Lunar and Planetary Institute

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Education and Public Outreach

Explore! News
July 2005

Previous News Announcements


July 2005


July 26–31
Window of opportunity for launching Space Shuttle Discovery. Check out NASA's Return to Flight Web site for the latest information.

July 29
MESSENGER spacecraft flies by Earth on its journey to Mercury. Check out the Messenger Web site for more information

August 10
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
(MRO) launch window – NASA's next mission to Mars!

August 16
Mars Southern Hemisphere Summer Solstice/Northern Winter Solstice

October 26–28
SCLA Annual Conference at the Marriott Columbia City Center Hotel in Columbia, South Carolina

October 29
Mars Close Approach Event

Explore! News

The Videos and DVD's are in!
Explore community members now can choose from either a two-disk DVD set or an eight-video VHS set that will allow for the exploration of rockets, space colonies, our solar system, how our planets were shaped, and more! If you are interested in obtaining either set for your library or institution, please contact:

Michael Madera
Education Specialist
Lunar and Planetary Institute

Workshops and Courses

The American Museum of Natural History offers Space, Time and Motion, an on-line course that explores the physical origin, workings, and behavior of the universe. Investigate the changing comprehension of motion, time, space, and matter through the ideas of the ancient Greek philosophers, Galileo, Newton and Einstein. Participants will learn how physicists measure mass, weight, and the speed of light, and how these basic measures relate to the nature of time, thermodynamics, Einstein's theories, and the wider social sphere. Registration for the fall semester will open in mid-summer. Visit the American Museum of Natural History Web site to learn more, and to request notification about registration.

The New Curiosity Shop offers a seven-week online astronomy course. The course takes about 2 to 4 hours per week and will include topics such as identifying the stars and planets, investigating the Sun, Earth and Moon system, and exploring the night sky through projects. Courses are available this fall. For more information and for registration, visit the New Curiosity Shop 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. More information is availabe at the SCORE Web site.

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. More information can be found at the SCORE Web site.

Events and Opportunities

Einstein's Centennial
Join NASA as they partner with museums, science centers and planetaria to celebrate Albert Einstein's 1905 revolutionary ideas about space and time. Throughout the fall of 2005 events will take place across the country that include planetarium programs, exhibits, and physics activities for children and their families. The Web site includes a selection of educational resources including background information, illustrations and visualizations, lesson plans, activity guides and interactive Web features. For more information visit the Inside Einstein's Universe Web site.

Space Day 2006 Design Challenges
Lockheed Martin's 2006 Space Day Design Challenges explores “Living and Working on the Moon.” Design Challenges are open to children ages 9–13. The deadline for submission is February 1, 2006. Stellar Design Challenge teams will be selected by the Space Day Educational Advisory Committee and recognized at the Space Day Opening Ceremony on Thursday, May 4, 2006 , in Washington, D.C. Spark the children's interest in space science by getting involved in the design challenges! For more details visit the Space Day Web site or contact Kay Armstrong , Space Day Program Manager.


Solar System Thrills Poster
This colorful poster, designed to catch the eye of children ages 5–9, includes reading and writing activities and resources to explore our solar system. To receive a free copy of this poster, contact the NASA Discovery Program Education Office For details check out the Solar System Exploration Web site.

AstroVenture is an online, interactive collection of activities designed for classroom use with children in grades 5–8. The activities explore astrobiology through modules in astronomy, geology, atmospheric science, and biology. Some of these activities may be modified for use in the after-school setting. The children can chat with NASA scientists, have online collaborations, and role-play NASA occupations as they search for and design a planet habitable by humans.

Children ages 7 and older can explore the Red Planet through this interactive and well presented Web site. Topics include features on Mars, Martian geology, the requirements of life and a comparison of the suitability of Earth and Mars for harboring life. Macromedia Flash Player needed.

Earth and Sky Radio Series
The Earth and Sky Web site offers an archive of transcripts from radio broadcasts that can engage and excite children about space science topics while developing reading comprehension skills. Each transcript is accompanied by ideas for book reports and other projects.

Searching for Life – Astrobiology in Your Programs
Want to expand your library programs? Check out Searching for Life , part of the Fingerprints of Life program developed by the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science education team at the Johnson Space Center. Through a series of hands-on activities — developed for the classroom, but appropriate for the after-school setting, children explore the characteristics of life, and ponder the possibility of looking for life on Mars. Searching for Life includes:

Imaginary Martians: Using science fiction stories, children explore what kind of life NASA is looking for on Mars.
Looking For Life:  Children develop ideas for recognizing life and test their ideas in a hands-on experiment.
Mars Critters: Children design a critter that might be able to survive on Mars!

For these and other activities, visit the NASA JSC Astrobiology Education Web site.

