Lunar and Planetary Institute

Explore! Fun with Science
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Education and Public Outreach

Explore! News
May 2006

Previous News Announcements

May 2006


May 19, 2006Delaware Library Association Annual Conference at the Dover Sheraton, Delaware. For more visit:

Jun 11–14 Conference: Statistical Challenges in Modern Astronomy IV, State College, Pennsylvania.

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. For more visit:

Explore News

Martha Jordan of the Ouachita Parish Library in Monroe Louisiana has found a special niche for the video and activity components of Explore! She is using the materials for the “Young Scientist” Program at the library. This on-going program engages 8–12 year old children in exciting science activities including some of the Explore! materials. The “Young Scientist” Program occurs at 2 pm the second Saturday of every month. Each month features a different topic for the children.

Workshops and Courses

TeachSpace Workshops
NASA is helping math, science and technology high school teachers to bring the excitement of human space exploration to the classroom. Participants receive texts, instructional materials, and access to the TeachSpace curriculum website, free room and board and $300 stipend. The 3-day TeachSpace summer workshops will be held at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott, Arizona campus in June and July 2006. Closing date for 2006 Arizona nominations is May 24. Please refer to the Website for more information and to submit your nomination.

NASA-Sponsored Workshops
NASA is making it possible to train math, science and technology high school teachers to bring space exploration and human spaceflight topics to the classroom. The TeachSpace summer workshops will be held at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott, Arizona campus in June and July 2006 as well as throughout the summer in Florida, Washington, California, and Texas. Please refer to the Website for more information and to submit your nomination.

Nature of Light Workshop
The Nature of Light Workshop for Teachers is designed for middle and high school teachers to explore planetary phenomena through the Hubble Space Telescope. The workshop will be held on July 13-14 & 17-18 at the University of Arizona, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Teachers will receive a $150.00 stipend, 1 unit of professional development credit, and 2 GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) guides and kits. No deadline. The application is available at the Web site or you may contact or phone 520-621-8309.

Solar Science Workshop
The Solar Science Workshop for Teachers will provide a venue for discussion and inquiry to help explain the seasons for middle and high school teachers. The workshop will be held on July 10–12 at the University of Arizona, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Teachers will receive a $150.00 stipend, 1 unit of professional development credit, and a GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) guide and kit. No deadline. The application is available on the Web site or you may contact or phone 520-621-8309.

FREE Astronomy Training for Informal Science Educators
Astronomy from the Ground Up is a National Science Foundation funded program developed to provide librarians, educators from science centers/museums, nature centers, and natural history museums with new ways to communicate modern astronomy to their visitors. Applications are now being accepted for our November 15–17, 2006 workshop in Boston, Massachusetts, and educators in the Northeast are especially encouraged to apply at this time. At the workshop you will learn fun techniques to present astronomy topics and to interpret current astronomical events and discoveries.

San Juan River Educator Institute
The San Juan River Educator Institute is an eight-day program intended to immerse educators in scientific inquiry on the San Juan River in southeast Utah and to develop strategies to translate the research experience to their educational settings. The program is open to all educators — formal and informal. This intense river study will be followed by half-day professional development sessions designed to assist educators in creating environmental inquiry lessons or units or informal programs for their students. Cost: $1,300. Dates: July 7–14, 2006. For more information, contact Joelle Clark, Science Education Coordinator, Center for Science Teaching & Learning, Northern Arizona University, Box 5697, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, (928) 523-8797, fax (928) 523-7953,

Online Physics for Elementary and Middle-School Teachers
The University of Kentucky, Department of Physics and Astronomy offers online/hands-on physics courses for teachers. Designed for upper elementary and middle school teachers but useful to all teachers. Normal elapsed completion time is between 2 weeks and 2 months for a course. Each course comes with its own equipment kit (for the required investigations) and a CD, and takes about 30–40 hours to complete. As professional development, each course (including materials) costs $200 regardless of whether it's taken by 1 person or a group of 2–3.  Each course earns 30 hours professional development credit (subject to approval by your school district). As graduate courses, each course earns 1 graduate credit. Tuition cost is $368.15 per credit hour, plus $75 materials fee and one-time $40 application fee.

