Lunar and Planetary Institute

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Explore! News
September 2005

Previous News Announcements

September 2005


Sep 22 – Autumnal Equinox – Happy Fall!  During the Fall or Spring equinoxes all locations on Earth essentially have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.  This occurs in our Earth’s orbit around the Sun when our Sun’s rays strike Earth at an angle that is perpendicular to Earth’s axis.  

Sep 26 – Cassini spacecraft’s encounter with Saturn’s moon Hyperion.

October 27–29 – CAST – Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching at the Reliant Center in Houston, Texas

Workshops and Courses

Astronomy Connections at the Adler Planetarium
Librarians, teachers, administrators… take on the role of students and participate in hands-on activities, problem solving, teamwork and collaboration all while learning exciting science content at the Adler Planetarium. Through this program, participants will come out with an understanding of the Sun's impact on the Earth, and the nature of scientific investigations. Teachers will also receive training in web-based technology. Included in the package are:

  • An all-expense paid field trip to Adler Planetarium 
  • An option for 3 graduate level continuing education credits
  • A stipend that can be applied to the cost of receiving graduate credit

Sept. 24, Oct. 15, Oct. 29, Nov. 19, Dec. 10, and Jan. 7 (Attend all 5 sessions or call for other options).   If you have further questions, please contact Karen Swade at 312.294.0349 or Amanda Maynard at 312.322.0549.

Teacher Leaders in Research Based Science Education
The TLRBSE program is designed to provide training in astronomy content, research pedagogy, and leadership skills through a combination of:

  • An online distance learning program stressing astronomical imaging, spectroscopy and classroom research projects, for which graduate credit is available
  • Two-week workshop at Kitt Peak National Observatory including 5 nights observing with research telescopes
  • Mentoring support for beginning teachers by the teacher
  • A cooperative partnership between the teacher and professional astronomers
  • A professional community of educators involved with research-based science education, linked by online discussion forums and face-to-face discussions at professional meetings

Teacher Leaders participating in TLRBSE must:

  • Have five or more years experience teaching middle or high school science.
  • Have demonstrated leadership abilities in their teaching careers to date.
  • Successfully complete a TLRBSE online course requiring 60-90 hours of total time over 14 weeks from mid-January to mid-May.
  • Attend the two-week in-residence institute in Tucson, Arizona during late June or early July.
  • Commit to the use of research-based pedagogy in your classroom for at least two years.
  • Obtain a commitment from three Learning Colleagues (novice science teachers with 0-5 years experience) with whom you will work for 40 hours a year.
  • Obtain a written letter of support from your school principal or administrator.
  • Be residents of the United States or Puerto Rico.

Teacher Leaders participating in TLRBSE will receive:

  • The opportunity to attend the two-week institute that will include observing time on research-class telescopes on Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona.
  • Up to $500 round trip airfare to Tucson, Arizona, a stipend of $75/day, room and partial board expenses during the two-week institute.
  • $1000 for implementing astronomy research in the classroom and completing the mentoring requirements.
  • Partial support to attend an NSTA convention with your Learning Colleagues.
  • An opportunity to participate in the development of an exemplary science education program that has the potential to reach many of your colleagues and build a professional community of RBSE educators.

Program Dates for Distance Learning Course: Mid-January to early May 2006
Program Dates for Summer Workshop in Tucson: Mid-June — Early July 2006 (Please note that about five days of the workshop will be spent at the Kitt Peak National Observatory at an elevation of nearly 7000 feet. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions that may be affected by the change to a higher altitude or the stress of walking up steep hills, we encourage you to reconsider applying.)
Application Deadline: October 17, 2005
Notification of Acceptance: November 18, 2005
Online Application

Grants and Funding

2005 IDEAS Grants Available! - the Initiative to Develop Education through Astronomy and Space Science (IDEAS) Grant Program provides start-up funding to explore innovative, creative ways to integrate astronomy and space science into United States education and public outreach venues through partnerships between the astronomers/space scientists and education professionals. The amount of funding available is up to $20,000 for programs to be completed in one year and up to $50,000 for programs that may require up to two years to complete. The deadline for submitting a 2005 IDEAS proposal is Friday, 21 October 2005, 5:00 p.m. ET. For more visit:

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.  More:

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.

Events and Opportunities

The NSTA Distinguished Teacher Award recognizes NSTA member K-college teachers who have made extraordinary contributions to the field of science teaching.  The award includes a formal citation, three nights' hotel accommodation, and $500 toward expenses to attend the NSTA National Convention. Applications/nominations are due October 15, 2005.   For more information visit:

Know a member of NSTA who has made extraordinary contributions to the advancement of science education in an informal or nontraditional school setting, such as a science-technology center, museum, or community science center?  Encourage them to apply for the NSTA Distinguished Informal Science Education Award - This award honors individuals who are not classroom teachers and who have demonstrated their dedication to informal science education.  Applications are due October 15, 2005.  Awardees will receive a formal citation, three nights' hotel accommodation, and $200 towards expenses to attend the NSTA National Convention. For more visit:

Engineer and Science Mentors Needed!
The 2006 Future City Competition helps foster interest in engineering and science for 7th and 8th grade students through hands on computer modeling, essay writing, oral presentation and model building.  Volunteers are needed in Chicago and over 30 other cities nationwide to help plan the competition, be a mentor to a school, or be a judge for the competition in January.
Please call Don Wittmer at (312) 930-9119, email or Aruch Poonsapaya at to sign up or to get more information. For more visit:

