Lunar and Planetary Institute

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Explore! News
February 2006

Previous News Announcements

February 2006


March 21–25, 2006 - Public Library Association National Conference, Boston, Mass; phone: 800-545-2433, ext. 5PLA; e-mail:

March 28–30, 2006 – Louisiana Library Association Annual Conference, Lafayette Cajundome Convention Center, Lafayette, LA 70506.

March 29, 2006 Sun-Earth Day 2006 Eclipse: In a Different Light
Sun-Earth Day 2006 will be on March 29th to coincide with the total solar eclipse that takes place that day. Since the eclipse is only visible from Brazil, the Atlantic Ocean, Northern Africa, and Central Asia, the eclipse will be broadcast live via satellite and internet. For those in the United States, the actual eclipse will take place at approximately 6am Eastern/ 5am Central/ 4am Mountain/ 3am Pacific. Check out the many eclipse-related resources available now. Resources for museums, planetariums, parks, youth clubs, and community organizations such as libraries are available in the Public Outreach section. An archived version of the Web cast will also be available soon after the live viewing. Visit the Sun-Earth Day Web site.

May 19, 2006Delaware Library Association Annual Conference at the Dover Sheraton, Delaware.

November 12–15, 2006 - Pennsylvania Library Association Annual Conference at the Hilton in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Please join us in welcoming librarians from Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania who have become Explore Trainers!  Yes, they survived the training boot camp — learning about the latest Explore module — To the Moon and Beyond! An exploration of the exciting 2008 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission (LRO). The workshop was co-hosted with the fabulous LRO Education team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. WELCOME!

To the Moon and Beyond! Will be shared in the next newsletter — stay tuned!

Kristin Whitworth of the Greenville County Public Library in South Carolina has found the Explore! materials to be a great asset. Kristin has passed the resources on to the branch libraries of the Greenville County Library System. The Greenville County Library System in Greenville, SC used several activities from Explore in their December Science Station program. Science Station is offered on the second Tuesday of the month and is aimed at home schooled 6th–8th graders. 

A typical Science Station day includes the children watching the Space Colonies DVD and then splitting into groups.  Each group creates a section of the space base using craft and recycled materials (soda bottles, old CDs, film canisters, straws, craft sticks …) to complete the activity. The space base components have been on display in the library and have received many compliments. During the same program Kristin utilized the film canister rocket activity and found it to be a huge success. Thanks Kristin!

Do you have Explore News to share? Let us know and we’ll include it in the newsletter!

Workshops and Courses

Join the 2006 LPI Fieldtrip!

The Heat from Within: ... Earthly Insights into Planetary Volcanism
Middle-school science educators — and other science educators – are invited to join planetary scientists on this week-long NASA-sponsored field-based workshop from July 9–17, 2006. The field experience will investigate different volcano types in the Bend and Crater Lake regions of Oregon to build an understanding of volcanic features, patterns, and processes on Earth.  These field investigations will serve as analogs for understanding the planetary processes that produce volcanos on planetary bodies in our solar system, including Mars, the Moon, Venus, and even the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune. The experience will be divided between the field and classroom. Classroom time includes presentations, discussion, and lab work; participants will work with classroom-tested, hands-on inquiry based activities and resources that will enhance Earth and space science teaching.  Participants receive lesson plans, supporting resources, and presentations.  Please encourage educators to apply for this enriching experience!

A limited number of grants are available to cover registration.  Applications are due on March 24, 2006. For more information or to apply, please visit the fieldtrip Web site.

LPI and NASA ARES Workshops at Harris County Department of Education
February 28, 2006 Formation of the Solar System and Planet Processes
Explore how our solar system and planets formed and have been altered over 4.5 billion years of geologic activity. Volcanos, tectonics, impacts, and weathering will be investigated for the terrestrial planets, including Earth. Participants will receive presentation materials and hands-on activities for the classroom. 8:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m., Fee: $75. 

Please contact Liliana Maldonado at (713) 696-1306 for registration information. For more workshop details, contact Becky Nelson, or go to the Harris County Department of Education Web site.

Do you need more astronomy activities for your classroom? Would you like to know how to use a portable planetarium? The College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine offers two two-week, 4-graduate credit, residential astronomy-related programs for teachers. Tuition, room and board are included in the fee. Some of these opportunities are open for informal educators also!

July 9–22:  Introduction to Astronomy for Teachers provides standards-based astronomy pedagogy and content, much of which is presented as hands-on activities that teachers can take straight to their classrooms.

