confirmed that the expansion rate of the cosmos began speeding up about five to six billion years ago.

Wishing you the very best in 2007

For more information about the Explore! program, please visit:
or contact Becky Nelson at