Lunar and Planetary Institute



Greetings Explore! Community

This newsletter is intended to highlight space science information and opportunities for informal educators. If you have events, resources, news, or activities to share, or would like to give us feedback, please contact us at


Becky Nelson

Calendar of Events


October 23–26                 National Conference of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums

October 24–26                 Mississippi Library Association annual conference.

October 25–28                 American Association of School Librarians annual conference in Reno, NV.

October 31–November 2  South Carolina Library Association annual conference.


November 7–11                Colorado Association of Libraries annual conference.

November 13–15              Arizona Library Association annual conference.


December 5–8                  The National Community Education Association annual conference



Mars - Inside and Out!

Explore! Mars - Inside and Out! is the eleventh and most recent module in the Explore! Fun with Science program, and is packed full of fun - and, of course, messy - activities for your library or afterschool programs.

Mars - Inside and Out! will acquaint you with everything you need to know about the mysterious red planet to bring exciting programs to your community.

Has Mars always been the cold, dry, lifeless place it is today?
What do volcanos tell us about the inside of a planet?
What could cause the volcanos on Mars to grow sooo much larger than those on Earth?
Is there - or was there ever - water on Mars?

Through over 10 fun, hands-on activities, children discover the answers to these questions about Mars - and more!
Facilitators will receive background information, resources, and free downloadable hands-on activities designed specifically for librarians and after-school program providers to infuse into their programs with children ages 8 to 13 and their families.

And remember to check out Becky Recommends, where the focus for the next several months will be activities from Mars - Inside and Out! including:

Volcanoes - Go with the Flow 
Crater Creations
Carving Channels
The Icing on the Plate
Puzzling Patterns 
Recipe for a Planet 
Summit Up!

Explore! Mars - Inside and Out!


Resources PBS Astronomy Educational Web Site
"Seeing in the Dark," is a new interactive Web site with many resources including charts of the night sky, videos, activities, projects, images, and more.

OLogy is an online, free, hands-on science curriculum for grades 2–6 available through the National Partnership for Afterschool Learning. OLogy is a creative tool that teaches children a wide range of scientific concepts. There is no charge to use the site, though users need to have access to a computer with an updated Web browser. OLogy provides many adaptable resources for children and afterschool educators. This program is interactive, encourages children to explore the world through games and experiments, and even provides assessment tools that let students test their knowledge. The site also provides children with a variety of career ideas in the section called "Meet the OLogist," that features working scientists discussing their work. This is a creative way for afterschool educators to teach science!

The AfterSchool DIGEST Web site offers a new, and useful, resource for afterschool professionals. Their Web site is a single entry point that provides links to afterschool organizations and agencies, resource lists, conferences, events, and even enables you to view online the PowerPoint presentations from past conferences!

Sky in Google Earth
With Sky in Google Earth, visitors can travel across the vastness of the night sky, making tour stops at 125 of the most popular Hubble images. Travelers can begin their celestial tour by selecting "Switch to Sky" from the "view" drop-down menu in Google Earth. From here, an object, such as the Eagle Nebula or a category, such as colliding galaxies, can be selected. The view of the sky shows the constellations surrounding the selected object. As the visitor zooms in, the constellations disappear and the chosen object emerges from the background.


New Children's Book Releases

New Childre's Book ReleasesBeyond Jupiter: The Story of Planetary Astronomer Heidi Hammel (Women's Adventures in Science)
Alfred B. Bortz, J. Henry Press, 2006, ISBN 0309095522.
From the biographical series about contemporary female scientists, this volume engages readers with information about Heidi's childhood interests in astronomy and the highlights of her research and career. Girls ages 12–15 will be challenged and inspired by her accomplishments.

Mapping the Planets and Space (Map Readers)
Ana Deboo, Heinemann, 2006, ISBN 1403467986.
Geared to ages 9–12, Deboo provides a brief, but lively, overview of the equipment used to map the planets and skies.  

The Worlds Around Us: A Space Voyage

Ellen Jackson, Millbrook Press, 2006, ISBN076733405X
Jackson takes children 9–12 on a voyage to each of the planets and major moons in our solar system; providing basic information with a smattering of fun facts, humor, and cool illustrations along the way.


Becky Recommends!

As the activity designer for several of the Explore! modules, I am always on the lookout for great ways to engage children in Earth and space science.  The following activity is the first in a series of activities from the new Explore! Mars - Inside and Out! All activities in Becky Recommends! are designed for tight budgets and tight spaces, and are always educational and fun!



Carving Channels

What's Needed?

For each team of 3 to 5 children:

  • About 25 pounds of clean playground sand
  • 5 pounds of pesticide-free diatomaceous earth (from a home improvement or pool supply store),  Cool tip: Sand and diatomaceous earth can be dried out and reused!
  • 4 to 5  1 to 3 inch rocks
  • 4 to 6  2-liter bottles, without lids, filled with water.
  • Access to water to refill the bottles as needed
  • 2 plastic wallpaper trays (from home improvement or hardware stores)
  • 4 standard bricks
  • 2  5-gallon or larger trash cans or buckets (rectangular shaped is best)
  • 2 large trash bags to line the buckets or trash cans
  • Images of channels on Mars and Earth - the first seven from each suite of Earth and Mars images.

For the facilitator:


Children ages 8-13

How Long?

