Lunar and Planetary Institute

Education and Public Outreach

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter
March 2007

To receive this information as a monthly e-mail, please sign up here.

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



March 29 – April 1 – NSTA

April 21Astronomy Day

June 5 – Messenger Mission Flies By Venus

June 20 – Dawn Mission Launches

June 21 – Summer Solstice (first day of summer)

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 2006–2007 workshops offered by LPI and NASA ARES.

May 4, 2007 – Space Rocks
This one-day workshop investigates rocks from space - what meteorites and lunar samples tell us about the formation of our solar system and the composition and history of the planets and asteroids from which the rocks originated. Find out where planetary scientists look for meteorites, the “impact” asteroids make on us, and what recent and future missions to comets and asteroids are telling us. The workshop addresses TAKS Objective 1 – Nature of Science (scientific process, critical thinking skills, problem solving, use of models) and Elementary School TAKS Objective 4 and Middle School TAKS Objective 5 – Earth and Space Sciences (characteristics of planets in our solar system, lunar characteristics, rock cycle, catastrophic events). Participants will receive presentation materials and hands-on activities for the classroom. Fee: $75. Audience: Upper Elementary and Middle School Science Teachers

Earth’s Extremophiles: Implications for Life in the Solar System
This NASA-sponsored field-based workshop, July 22–29 2007, is intended primarily for middle school science teachers (other educators are welcome).  Participants will spend a week with planetary scientists and astrobiologists in Yellowstone National Park investigating the geologic processes that result in extreme environmental conditions, and will explore the different types of organisms that live in these conditions. We will build an understanding of how life has evolved on Earth, the possibility of past or present similar environmental conditions on other planets, and what this implies for finding life in our Solar System. The experience will be divided between the field and lab, where participants will work with classroom-tested, hands-on inquiry based activities and resources.  A limited number of grants are available to cover registration. Applications are due 4 April 2007.

EarthStorm Teachers Workshop
EarthStorm is a free four-day workshop by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey at the National Weather Center July 17–20, 2007, in Norman Oklahoma. The Institute will develop content knowledge of weather, increase understanding and use of weather products, and provide teachers with access to meteorologist from the National Weather Center in Norman. Travel funding available for educators from Oklahoma and Kansas. Online Registration will open April 1 .

MapTEACH Summer Course in Alaska
The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) is hosting a summer course July 30-August 10, 2007, for middle and high school teachers of science, geography, or technology on the MapTEACH curriculum, which is focused on understanding the local landscape and learning to make computer-based maps of scientific, cultural, and personal significance. The geoscience course includes classroom studies, computer labs, and field work with local landscape experts and geologists. Participants may earn three or four UAF credits for completing the course. Application Deadline: Friday, 11 May 2007.

Summer Courses for Teachers in Bar Harbor, Maine
The College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine offers graduate credit, residential programs for teachers at all levels. Tuition, room and board are included in the fee.

July 1–6: Teaching from a Portable Planetarium for Earth, Space, and Natural Sciences offers instruction in the use of a portable planetarium, content and activities for planetarium use across the curriculum. This course is intended to serve those working in schools, science centers, museums, or colleges that have a planetarium and wish to enhance the expertise of their staff.

July 22–August 3:Introduction to Astronomy provides standards-based astronomy pedagogy and content, much of which is presented as hands-on activities that teachers can take straight to their classrooms.


Back to Top


Phoenix Student Interns Program – For Teachers and Students!
Teachers and students can become part of the Phoenix Science Team for the 2007-2008 Phoenix Mars Mission. Selected teachers and their chosen students will work with scientists to prepare for surface operations on Mars, analyze data during the mission, and reach out to other students, teachers, and the public through presentations, articles, and web sites. Applications are due April 25, 2007.

Applications Being Accepted for ACCESS Student Internship
NASA is accepting applications for the Achieving Competence in Computing, Engineering and Space Science Internship Project. ACCESS is a 10-week internship project at NASA centers around the United States, designed for undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities who have strong backgrounds in science and a desire to pursue technical careers. ACCESS interns will work with scientists and engineers in an area compatible with their skills and interests. Applications are currently being accepted, and placements will be announced by April 30, 2007. 

