Lunar and Planetary Institute

Education and Public Outreach

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter
December 2006

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



December 21 – Winter Solstice (first day of winter)

January 3 – Earth at perihelion (closest point to the Sun)

Workshops and Courses

Educator Workshops by Lunar and Planetary Institutes and NASA Astromaterials Research and Exploration Sciences Team
Offered at the Harris County Department of Education
Please contact Liliana Maldonado at (713) 696-1306 for registration information.  Go to Harris County Department of Education for more workshop details or to register on-line. Go to HCDE Earth and Space Science Workshops 2006–2007 for a complete list of workshops offered by LPI and NASA ARES.

January 12, 2007 – Mars!!
Exploring Mars is exciting and in the news. Currently multiple science missions are exploring the Red Planet. This one-day workshop uses up-to-date mission information and images to teach Earth and space science. Through a balance of content and activities, we will investigate the formation of the Red Planet and how it has changed through time, how volcanism, tectonic, impacts, and erosion have affected Mars, and the evidence of water — past and present. Participants will receive presentation materials, activity packets, posters, and fact sheets. Fee $75, Audience: Upper Elementary and Middle School Science Teachers

February 9, 2007 – Solar System Survey: The Origin and Characteristics of the Sun, Planets, Moons, and Debris in our Neighborhood
Learn about the characteristics and formation of the Sun, Earth, and planets. We will also explore moons, comets, asteroids, and other space debris. Participants will receive extensive presentation materials on cd, reference materials, and hands-on activities for the classroom. Fee: $75, Audience: Grade 5–7 teachers

Online Science Courses from the American Museum of Natural History
Online Science Courses from the American Museum of Natural HistoryNeed to fulfill degree, certification or professional development requirements? Seminars on Science offers award-winning online graduate courses in the life, Earth and physical sciences. Designed by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) for K12 educators, each six-week course immerses the learner in an area of contemporary research. Graduate credit is available from several leading institutions. Courses may be used to meet your professional development needs, including degree, certification, NCLB, and salary gradation requirements. Free sample resources for each course, including essays, videos, and interactive simulations, are available online on the American Museum of Natural History website. Registration is now open for the six-week session that begins January 15 as well as the following session beginning March 19. Register by December 18th and receive a $50 discount. For more information and to register, visit Seminars on Science or call 800-649-6715.

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Antarctica WebcastEducation Webcast on Meteorite Mysteries
NASA's Digital Learning Network invites you to join them for Antarctica:  Meteorite Mysteries, The Search for Space Rocks webcasts!  They will connect with field researchers who will explain the importance of meteorite research, classification, and origins to participating students. The event will include live on-site descriptions of the Antarctic environment and meteorite collection efforts, subject matter experts on the origins and importance of meteorite research, and a visual inspection of an actual meteorite sample from Mars. The next webcast will be January 22, 2007 at 1 p.m.–2 p.m. (Central) and January 23, 2007 at 1 p.m.–2 p.m. (Central). For more information, and suggested pre-event activities, or to send a question to the Antarctic team members, go to NASA Digital Learning Network.

Award for Inspirational High School Astronomy Teacher
Presented each year by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Thomas Brennan Award recognizes exceptional achievement related to the teaching of astronomy at the high school level, whether made by an active teacher or by someone whose work has had a substantial impact on high school astronomy teaching. Recipients receive a cash award and engraved plaque, as well as travel and lodging to accept the award at the Society’s 119th annual meeting, to be held in Chicago, Illinois, September 5–7, 2007. Nomination deadline is December 31. Additional information, past recipients, and submission guidelines for all the awards can be found on the Astronomical Society of the Pacific website.

