Lunar and Planetary Institute

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

Explore! News
March 2006

Previous News Announcements

March 2006


March 10 - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter enters orbit!

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.

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

Explore! News

Check out the new Explore module “To the Moon and Beyond! — with NASA's LRO Mission".

Scheduled to be launched in October 2008, The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, is a robotic mission that will study the lunar environment, preparing the way for our return to the Moon,  missions to Mars — and exploration beyond!
The new Explore! module includes hands-on activities such as building an edible LRO, a moon puppet story, exploring Earth and Moon dirt, and planning where the first human habitat should be located on the Moon. Additional resources, extensions, and background information are provided.

Please explore the module and let us know what you think!

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

Workshops and Courses

LAST CALL!  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 With: Earthly Insights into Planetary Volcanism Web site.

Internet-based Earth Science Course
This eight week, three-credit graduate level, Internet-based course is designed for K–6 informal and formal educators. There are four modules involved in the course that helps to improve Earth science content knowledge using practical classroom approaches. There is a 100% tuition scholarship available for the first 15 students to register and a 50% tuition scholarship for the second 10 students to register. Additional fees include a distant education, technology, and library fee ($85.50) and registration fee ($20). Non-scholarship students pay $199.50/credit hour. To apply nline at this site. Course Information: NRES 896a. Independent Study: Lab. Earth. Concept & Appl. 3 credits. Section Number: 700. Call number: 8696. For more information contact Dr. Dave Gosselin, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln or 402-472-8919.

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.


Science Fiction Fantasy Contest
The 2006 World Science Fiction Convention is sponsoring the ninth annual Student Science Fiction & Fantasy Contest for the best short story with a science fiction or fantasy theme, the best science fiction or fantasy artwork, and the best science essay. This annual contest is open to all students in elementary school (5th grade and below), middle school (6th through 8th grade) and high school (9th through 12th grade). Each student may enter/win in any or all the story, art or essay categories, but may only enter once in each of the categories. The deadline to submit entries for the 2006 Student Science Fiction and Fantasy Contest will be 31 March 2006.  Click here for more information.

GLOBE at Night Program
The National Optical Astronomy Observatory invites you to join the GLOBE at Night program for a Star-Hunting Party during March 22–29, 2006! Join thousands of other students, families, and educators by participating in GLOBE at Night — an international event designed to observe and record the visible stars as a means of measuring light pollution in a given location.  Participation is open to anyone — anywhere in the world — who can get outside and look skyward during the week of March 22–29, 2006!  There is no cost to participate in GLOBE at Night. Help NOAO reach their goal of 5000 observations from around the world!

Presidential Awards for Excellence
Librarians, you can nominate an educator of your choice for their excellence in the classroom. The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) is the nation's highest honor for teachers of mathematics and science. The awards recognize exemplary K–12 teachers for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession. The nomination deadline is April 1, 2006, and the application deadline is May 1, 2006. Links to nominations forms and more information can be found at the Web site.

Astronomy Camp for Educators
The University of Arizona announces its eleventh Astronomy Camp for Educators that will take place on June 29–July 3, 2006. Participants become astronomers by operating large telescopes, interacting with leading scientists, and interpreting their own scientific measurements. For more information contact: Dr. Don McCarthy,

NASA's Messenger Mission Educator Fellows
NASA's MESSENGER mission, which launched in 2004 and will reach Mercury in 2011, is recruiting 30 practicing teachers or teacher trainers to become MESSENGER Educator Fellows. The Fellowship includes an all-expense paid five-day training workshop in Washington, DC, in June 2006. Applications are due March 31, 2006. The Announcement of Opportunity can be viewed at the Messenger Education Outreach Web site.  For further information contact the MESSENGER Educator Fellowship Coordinator Ken Pulkkinen at; 202 689-1238.


The Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE) is an online learning environment where students examine real world evidence and analyze current scientific controversies. Developed for grades 5–12 students, WISE is free and requires a 90 minute session to get educators familiar with the components and to practice setting up/running a class. Educators will receive a stipend and training certificate for this work. To schedule a time to learn about using these programs, please contact Steu Mann at (623) 547-6175 or

NASA's Spinoffs Help Make Life Better on Earth
Spinoff is NASA's publication featuring the agency's latest technological innovations transferred to the commercial market. It is available in both print and online editions. For the 1996 through 2005 Web versions of Spinoff visit: . For a free copy of Spinoff 2005, contact the National Technology Transfer Center at: (800) 678-6882. For information visit NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program Web site.

K–8 Glovebox Activities
Glovebox activities integrate science, math, and technology and make connections to actual space research. They are excellent for formal and informal learning settings. The activities are categorized by grade level: K-2, 3–4, and 5–8. The site provides easy-to-download instructions to build gloveboxes, rubrics for evaluating the activities, release forms for photos taken of students taking part in the activities, and evaluation forms.

Educational Materials from NASA
The Educational Materials section of NASA's Web site lists classroom activities, educator guides, posters and other types of resources in a format that can be downloaded and used in the classroom. Materials are listed by type, grade level and subject. An educator guide and five posters have recently been made available. These are Science in a Box Educator Guide, Build It With Spacewalks Poster, The Wright Way: The Process of Invention Poster, The Wright Way: Innovation Through Engineering Poster, Night Lights Poster, and Once and Future Moon Poster.

Mission News and Science

NASA'S Orbiter Nears Red Planet Rendezvous
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft launched August 12, 2005.  Its purposes included to advance human understanding of Mars through detailed observation, to examine potential landing sites for future surface missions, and to provide a high-data-rate communications relay for those missions. It is intended to orbit for four years, and to become Mars' fourth active artificial satellite (joining Mars Express, Mars Odyssey, and Mars Global Surveyor), and its sixth active probe (the satellites plus the two Mars Exploration Rovers), in a historic scientific focus on the Red Planet.

Currently, NASA's MRO is preparing to slow itself to allow the red planet's gravity to grab it into orbit on March 10. Designed to examine the planet in unprecedented detail, the orbiter will return more data than all previous Mars missions combined. Before the orbiter can begin its mission, it will spend approximately six months adjusting its orbit with an adventurous process called aerobraking.

The initial capture by Martian gravity will put the orbiter into an elongated, 35-hour orbit. The planned orbit for science observations is a low-altitude, nearly circular, two-hour loop. Aerobraking will use hundreds of carefully calculated dips into the upper atmosphere, deep enough to slow the spacecraft by atmospheric drag, but not deep enough to overheat the orbiter, to gain the desired orbit.

The orbiter carries six instruments that will produce data for studying Mars from underground layers to the top of the atmosphere. They include the most powerful telescopic camera ever sent to another planet; it will reveal rocks the size of a small desk. An advanced mineral-mapper will be able to identify water-related deposits in areas as small as a baseball infield. Radar will probe for buried ice and water. A weather camera will monitor the entire planet daily. An infrared sounder will monitor atmospheric temperatures and the movement of water vapor. Visit the MRO Web site for more information.
The Tenth Planet
Modified from:
Is there a tenth planet in our solar system? Claims that the solar system has a tenth planet are bolstered by the discovery that this alleged planet, announced last summer and tentatively named 2003 UB313, is bigger than Pluto.

Like Pluto, 2003 UB313 is one of the icy bodies in the Kuiper belt that exists beyond Neptune. It is the most distant object ever seen in the solar system. Its very elongated orbit takes it up to 97 times farther from the Sun than is the Earth — almost twice as far as the most distant point of Pluto's orbit — so that it takes twice as long as Pluto to orbit the Sun. When it was first seen, UB313 appeared to be at least as big as Pluto. But recent evidence suggests that it is decidedly larger. Since UB313 is larger than Pluto why call Pluto a planet? Should scientists call UB313 a planet?

