Lunar and Planetary Institute

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter

November 2007

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diagram of Earth orbiting Sun, demonstrating the tilt and seasonsDecember 13 & 14Geminid Meteor Shower peak

December 22Winter Solstice (first day of winter)

January 03Earth At Perihelion (closest point to the Sun)

February 20Total Lunar Eclipse


Workshops and Courses

LPI and ARES One-Day Educator Workshops
Offered at the Harris County Department of Education
Please contact Liliana Maldonado at (713) 696-1307 for registration information, or go to the Harris County Department of Education Web site.

December 7, 2007   Space Rocks – Moon Rocks and Meteorites #08-01326 
This 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 (Earth too) and asteroids. 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 and Elementary School TAKS Objective 4 and Middle School TAKS Objective 5 – Earth and Space Sciences.  Participants will receive presentation materials, posters, CDs, and hands-on activities for the classroom. Fee: $100, Audience: Upper elementary and middle school teachers

photo of teachers working with clay models during a workshopFree Online Astronomy Workshops for Educators
Astronomy from the ground up's next FREE online workshop is for science, nature center and museum educators!  Training is through e-mail, videochat, and telephone.  Participants get a free toolkit, learn fun techniques for presenting astronomy and interpreting current events, and become part of the growing Astronomy from the Ground Up community, with access to ongoing resources and support. The next online course is scheduled to begin January 10-Febuary 7th with another one starting Febuary 21st - March 13th.

photo of cliffs of Hawaiian islandGeoscience on the Big Island of Hawaii
A week-long summer professional development seminar , including observations of active volcanoes and molten rock, and faults along the volcano's slopes, Pleistocene glacial deposits and soil layers, corals, and black, green and white sandy beaches. A lesson-plan approach is emphasized in the field exercises. All sessions are conducted by scientists with experience teaching.


photo of teachers in activity at McDonald ObservatorySummer 2008 Workshops at McDonald Observatory
McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of West Texas offers a unique setting for teacher workshops.  Tours of the telescopes, discussions with the research astrophysicists in residence, and nighttime observations are an integral part of every workshop experience. Inquiry-based activities are aligned with science and mathematics TEKS and TAKS. Deadline for applications is February 15, 2008 for the grant funded workshops.



Educator Events at the American Astronomical Society conference in Austin
The Events (all are free!!):
1) Educator Reception January 7, 2008, 5-8pm, for all K-12 and informal educators
2) AstroZone Austin January 6, 2008 noon-4pm, open to all!
3) Public Talk 1/9/08 From the West Wing to Pink Floyd to Einstien Advertising: Astronomy in popular culture (by Professor Andy Fraknoi)
4) Afterschool Universe Educator Workshop, January 12, 2008 for educators
5) Astronomy Education Research Brown Bag Lunch, January 8, 2008; learn more about research into astronomy education at all levels
For more information, contact Dr. Jake Noel-Storr, President, Association for Astronomy Education

NASA 50th Anniversary Essay Contest for Students Grades 5-9
Notice of Intent: Dec. 7, 2007; Entries due: Jan. 7, 2008
The NASA 50th Anniversary Essay Competition for middle and junior high school students is now accepting entries. The competition consists of two separate topics: how have students benefitted in their everyday lives from space technologies built by NASA over the last 50 years, and how they imagine their lives will change because of NASA space technology in the next 50 years.

graphic of an awardASP 2008 Awards for Astronomy Educators
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) is now accepting nominations for the Society's 2008 awards honoring accomplishments in astronomy education and public outreach. Recipients receive a cash award and engraved plaque, as well as travel and lodging to accept the award at the Society's Annual Meeting, to be held in St. Louis in June (together with a symposium on the International Year of Astronomy). The deadline for nominations is 15 December 2007.

photos from Mars rovers imbedded in miniature web pageNASA JPL/NSTA Web Seminar: Are We Alone?
Join other 5th -12th grade educators as Dr. Jim Rice talks about Astrobiology, extreme environments, some of the extreme places we have found life thriving, and the applications of these to Mars exploration. This free Web seminar takes place December 6, 2007, from 6:30-8:00 p.m. Eastern. Registration required.




