Lunar and Planetary Institute

Education and Public Outreach

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter
April 2006

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Calendar | Workshops and Courses I Grants and Funding | Events/Opportunities | Resources | Mission News and Science



April 11, 2006 – Venus Express arrived at Venus

April 21–23, 2006 – KATS Kamp

April 22 - Lyrids Meteor Shower Peak

April 23-30 - 2006 Texas Star Party, near Fort Davis, Texas

Workshops and Courses

Sun-Earth Connections
LPI and NASA ARES Workshops
April 27, 2006 at Harris County Department of Education
Explore our nearest star — the Sun — and its structure, source of energy, characteristics, activity, and influences on Earth, including our wind and water cycle, and auroras. Participants will also revisit the reason for seasons, seasons on other planets, and solar eclipses. Participants will learn about the most recent missions monitoring our Sun and will receive presentation materials and hands-on activities for the classroom. 8:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m., Fee: $75 Please contact Liliana Maldonado at (713) 696-1306 for registration information. For more workshop details, contact Becky Nelson, or go to the Harris County Department of Education.

SCORE Workshop at KATS Kamp
Join us this year at KATS Kamp; SCORE staff will have a booth with materials, and will conduct a workshop, Around and Round: Seasons, Phases, Eclipses, and Orbits, in which participants will investigate the lunar phases, the cause for eclipses, and seasons on Earth and other planets in our Solar System.  For more information about the workshop, contact Christine Shupla. For information about the Kansas Association of Teachers of Science annual conference, go to KATS online .

 Roving Mars Teacher Workshop
Roving Mars is takes the viewer on the unique journey from conception to landing of the rovers. Cosmosphere educators will take you on this amazing journey from launch to landing and beyond. The workshop will also discuss major Martian geologic processes, theories behind Mars’ mysterious ice caps and the possibility of a major finding on Mars. In addition, all workshop attendees will receive a discount voucher for your class to see this film. Date of the workshop is September 18–19 (Grades K–12) and cost is $50.00.
To Register: Contact Laurie Givan, Education Coordinator at Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, 1100 North Plum, 67501-1499. 1-800-397-0330 Ext. 323 or

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.

Senior Scholarship
The Micron Science and Technology Scholars Program is a merit-based scholarship competition recognizing excellence in academics and leadership. The program awards a top prize of a $55,000 college scholarships and twelve $16,500 scholarships each year. The $253,000 in scholarships is awarded annually to 13 high school seniors. The competition is conducted in Idaho, Utah, Texas, Colorado and Virginia. The applications will be sent out November 15 with a January 20 post mark deadline ... so pass it on to teachers, librarians, students, and school counselors! For more information visit the Micron Foundation Web site.

Ciba Exemplary Middle Level and High School Science Teaching Award
This program recognizes one middle level and one high school teacher who have demonstrated exemplary science teaching in one or more of the following areas: creativity using science teaching materials; design and use of innovative teaching plans and ideas; and development and implementation of department, school, or school-community programs that improve science instruction and/or stimulate interest in science and the learning of science. The deadline for the $2000 award is October 15, 2006. For more information visit the NSTA Web site.

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Summer Internship Programs
NASA’s Glenn Research Center has a select few summer 2006 internship positions available for teachers and high school students. Interns work directly with NASA scientists and the education outreach team to provide educators and students with experiences that make science accessible, share the excitement of space exploration, and encourage the pursuit of careers in science, mathematics, engineering, and education. To find information and applications for the Teacher and Student Summer Internships visit NCSER K-12 Educational Program Summer Internships. For questions or more information, please e-mail

Teacher Sabbaticals
NASA's Glenn Research Center is offering teachers an intense, professional development opportunity through a Teacher Sabbatical Program. This one-year program serves as a method for teachers to bridge the gap between the classroom and the research community while gaining first-hand research experience and developing reduced-gravity related educational activities and materials that meet curriculum needs. The center is now accepting applications for the 2006-2007 school year. For applications visit the NCSER Web site. For questions or more information, please e-mail

Send Your Name to the Asteroid Belt
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. All previous submissions have been saved to the microchip, so there’s no need to reenter your name. First-timers can climb aboard by simply going to the Dawn Web site. Once you have entered your name, a certificate will appear. Remember to hit the “Print” button, as this is your only opportunity to print your “name onboard” verification.


Microgravity Overheads
Formal or informal educators will enjoy the following collection of overheads that are available for anyone preparing to speak about microgravity in schools, libraries or in other public settings. The slides or overheads can be viewed with your browser or downloaded for slideshows with Microsoft PowerPoint Viewer. For a listing and information about the slides visit the NCSER Web site.

Live Solar Images Available Online
The Pima College - East Campus Observatory is offering a new, free service for the teachers of Arizona and beyond. Using calcium and hydrogen alpha solar telescopes, live, daily images will be available 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.  Students can compare the image in both wavelengths to determine any connection between magnetic fields and solar activity. For more information, contact David Iadevaia, api@DAKOTACOM.NET.

How High Is It NASA Educator Guide
Are you looking for a great science resource to add to your library or classroom? Activities in this How High Is It NASA educator guide can be used to help students better visualize where satellites, spacecraft, aircraft and other NASA vehicles orbit or operate with respect to the layers of the atmosphere.

Google Mars
NASA researchers at Arizona State University have collaborated with Google to produce this detailed map of Mars that teachers and students can investigate.

NASA’s Space Place
The Space Place is a NASA site for children and adults. It presents fun activities and amazing facts about exploring space and exploring Earth from space. The educational content on the site is highly interdisciplinary, with some activities being computer-interactive and some "real-world-interactive."