Teaching Fellowships
The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF) is seeking applicants for its sixth cohort of science teaching fellows. Teaching fellows are individuals who have at least a bachelor's degree in a physical science, engineering or mathematics and want to teach physics, chemistry, Earth science or mathematics in U.S. high schools. KSTF was established in 1999 to strengthen the quality of science and mathematics teaching in the United States. KSTF Teaching Fellowships support individuals professionally and financially for up to five years through a teacher preparation program to eligibility for tenure.  Application instructions can be found on the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation website.  The deadline for applications is January 16, 2007, 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. For more information, visit the Foundation's website or contact KSTF at

Teachers Apply to Participate in PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating)
Teachers are invited to submit an application to participate in field research learning experiences in the Arctic and Antarctic during the 2007 or 2007-2008 field seasons. PolarTREC is an educational research experience funded by the National Science Foundation in which K-12 teachers spend two to six weeks in the Arctic or Antarctic, participating in polar research and working closely with scientists as a pathway to improving science education. More information and application forms are available on the Polar Trec website Teacher Application Deadline: Tuesday, 2 January 2007. For further information, please contact or call 907-474-1600.

Research Experiences for Teachers at National High Magnetic Field Laboratory
Work with some of the finest scientists doing cutting edge research at the National High Magnetic Fields Lab (NHMFL) in Tallahassee, FL. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this six-week summer residential program gives K–12 teachers from across the country the chance to participate in real-world science and cutting-edge magnetic field research. The program dates are June 11–July 20th however the deadline for applying is March 1, 2007. To find our more about this research opportunity, or to apply, please visit the Magnet Lab website.

Armada Project Research and Mentoring Experiences for Teachers
The University of Rhode Island's Office of Marine Programs is now accepting applications for the ARMADA Project- Research and Mentoring Experiences for Teachers. The ARMADA Project provides K–12 teachers an opportunity to actively participate in ocean, polar, and environmental science research and peer mentoring. Application deadline is February 5, 2007. For more information about teacher qualifications, responsibilities, and to download an application, please visit the ARMADA Project website or contact Andrea Kecskes at 401-874-6211 or


The Last of the Great Observatories: Spitzer And the Era of Faster, Better, Cheaper at NASA
The Spitzer Space Observatory, originally known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), is the last of the four “Great Observatories”, which also include the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. George Rieke played a key role in Spitzer and now relates the story of how that observatory was built and launched into space. Up to its official start and even afterward, Spitzer was significant not merely in terms of its scientific value but because it stood at the center of major changes in space science policy and politics. For more information or to purchase, visit The University of Arizona Press website.

NASA Earth Explorers and Space Science Explorers Series
Anyone can be a scientist, no matter the challenges that may stand in the way. That’s the message NASA communicates through its Earth Explorers and Space Science Explorers series, both of which appear on the NASA Web site. In an effort to show that a science career is a worthy and attainable goal, both series profile real-life scientists, young and old, with a variety of backgrounds and interests. Most articles are presented in three different versions according to reading level — one for grades 9–12 and up, one for grades 5–8, and one for grades K–4. Please visit the Earth Explorers website and the Space Science Explorers website.

Spanish Language Astronomy Materials Education Center
The National Optical Astronomy Observatory has a web resource on Spanish language educational materials, with recommendations on astronomy books and periodicals in Spanish, broken down by grade level.

DragonflyTV SciGirls is a collaborative program funded by the National Science Foundation that empowers PBS outreach professionals to partner with local youth organizations, educators and parents to deliver hands-on science encouragement and career guidance to girls in their communities. SciGirls is based on existing standards-based DragonflyTV outreach resources, which teach the process of full inquiry.

GEMS Curriculum Sequence for Space ScienceGEMS Space Science for Grades 3–5
Introduce learners in grades 3–-5 to space science using the new GEMS Curriculum Sequence for Space Science. Units cover size and distance, Earth’s shape and gravity, the Earth’s motion, and Moon phases and eclipses.  The teacher's guide includes an extensive background section. Assessment materials include pre-and post-unit surveys and rubrics. There are also classroom readings, a CD-ROM with video and photographic content and reproducible sheets. For details on product pricing and availability call Carolina at 800 334-5551.


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Mission News and Science

New gully deposit on MarsNew Evidence Water Still Flows on Mars
Modified from JEt Propulsion Laboratory News Releases
NASA photographs have revealed bright new deposits seen in two gullies on Mars, suggesting that water carried sediment through them sometime during the past seven years. Liquid water is considered necessary for life, so the new findings heighten intrigue about the potential for microbial life on Mars. The Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor provided the new evidence of the deposits in images taken in 2004 and 2005.

