Lunar and Planetary Institute

Education and Public Outreach

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter
August 2006

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



August 31, 2006 – STEREO scheduled to launch to study the Sun. 

September 3, 2006 - ESA’s SMART-1 will crash into the Moon.

September 22, 2006Annular Solar Eclipse (not visible from USA)

September 23, 2006 – Fall Equinox

Workshops and Courses

LPI and ARES One-Day Educator Workshops
Offered at the Harris County Department of Education
September 8, 2006 -- The Fire Within, Part I: Plate Tectonics & Volcanos
Learn about the different types of volcanos and igneous rocks as we investigate plate tectonics. Once we build an understanding of Earth’s volcanos, we will take a tour of volcanos across the solar system. Participants will receive extensive presentation materials on CD, reference materials, and hands-on activities for the classroom. Part II strongly recommended.  Fee: $75, Audience: 5th–8th grade Teachers

October 6, 2006 -- The Fire Within, Part II: Making Metamorphic and Sedimentary Rocks
Learn to identify different metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, explore how they form, and relate their formation to plate tectonics and the rock cycle. The day will close by examining evidence of these types of rocks on other planets. Participants will receive extensive presentation materials on CD, reference materials, and lesson plans for hands-on classroom activities. Part I strongly recommended.  Fee: $75, Audience: 5th–8th grade Teachers

Please contact Liliana Maldonado at (713) 696-1306 for registration information, or go to the Harris County Department of Education Web site. For more workshop details or additional workshop listings, visit the HCDE Web site.

Online Science Courses
The American Museum of Natural History’s (AMNH) Seminars on Science offers its online graduate courses this fall, including one on Space, Time, and Motion.  Designed for K–12 educators and co-taught by Museum scientists and educators, each six-week course features web-based discussions and contemporary research. Graduate credit and certification are available to meet professional development needs, NCLB, and salary gradation requirements. Fall sessions run August 28–October 8 and October 30–December 10. For more information on individual courses and to register, visit the American Museum of Natural History Web site or call 800-649-6715. The AMNH course website also offers free sample resources for each course and a video explaining how scientists duplicate DNA at the Genetics, Genomics, Genethics section of the Museum's Web site.

Online Earth Science Course--Tuition Scholarships Available
This is a sixteen week, three-credit graduate level, Internet-based, distance learning course designed for K - 6 educators. This four module course will improve Earth science content knowledge using practical classroom approaches. Class begins August 21, 2006 and class ends December 9, 2006. To enroll online, you will need a student ID and PIN number. To obtain these, you need to be a Degree, Non-Degree Post-Baccalaureate, or Non-Degree Visiting Graduate Student. See Apply Online for details at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Web site. Course Information: NRES 896a. Independent Study: Lab. Earth. Concept & Appl. 3 credits. Section Number: 700. Call number: 9036. For More Information contact: Dr. Dave Gosselin, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 402-472-8919.

Grants and Funding

YSA Grant Opportunity
Youth Service America and the Civil Society Institute are excited to announce the Red, White & Green Climate Change Grant. This opportunity offers $500 to implement a service-learning project about climate change. The Red, White & Green Climate Change Grant is open to all young people in the United States between the ages of 15–25 and to organizations that engage youth ages 15–25. Adults may apply and assist the youth but projects should be youth-led, and the service must take place between October 1 and November 30, 2006. Applications are accepted by airmail only. Applications must be postmarked no later than Thursday, September 1, 2006. For more information visit the Youth Service America Web site. For applications visit Red White and Green Climate Change Grant Application.

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.

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Polar Exploration Art Contest
This art contest challenges U.S. students to pick a polar region, explore it and then draw a picture showing what they learned. This is the 11th annual art contest held by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) and is for children in grades 2–4. The winning artist will receive a $250 savings bond, and his or her artwork will be printed as the 2006 IGES holiday card. Second- and third-place winners receive a $100 and $50 savings bond, respectively. Entries are due Nov. 10, 2006. For more information, including contest rules and entry form, fun polar facts, lesson plans and links to national science and geography standards, and a listing of recommended books, movies and Web sites, please visit Polar Exploration - Going to Exteremes.

Star Party at Comanche Springs
Ever been to a star party? There is an August Star Party at Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus on the 19th of August. The focus will be on several star clusters and galaxies that are over 14,000,000,000,000 miles away! Each telescope will have a trained volunteer to assist you view the many incredible sites of our universe from the special dark skies of Texas. If you wish to camp or RV contact Three Rivers Foundation for the Arts and Sciences, Crowell, Texas 79227, 940-684-1670.