Nominate High School Science Teachers for a New AAAS Prize
Through the generous support of Dr. Edith D. Neimark, "The AAAS Leadership in Science Education Prize for High School Teachers" has been established to inspire innovation and excellence in science teaching, disseminate best practices more widely, and honor the achievement of outstanding teachers across the United States. This annual award recognizes a high school science teacher who has contributed significantly to the AAAS goal of advancing science education by developing and implementing an innovative and demonstrably effective strategy, activity, or program. The nomination process will close 1 April. For more information about the prize and the nomination criteria, contact the AAAS Development Office at (202) 326-6636 or

Changes in Altitudes Balloon Program in Arizona
In each year of the 4 year program, the Arizona Space Grant Consortium will select five teachers from across Arizona who will be provided with hands-on training, building and launching of small balloon satellites to become part of a state-wide balloon satellite program.  The program will support teachers who will work with their students to build scientific payloads that measure the physical properties of the Earth’s atmosphere as a function of time during the ascent and descent of the high altitude weather balloon, such as pressure, temperature and relative humidity. The students will also imbed a photographic camera that takes photos of the Earth’s surface and its atmosphere. Further information and the application form are available online.  Applications will be accepted until Friday, April 6.

Pennant Design Challenge
NASA, America On-Line, and Mad Science will collaborate to offer a challenge to design pennants to celebrate the upcoming first flight of an Educator Astronaut, Mission Specialist Barbara Morgan on the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Registration will be on-line from March 15– April 12.  The target audience is children ages 6–12.  The lucky first place winner will be invited to attend the launch with one parent and the winning pennant will fly on-board STS-118.


NASA’ 21st Century Explorer
NASA's 21st Century Explorer is a 3rd–5th grade standards-based program that uses the Web, animation, and video to introduce science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and NASA space exploration concepts. The site is available in English and Spanish. 

In Search Of… Activity from Dawn Mission
The upcoming Dawn mission has many hands-on activities for the classroom. Modeling Asteroids contains hands-on activities that can be used to help students understand what astronomers in the historical readings of the Exploration Section were experiencing as they studied asteroids from Earth. For example, in In Search Of… from the module The History and Discovery of Asteroids, students become members of the Celestial Police as they hunt for the “missing planet” using star maps that simulate several nights of viewing. The activity can be downloaded from The History and Discovery Asteroids.

Podcast on Cracking Open the Light from Distant Worlds
NASA astronomers have, for the first time ever, split apart the light from exoplanets, which are planets beyond our solar system, to hunt for molecules in the planets' atmospheres. The landmark achievement is a significant step toward being able to detect possible life on rocky exoplanets and comes years before astronomers had anticipated. Multimedia products online include an audio podcast at JPL podcast: Hunting for Molecules on Faraway Planets and a Web video at JPL video: Taking in the Atmospheres of Faraway Worlds.

Free e-book on the Subject of Rock Breakdown Features
The Planetary Science Institute has just released a free e-book on the subject of rock breakdown features in different environments, which you may find to be useful for your own research or for future field trips.

The Regional Planetary Image Facilities (RPIF)
RPIF’s were established by NASA to provide access to planetary images and maps for use by the scientific and educational communities. The facilities house imagery and cartographic products from missions such as Apollo, Clementine, Galileo, Viking, Voyager and Mars Global Surveyor.

Back to Top

Mission News and Science

New Photos of Eruptions on Io
Modified from New Horizons

IoThe first images returned to Earth by New Horizons during its close encounter with Jupiter feature the Galilean moon Io, snapped with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 0840 UTC on February 26, while the moon was 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers) from the spacecraft.  Io is intensely heated by its tidal interaction with Jupiter and is thus extremely volcanically active. That activity is evident in these images, which reveal an enormous dust plume, more than 150 miles high, erupting from the volcano Tvashtar. The plume appears as an umbrella-shaped feature of the edge of Io's disk in the 11 o'clock position.  This is the clearest view yet of a plume from Tvashtar, one of Io's most active volcanoes.