Space Day 2006 Design Challenges
Lockheed Martin's 2006 Space Day Design Challenges explores “Living and Working on the Moon.” Design Challenges are open to children ages 9-13. The deadline for submission is February 1, 2006. Stellar Design Challenge teams will be selected by the Space Day Educational Advisory Committee and recognized at the Space Day Opening Ceremony on Thursday, May 4, 2006, in Washington, D.C.  Spark the children’s interest in space science by getting involved in the design challenges!    For more details visit: or contact:  Kay Armstrong, Space Day Program Manager,


Want to find a local astronomy club?  Go to Sky and Telescope’s Clubs and Organizations page ( Select the kind of organization in which you are interested (e.g., club, planetarium, museum, etc.) and list your city and state.  You will get a list of organizations with contact information.   A great way to find out about astronomy events in your community!

Einstein’s Universe
Check out this Web site based upon Einstein’s revolutionary ideas of the past. The site offers an interactive demonstration that models the ways in which we explore distance and motion in the universe. Several types of general astronomy resources are also offered for educators including printed guides about our universe and other cosmic questions, images, space science animations, NASA mission features and a speaker’s bureau. The speaker’s bureau has opportunities for interactions between scientists and informal educators across the country. For more visit:

Earth Observatory
The Earth Observatory site offers a variety of scientific features that should interest most science educators. Along with the wonderful imagery, the site includes the latest scientific discoveries, science news, mission news and experiments. Topics featured include the latest on global warming, biomes, natural disasters and more. Students can benefit from experiments on satellite imagery, remote sensing, color imaging processes, and graphing. For more visit:

Imagine Mars
The Imagine Mars Project site provides red planet lesson plans and resources that library staff members can share with teachers. There is a project gallery that lets you view completed projects related to Mars from all over the world. See what others have done pertaining to Mars and learn from your peers!

Mission News and Science

Launched in August 2004, the MESSENGER solar-powered spacecraft is almost 600 million miles into a 5 billion mile voyage that includes 14 more loops around the Sun. MESSENGER – short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging - will fly past Venus twice and Mercury three times before moving into orbit.  These events will help MESSENGER maneuver into a year-long first-ever orbit around Mercury in 2011.
Mercury is the least explored of the terrestrial planets – a group that includes Venus, Earth and Mars. During one Earth year (four Mercury years), MESSENGER will provide the first images of the entire planet. It will collect detailed information about the composition and structure of Mercury's crust, its geologic history, nature of its atmosphere and magnetosphere, makeup of its core and polar materials.  For more information, pictures, and some activities for children, visit:


Saturn's tiny icy moon Enceladus, which ought to be cold and dead, instead displays evidence for active ice volcanism. NASA's Cassini spacecraft – a joint NASA/European Space Agency/Italian Space Agency mission - has found a huge cloud of water vapor over the moon's south pole, and warm fractures where evaporating ice probably supplies the vapor cloud. Cassini has also confirmed Enceladus is the major source of Saturn's largest ring, the E-ring.

Cassini flew within about 110 miles of Enceladus on July 14 and confirmed the presence of an extended and dynamic atmosphere. The atmosphere contains mostly water vapor, with some hydrogen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The presence of the water vapor may suggest that there is a local source, such as a geothermal hotspot. The fact the atmosphere persists on this low-gravity world, instead of escaping into space, suggests Enceladus is geologically active enough to replenish the water vapor at a slow continuous rate.

Cassini's cosmic dust analyzer detected a large increase in the number of particles near Enceladus. This observation confirms Enceladus is a source of Saturn's E-ring. Scientists think micrometeoroids blast the particles off, forming a steady, icy, dust cloud around Enceladus. Some of these particles escape, helping to form Saturn’s E ring.  Additional information about the mission can be found at:   For all sorts of educational materials, check out: And for some great images:

Rover Update – Still Going!
Modified from:
As of August 26, 2005, nearly 500 Martian days (sols) past its projected expiration date, the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has climbed to the top of Husband Hill, part of the Columbia Hills, overlooking Gusev Crater. The rover provided images of large sand drifts and active, seasonal dust devils across the basin. Spirit will continue to explore the landscape driving only every other sol. The next step, according to the rover scientists, is to survey the area for a safe route back down the hill.

Did You Know?

How DO We Know the Shape of Our Galaxy?
Modified from:

Those pictures of our Milky Way Galaxy are all from the imaginations of artists — with some help from scientists, of course! When astronomers try to determine the shape of our galaxy, they don’t have a place to go to look back. No spacecraft has ever left our solar system (the Voyagers spacecraft are close!), much less our galaxy.  No one has ever seen our giant spiral disk elegantly wrapping its arms around a central glowing bulge — instead, Earth-bound astronomers see lots of stars in all directions. The only way to derive the galaxy's shape is to reconstruct the Milky Way from the inside out.   By knowing the shape and orientation of the Milky Way's center, and by examining images taken by the Hubble and other telescopes of other barred-spiral galaxies as examples, scientists can create an artistic rendering of what our galaxy might look like.

Astronomers have previously noted that the mass of stars near the galactic center appear fatter on the northernmost side. Observations have since concluded that our galaxy has a concentration of stars - shaped like a bar - in the center. Following a recent examination of our galaxy's interior, it seems that this backbone is longer than previously thought!   And so the picture emerges (check out: — our Milky Way’s center has a distinct bar shape and long spiral arms stretch from that center. 


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Last updated
February 6, 2007