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 the Cosmosphere and 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.

Webcast: Hubble Space Telescope Public Lecture on Black Holes
June 6, 2006, 8pm est. Speaker: Dr. Anton Koekomoer, STScI
Searching for the Most Distant Black Holes 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 by calling 410-338-4700 or on the Hubble Public Talks Web site.


Daily Solar Images Available Online From Pima College
The Pima College Observatory is offering live, daily solar images online. Also requests to move the telescope to areas of interest on the sun can be made by calling the observatory at 520-206-7610 during the live transmissions. On the web page you will find the current weather at the observatory as well as two images of the Sun. The left image is the live image, or most current and the right image is typically an archived loop of some previous activity. Go to the Web site to see the live image. For more information, contact David Iadevaia, Professor Astronomy/Physics, Pima College, East Campus Observatory.

Rough-and-Tumble Approach to Science Webcasts
Here is a great resource for teachers and librarians alike. The San Francisco-based Exploratorium has designed science exhibitions and science events online, including large scale astronomical events such as solar eclipses, science-themed presentations and even game shows.

NASA Educational Materials
NASA offers classroom activities, educator guides, posters and other types of resources in a format that can be downloaded and used in the classroom or modified for the after-school setting. Materials are listed by type, grade level and subject. New astronomy educator guides have recently been made available. The activities in each of these guides are adapted for after school programs with elementary-aged students. Each activity takes about one hour to complete.

Beyond the Solar System: Expanding the Universe in the Classroom
How can teachers and students explore some of the biggest questions about our place in space and time? What misconceptions do children have about our Solar System, Galaxy, and Universe? This professional development DVD is filled with video, print, and online resources for educators of students and adults alike. Highly recommended for professional development providers and teachers of Grades 8–12. 

Mission News and Science

Mercury’s Formation
Modified from RAS PN 06/17 (NAM 10): Mercury's formation impact splattered Earth with Material
Recent evidence suggests that Mercury might have been created from a larger parent body that was involved in a catastrophic collision. New computer simulations of Mercury’s formation suggest the fate of material blasted out into space when a large proto-planet collided with a giant asteroid 4.5 billion years ago.  The simulations, which track the material over several million years, might shed light on why Mercury is denser than expected and show that some of the ejected material would have found its way to the Earth and Venus.

The theory suggests that a large fraction of the debris eventually fell back onto Mercury. The simulations showed that it would take up to 4 million years for 50% of the particles to land back on the planet and in this time many would be carried away by solar radiation. This explains why Mercury retained a much smaller proportion than expected of the material in its outer layers. While this is only a small fraction, it illustrates that material can be transferred between the inner planets relatively easily. Given the amount of material that would have been ejected in such a catastrophe, it is likely that there is a reasonable amount of proto-Mercury in the Earth.

Hubble Finds "Tenth Planet" is only Slightly Larger Than Pluto
Modified from Hubble Finds 'Tenth Planet' Slightly Larger Than Pluto
For the first time, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has seen distinctly the "tenth planet," currently nicknamed "Xena," and has found that it is only slightly larger than Pluto. Because Xena is smaller than previously thought, but comparatively bright, it must be one of the most reflective objects in the solar system. The only object more reflective is Enceladus, a geologically active moon of Saturn whose surface is continuously recoated with highly reflective ice by active geysers. Xena's bright reflectivity is possibly due to fresh methane frost on its surface. The object may have had an atmosphere when it was closer to the sun, but as it moved to its current location farther away this atmosphere would have "frozen out," settling on the surface as frost. Another possibility is that Xena leaks methane gas continuously from its warmer interior. When this methane reaches the cold surface, it immediately freezes solid, covering craters and other features to make it uniformly bright to Hubble's telescopic eye.

