Lunar and Planetary Institute

Explore! Fun with Science
About Explore!
Explore! News
Education and Public Outreach

July 2006

Previous News Announcements


August 12, 2006 – Perseid Meteor Shower peak

September 15, 2006 - Explore! Fun with Science Northeast Texas Library System Workshop held at the Allen Public Library.

October 3 - 6, 2006 - Navy Pier in Chicago will be the site for ILA's Annual Conference.

November 11, 2006 – Pennsylvania Library Association Annual Conference at the Hilton in Pittsburgh, PA.

November 29 - December 1, 2006 - SCLA Annual Conference at Hilton Head. The conference will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Explore News

Steve Seales and Reggie Burns will be heading up the Explore! Fun with Science Northeast Texas Library System workshop held at the Allen Public Library on Friday, September 15, 2006. The feature themes for this workshop will be rockets and space capsules. Participants receive Explore! materials including activity notebooks, videos and posters andexperience SkyTellers, a program linking Native American stories with science designed by LPI and Lynn Moroney. Learn how to customize Explore! activities for a variety of programs and audiences and become part of the Explore! community. Attendees receive 3 hours of credit from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission or 3 CPE hours from the State Board of Educator Certification (CPE # 500989).  Registration starts at 12:30 p.m. and the workshop is from 1 to 4 p.m.

Workshops and Courses

LPI and ARES One-Day Educator Workshops
Offered at the Harris County Department of Education
September 8, 2006 -- The Fire Within, Part I: Plate Tectonics & Volcanos
Learn about the different types of volcanos and igneous rocks as we investigate plate tectonics. Once we build an understanding of Earth’s volcanos, we will take a tour of volcanos across the solar system. Participants will receive extensive presentation materials on CD, reference materials, and hands-on activities for the classroom. Part II strongly recommended.  Fee: $75, Audience: 5th –8th grade Teachers

October 6, 2006 -- The Fire Within, Part II: Making Metamorphic and Sedimentary Rocks
Learn to identify different metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, explore how they form, and relate their formation to plate tectonics and the rock cycle. The day will close by examining evidence of these types of rocks on other planets. Participants will receive extensive presentation materials on CD, reference materials, and lesson plans for hands-on classroom activities. Part I strongly recommended.  Fee: $75, Audience: 5th–8th grade Teachers

Please contact Liliana Maldonado at (713) 696-1306 for registration information, or go to the Harris County Department of Education 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 of Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. 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 of Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.  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.


Johnson Space Center Educational Tour
Johnson Space Center, the home of America’s astronauts, has invited any interested informal and formal educators to spend a few days in Houston, Texas. This is more than just a simple tour, this is a behind-the-scenes experience that will open your eyes to the dedication and professionalism required to keep our space program functioning. Registration is limited so apply early. The date of the program is October 18-22. Cost is $450. Cost includes travel to and from Texas, lodging, admission into both Space Center Houston and Johnson Space Center, and the banquet ticket which includes one meal. Other meals, souvenirs, and travel to Hutchinson is not included. To Register: Contact Laurie Givan, Education Coordinator at: Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, 1100 North Plum, 67501-1499. 1-800-397-0330 Ext. 323.

Earth Science Week
The American Geological Institute (AGI) has announced the theme for Earth Science Week 2006: "Be a Citizen Scientist!" The year's Earth Science Week, October 8-14, will engage students and the public in conducting real "citizen science" research and help to spread science literacy. During Earth Science Week local groups, educators, and interested individuals organize community activities to discover the Earth sciences and promote responsible stewardship of the Earth.  Consider hosting an Earth Science Week in your library!


NASA’s Earth Observatory
Earth Observatory provides current, online satellite imagery and scientific information, presented for the general public and educators, about Earth’s climate and environmental change.  The site is well-worth some exploration time – check out the “Features” articles about Earth’s oceans, land, atmosphere, and biosphere.  The site also shares Earth data and images, current Earth events, and has experiments for children.  Great for the inquisitive adult or high-school student, and a good place for generating ideas for future programs.