The atmosphere of Mars is so thin and the temperature so cold that liquid water quickly evaporates or freezes. Scientists propose that water could exist in an underground source and break out through the walls of a crater, carrying debris downslope before totally freezing.  Mars Global Surveyor has discovered tens of thousands of gullies on slopes inside craters and other depressions on Mars.  Scientists first reported the discovery of the gullies in 2000. To look for changes that might indicate present-day flow of water, they repeatedly imaged hundreds of the sites.  The two fresh deposits are each several hundred yards long.  The light tone of the deposits could be from surface frost or a salty crust. This is the first evidence of newly deposited material apparently carried by fluids after earlier imaging of the same gullies.

Mars Global Surveyor began orbiting Mars in 1997. The spacecraft is responsible for many important discoveries. NASA has not heard from the spacecraft since early November. Attempts to contact it continue. Its unprecedented longevity has allowed monitoring Mars for over several years past its projected lifetime.

Early Bacteria Protected from Poisonous Oxygen
Modified from Caltech Media Relations News Releases
Two and a half billion years ago, the process known as photosynthesis suddenly began, releasing molecular oxygen into Earth's atmosphere and causing one of the largest environmental changes in the history of our planet. The organisms assumed responsible were the cyanobacteria, which evolved the ability to turn water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight into oxygen and sugar, and are still around today as the blue-green algae and the chloroplasts in all green plants.  But researchers have long been puzzled as to how the cyanobacteria could make all that oxygen without poisoning themselves. To avoid their DNA getting wrecked by a hydroxyl radical that naturally occurs in the production of oxygen, the cyanobacteria would have had to evolve protective enzymes. But how could natural selection have led the cyanobacteria to evolve these enzymes if the need for them didn't even exist yet?

Now, two groups of researchers at the California Institute of Technology offer an explanation of how cyanobacteria could have avoided this seemingly hopeless contradiction. Reporting in the December 12 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the groups demonstrate that ultraviolet light striking the surface of glacial ice can lead to the accumulation of frozen oxidants and the eventual release of molecular oxygen into the oceans and atmosphere. This trickle of poison could then drive the evolution of oxygen-protecting enzymes in a variety of microbes, including the cyanobacteria. According to Danie Liang, a serious freeze-over known as the Makganyene Snowball Earth occurred 2.3 billion years ago, at roughly the time cyanobacteria evolved their oxygen-producing capabilities. During the Snowball Earth episode, enough peroxide could have been stored to produce nearly as much oxygen as is in the atmosphere now. Cyanobacteria would have evolved enzymes to protect themselves from the oxygen, which then would have been used to protect them when they began to photosynthesize and release additional oxygen into the oceans and atmosphere.

Evidence that Dark Energy Was Present in Early Universe
Modified from NASA News
Scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that dark energy is not new, but rather has been present for most of the universe's history. Dark energy is a mysterious repulsive force that causes the universe to expand at an increasing rate. Investigators used Hubble to find that dark energy was already boosting the expansion rate of the universe as long as nine billion years ago. This data will allow scientists to begin ruling out some competing explanations for dark energy that predict that the strength of dark energy changes over time.

To study the behavior of dark energy of long ago, Hubble had to peer far across the universe and back into time to detect supernovae. Supernovae can be used to trace the universe's expansion. Over the past eight years astrophysicists have been trying to uncover two of dark energy's most fundamental properties: its strength and its permanence. These new observations reveal that dark energy was present and obstructing the gravitational pull of the matter in the universe even before it began to win this cosmic "tug of war." Previous Hubble observations of the most distant supernovae known revealed that the early universe was dominated by matter whose gravity was slowing down the universe's expansion rate. The observations also confirmed that the expansion rate of the cosmos began speeding up about five to six billion years ago, when dark energy's repulsive force overtook gravity's attractive grip. The latest results are based on an analysis of the 24 most distant supernovae known, most found within the last two years.



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Last updated
May 2, 2007