July 23–August 5:  The Portable Planetarium for Earth, Space, and Natural Sciences offers content and instruction in the use of a portable planetarium, activities for planetarium use across the curriculum, and additional information on grant writing.

Contact:  Ms Jean Boddy, Associate Dir. of Summer Programs Phone: 1 800-597-9500 or more details visit the College of the Atlantic Web site.

Grants and Funding

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. 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 Science Mission Directorate researchers in the SCORE six-state region.  The grants are intended to help initiate new partnerships between educators and Science Mission Directorate researchers. Funds can be used to purchase materials and resources to increase student or public understanding of space science content.


Night Sky – or Day Sky – Viewing for Sun-Earth Day

Celebrate Sun-Earth Day in your community! Contact your local amateur astronomers and arrange to get together to view the sun SAFELY — or the night sky. This year’s eclipse is only visible from Brazil, the Atlantic Ocean, Northern Africa, and Central Asia. However, the eclipse will be broadcast live via satellite and the internet. For those in the United States, the actual eclipse will take place at approximately 6 a.m. Eastern, 5 a.m. Central, 4 a.m. Mountain, and 3 a.m. Pacific.

Since this upcoming eclipse will occur in locations far away from folks in the United States, there are other events that can be held to illustrate the experience. Some possibilities for children are to read a story about the eclipse, have children do an arts and crafts activity about eclipses, or a variety of other activities that you can find on the web or through your club. For more ideas visit:

Discover Mars in Alaska!

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander and Mars 2001 Odyssey missions invite eight pairs of middle and/or high school science teachers to immerse themselves in a week-long summer field experience focused on current polar science research on both Earth and Mars. The event will take place from June 25-July 1, 2006. Applications are due 15 February 2006. For an application and more information, visit this site or contact Doug Lombardi, Phoenix E/PO Manager,


Astronomy Resource
If you like the weekly "What's Up this Week" column in Universe Today, you'll love this. The entire viewing schedule for 2006 is available as a free, 400+ downloadable eBook. You can download the whole book, turn to the page for tonight's suggestions — print off the page and head outside. It's got tons of material including general sky watching advice, equipment selection, and hundreds of beautiful photographs. For more information:

Recent Book - Return to the Moon
Rick Tumlinson (named one of the top 100 most influential people in the space field by Space News) and Erin Medlicott introduce their book ‘Return to the Moon’ for adult audiences interested in the US’s first return trip to the Moon since the seventies. In the book, the top experts fuel a growing debate over lunar exploration. The announcement in 2004 that the U.S. would be revamping its moon program inspired both excitement about the possibilities and concern over cost and safety issues. Key topics found in the book include: the case for a return trip, the best way to do it, and speculation on what could be done with this newly obtained real estate.  Published in 2005 by Collector’s Guide Inc., this book retails for $22.95 and can be found at a discount on The ISBN is 1894959329. For more information visit Countdown Creations .

Black Hole Resource
A high school-level classroom activity aligned with the National Science Education Standards (NSES) is now available online at StarDate¹s Black Holes Encyclopedia. The activity, called Exploring Black Holes, turns students into astronomers, as they evaluate the claims of five super massive black holes to see if they deserve to be included in the encyclopedia. In addition to information on the best known black holes and their properties, this frequently updated website includes current news stories, in-depth feature articles, and a section on black holes in popular culture. Check out the Black Hole Encyclopedia and the Exploring Black Holes activity.

Resource for the Blind
Do you teach or know someone who teaches students with visual impairments? Chabot Space & Science Center and the California School for the Blind announce the release of Explore It After School! science activities for students with visual impairments. This resource guide includes lesson plans for technology and science projects and career exploration resources to broaden the academic and career options for students with visual impairments. The after-school program introduces challenging and rewarding activities that encourage students to work independently and to challenge stereotypes regarding academic and career options for persons with visual impairments. For more information visit the Tech Bridge Web site.

Earth and Space Science Resources
Earth and Space Science Resources are currently available for formal and informal educators of grades 6–8 through the University of Texas’ Dana Center. The modules are aligned with the new 8th grade science TAKS test. Also available are Understanding Elementary Science Assessment (in English and Spanish) and the revised Science Laboratory safety manual the center will also be offering additional materials/professional development during the summer of 2006. For more information visit Science TEKS Toolkit.