20–30 minutes


Prepare an area large enough to accommodate the stream tables for the number of teams participating. Each team will use two stream tables, side by side, to create and compare different types of stream features.

Prepare the stream tables for Carving Channels:

  • Poke 3 pea-sized holes on the bottom of each wallpaper tray, about 1 inch from the end.
  • Place the trays so that the children can easily group around them .
  • In one of the wallpaper trays, pour one inch of sand. On top of the sand pour two inches of diatomaceous earth. Add a thin layer of sand across the surface of the diatomaceous earth. For the top layer, sprinkle just enough diatomaceous earth to cover the sand.
  • In the other wallpaper tray, pour two to three inches of sand. Have the sand along the edges be a little higher than in the center so that water will flow down the center. Dampen the sand.
  • As much as possible, leave the holes at the ends of both trays uncovered so the water can drain.
  • Bury two or three rocks in each tray just beneath the surface in different locations.
  • Position each wallpaper tray so that the end with the holes hangs over the table edge about 6 inches.
  • Place a lined trash can or bucket under the part of the tray that extends over the edge to catch excess water as it drains from the tray.
  • Place three bricks under the other end of the wallpaper tray with the diatomaceous earth, so it is tilted about 20 degrees. You may want to recruit help with positioning the trays on the bricks.
  • Place one brick under the tray with the sand only, so that it is tilted about 5 degrees.
  • Place copies of the Mars/Earth channel images near the stream tables.


Carving Channels is an activity in which children create channel features with flowing water. Their observations of the ways in which flowing water alters the surrounding terrain will be used as evidence to draw conclusions about Mars’ geologic past.

  1. Introduce the children to Carving Channels. Ask them to first observe the long, narrow, wiggly features on the images of Mars and Earth.
  2. Divide the children into groups of 3 to 5 and have each group go to a set of trays.
  3. Invite one child from each team to take a water bottle, hold it at the high end of the tray and slowly pour gently and steadily into the tray with the sand. Pour half or more of the bottle.
  4. Have the children experiment with the second stream table, the one at a higher angle of tilt.
  5. Have the children experiment with pouring the water faster — flooding the surface! As
    they make their features, ask the children to carefully examine and compare the channels and features in the two trays. Have them compare the features they created to the images of Earth and Mars surface features. What conclusions can they draw from their observations?

Visit the Explore! website
for an extended version of Carving Channels


Events and Opportunities

Explore! Health in Space Web casts October 2007–March 2008
If you are an Explore! trainer, but have never experienced Health in Space, or if you have been to a Health in Space training workshop and would be willing to share your insights and experience with others - we welcome you to join us!

It's fun!           It's free!          It's for the children!

Health in Space explores challenges to the human body when living and working in space.
Did you know that you get taller in space?  That your head swells? 
That your bones and muscles begin to deteriorate?

Learn about the health challenges astronauts face and how NASA researchers help astronauts stay healthy in space. Health in Space is offered as a two-part Web cast, each 90-minutes, one week apart. The Web casts will be repeated monthly through March. For more information or to make your reservation, contact  Becky Nelson ( / 281-486-2166).


Workshops and Courses

There are no workshops available at this time.





Mission News and Science

Mission News and Science

Building Blocks of Galaxies Seen
Modified from HUBBLESITE

Photos reveal blobs of hot stars forming galaxies.NASA's Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes have discovered some of the smallest, faintest, most compact galaxies ever observed in the distant universe. Each of the galaxies is a hundred to a thousand times smaller than our Milky Way Galaxy. Many scientists suspect that small galaxies in the early universe evolved into the massive galaxies by merging. These new galaxies detected by Hubble are examples of the building blocks that later developed into massive galaxies.
These young galaxies offer important new insights into the universe's formative years, just one billion years after the Big Bang. Three of the galaxies appear to be slightly disrupted - appearing stretched into tadpole-like shapes. This is a sign that they may be interacting and merging with neighboring galaxies to form larger structures.

Mars Exploration Rover Status Report: Rovers Resume Driving
Modified from JPL - Solar System - News Releases

After six weeks of hunkering down during raging dust storms that limited solar power, both of NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have resumed driving. Opportunity advanced toward the edge of Victoria Crater, finally entering the crater on September 11. Weather conditions improved slowly, but with the improved energy supplies, both rovers are back on schedule to communicate daily.

Saturn's Mysterious Moon
Modified from esa News
Cassini scientists are poring through hundreds of images returned from the 10 September fly-by of Saturn's moon Iapetus. Few features in our solar system are more bizarre than the variations between the snowy white and pitch black hemisphere of this unusual moon. New images show a surface that is heavily cratered, along with the mountain ridge that runs along the moon's equator. Many of the close-up observations focused on studying the strange 20 kilometer high mountain ridge that gives the moon a walnut-shaped appearance.

Saturn's moon IapetusThe new Cassini images show where the bright and dark different regions mix. On the dark side, there appear to be patches of white ice on dark mountainsides. Blobs of dark material appear on the bright side. There are regions where impact craters have punched through the dark material, revealing white material underneath.
The moon's irregular walnut shape, the mountain ridge that lies almost directly on the equator and Iapetus’ brightness contrast are among the mysteries scientists are trying to solve. Cassini's multiple observations of Iapetus will help to characterize the chemical composition of the surface; look for evidence of a faint atmosphere or erupting gas plumes; and map the night-time temperature of the surface. These and other results will be analysed in the weeks to come.