Lunar and Planetary Institute

Education and Public Outreach

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter
April 2007

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



An artist's depiction of the Dawn Mission: Credit: William K. Hartmann Courtesy UCLA

April 21Astronomy Day

May 4 – Space 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

Sally Ride Science Educator Institutes
Sally Ride Science, in partnership with Northrop Grumman and NASA, is offering two Educator Institutes.  One will be on April 21, 2007, at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and the second will be on May 5, 2007, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.  These one-day professional development programs for upper elementary and middle school science teachers will focus on the upcoming flight of Barbara Morgan, the first Educator Astronaut. The institute will include presentations about the STS-118 mission, hands-on workshops and a keynote address by a NASA astronaut. Visit the website for more information about the Educator Institutes and to register online.

Teacher-to Teacher Regional Workshop
NASA and the U.S. Department of Education are working together through the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative to host a free regional workshop for K-12 educators in Houston. The Houston event will take place at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on May 31-June 1, 2007.  The agenda for the event includes peer-discussion sessions and special sessions that will give teachers ideas for bringing the excitement of NASA projects into their classroom. Tours of JSC are also planned to give educators a first-hand look at some of the agency’s work. Visits to Mission Control, the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility and other facilities are planned.  Visit the website for more information on this or Teacher-to Teacher workshops in other cities, or to register.

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ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp logoExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp 2007
The Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp (BHSSC) is a program of The Harris Foundation. This camp program was developed as a collaborative effort of the Harris Foundation, the Houston Independent School District, the University of Houston (UH) and the Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU), designed to support economically and/or socially disadvantaged students (middle school through high school) with limited opportunities. This year the foundation has teamed with the ExxonMobil Foundation to increase the impact and expand the reach of the program to twenty (20) campuses nationally. Information and applications for all campuses are available on the website; many of the application deadlines are in April.

National Air and Space Museum Exploring Space Lecture Series Online
This year’s theme, Journey Through the Outer Solar System, features current NASA missions in the distant regions of the solar system.  Each lecture will also be available online the day following the live event. The following upcoming lectures are scheduled for 8:00 p.m. EST at the National Air & Space Museum in the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater.  Tickets are free but are required. Visit the website for more information and to reserve tickets.

April 17 – “Exploring the Surface of Titan with Cassini-Huygens.” Elizabeth Turtle, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab
May 8 – “Expedition to the Ringed Planet:  Cassini Explores Saturn, Its Rings, and the Fountains of Enceladus.” Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader
June 14 – “New Horizons: Exploring the Solar System’s Frontier.” Alan Stern, Principle Investigator, New Horizons


Video on Webb Space Telescope
A next generation space-based observatory called the Webb Space Telescope is now under construction. The folks at Space Telescope Science Institute have made a simple 13-minute video "primer" about this mission; they have posted several very large quicktime files on the HubbleSOURCE website and will have additional file formats/sizes up on the site soon.

Bring "Space Day" To Your Classroom
Space Day will be held on May 4, 2007.  This annual event uses space-related activities to build skills and inspire students in math, science, engineering, and technology.  New downloadable lessons and information and ideas on planning a Space Day event are now available at the Space Day website

Discovery Science Channel's "SPACE WEEK"
Discovery's Science Channel will celebrate “Space Week” from May 6–12 by showing space-related documentaries each evening. The centerpiece of the week is the premiere of STARSHIP ORION, which will air at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8, and again at 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 12. Orion is the space vehicle that will replace the space shuttle and take humans back to the moon and beyond.

JPL Video “What’s Up”
There's a new video feature debuting on the JPL Web pages.  The new monthly feature, called "What's Up" will highlight an astronomical viewing opportunity everyone can enjoy, usually even without a telescope, and even in the most light polluted sky.  The video is only about 2 minutes long, and is tied into a NASA mission each month. The video is on the JPL website and the Solar System Exploration website.

