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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


Explore! Health in Space at the Foundations' Beyond School Hours Annual Conference in Jacksonville, Florida. Explore! workshops will be held on February 15, 16, and 17th. We welcome you to join us!
25–March 8
Explore! Health in Space via Web casts! Join us for the last two-part Web cast. Part One will be February 26th from 3:00–-4:30 CST; Part Two will be March 4th from 3:00–4:30. To reserve your spot or for more information, contact Becky Nelson at


Explore! Mars - Inside and Out! and LPI's Family Space Days featuring the activity Space Rocks! Join us for these two workshops highlighting children's actvities at the National Afterschool Association Annual Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida!
Sun-Earth Day




Spotlight On . . .

21st Century Community Learning Centers


Image of clockWho are They?

What do they do?

How long have they been around?



21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) are federally funded programs that have been around since 1998. Originating from the U.S. Department of Education, 21st CCLC programs support the creation of community learning centers to provide academic enrichment for children during non-school hours, with a focus on students who are at risk. In recent years 21st  CCLC’s have undergone changes in both structure and focus. Administration of grants now rests with state education agencies. 21st CCLC programs meet state and local achievement standards and on additional services such as counseling, drug and violence prevention programs, art, literacy, music, tutorial services, technology education, and character education programs!  Another recent focus is on Science Technology  Engineering  Math — STEM — subjects and activities. And that's where we come in!  Through two-day training workshops, the Explore! program is sharing hands-on science activities, information, and resources with 21st CCLC after school providers!

For more information about 21st Century Community Learning Centers, many of which use schools as their bases of operation, visit the Department of Education’s contact list or your state education agency's Web site.

Hats Off To After School Providers!


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TryScience is an online resource for children and families that provides short interactive experiments - and ones to try at home, interactive science center features along with a local science center locater, live views from webcams at science and technology centers worldwide, and short polls and activities based on a hot topic question.

Afterschool Training Toolkit
The Afterschool Training Toolkit is a useful resource for children's activities in both after school and library settings. The Toolkit is a free online offering from the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning at SEDL (formerly the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory) and includes lesson plans, activities, resources, ideas for family programs, and much more in arts, literature, math, science, technology, and even homework.

National Geographic Site: Science and Space
This interactive site includes sections with images and information on the Solar System, the Universe, space exploration, and more. The information and images are geared for middle school students up to adult.


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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.

The Moon
Clint Twist, School Specialty Publishing, 2006, 0769644902
“The Moon” provides children ages 8–13 information about the Earth’s Moon. Twist also offers an explanation of the Moon’s phases.

Let’s Explore the Moon
David Orme, Helen Orme, Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2006, 0836881265
Orme inspires enthusiasm about the solar system for children ages 4–8. Pluto’s new status is discussed as well as the latest information about other objects in the solar system.

Alan Dyer, Simon & Schuster, 2007, 1416938605
Dyer keeps children ages 8–12 engaged and entertained with the use of acetate windows, pop-ups and a dial wheel.


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Becky Recommends!

Activity iconActivity iconAs 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 on the Moon. All activities in Becky Recommends! are designed for tight budgets and tight spaces, and are always educational and fun!

Crater Creations


What's Needed?

For each team of 4–8 children:

  • A large pan or box such as a dish pan, aluminum baking pan, or copy paper box lid, (larger pans allow children to drop more impactors before having to re-smooth or resurface)
  • Enough sand, sugar, rice, or oatmeal to fill the pan about 4 inches
  • Enough flour to make a 1" to 2" deep layer
  • 1 heaping cup of powdered cocoa
  • A sifter
  • A large trash bag or piece of cloth or plastic to place under the crater box
  • Several objects that can be used as impactors, such as large and small marbles, golf balls, rocks, bouncy balls, and ball bearings. Use your imagination!
  • Ruler
  • Paper and pencil
  • Images of craters from the Setting the Scene activity
  • Safety glasses

For the Facilitator:


Chldren ages 8–13

How Long?
30–45 minutes


  • Prepare an area large enough to accommodate the crater boxes for the number of teams participating. Allow several feet between each box.
  • Prepare the appropriate number of crater boxes
  • Fill a pan 4 inches deep with sand, sugar, rice, or oatmeal
  • Add a 1 to 2 inch layer of flour
  • With the sifter, sprinkle a thin layer of powdered cocoa on top of the flour (just enough to cover the flour)
  • Provide several impactors, a ruler, and images of craters beside each box


1. Introduce the activity by asking the children what they think will happen when an impactor — a heavy object — is dropped into one of the boxes.

2. Divide the children into groups of 3 to 5 and have each group stand by a box. Invite them to begin experimenting by having them select one impactor to drop and determining from what height they will drop it (encourage them to not throw their impactor). What do they think will happen? Have each teams drop their impactor one at a time.