Live Hubble Public Talk Webcasts
Are you interested in planets, stars, galaxies, black holes? Join the free public lectures at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). Each month a noted scientist discusses a different cosmic topic. Lectures are at 8 p.m. eastern. the first Tuesday of every month.


Earthquake Education Resources
The US Geological Survey has two new educational resources to help teachers explain earthquake science. Earthquake Science Explained: A Series of 10 Short Articles for Students, Teachers, and Families highlights how scientists study earthquakes, what evidence they collect, and what they have learned since the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. The publication also covers liquefaction of sandy soils during earthquakes, tsunamis produced by earthquakes, and the efforts of scientists and engineers to make buildings safer. Go to Earthquake Science Explained—A Series of Ten Short Articles for Students, Teachers, and Families to view this resource. Living in Earthquake Country: A Teaching Box, an earthquake hazard resource, offers lessons including fully developed hands-on earthquake curriculum, teaching points, and easy-to-reproduce handouts.

Hurricane Information and Game
You can find answers to most hurricane questions and play a hurricane word game called Whirlwind Disaster at the SciJinks Weather Laboratory Web site. SciJinks, a joint effort of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), targets young people of middle school age. The new How Does a Hurricane Form Web page and accompanying interactive game can be found in the How & Why menu at the SciJinks Weather Laboratory Web site.

NASA’s Free Podcast Service
NASA’s Free Podcast Service: NASAcast allows subscribers to download NASA features, news, and other content as part of a new free podcast service. Agency selections include the features from NASA's website, "This Week@NASA" from NASA TV; interviews with Stardust and Mars Exploration Rover scientists. All the latest NASAcast audio and video will automatically get downloaded. Subscribers can choose to listen or view the content at their computer or download it to a portable digital device for later use.

Black Hole Rescue!
Black Hole Rescue!: Nearby matter is not the only thing attracted by a black hole. These mysterious objects also attract a great deal of curiosity from kids here on Earth. Taking advantage of this interest, NASA's website for kids, The Space Place, has added a new game called Black Hole Rescue! After (or before) reading a short, illustrated article introducing black hole concepts, players "rescue" the vocabulary words, one letter at a time, before they get sucked into the black hole.

Girls Go Tech
National Science Foundation and the Girl Scouts of America have produced Girls Go Tech, an interactive website that provides activities that encourage girls to become interested in how things work. The website has information on role models and career ideas that can spark young women’s curiosity about science, math, and engineering. The site also offers resources for parents and teachers.

Cassini Halftime Show Features a New View of Saturn
The Cassini spacecraft is now halfway into its four-year tour of Saturn, its moons and rings. The following podcasts are available by visiting Top Stories: An audio podcast with highlights from Cassini's first two years and a preview of the second half of the journey and a video podcast exploring two key Cassini discoveries - Earthlike qualities of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, and evidence of liquid water on a smaller moon, Enceladus. The materials are also available by going directly to JPL's Multimedia page.

Universe in the Classroom
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific is happy to announce the return of the Universe in the Classroom, its free quarterly newsletter for teachers and other educators who want to help children of all ages learn more about the wonders of the universe through astronomy. Each issue contains information on a topic of current astronomical interest, along with hands-on classroom activities to make the topic come alive for students and a list of resources for exploring the topic deeper.


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Mission News and Science

Strange Space Blobs
Modified from Falling Onto the Dark
European astronomers have recently discovered a primordial “blob” of dark matter more than 10 billion light-years away. This gigantic object is twice as large as the Milky Way, but it only emits as much energy as 2 billion suns. The astronomers think they’re seeing large quantities of gas falling into a clump of dark matter, which could go on to build a large galaxy like the Milky Way. The most likely scenario to account for its existence and properties is that it represents the early stage in the formation of a galaxy, when gas falls onto a large clump of dark matter.

The object is invisible in the images taken with various telescopes observing from the infrared to the X-ray wavebands, making it a very peculiar object indeed. It is also the only such object found by the astronomers in their survey. Over the last few years, astronomers have discovered in the distant Universe a few so-called ‘blobs’. These are rather energetic but under-luminous objects, of the size of or much larger than our Milky Way galaxy. Their exact nature is still unclear and several scenarios have been proposed to account for their existence.

Cassini’s Hunt for Atomic Oxygen
Modified from The Mysteries of Enceladus
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been on the hunt for atomic oxygen since it arrived at Saturn. It has been found! The source turned out to be a thin atmosphere of water vapor surrounding Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Cassini flew past the mysterious moon in July 2005 and discovered that large dark cracks around its southern pole were warm and spewing out water vapor and ice particles. Cassini is due for a second look in 2008 when it will make another close flyby. The cloud of oxygen the Cassini spacecraft encountered as it first approached Saturn turned out to be a calling card from another celestial presence, the tiny moon Enceladus. The oxygen was the first clue that much more is going on beneath Enceladus’ icy surface than it first appeared. Tracking down the oxygen’s source led scientists to a most unusual spot in the solar system, a place that may possess one of the rarest and most sought-after substances in the universe - liquid water.