Space Weather Action Center
At any given time, powerful explosions of energy can erupt from the sun, blast through space and sweep past Earth. Known as solar storms, these events are not as Front cover of the All About Earth storybook with five students pulling back a stage curtain to show the Earthunpredictable as they may seem. The Space Weather Action Center is a computer-based activity that allows students in grades 5–12 to track, from their classroom, the development and progress of solar storms.

Elementary GLOBE
This series of five storybooks is designed to help K–4 teachers integrate Earth science into their curriculum as they teach students to read and write. Each book focuses on a different Earth science topic as the main characters — Simon, Anita and Dennis — explore the natural world. Storybooks and learning activities are correlated to national education standards in science, geography and math.


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Mission News and Science

Hexagon on the north pole of Saturn, taken by Cassini missionBizarre Hexagon on Saturn
Modified from Cassini-Huygens
Cassini mission scientists have taken an image of an odd, six-sided feature circling the entire north pole of Saturn.  NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft first imaged the feature over two decades ago. The fact that it has appeared in Cassini images indicates that it is a long-lived feature. A second hexagon, significantly darker than the brighter historical feature, is also visible in the Cassini pictures. The new images taken in thermal-infrared light show the hexagon extends much deeper down into the atmosphere than previously expected, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) below the cloud tops. A system of clouds lies within the hexagon. The clouds appear to be whipping around the hexagon like cars on a racetrack.

The hexagon is similar to Earth's polar vortex, which has winds blowing in a circular pattern around the polar region. On Saturn, the vortex has a hexagonal rather than circular shape. The hexagon is nearly 25,000 kilometers (15,000 miles) across. Nearly four Earths could fit inside it.  Understanding the nature of this hexagon may lead to a better understanding of Saturn’s rotation and interior.

Asteroid Is Twin Rubble Piles
Modified from UC Berkeley News
A team of University of California, Berkeley, and Paris Observatory astronomers depict the asteroid 90 Antiope as two slightly egg-shaped rubble piles orbiting each other. This new view of Antiope is the culmination of research that started in 2003 and that eventually included data supplied by both professional and amateur astronomers from around the globe.

The asteroid pair is the remnant of an ancient asteroid, dubbed Themis, which astronomers estimate was destroyed around 2.5 million years ago, probably hit by another asteroid. The rubble spread out from the point of impact but continued to orbit around the Sun in the outer part of the main asteroid belt. Themis was a type of asteroid known as a carbonaceous chondrite, left over from the formation of the Solar System 2.5 billion years ago.

Evidently, either the impact caused Antiope to split in two, or two of the Themis pieces remained bound to one another after the initial break up, possibly even remaining attached. However the doublet arose, computer simulations suggest that the spinning, elongated rubble pile would have separated into two egg-shaped rubble piles, each in the shape of an ellipsoid.  This theoretical shape is predicted for a system if the asteroids’ composition is liquid or loosely aggregated, rather than solid, and if the components are deformed due to mutual gravitation.

The new observations, combined with previous observations of Antiope, confirmed the ellipsoid shape of each component of the asteroid. Scientists were able to calculate the density as 1.25 grams per cubic centimeter which, if one assumes that the rock component is carbonaceous chondrite, means the asteroid pair is 30 percent empty space.

Taken by Hinode's Solar Optical Telescope, this image of the Sun reveals the threads of plasma connecting regions of different magnetic polarity.
New Images of the Sun
Modified from NASA News Releases
NASA released new high-resolution images that show the sun's magnetic field is much more turbulent and dynamic than previously known. The international spacecraft Hinode, formerly known as Solar B, took the images.

Hinode's three primary instruments, the Solar Optical Telescope, the X-ray Telescope and the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer, are observing the different layers of the sun. Scientists hope that Hinode will show how changes in the Sun’s magnetic field and the release of magnetic energy in the Sun’s low atmosphere spread outward, causing enormous explosions of radiation and particles from the Sun.


Taken by Hinode's Solar Optical Telescope, this image reveals the fine scale structure iabove the top of the convection cells, or granulation, of the photosphere. The structure results from the interaction of hot ionized gas with the magnetic field.


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Last updated
June 21, 2007