What’s the Difference? (WTD) image of web site with graphics
This free multimedia application allows any content to be compared side by side. The program includes data of the nine planets and moons in our solar system ready for students to use. WTD allows educators to fill a template with virtually any set of NASA science content or datasets. Developers can incorporate their own content, customized multiple choice and summary assessment tests, and to create hypotheses used for presenting inquiry-based questions.

Space Math Problems of the Week
This web page contains problem sets for the Weekly Space Science Problem program. The goal of these problems is to teach students about space weather by using mathematics. Problems range from middle school to high school level, and address a wide range of math skills, from scientific notation, to multiplication and division, calculating with a formula, unit conversions, and more.

Pulse of Earth Science
The new Web site, created by the American Geological Institute, covers the status of earth science education, with data on teacher certification requirements, earth science courses required by middle and high school students, enrolment levels, and state science standards. An Advocacy Guide is also available, with detailed recommendations to promote earth science education within state and local school systems.

image of cover of CAP journalCommunicating Astronomy with the Public journal (CAPjournal)
New for astronomy educators, the CAPjournal includes a Research & Applications section with peer-reviewed articles, News and Announcements, Resources and Innovation sections with outreach ideas and astronomy communication methods, Best Practices, and a section for Opinions. You can also comment and discuss the CAPjournal articles online. The journal is free in both print and online.




Mission News and Science
photo of part of Antarctica
A view of a portion of the Antarctica data at low resolution
Antarctica in High-Def
Modified from

As part of International Polar Year, a new map of Antarctica has been released. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the British Antarctic Survey introduced a new, accurate, true-color map of the continent. Scientists stitched together more than 1,000 scenes captured during seven years of Landsat satellite observations to create the bird's eye view of the frozen landscape. The completed mosaic offers a cloudless view of the frozen continent's surface at a resolution 10 times better than anything seen before. The full images and data are available to the public from a free web portal.


photos of Comet Holms by the Hubble Space Telescope and a ground-based telescope
Comparison of a photo of Comet Holmes by the Hubble Space Telescope and a ground-based image by Alan Dyer.

Outburst Brightens Comet a Million Times
Modified from and

Astronomers were amazed when Comet 17P/Holmes suddenly brightened in late October this year; it jumped from a very faint object with a magnitude of 17 up to 3rd magnitude in a day. Astronomers estimate that the dust cloud around the comet's nucleus grew to cover a diameter of 1.4 million km (870,000 miles) - bigger than the Sun.

The same comet experienced a similar outburst in 1892. The leading hypothesis is that as the comet was repeatedly heated by the Sun, a dusty, ice-free "crust" sealed around the nucleus. This October as the comet moved closer to the Sun and again warmed up, the pressure beneath this seal steadily grew as ice became gas. Eventually, the pressure caused the gas to explode through the crust. The pieces of crust thrown into space quickly disintegrated into microscopic dust. Zdenek Sekanina (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) estimates that this "megaburst" shot 100 million tons of dust into space.


artist's depiction of lightning on Venus
An artist's depiction of the lightning on Venus.

Lightning on Venus
Modified from

Scientists examining data from the European Space Agency's Venus Express mission have confirmed the presence of lightning on Venus. The discovery puts Venus in elite planetary company; scientists currently know of only three other planets that generate lightning -- Earth, Jupiter and Saturn. Lightning on Venus -- as well as on any other planet -- is an important discovery because the electrical discharges drive the chemistry of an atmosphere by breaking molecules into fragments that can then join with other fragments in unexpected ways. The lightning on Venus is unique from that found on Earth, Jupiter and Saturn in that it is the only lightning known that is not associated with water clouds. Instead, on Venus, the lightning is associated with clouds of sulfuric acid.