Hubble will be used in the future to study other recently discovered Kuiper Belt objects that are almost as large as Pluto and Xena. The Kuiper Belt is a vast ring of primordial icy comets and larger bodies encircling Neptune's orbit. Finding that the largest known Kuiper Belt object is a virtual twin to Pluto may only further complicate the debate about whether to categorize the large icy worlds that populate the belt as planets. If Pluto were considered to be the minimum size for a planet, then Xena would fulfill this criterion, too. In time, the International Astronomical Union will designate the official name.

NASA Clarifies Information on Comet Approach
NASA recently issued information about Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, which will be passing Earth as it approaches the point nearest the sun during its 5.5 year orbit. Astronomers have been observing the comet for more than 75 years. The trajectory of this comet has been monitored and refined over time, and its path around the sun is well understood.

The comet has broken into more than 40 fragments. Any pieces resulting from the breakup of its main body will come no closer than 5.5 million miles to Earth, or more than 20 times the Earth-moon distance, during its closest approaches May 12 - 28. Neither the main comet nor any of its pieces pose a danger to Earth.

The main fragment of the comet will pass closest to Earth on May 12 at a distance of approximately 7.3 million miles. It will be visible to small telescopes during the morning hours in the constellation Vulpecula. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope will observe the comet in
May. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has also viewed it.

Titan’s Sandy Oceans
Modified from Titan's Seas Are Sand
Until a couple of years ago, scientists thought the dark equatorial regions of Titan might be liquid oceans.  New radar evidence shows they are seas — but seas of sand dunes like those in the Arabian or Namibian Deserts, a University of Arizona member of the Cassini radar team and colleagues report in Science (May 5).

Radar images taken when the Cassini spacecraft flew by Titan last October show dunes 330 feet high that run parallel to each other for hundreds of miles at Titan's equator. One dune field runs more than 930 miles long, said Ralph Lorenz of UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

Ten years ago, scientists believed that Saturn's moon Titan is too far from the sun to have solar-driven surface winds powerful enough to sculpt sand dunes. They also theorized that the dark regions at Titan's equator might be liquid ethane oceans that would trap sand.  But researchers have since learned that Saturn's powerful gravity creates significant tides in Titan's atmosphere, driving winds. Saturn's tidal effect on Titan is roughly 400 times greater than our Moon's tidal pull on Earth. 

The researchers' model of Titan suggests tides can create surface winds that reach about one mile per hour (a half-meter per second). "Even though this is a very gentle wind, this is enough to blow grains along the ground in Titan's thick atmosphere and low gravity," Lorenz said. Titan's sand is a little coarser but less dense than typical sand on Earth or Mars. "These grains might resemble coffee grounds."

Did You Know?

The Moon has Alps
Modified from The Moon has Alps Too
Might there some day be skiing on the Moon? The moon's dust-covered slopes are good places to ski. There's plenty of powder, moguls and only 1/6th of Earth’s gravity holding humans down. And there's a perfect spot for the Olympic Village: the crater Plato. Plato is flat-bottomed, filled with raw materials for building stadia and habitats, and Plato is near the lunar Alps.

The lunar Alps are a range of mountains on the moon named after the Alps of Europe. They are similar to their Earthly counterparts in height, breath and spectacle. You can see the lunar Alps using a small backyard telescope. Although the two Alps look much alike, they formed in different ways. The Alps of Earth grew over a period of millions of years. Powered by plate tectonics, sections of Earth's crust pushed together, squeezing the land to produce jagged mountains. The range stretches from France through Italy all the way to Albania; the tallest peak is Mont Blanc, 15,700 feet high. The Alps of the moon were formed in an instant some 4 billion years ago when a huge asteroid struck and formed a big crater and the surrounding Alps.

In those early days, lunar Alps were probably as jagged and rough as the Alps of Earth. But in eons that followed, meteoroids relentlessly pounded the moon, smashing rocks into dust and blunting the sharp edges of mountain peaks. Today's lunar Alps are a bit shorter (the moon's Mont Blanc is only 11,800 feet high) and a lot smoother than their terrestrial counterparts — perfect for Olympics.

Last updated
December 20, 2006