Astronomers have found small planetary objects in the Kuiper belt beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto since 1992. UB313 is a member of a ring of some 100,000 objects in the “belt” on the outskirts of the solar system. The Kuiper belt contains objects left from the formation of our planetary system some 4.5 billion years ago. In their distant orbits they were able to survive the gravitational clean-up of similar objects by the large planets in the inner solar system. Some Kuiper Belt objects are still occasionally deflected, then enter the inner solar system and may appear as short period comets.
Original Source: Max Planck Society

Mars Fossil Search?
Modified from:
UCLA paleobiologist J. William Schopf and colleagues have produced 3-D images of ancient fossils — 650 million to 850 million years old - preserved in rocks, an achievement that has never been done before. If a future space mission to Mars brings rocks back to Earth, Schopf said the techniques he has used, called confocal laser scanning microscopy and Raman spectroscopy, could enable scientists to look at microscopic fossils inside the rocks to search for signs of life, such as organic cell walls. These techniques would not destroy the rocks.

These processes allow scientists to look underneath the fossil, see it from the top, from the sides, and rotate it around. In addition, even though the fossils are exceedingly tiny, the images are sharp and crisp.

Schopf is the director of UCLA's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life. Since his first year as a Harvard graduate student in the 1960s, Schopf had the goal of conducting chemical analysis of an individual microscopic fossil inside a rock, but had no technique to do so, until now.

Deep Impact Update
NASA’s Deep Impact mission was the first to probe beneath the surface of a comet and reveal the secrets of its interior. After spending 172 days in pursuit of comet Temple 1, the Deep Impact spacecraft’s impactor successfully collided with the comet on July 4th, 2005. The spacecraft collected data and relayed images and other information to NASA scientists.

The latest finding reveals that Comet Tempel 1 is covered with a small amount of water ice. These results offer the first definitive evidence of surface ice on any comet. The water ice on the surface of Tempel 1 could offer important insight into understanding a comet’s water cycle and supply which is critical to understanding these bodies as a system and as a possible source that delivered water to Earth. Water and the large organic component in comets equates into two of the key ingredients for life.

The findings help fulfill one of the major goals of the Deep Impact mission: Find out what is on the inside — and outside — of a comet. The Deep Impact team has reported a few other key findings. These include an abundance of organic matter in Tempel 1’s interior as well as its likely origins — the region of the solar system now occupied by Uranus and Neptune. The team arrived at their findings by analyzing data captured by an infrared spectrometer, an optical instrument that uses light to determine the composition of matter. Based on this spectral data, it appears that the surface ice used to be inside Tempel 1 but became exposed over time. The team reports that jets — occasional blasts of dust and vapor — may send this surface ice, as well as interior ice, to the coma, or tail, of Tempel 1. This shows that Tempel 1 is a geologically active body whose surface is changing over time.

Did you know?

Modified from:
Saturn’s Violent Nature
Did you know that Saturn's atmosphere is filled with violent electrical storms and high speed winds? In fact, Saturn is one of the windiest places in the solar system with wind speeds at over 1000 miles per hour at the equator. Occasionally, violent storms break through the cloud layers, each one bigger than Earth. Smaller storms occur as darker spots, and have been shown in recent Cassini-Huygens spacecraft images.

Currently there is an electrical storm larger than the United States — in which the lightning bolts are more than 1,000 times stronger than conventional lightning — brewing on Saturn! This storm is the strongest of its kind ever seen and University of Iowa space scientists have been utilizing data from Cassini to track the storm since January 23.

With Cassini the space scientists have learned that lightning storms on Saturn can emerge suddenly and last for several weeks or even a month. This current storm has varied in intensity, but has continued with some 25 episodes since first noticed on January 23. The origin of such storms is unknown, but may be related to Saturn's warm interior.

The radio sounds of Saturn's lightning can be heard by visiting the Space Audio Web site. Check this site for information on Cassini Radio and Plasma Wave Science. A Podcast of this story and other Cassini mission information is available at the Cassini-Huygens Web site and at Unlocking Saturn's Secrets.


Back to top

Last updated
December 20, 2006