Lunar and Planetary Institute

Explore! Fun with Science
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Education and Public Outreach

Explore! News
January 2006

Previous News Announcements

January 2006


January 15Stardust Sample Return
The Stardust Mission successfully returned samples of a comet to Earth!  The Stardust Mission flew through the tail of Comet Wild 2 in January 2004, and gathered particles in a special aerogel substance. It returned to Earth, landing in the Utah desert in the wee hours of the morning on January 15th. For learning resources and activities, visit Stardust Products.  Additional comet activities can be found on the Kids and Parents page.

January 17New Horizons Mission launch
The New Horizons mission will have a long journey of 3 billion miles, and will fly past Pluto in July 2015, moving at about 30,000 miles an hour.  It will continue flying out of the Solar System, passing by other Kuiper belt objects (icy-rocky bodies) on the way. For learning resources and activities go to the New Horizons Educators website.

January 20-25, 2006 – American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, San Antonio

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 An archived version of the Web cast will also be available soon after the live viewing.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 website.

Explore News

Mary Newman of the Frank Bertetti Public Library in Benld, Illinois has found several uses for the Explore! Fun with Science materials. Mary has passed the resources on to the local Boy Scout groups who are using the lessons for their own merit badges. This past summer Mary introduced the activities in her summer reading program which engages pre-K through high school students in the science portion of the reading program. Along with these uses, the Explore! Fun with Science materials have been utilized by many school teachers in the area including Mary’s own daughter who is a teacher. Thanks Mary!

Have some Explore! news to share?  Let us know and we will 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, go to The Heat From Within website.

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.

Workshops at the Geological Society of America’s South-Central Annual Meeting
Workshops on March 4th in Norman, Oklahoma explore Earth and space science.

Hands-On Geology Projects for Group Learning
Saturday morning, March 4
Vince Cronin assisted by Rena Bonem, Baylor University, +1-254-710-2361
Short (5–10 min) projects illustrate important geological processes, generally involving materials and devices that are readily available. The workshop will show the participants how to reproduce these projects for individual classroom use. Cost: $25.

Earth and Space at Your Fingertips: Infusing Technology-Rich Resources into Your Lessons.
Saturday afternoon, March 4th
Wendi Williams, University of Arkansas–Little Rock, +1-501-569-3546; Keith Harris, University of Arkansas–Little Rock, +1-501-569-3546.
Participants explore technology-rich NASA, Geological Society of America, Digital Library for Earth Systems Education, and other resources aligned to meet National Science Education Standards – and state standards. Earth and Mars will be emphasized. Cost: $35.

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 Office of Space Science researchers in the SCORE six-state region. 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

Hubble Space Telescope Public Lecture Series
at the Space Telescope Science Institute – and Live Web Cast!
February 7, 2006, 8 p.m. est. Speaker: Bahram Mobasher, STScI
Crisis in the Cosmos? Giant Galaxies in the Early Universe
Lectures on a diverse selection of cosmic topics are held the first Tuesday of every month at 8 PM in the Space Telescope Science Institute Auditorium. The recorded Web cast will be available live and for viewing online shortly afterward. Further information and directions are available online or by calling 410-338-4700.


New Book!  NASA Helps Visually Impaired Students Touch the Sun
A new book called Touch the Sun allows blind and visually impaired students to experience images of the sun and solar activity by feeling transparent raised textures bonded to the pictures. These raised patterns embossed over the colorful images in Touch the Sun translate shapes, places of solar and magnetic activity and other details of the sun and space weather, allowing visually impaired people to experience solar science. It incorporates Braille and large-print descriptions for each of the book's 16 photographs, so it is accessible to readers of varying visual abilities.

Living Resources!  Solar System Ambassadors
The Solar System Ambassadors Program is a public outreach program designed to work with motivated volunteers across the nation. These volunteers communicate the excitement of JPL's space exploration missions and information about recent discoveries to people in their local communities. To arrange for a Solar System Ambassador event in your community, please contact an ambassador near you.

Orion Nebula
In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced – and requiring 150 passes – NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured an unprecedented look at the Orion Nebula. This turbulent star formation region is one of astronomy's most dramatic celestial objects.  In a mosaic containing a billion pixels, Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys uncovered thousands of stars never seen before in visible light.  Some of these stars are brown dwarfs – stars too cool and small to actually sustain nuclear fusion the way our Sun does.  The nebula contains stars of all sizes and the Hubble image will help scientists understand more about how stars form and change. Visit Amazing Space for “Kids News” and HUBBLESITE for an online tour.

The Universe in the Classroom
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific offers an online newsletter for educators who want to bring astronomy into their classroom.  Prepared for busy educators who may not have much background in astronomy, each issue focuses on a topic of current astronomical interest and is complemented by hands-on classroom activities to make the topic come alive for students and resource links to help educators – and students – explore further.