Aurora Mega-Gallery 
Teachers and librarians can now offer their clientele imagery of auroras by visiting one site called the "mega-gallery." At this gallery folks will find: spooky auroras, man-made auroras, auroras in Florida, auroras at the South Pole, auroras beneath the space shuttle--thousands of photos. Together, they are a unique chronicle of space weather since the year 2000.

Mars Rover Activities
Looking for Mars Rover resources and activities for the classroom or library setting? NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover website has a surplus of resources aimed at formal and informal educators. The site covers all areas including the mission science and technology, the mission objectives and other related events and features.

Mission News and Science

Phoenix Mars Mission
NASA’s Phoenix Mars Mission, scheduled for launch in August 2007, is the first in a line of   innovative and relatively low-cost complements to major missions being planned as part of the agency's Mars Exploration Program. Phoenix is specifically designed to measure volatiles (especially water) and complex organic molecules in the arctic plains of Mars, where the Mars Odyssey orbiter has discovered evidence of ice-rich soil very near the surface. In May 2008, Phoenix will use its braking and parachute descent to make a soft touchdown on Mars.

The Mission will utilize a spacecraft and instruments from two previous unsuccessful attempts to explore Mars: the Mars Polar Lander and the Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander. The Mars Polar Lander failed to return data upon its arrival to Mars' antarctic region on December 3, 1999 and left many ambitious science goals unaccomplished. Many of the mission's scientific instruments have already been built, requiring little or no modification for flight to Mars. Phoenix is a fixed lander, using a robotic arm to dig to the ice layer and analyze samples with a suite of sophisticated on-deck scientific instruments. For more information on the mission visit the Phoenix Mars Lander 2007 Web site. For additional information and links about materials and activities for educators visit the Mars Exploration Rover Mission Web site.

NASA Weather Satellite
In May 2005, NASA successfully launched the latest in a long line of weather satellites. Dubbed NOAA-N at launch and renamed NOAA-18 once it reached orbit, this satellite will take over for the older satellite NOAA-16, which was launched in September 2000. NOAA always keeps at least two satellites in low-Earth orbit, circling the poles 14 times each day. As Earth rotates, these satellites end up covering Earth’s entire surface each day. In fact, with two satellites in orbit, NOAA covers each spot on the Earth four times each day, twice during the day and twice at night.

The first-ever weather satellite was launched in 1960, kicking off a long line of weather satellites that have kept a continuous watch on Earth’s atmosphere. But satellites do not last forever. Parts wear out, radiation takes its toll, and atmospheric drag slowly pulls the satellite out of orbit. Many weather satellites have a design life of only 2 years, though often they can last 5 or 10 years, or more. A steady schedule of new satellite launches is needed to keep the weather report current. Find out more about NOAA-18 and the history of polar-orbiting weather satellites at the Poes Project Web site. For kids and anyone else curious about the concept, the difference between polar and geosynchronous orbits is explained at the Orbits 'R' Us Web site.

Did You Know?

Modified from: NASA's Imagine the Universe! - Black Holes

Black Holes: What Are They?
Black holes are the evolutionary endpoints of stars at least 10 to 15 times as massive as our Sun. If a star that massive or larger undergoes a supernova explosion, it may leave behind a burned out stellar remnant. With no outward forces to oppose gravitational forces, the remnant will collapse in on itself. The star eventually collapses to the point of zero volume and infinite density. As the density increases, the path of light rays emitted from the star are bent and eventually wrapped permanently around the star. Because no light escapes after the star reaches this infinite density, it is called a black hole.

But contrary to popular myth, a black hole is not a cosmic vacuum cleaner. If our Sun was suddenly replaced with a black hole of the same mass, the only thing that would change would be the Earth's temperature. You have to get really close to a black hole to get sucked in!

Since black holes are small (only a few to a few tens of kilometers in size), and light that would allow us to see them cannot escape, a black hole floating alone in space would be hard, if not impossible, to see. But astronomers look for other clues!  If a black hole passes through a cloud of interstellar matter, or is very close to another star, the black hole can pull that matter into itself. As the matter falls or is pulled toward the black hole, it gains kinetic energy, heats up and gets squeezed. The heating ionizes the atoms (the atoms lose an electron), and when the atoms reach a few million degrees Celsius, they emit X-rays. Some of these X-rays — those that are not too close to the black hole — travel through space. These X-rays provide hints that astronomers search for to detect black holes.

Last updated
December 20, 2006