Lunar and Planetary Institute

Education and Public Outreach

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter
May 2006

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



June 18 - Mars Passes 0.6 Degrees from Saturn low in the west after sunset

June 21 - Summer Solstice occurs

July 04 - Venus Express mission, Science Phase Begins

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.

Nature of Light Workshop
This workshop is geared for middle and high school teachers and occurs July 13–14 and 17–18, 2006. The Nature of Light Workshop for Teachers is designed to explore planetary phenomena through the Hubble Space Telescope. The workshop will be held 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. The application is available at the SAMEC Web site or contact 520-621-8309.

Solar Science Workshop
This workshop is geared for middle and high school teachers and occurs July 10–12, 2006. The Solar Science Workshop for Teachers will provide a venue for discussion and inquiry to help explain the seasons. The workshop will be held 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. The application is available at the SAMEC Web site or contact 520-621-8309.

Online Physics for Elementary and Middle-School Teachers
The University of Kentucky, Department of Physics and Astronomy offers online/hands-on physical science courses for teachers, designed for upper elementary and middle school teachers but useful for all teachers. If you would like to learn more about the program, please visit Online Physics for Teachers.

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.

Braitmayer Foundation Education Grants
The Braitmayer Foundation provides annual grants up to $35,000 and a second category of grants up to $10,000. The deadline for application for the summer grant cycle is June 1st.  The Foundation is interested in K–12 education throughout the United States. Of particular interest are curricular and school reform initiatives, and preparation of and professional development opportunities for teachers, particularly those which encourage people of high ability and diverse background to enter and remain in K–12 teaching.

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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, 8 p.m. 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.

Online Iron Science Teacher Competitions at the Exploratorium
Cheer on the competitors in this zany science cook-off in which teachers compete before a live and online audience at the Exploratorium for the revered title of "Iron Science Teacher." In a fast-paced atmosphere where showmanship and creativity reign, science teachers are given 10 minutes and a secret ingredient to concoct a science activity that can be used in the classroom. Competitions will take place on July 7, 14, and 21, Noon–1 p.m.


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? This professional development DVD is filled with video, print, and online resources for educators of students and adults alike. Recommended for professional development providers and teachers of Grades 8–12. 

Rough-and-Tumble Approach to Science Webcasts
The San Francisco-based Exploratorium has designed science exhibitions and science events online, including large scale astronomical events such as solar eclipses. Webcasts are so common for the Exploratorium, which regularly produces science-themed presentations and even game shows.

The Incredible Two-Inch Universe
Explore the universe by shrinking cosmic scale in four steps, zooming out from the realm of the Earth to the realm of the galaxies.

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. Materials are listed by type, grade level and subject. Three educator guides have recently been made available: Astrobiology, Mars and Earth, and Sun as a Star. 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.

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Mission News and Science

Mercury’s Formation
Modified from:
Recent evidence suggests that Mercury was created from a larger parent body that was involved in a catastrophic collision. New computer simulations of Mercury’s formation show 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, 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 would eventually fall 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.

Hubble Finds "Tenth Planet" is only Slightly Larger Than Pluto
Modified from:
For the first time, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has distinctly seen 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 distant location, this atmosphere would have "frozen out," settling on the surface as frost. Another possibility is that Xena leaks methane gas continuously from a 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 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. Learning that the largest known Kuiper Belt object is a virtual twin to Pluto complicates 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.

Titan’s Sandy Oceans
Modified from:
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 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.


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Last updated
May 2, 2007