Aurora Mega-Gallery
A collection of every aurora photo ever published on is combined into one "mega-gallery." There are 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.

Mission News and Science

Modified from
NASA's Stardust mission’s sample return capsule safely made it back to Earth on January 15th after nearly 7 years in interplanetary space. During its journey Stardust encountered Comet Wild-2, collecting dust particles from it in a special material called aerogel.  The scientific importance of these first solid samples from our Galaxy can't be overstated. Interstellar dust and gas were the building blocks of our solar system, the Earth, and all living things, including people. We are truly made of stardust.

At two other times in the mission, the aerogel collectors were also opened to collect interstellar dust. By studying this dust, scientists hope to learn about the origins of the Solar System. They wish to know what the ingredients were that went into making it. When the mission returns, the aerogel collectors exposed to the interstellar dust will be scanned by an automated microscope. There will be approximately 1.6 million fields of view, but perhaps only a few dozen total grains of interstellar dust in the entire collector, it will be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

The Stardust team is seeking volunteers to help search for these tiny samples of matter from the galaxy, using a virtual microscope (VM). First, the volunteer will go through a web-based training session and pass a test to qualify to register to participate. After passing the test and registering, volunteers will be able to download a virtual microscope (VM). The VM will automatically connect to the Stardust server and download images that will be collected from the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector using an automated microscope at the Cosmic Dust Lab at Johnson Space Center. Volunteers will search each field for interstellar dust impacts by focusing up and down with a focus control. For more visit about volunteering visit:

NASA Sets Sights on First Pluto Mission
Modified from NASA News Brief
After battling strong winds and shifted launch times, NASA sent off the first spacecraft to distant Pluto and its moon Charon on January 19th!  This mission will complete the initial reconnaissance of the planets in the solar system.  "New Horizons will study a unique world, and we can only imagine what we may learn. This is a prime example of scientific missions that complement the Vision for Space Exploration," said Mary Cleave, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Different than the inner, rocky planets (like Earth) or the outer gas giants, Pluto is a different type of planet known as an "ice dwarf,"  commonly found in the Kuiper Belt region billions of miles from the sun.  "Exploring Pluto and the Kuiper Belt is like conducting an archeological dig into the history of the outer solar system, a place where we can peek into the ancient era of planetary formation," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, Southwest Research Institute Department of Space Studies, Boulder, Colo.

The compact, 1,050-pound piano-sized probe will launch aboard an Atlas V expendable launch vehicle, followed by a boost from a kick-stage solid propellant motor. New Horizons will be the fastest spacecraft ever launched, reaching lunar orbit distance in just nine hours and passing Jupiter 13 months later.

Launch before Feb. 3 allows New Horizons to fly past Jupiter in early 2007 and use the planet's gravity as a slingshot toward Pluto. The Jupiter flyby trims the trip to Pluto by five years and provides opportunities to test the spacecraft's instruments and flyby capabilities on the Jupiter system.

The New Horizons science payload  includes imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a multi-color camera, a long-range telescopic camera, two particle spectrometers, a space-dust detector and a radio science experiment. The dust counter was designed and built by students at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

New Horizons could reach the Pluto system as early as mid-2015, conducting a five-month-long study possible only from the close-up vantage of a spacecraft. It will characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto's atmospheric composition and structure. New Horizons also will study the small moons recently discovered in the Pluto system.

The spacecraft will "sleep" in electronic hibernation for much of the cruise to Pluto. Operators will turn off all but the most critical electronic systems and monitor the spacecraft once a year to check out critical systems, calibrate instruments and perform course corrections, if necessary. The spacecraft will send back a beacon signal each week to give operators an instant read on spacecraft health. The entire spacecraft, drawing electricity from a single radioisotope thermoelectric generator, operates on less power than a pair of 100-watt household light bulbs.

After Pluto and Charon, the spacecraft will continue its voyage into the Kuiper Belt, the band of icy rocky bodies beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, believed to be left over from the formation of our solar system, Stay tuned for some exciting results!  For more information about NASA and the New Horizons mission on the website.

Did You Know?

Shadows are darker on the Moon
Modified from
Even when a shadow covers something on the Earth, you can usually see it clearly.  But on the Moon, it is much more difficult to see objects in shadows.  On Earth, molecules in the air scatter light in all directions, and some of that light lands in your shadow. Without the air, your shadow would be eerily dark, like a piece of night following you around. Yet that's exactly how it is on the Moon. Shadows were one of the first things Apollo 11 Astronaut Neil Armstrong mentioned when he stepped onto the surface of the moon. "It's quite dark here in the shadow [of the lunar module] and a little hard for me to see that I have good footing," he radioed to Earth.

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Last updated
February 6, 2007