Astrobiology Poster
Liven up your walls with NASA's recent astrobiology poster! The poster explores what life is, where it is, and how we are searching for it. Activities and resource suggestions accompany the poster.

Mission News and Science

Deep Impact Update

Adapted from:
NASA Press Release: 05-177 – NASA'S Deep Impact Tells a Tale of the Comet
NASA Press Release: 05-251 – NASA'S Deep Impact Generates its own Spectacular Photo Flash
NASA Press Release: 05-250 – Deep Impact Kicks off 4th of July with Deep Space Fireworks

Deep Impact, a NASA Discovery Mission, was the first mission to probe beneath the surface of a comet and reveal the secrets of its interior. After spending 172 days and 268 million miles in pursuit of comet Temple 1, the Deep Impact spacecraft released its 820 pound impactor, which successfully collided with the comet. The collision between the coffee-table-sized impactor and city-sized comet occurred at 1:52 am EDT on July 4th. As the impactor struck the comet, the spacecraft collected data and relayed images and other information to eagerly waiting NASA scientists.

The impactor struck the comet at 6.3 miles per second, creating a bright flash of light, sending a plume of material into space, and leaving behind a crater. Scientists are analyzing data to determine the size of the crater, which may approach 250 meters across. They believe the impactor vaporized deep below the comet's surface during collision.

One surprise to scientists was the dense cloud of fine powdery material thrown up by the impact. This was not the icy debris that some people anticipated. The Deep Impact science team continues to look at data to determine more about the plume. The dust and light given off at impact suggest that the comet's surface is covered by extremely fine material – like talcum powder.

The Deep Impact mission will provide a glimpse beneath the surface of a comet, where material from our solar system's formation - four and a half billion years ago — remains relatively unchanged. Mission scientists hope to answer questions about the formation of the solar system by providing an in-depth picture of the nature and composition of comets.

See the images from Deep Impact and learn more at the Deep Impact Web site and the Deep Impact - A Smashing Success Web site.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) - NASA's next mission to Mars!
NASA's scientists are excited about the next step in our exploration of the Red Planet — the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter — due to launch beginning on August 10. The spacecraft will arrive at Mars in March 2006. It will occupy a low orbit above the Martian surface, providing immense detail about the features of this planet from the upper atmosphere to layers beneath the surface. Mission results will help scientists better understand how the Martian environment has changed through time, providing further insights into the history of water on Mars. The detailed data also will be used to identify possible future landing sites.

Possible Earth-like Planet Discovered
Modified from: Sky and Telescope
A planet that may be Earth-like — but too hot for life as we know it — has been discovered orbiting a nearby star. After three years of collecting evidence, a team of astronomers recently announced finding an entirely new type of planet orbiting a dim star 15 light-years away. The object is the lightest known extrasolar planet orbiting a normal star, with a mass between 6 and 9 Earths and an estimated radius about twice that of Earth .

The researchers have no direct proof that the new planet is rocky, but its mass suggests it is not a giant gas planet like Jupiter. The most probable composition of the planet is similar to inner planets of this solar system and it could even have a dense steamy water layer. Steamy is the right description — the estimated surface temperature on the planet is believed to be between 400 degrees and 750 degrees Fahrenheit!

Unprecedented Close Encounter with Mars? NOT This Year!!
Modified from: Approaching Mars
Mars Watch 2003
According to a forwarded email circulating for the past month or so, the planet Mars will have an unprecedented close encounter with Earth in August when its orbit brings it closer to Earth than it has been for thousands of years. Beware! This email is a recycled message from 2003 .

However, it's not entirely false. Earth and Mars will be close to one another again in the fall of 2005 ( October 30th at 0319 Greenwich Mean Time — a little after 10 pm Eastern Standard Time on the 29th) at which time their orbits will be a mere 43 million miles apart. While not the closest ever (35 million miles in August 2003), the approach is worth the look — Mars will outshine every object in the night sky except Venus and the Moon. 

Did You Know?
Modified from: Exploring Mars
Seasons change on Mars just as they do on Earth. Mars' orbit is more elliptical than Earth's so the distance between the Sun and Mars varies greatly over a Martian year — which is 687 days long. This large variation, combined with an axial tilt slightly greater than Earth's, causes greater seasonal changes than those on Earth.

When Mars is closest to the Sun in its orbit, its southern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun, giving the southern hemisphere a short, very hot summer (the northern hemisphere is tilted away at this time, resulting in a short winter). When Mars is farthest from the Sun , the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun; the northern region experiences a long, mild summer. At this time, the southern hemisphere is, of course, tilted away from the Sun, and so it experiences a long, cold winter. Seasonal changes can be seen in the surface features of Mars. The polar ice caps diminish in size as winter turns to spring in each of the hemispheres. For more information on seasons on Mars, check out Seasons and Climate on Mars.


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Last updated
December 20, 2006