Since Saturn’s rings are made mostly of water ice, it wasn’t surprising to find one ingredient of water, oxygen, in Saturn’s atmosphere. The oxygen scientists observed was in the form of single oxygen atoms, called atomic oxygen, like that in water, H2O. Observations in spring 2005 showed that something very odd was taking place on Enceladus. Cassini’s magnetometer showed that the moon had an atmosphere. Too small to have enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere for very long, Enceladus had to have a steady source of gas, such as geysers, to keep an atmosphere going. The cosmic dust analyzer detected a stream of particles around Enceladus. The scientists wondered whether these particles could be coming from the moon or from Saturn’s E ring and if, perhaps, the moon itself might be the source of ice particles for the E ring. The mystery of the atomic oxygen was solved when scientists revealed that Enceladus has an internal heat source and is geologically active. Its geysers throw out enough water vapor and ice to maintain the moon’s atmosphere, feed the vast E ring, and decompose into clouds of oxygen like the one first spotted by Cassini on its way to Saturn. Not far beneath the moon’s snowy white surface may be large pools of liquid water, warmed by the same heat source that powers its geysers. Its potential for water puts Enceladus into an elite group of places where life could exist. The Cassini spacecraft will swing back in 2008 for another look.

ExoMars Mission
Modified from Controlling robots that search for Mars life
A proposed future mission called ExoMars will search for traces of life on Mars. The ESA mission requires entirely new technologies for self-controlled robots, built-in autonomy and cutting-edge visual terrain sensors. The fourth decade of this century could see Europe participating in a manned mission to Mars. A human mission to the Red Planet would be a major, multi-year undertaking with ExoMars being a precursor to this mission. ExoMars is due for launch around 2011 and will explore the biological environment on Mars. Data from the mission will also provide invaluable input for broader studies of exobiology – the search for life on other planets. The main element of the mission is a wheeled, robotic rover vehicle, similar in concept to NASA's current Mars Rover mission, but having different scientific objectives and improved capabilities.

The rover will use solar arrays to generate electricity, and will travel over the rocky surface of Mars, transporting the first-ever lightweight drilling system, as well as a sampling and handling device, and a set of scientific instruments to search for signs of past or present life. Due to distance time-lag and complexity, ExoMars will self-navigate using 'smart' electro-optics to visually sense and interpret the surrounding terrain and will be capable of operating autonomously using intelligent onboard software. It would survey the ground with a 3D camera, create a digital terrain model, verify its present location, run internal simulations and then make an autonomous decision on the best path to follow.

Red Spot Junior
Modified from Red Spots Brush Past Each Other
Recent evidence shows Jupiter’s two giant red spots brushing past one another in the planet’s southern hemisphere. Astronomers have been predicting the close encounter for months; Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and its newly formed “Red Spot Jr.”. Both red spots are massive storm systems. Astronomers don’t think anything dramatic is going to happen as the storms slip past each other this time around. The top of the larger one, known for a long time as the Great Red Spot, lies about 5 miles above the neighboring cloud tops and is the largest hurricane known in the solar system. Red Spot Junior is roughly half the size of its famous cousin, but its winds blow just as strong. This mighty new storm formed between 1998 and 2000 from the merger of three long-enduring white ovals, each a similar storm system at a smaller scale, which had been observed for at least 60 years. 

No one is certain why this white oval turned red. One theory is that the merger of the three white ovals led to an intensified storm system. This made it strong enough to dredge up reddish material from deeper in the atmosphere. As this material welled up in the middle of the spot, it is protected from escape by the strong circulating currents at the spot’s edges. Another popular hypothesis contends that the material dredged up from below Jupiter’s visible clouds climbs to an altitude where the Sun’s ultraviolet light chemically alters it to give it a reddish hue.

The white ovals from which Red Spot Junior is made have passed by the Great Red Spot countless times as the atmospheric current in which they are embedded moves at a different speed from the one at the latitude of the Great Red Spot. Each red spot is rotating with Jupiter at slightly different rates and over time, like passing cars on a highway, the two spots change relative positions causing periodic close passages like this. However, this is the first such passage since the new, smaller red spot intensified and turned red. Nothing dramatic is expected to happen as the two storm systems continue their close encounter. But future passages could always allow for the merger and formation of a “Red Spot Senior”.


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Last updated
May 2, 2007