Cassini Spacecraft Images Seas on Saturn's Moon Titan
Modified from Cassini-Huygens 

Instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft have found evidence for seas, likely filled with liquid methane or ethane, in the high northern latitudes of Saturn's moon Titan. One feature is larger than any of the Great Lakes of North America and is about the same size as several seas on Earth.

Cassini's radar instrument imaged several very dark features near Titan's north pole. The largest dark feature measures at least 100,000 square kilometers (39,000 square miles).  While there is no definitive proof yet that these seas contain liquid, their shape, their dark appearance in radar that indicates smoothness, and their other properties point to the presence of liquids. The liquids are probably a combination of methane and ethane, given the extremely cold temperatures and other conditions on Titan and the abundance of methane and ethane gases and clouds in Titan's atmosphere.

The presence of these seas reinforces current thinking that Titan's surface must be re-supplying methane to its atmosphere. This methane cycle on Titan has similarities to the water cycle on Earth, and the erosion and surface features on Titan are similar to some of the features caused by water on Earth, making Titan intriguing to scientists.  Due to the new discoveries, team members are re-pointing Cassini's radar instrument during a May flyby so it can pass directly over the dark areas imaged by the cameras.

Mars Rover Churns Up Questions With Sulfur-Rich Soil
Modified from JPL News Releases

Martian soilSome bright Martian soil has been uncovered by the NASA Spirit rover.  It contains lots of sulfur and a trace of water; the soil could have been produced as sulfur-rich water reached the surface and evaporated, or could have been deposited from volcanic gas vents.

Determining which of those two hypotheses is correct would strengthen understanding of the environmental history of the Columbia Hills region that Spirit has been exploring since a few months after landing on Mars in January 2004. However, investigating the bright soil presents a challenge for the rover team, because the loose material could entrap the rover.

The bright white and yellow material was hidden under a layer of normal-looking soil until Spirit's wheels churned it up while the rover was struggling to cross a patch of unexpectedly soft soil nearly a year ago. Some of the bright soil was dragged along with Spirit by its right front wheel, and Spirit spent some time measuring the composition and mineralogy of these materials. The material is sulfur-rich and consists of sulfate salts associated with iron, and likely calcium. Researchers will watch for more patches of bright soil, and other clues as to the soil’s origin.

Black holesNew Panorama Reveals More Than a Thousand Black Holes

Modified from CHANDRA: X-Ray Observatory
Astronomers have captured an image of more than a thousand supermassive black holes. These results give astronomers a snapshot of a crucial period when these monster black holes are growing, and provide insight into the environments in which they occur.

The new black hole panorama was made with data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based optical telescopes. The black holes in the image are hundreds of millions to several billion times more massive than the Sun and lie in the centers of distant galaxies.  The massive amount of gas and dust falling into these black holes generates huge amounts of radiation. These systems are known as active galactic nuclei, or AGN’s.

To obtain this panorama, a team of astronomers scanned a large portion of the sky. Since the biggest black holes power the brightest AGN, they can be spotted at vast distances, even with short exposures.  The Chandra image is the largest contiguous field ever obtained by the observatory. At 9.3 square degrees, it is over 40 times larger than the full moon seen on the night sky. This survey, taken in a region of the Bootes constellation, involved 126 separate pointings of 5,000-second Chandra exposures each. The researchers combined this with data obtained from Spitzer, and Kitt Peak's 4-meter Mayall and the MMT 6.5-meter optical telescopes, both located outside Tuscon, Ariz., from the same patch of sky.

The new survey raises doubts about a popular current model in which supermassive black holes are surrounded by doughnut-shaped regions of gas.  According to this model, astronomers would expect a large sample of black holes to show a range of absorption of the radiation from the nuclei. This absorption should range from completely exposed to completely obscured, with most in-between. Nuclei that are completely obscured are not detectable, but heavily obscured ones are.  Instead, almost all of the black holes were completely exposed or heavily obscured, with very few in-between.  This study found more than 600 obscured and 700 unobscured AGN, located between about six to 11 billion light years from Earth.




Back to Top

Last updated
May 2, 2007