Lunar and Planetary Institute

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Education and Public Outreach

October 2006

Previous News Announcements


November 8, 2006Transit of Mercury

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

November 12-15, 2006 – The Pennsylvania Library Association will hold their annual meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa.

November 14, 2006 – Tuesday, November 14th is National Community Education Day. This year’s theme is “Community Education Builds Better Communities.”

November 27, 2006THEMIS scheduled to launch

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

November 29 – December 2, 2006 – The National Community Education Association’s annual conference will be in Reno, Nevada this year. To find out more, visit the NCEA Web site.

Explore News

Pajewski and Crew (Pye Pajewski, that is) of the Shaler North Hills Library in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania had a blast with the new Health in Space Explore! module. Shaler North Hills was host to around 25 children who participated in activities highlighting health challenges faced by astronauts in space. The children also learned that they face many of the same health challenges and, just like astronauts, need to make healthy choices! They enjoyed cool activities like UV Man!, Beans in Space, The Astronaut in Me, and many more (see below).

Future astronauts design protection for their UV Men.
Future astronauts design protection for their UV Men!

Pye “found out about the field test for Health in Space in the June Explore! Newsletter.” We are delighted that she decided to Explore Health in Space! And by the looks of it, so are several of the mini-patrons at Shaler North Hills Library, particularly Z.P., age 12, who said at the end of the day, “I wish the program was longer!”

Workshops and Courses

NSTA is partnering with NASA to present an exciting Symposium for grade 4–9 educators on the topic of living and working in space. The Symposium will be held at NSTA’s Area Conference on Science Education in Baltimore, MD, on Saturday, November 4, 2006, 8:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.  This half-day symposium focuses on the topic of energy as it relates to living and working in space.

NASA/NSTA Web Seminars on Lunar Exploration - Four free Web Seminars featuring scientists and education specialists from NASA will be given on each Tuesday evening in November. The presenters will help participants to link NASA science expertise and resources to engaging, hands-on, and inquiry-based classroom activities. The seminars will focus on lunar science and exploration. 


Christopher Columbus Awards
The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation and National Science Foundation sponsor a national competition for middle-school-age children that combines science and technology with community problem-solving in a real-world setting. With the help of an adult coach, student teams identify an issue and use technology to develop an innovative solution to that problem.  Winners share more than $45,000 in prizes and an all-expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World.  Entry deadline is February 12, 2007. 

Exploratorium Webcast Series from the South Pole
During November-December 2006, the Exploratorium in San Francisco will have a series of webcasts from the South Pole where astrophysicists and engineers are installing a new 10-meter telescope. They are also planning webcasts originating from the Exploratorium on global warming and the poles. For more information, visit the Exploratorium¹s calendar of upcoming events. You can also sign up for an email newsletter to stay informed of Exploratorium webcasts and other events at LIVE@exploration.

Transit of Mercury Webcast
The theme for Sun Earth Day 2007 is Living in the Atmosphere of the Sun- International Heliophysical Year.
The Web site contains new information and features, including a live broadcast of the Transit of Mercury on November 8, 2006 discussing the science, technology, and history of the transit as well as our knowledge of the Sun and space weather. The webcast will include a panel discussion about Mercury, the Sun and safe viewing techniques of the transit.  There will live feed of the transit from Kitt Peake beginning at first contact provided by the Exploratorium.


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 The Early Years logo future programs.

The Early Years
Science 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.

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

Seeing Into the Past  
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