  • What do they observe?
  • Does the feature that was created look like any of the features they observed on the surface of Mars or Earth?
  • Which features? Craters — roughly circular depressions on the surface of a planet.
  • How are they similar? Different? Some similarities include the circular shape and depression, and the material that is excavated from the crater and forms a rim — the ejecta. Some differences include the fact that the impactor is still present in the model. Long bright streaks – rays - probably extend out from the crater they created; these also occur in some places on Mars and the Moon.

After each crater creation, ask them to carefully remove their impactor, to make the crater clearly visible (in reality, impactors are completely - or almost completely — obliterated upon impact; any remains of the impactor are called "meteorites").

3. Now, taking turns, let the children experiment with creating craters! Have each group conduct an experiment by changing one variable to see how it affects impact crater size. Experiments could explore different impactor sizes, weights, distances dropped, or angles of impact. For example, one group could drop the same impactor from different heights (modeling different velocities of the incoming impactors), and another group could experiment by dropping different sized impactors from the same height. If the children want to experiment with angles of impact they will need to throw the impactors at the box; caution should be used to make sure no one is standing on the opposite side of the box in case the impactor misses. Invite the children to predict what will happen in their experiment. Have the children measure the width and depth of each impact crater formed in their experiment.

  • What did the groups observe?
  • How did the weight of objects affect the size and depth of the crater you created?
  • How did the size of the object affect the size and depth of the crater?
  • How did dropping or throwing the impactors from different heights affect the size and depth of the craters they formed?

Have the children reflect on what they observed and the images from Mars and Earth. Invite them to record what they learned in their GSI Journals.

  • What features did the children create in their models? Impact craters.
  • Do similarly shaped features occur on Mars or Earth? Yes, both.
  • How are they different? The craters on Mars are much, much larger.
  • How do the children think the craters on Mars and Earth formed? By large impactors — asteroids or comets - striking the Earth and Mars.
  • Scientists have not actually seen any large asteroids or comets hit Mars, but they think the large craters on Mars - and on other planets and moons - were created by them. Scientists have observed very small asteroids hitting Earth and several pieces of Comet Shoemaker-Levy struck Jupiter. When the children see "shooting stars" — more accurately called "meteors" — they are seeing tiny dust to sand-sized "asteroids" that are streaking toward Earth's surface. They are too small to make craters or leave any meteorites to collect.
  • What evidence might scientists have to make them think impactors created these craters? Scientists experiment with models — like the children did — to determine what type of feature an impactor might leave behind. They also have other evidence from some craters on Earth — like fragments of the asteroid (meteorites), or alterations to the rocks and minerals at the impact site caused by the impactor striking the ground at high speed.

Invite the children to reflect on what they learned during all of their different investigations.

  • How might observations on Earth help scientists interpret what they see on other planets? Scientists study features — like volcanos — on Earth to understand their shape and size, what they are made of, and how they form. On Earth, this information can be used to predict where volcanos may form, and when they may erupt. By understanding volcanos on Earth, scientists can interpret what they see on other planets. If they see a feature that is similar in shape and detail to volcanos on Earth, even if the volcano is not erupting, they can interpret that it is a volcano — and this tells them about the history of the planet.
  • How might relying on Earth observations not be a good model for scientists to use when studying other planets? Other planets may have characteristics that are not the same as on Earth. Titan, the large moon of Saturn, has features that look like river channels, but these were carved by liquid methane – not water!

Invite the students to observe the Moon. 

Can they identify impact basins and craters?


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Events and Opportunities

Explore! Health in Space Web casts – LIMITED TIME ONLY!!!!

Interact with NASA scientists, learn about health challenges astronauts face, participate in fun activities to use in your library or after school programming, and register for a door prize drawing. Names will be drawn to receive $200 vouchers and SkyTellers programs! Health in Space is a two-part, 90 minute Web cast. Part One will be February 26th from 3:00-4:30 CST, and Part Two will be March 4th from 3:00–4:30. For more information, contact

Presentation on the Formation of the Solar System
Inquisitive adults invited to visit the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston for our next Cosmic Exploration presentation, on February 7, 2008. Dr. Bill Bottke will present Forming the Planets: What’s New with the Oldest Events in the Solar System, discussing the most recent advances that are rewriting the history of the solar system as we know it.

Lunar and Planetary Institute's Annual Educator Field Trip
This year's field trip will be Floods and Flows: Exploring Mars Geology on Earth. Floods and Flows is a NASA-sponsored week long workshop from July 13–19 in which participants will visit the site of Ancient Glacial Lake Missoula and trace the path of its flood waters through Montana, Idaho, and into Washington. Along the way we will examine the geologic evidence for catastrophic flooding, as well as past volcanism. In the classroom you will tie your field experience to the geology of Mars!