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Mission News and Science

Cassini-Huygens Photographs Saturn's Moon Enceladus
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What do photos of "wrinkly" features on the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus mean to scientists? For Enceladus, wrinkles mean the opposite of old age. This actually means that portions of its surface are relatively young, and largely clear of impact craters. The recent images that were taken from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft reveal that the surface is indeed young.

Earlier last year it was found that Saturn's tiny icy moon Enceladus, which ought to be cold and dead, displayed evidence for active ice volcanism. NASA's Cassini spacecraft — a joint NASA/European Space Agency/Italian Space Agency mission – also 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. For more information about the mission visit the Cassini-Huygens Web site. Also vist the The Cassini imaging team homepage.

Space Shuttle to Fly in July
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NASA announced recently that July 1 to 19, 2006, is the new launch planning window for Space Shuttle Discovery's mission (STS-121). The window gives the agency time to do additional engineering work and analysis to ensure a safe flight for Discovery and its crew. The decision to target July followed a two-day meeting on the external fuel tank's engine cutoff (ECO) sensors. The sensors indicate whether the tank still has fuel during liftoff.

The STS-121 mission will take Shuttle Commander Steve Lindsey and six crew members to the International Space Station. This is the second mission in the Return to Flight sequence to evaluate new heat shield inspection and repair techniques and to deliver supplies and equipment to the station. For information about the Space Shuttle Program, the STS-121 mission and its crew, visit STS-1 - The Boldest Test Flight in History.

NASA's Stardust Findings May Alter View of Comet Formation
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Samples from comet Wild 2 have indicated that the formation of at least some comets may have included materials ejected by the early sun to the far reaches of the solar system. Scientists have found minerals formed near the sun or other stars in the samples returned to Earth by NASA's Stardust spacecraft in January. The findings suggest materials from the center of the solar system could have traveled to the outer reaches where comets formed. This may alter the way scientists view the formation and composition of comets.

 Scientists have long thought of comets as clouds of ice, dust and gases formed on the edges of the solar system. But comets may not be so simple or similar. They may prove to be diverse bodies with complex histories. Comet Wild 2 seems to have had a more complex history than thought. One mineral found in the material brought back by Stardust is olivine, a primary component of the green sand found on some Hawaiian beaches. It is among the most common minerals in the universe, but scientists were surprised to find it in cometary dust. Olivine is a compound of iron, magnesium and other elements. The Stardust sample is primarily magnesium. Along with olivine, the dust from Wild 2 contains high-temperature minerals rich in calcium, aluminum and titanium.

Stardust passed within 149 miles of comet Wild 2 in January 2004, trapping particles from the comet in an exposed gel. Its return capsule parachuted to the Utah desert on January 15. The science canister with the Wild 2 sample arrived at Johnson Space center on January 17. Samples have been distributed to approximately 150 scientists for study. The grains are tiny, most smaller than a hair's width. Thousands of them appear to be embedded in the glass-like aerogel. Stardust science team members presented their first findings at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in League City, Texas in March of 2006. For more information visit the Stardust Web site.

Chandra Finds Evidence for Quasar Ignition
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Since its launch on July 23, 1999, the Chandra X-ray Observatory has been NASA's flagship mission for X-ray astronomy. One of its latest discoveries is the evidence of quasar ignition. A quasar is one of a class of very distant (typically billions of light-years away), extremely bright, and very small objects that are not stars. A typical quasar produces more light each second than an entire galaxy of stars does, and it does so from a region of space which is perhaps as small as our solar system. Chandra has found evidence of a quasar in the center of a galaxy that has turned on and is expelling gas at high speeds in a galactic superwind. Clouds of hot, X-ray producing gas detected by Chandra around the quasars provide strong evidence for such superwinds.

Mergers of galaxies are a possible cause for the ignition, or turn-on, of quasars. Computer simulations show that a galactic merger drives gas toward the central region where it triggers a burst of star formation and provides fuel for the growth of a central black hole. The inflow of gas into the black hole releases tremendous energy, and a quasar is born. The power output of the quasar dwarfs that of the surrounding galaxy and pushes gas out of the galaxy in a galactic superwind. Over a period of about 100 million years, the superwind will drive most of the gas away from the central regions of the galaxy, quenching both star formation and further supermassive black hole growth. The quasar phase will end and the galaxy will settle down to a relatively quiet life.

Did You Know?

Can Planets Orbit in Opposite Directions?
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Did you know that astronomers have recently discovered a newly forming solar system with the inner part orbiting in one direction and the outer part orbiting the other way? All the planets and newly discovered objects in our solar system revolve around the Sun in the same direction. This is because the Sun and planets formed from the same massive, rotating cloud of dust and gas. The motion of that cloud set the motion of the planets. The fact that a solar system can have objects running in opposite directions is a shock to scientists. It is the first time anything like this has been seen.

This solar system, about 500 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, is a work in progress. At its center is a young star. No planets have formed yet and likely won't for millions of years. What scientists saw were two flat and dusty disks rotating around the equatorial plane of the central star in opposite directions. The solar system that likely will be formed around this star will include planets orbiting in different directions, unlike our own solar system. How did this rare scenario come to be? Scientists think this system may have formed from material from two clouds instead of one, and the two were rotating in opposite directions. There is sufficient material to form planets from both parts of the disk, yet who's to say the arrangement is uncommon? As astronomers find more and more extra-solar planets (over a hundred so far and counting), they are realizing that solar systems come in many shapes and sizes.


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Last updated
May 2, 2007