The Early Years
sssScience and Children and NSTA have established an online blog devoted to early childhood science. Here you’ll find teaching advice, management tips, favorite resources, and activity ideas specifically for educators working with children in grades preK–2. The blog accompanies Science and Children’s column The Early Years. Highlights from the online conversations will appear in the print column. Teachers or librarians who post a comment that gets chosen for publication in S&C will receive one free book from a select group of NSTA Press publications.

NSTA Reports' Teachers' Grab Bag
NSTA Reports' ever-popular column — Teachers' Grab Bag — is on the web. NSTA Reports is NSTA's source of news and information for and about science education, published nine times a year for NSTA members only. Check out the site and you will find hundreds of free and almost free items such as videos, publications, CD-ROMs, lab kits, and more.

NSTA's online resource, SciGuides, will transform the way you use the internet to plan and provide science instruction to your K–12 students. SciGuides will enable you to quickly and easily locate targeted science content information and teaching resources from NSTA-approved websites and will provide instructional tools and strategies to put them into practice.

NASA’s Dawn Project
NASA’s Dawn project has been given a “go!” for launch in June of 2007.  Catch up on this exciting mission to asteroids Ceres and Vesta. If you haven’t climbed aboard the Dawn spacecraft yet, here’s another chance to virtually travel to the asteroid belt. Include your name on a microchip that will accompany Dawn on its journey to Vesta and Ceres. First-timers can climb aboard by simply going to Join Us!

Summer Fun with Dawn Kids
Solve a puzzle, build a paper model spacecraft, illustrate a story, play a Web-based interactive game, and more! Dawn Kids offers a host of activities to fill young space enthusiasts’ summer days with fun. Activities may be accessed and downloaded from the Web site.

Pilot Test Dawn Materials!
Are you interested in participating in a Dawn pilot study? Dawn Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) is committed to offering materials that are of high quality and utility and reflect the needs of formal and informal science educators. To this end, the E/PO team will conduct a pilot test of the Web-based Find a Meteorite activity during the fall of 2006 and currently is seeking educators to participate in informal settings such as science centers, museums, afterschool programs, and youth groups to test the activity with 8th grade-level children (i.e., ages 12–13).

Mission News and Science

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope Discovers Giant Stars
Modified from Mega Solar Systems Discovered
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has recently discovered potential solar systems surrounding two massive stars, 30 and 70 times the mass of our Sun. Astronomers believe these disks contain massive quantities of icy material, similar to the Kuiper belt found in our own Solar System, but extending out 60 times more distant than Pluto's orbit. These two huge "hypergiant" stars are circled by disks of what might be planet-forming dust. The findings surprised astronomers because stars as big as these were thought to be inhospitable to planets. Last year, astronomers using Spitzer reported finding a dust disk around a miniature star, with only eight one-thousandths the mass of the sun (A Planet with Planets? Spitzer Finds Cosmic Oddball). Disks have also been spotted before around stars five times more massive than the sun.

Astronomers estimate that the stars' disks are also bloated, spreading all the way out to an orbit about 60 times more distant than Pluto's around the sun. The disks are probably loaded with about ten times as much mass as is contained in the Kuiper Belt. These dusty structures might represent the first or last steps of the planet-forming process. If the latter, then the disks can be thought of as enlarged versions of our Kuiper Belt.

Stars as massive as these don't live very long. They burn through all of their nuclear fuel in only a few million years, and go out with a bang, in fiery explosions called supernovae. Their short life spans don't leave much time for planets, or life, to evolve. Any planets that might crop up would probably be destroyed when the stars blast apart. An artist concept of a hypergiant and its disk, plus additional graphics and information, are available at the Spitzer Space Telescope Web site.

(Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) is the third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes program (STP). This two-year mission will provide a unique and revolutionary view of the Sun-Earth System. The two nearly identical observatories — one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind — will trace the flow of energy and matter from the Sun to Earth as well as reveal the 3D structure of coronal mass ejections and help us understand why they happen. STEREO will also provide alerts for Earth-directed solar ejections, from its unique side-viewing perspective adding it to the fleet of Space Weather detection satellites.
Why the need for STEREO? Coronal mass ejections (CMEs), are powerful eruptions that can blow up to 10 billion tons of the Sun's atmosphere into interplanetary space. Traveling away from the Sun at speeds of approximately one million mph (1.6 million kph), CMEs can create major disturbances in the interplanetary medium and trigger severe magnetic storms when they collide with Earth's magnetosphere. Large geomagnetic storms directed towards Earth can damage and even destroy satellites, are extremely hazardous to Astronauts when outside of the protection of the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station performing Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs), and they have been known to cause electrical power outages. Solar ejections (CME’s) are the most powerful drivers of the Sun-Earth connection. Yet despite their importance, scientists don't fully understand the origin and evolution of CMEs, nor their structure or extent in interplanetary space. STEREO's unique stereoscopic images of the structure of CMEs will enable scientists to determine their fundamental nature and origin. STEREO's launch has slipped to the next launch window. It will now launch no earlier than Aug. 20. More information is available at this NASA Web site

Early Galaxies
Modified from Early Galaxies Looked Similar
An international team of astronomers have recently performed one of the most detailed surveys of the most distant galaxies. These galaxies are so far away, we see them as they looked when the Universe was less than half its current age. One of the big surprises of this survey; however, is how much these young galaxies match the structures we see in the current Universe. This means that galaxies probably evolved through collisions and mergers much earlier than previously believed.

The knowledge of early galaxies has made major progress in the past ten years. From the end of 1995, astronomers have been using a new technique, known as the "Lyman-break technique" (Combining UV and infrared measurements). This technique allows very distant galaxies to be detected. They are seen as they were when the Universe was much younger, thus providing clues to how galaxies formed and evolved. By combining UV and infrared measurements, it makes it possible to determine the formation rate for stars in these distant galaxies for the first time. Stars form there very actively, at a rate of a few hundred to one thousand stars per year (only a few stars currently form in our Galaxy each year). The team also studied their morphology, and show that most of them are spiral galaxies. Up to now, distant galaxies were believed to be mainly interacting galaxies, with irregular and complex shapes. It has now been shown that the galaxies in current samples, seen when the Universe had about 40% of its current age, have regular shapes, similar to present-day galaxies like ours. They bring a new element to our understanding of the evolution of the galaxies.

Brown Dwarfs
Modified from Wild Weather: Iron Rain on Failed Stars
Ever since their discovery 11 years ago, brown dwarfs have baffled scientists. First it was the question of how to categorize them. These celestial orbs are too massive to be a planet and not massive enough to be a star. Now scientists are investigating astonishing weather patterns on brown dwarfs that could rival Jupiter's Great Red Spot and even Earth's intense hurricanes.

Brown dwarfs are too small to trigger the fusion of hydrogen that keeps stars like our sun shining for billions of years. They are sometimes called “failed stars”. Instead, over tens of millions of years brown dwarfs slowly cool and fade. Studying brown dwarfs has proven difficult, however. To get a better "look" at brown dwarfs, scientists have relied on infrared-capable telescopes and mathematical models. Over time as the glowing body of a brown dwarf cools metallic clouds form! The iron condenses to form iron-rich clouds and droplets of liquid-iron rain. This recent discovery was unexpected and not only did scientists find these metallic clouds, but they also spotted evidence of violent storms. Thermodynamics would predict that as brown dwarfs release heat, they would dim — similar to a cooling ember. But the astronomers found that the older brown dwarfs shined brighter than the warmer, younger ones.

But what causes the cloudy disturbance? With cooling, a brown dwarf's cloud layer sinks closer to its surface. As the clouds form deeper in the atmosphere they are more sensitive to the winds and convective motions in the atmosphere. This probably leads to the destruction of the clouds. But there are still many unanswered questions. For instance, what do these storms look like? Scientists predicts that in the next 10 to 15 years very large telescopes will exist, making it possible to gather more detailed information about these storms.

Last updated
December 20, 2006