**Registration deadline for the Lunar and Planetary Institute's annual educator field trip is April 7th.

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Workshops and Courses

Explore! Health in Space at the Foundations' Beyond School Hours Annual Conference in Jacksonville, Florida February 14–17. Explore! workshops will be presented by Becky Nelson and Katy Buckaloo from the Lunar and Planetary Institute, and will be held on February 15, 16, and 17th. We welcome you to join us!

Explore! Mars - Inside and Out! and LPI's Family Space Days featuring the activity Space Rocks! Join us for these two workshops highlighting children's activities at the National Afterschool Association Annual Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida! March 12–15. Join us for fun, hands-on activities and great materials and resources for your after school programs!

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Mission News and Science

Mission News and Science

MESSENGER spacecraft image of MercuryMESSENGER Reveals Mercury’s Geological History
Modified from press releases from MESSENGER - Mercury Flyby1

When Mariner 10 flew past Mercury three times in 1974 and 1975, the same hemisphere was in sunlight during each encounter. As a consequence, Mariner 10 was able to image less than half the planet. Planetary scientists have wondered for more than 30 years about what spacecraft images might reveal about the hemisphere of Mercury that Mariner 10 never viewed. On January
14, 2008, the MESSENGER spacecraft observed about half of the hemisphere missed by Mariner 10. Its new Images can provide insight into the relative timing of processes that have acted on Mercury's surface in the past.

Image of a scarp about 200 kilometers wide.
This image of a scarp is about 200 kilometers wide.

The MESSENGER team continues to study the scarps (cliffs) that extend for long distances. The presence of many long and high scarps, as discovered from pictures from the Mariner 10 mission in 1974 and 1975, suggests a history for Mercury that is unlike that of any of the other planets in the solar system. These giant scarps are believed to have formed when Mercury’s interior cooled and the entire planet shrank slightly as a result. However, Mariner 10 was able to view less than half the planet, so the global extent of these scarps has been unknown. MESSENGER images are providing the first high-resolution looks at many areas on Mercury’s surface, and science team members are busy mapping these newly discovered scarps to see whether they are common everywhere on the planet.

MESSENGER acquired over 1200 images of Mercury's surface during its flyby, and the MESSENGER team is busy examining all of those images in detail, to understand the geologic history of the planet as a whole, from pole to pole.

Combined long- and short-exposure images captured during the Stardust flyby of the comet Wild2.
Combined long- and short-exposure images captured during the Stardust flyby of the comet Wild2.

Comet Materials Resemble Asteroids
Modified from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory News Release

When the Stardust mission returned to Earth with samples from the comet Wild2 in 2006, scientists knew the material would provide new clues about the formation of our solar system. Scientists have been surprised by finding minerals that must have formed very close to the young Sun. Now new research reveals that the dust from Wild2 also is missing ingredients that would be expected in comet dust. Surprisingly, the Wild2 comet sample better resembles material from the asteroid belt rather than an ancient, unaltered comet.

Comets are expected to contain large amounts of the most primitive material in the solar system. Comets formed beyond the so-called frost line, where water and other liquids and gases existed as ices. Planetary scientists have thought of comets as virrtual freezers, preserving the original ingredients of the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago.

Scientists have now compared the Stardust samples to cometary interplanetary dust particles collected from Earth's upper atmosphere. The Stardust sample contained much less of the two silicate materials normally found in cometary dust. Their results, along with the earlier discovery of minerals formed under high temperatures indicate that the Stardust material resembles materials from the asteroid belt.

An artistic rendering of a star ejected from the Large Magellanic Cloud. (Image courtesy of European Southern Observatory)
An artistic rendering of a star ejected from the Large Magellanic Cloud. (Image courtesy of European Southern Observatory)

Alien Star
Modified from

Astronomers have found some stars moving fast enough to escape the gravity of our Galaxy — hypervelocity stars. New studies of one of these stars indicate that it has come all the way from another galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. Astronomers suspect that it was ejected from that galaxy by a yet-to-be-observed massive black hole.

The star is young (about 35 million years old) and one of ten so-called hypervelocity stars so far found speeding away from the Milky Way. The other hypervelocity stars appear to have been ejected from the center of our galaxy, where there is a super-massive black hole. This star could not have come from the center of our galaxy; it would have taken 100 million years to get to its location. Astronomers compared details of this young star's composition to both stars within the Milky Way and other galaxies, and now have evidence that this star is from the Large Magellanic Cloud--a smaller galaxy near our own. The astronomers believe that the star was originally part of a binary system. The binary could have passed close to a black hole 1,000 the mass of the Sun. As one star was pulled into the black hole, the other was whipped into frenzy and flung out of the galaxy.




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