Lunar and Planetary Institute

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter

January 2008

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Globe At Night logoFebruary 20Total Lunar Eclipse

February 25 – March 8 -- Globe at Night Campaign

March 20Sun-Earth Day


Workshops and Courses

artist's conception of the LCROSS mission approaching the MoonSpace Science Mission Workshops
Join us to explore future missions to the Moon and Mars, and beyond! Conduct classroom hands-on activities and meet scientists involved in these missions! The Lunar and Planetary Institute is hosting several free educator workshops conducted in conjunction with the 2008 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, in Houston (League City), Texas, March 10-14 2008. These half-day and day-long workshops will be conducted by planetary mission education specialists. Educators who attend these workshops will be provided with free registration for the LPSC conference, and opportunities to attend science presentations and poster sessions.

NASA-Sponsored Field-Based Workshop
The Lunar and Planetary Institute invites educators to apply to attend Floods and Flows: Exploring Mars Geology on Earth, from July 13-19, 2008 . This fieldtrip for intermediate grade level science teachers (other educators are invited) visits the site of Ancient Glacial Lake Missoula and traces its flood waters through Montana, Idaho, and into Washington.  From this field experience and accompanying classroom activities, participants will build an understanding of surface processes on Earth, including water flow, volcanism, glaciation, and sedimentation. Attendees will extend their understanding to interpret what the features on the surface of Mars suggest about the past environments and history of the red planet.  The experience will be divided between the field and lab, where participants work with classroom-tested, hands-on inquiry based activities and resources that can be used to enhance Earth and space science teaching in the classroom.  Participants receive lesson plans, supporting resources, and presentations.  A limited number of grants are available to cover registration. Applications are due April 7, 2008.

Earth Science by Design Leadership Workshop
This workshop (June 23-25, 2008 in Cambridge, MA) will prepare school leaders, college faculty, and staff developers to use the Earth Science by Design professional development materials and website with teachers they work with. Earth Science by Design is a year-long program of professional development which may be offered by a school, district, or other organization to middle and high school Earth science teachers.

photo of teachers conducting outdoor activityMY NASA DATA Summer Workshop
NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA will host a hands-on workshop designed for educators of grades 6-12. The workshop, June 22-27, will focus on using Earth system science data sets developed for the pre-college education community as part of the MY NASA DATA program. Participating teachers will explore topics in Earth system science, educational application of data sets and hands-on classroom activities. They will attend lectures and tours led by scientists.   A major component of the workshop will be to develop lessons incorporating one or more data sets. Application deadline is April 9, 2008.


Summer Workshops at Tufts University
Several Earth and space science teacher workshops are available at a variety of locations this summer through the Wright Center for Science Education at Tufts University. These include workshops at Laramie, Wyoming, the Bahamas, McDonald Observatory, and Glacier National Park.



Live Web Presentation on Galaxies and Quasars
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. the first Tuesday of every month. On February 5, 2008, Kate Brand will be discussing “Quasars and Galaxies Over Time .” 

Presentation on the Formation of the Solar System
Inquisitive adults invited to visit the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston for our next Cosmic Exploration presentation, on February 7, 2008. Dr. Bill Bottke will present Forming the Planets: What’s New with the Oldest Events in the Solar System, discussing the most recent advances that are rewriting the history of the solar system as we know it.

 Intel Schools of Distinction Awards
These annual awards  recognize U.S. schools that implement innovative, replicable programs that inspire their students and lead to positive educational outcomes in the areas of math and science. Winners receive $10,000 each from the Intel Foundation and more than $100,000 in products and services from the program award sponsors. The Star Innovator for 2008 receives an additional $15,000 cash grant from the Intel Foundation as well as additional services and products from the award sponsors.

photo of a teacher in a science labAAAS Prize Honors a High School Science Teacher
AAAS is accepting nominations for the 2008 AAAS Leadership in Science Education Prize for High School Teachers. The $1,000 prize honors a high school science teacher who has contributed to the AAAS goal of advancing science education by developing an innovative and effective strategy, activity, or program. All nominations must be received by AAAS no later than 2 March 2008.



National Geographic Site: Science and Space
This interactive site includes sections with images and information on the Solar System, the Universe, space exploration, and more. The information and images are geared for middle school students up to adult.

photo of book cover showing a hand under the UniverseTouch the Invisible Sky
This new book uses Braille, large type print, and tactile diagrams of celestial images observed by space telescopes Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer to reveal the cosmos to the blind and seeing-impaired. It includes tactile diagrams with raised outlines and textures superimposed on the images themselves to indicate how the objects appear differently according to wavelength viewed in – for example, radio, infrared, visible, ultra-violet, or x-ray.

Online Lunar Geology Game
During the Selene game, players create the early Moon and then evolve its surface by throwing projectiles and erupting lava flows. Gameplay is followed by a 15 minute presentation by lunar scientist Chuck Wood, using authentic NASA images to illustrate the origin and evolution of the Moon.

New Video Learning Clips on NASA's Educational Materials Site
More than 70 educational video clips have been added to the Videos section of the NASA Educational Materials site.  Educational video clips are short segments about aeronautics, Earth science, space science, space exploration and other NASA-related topics. Designed for students in grades K-12, these short videos are useful for supplementing classroom instruction.

NASA Quest: Moon Math! (GRADES 6-9)
Moon Math is a set of two math units centered on the theme of lunar habitat design.  The units include paper-and-pencil activities and a Moon Math data set in the “What’s the Difference?” software application. These case studies focus on area, volume and proportion and are provided at three levels of difficulty: whole numbers, decimals and fractions.  Unit II goes a step beyond lunar habitat design with three lessons addressing the calculation of human weight on the Moon, the optimization of cargo hold volume and the optimization of cargo weight for a lunar mission.  

Sun shining over Antarctic horizonWAIS Divide Ice Coring Project Educational Outreach Program
The WAIS Divide Outreach Program (WDOP) is an educational site dedicated to improving the understanding of ice coring and how it pertains to the study of climate change. WDOP will be placing science education specialists in the field along with the researchers and technicians running the ice coring operation. The Web program includes, podcasts, blogs, and audio/photo/video galleries to provide information from the field at the west Antarctic ice sheet.


Mission News and Science

photo of Mercury taken by MESSENGER missionMESSENGER Reveals Mercury’s Geological History
Modified from press releases from

When Mariner 10 flew past Mercury three times in 1974 and 1975, the same hemisphere was in sunlight during each encounter. As a consequence, Mariner 10 was able to image less than half the planet. Planetary scientists have wondered for more than 30 years about what spacecraft images might reveal about the hemisphere of Mercury that Mariner 10 never viewed. On January 14, 2008, the MESSENGER spacecraft observed about half of the hemisphere missed by Mariner 10. Its new Images can provide insight into the relative timing of processes that have acted on Mercury's surface in the past.

photo of long jagged cliffs on Mercury
Thhis image of a scarp is about 200 kilometers wide..

The MESSENGER team continues to study the scarps (cliffs) that extend for long distances. The presence of many long and high scarps, as discovered from pictures from the Mariner 10 mission in 1974 and 1975, suggests a history for Mercury that is unlike that of any of the other planets in the solar system. These giant scarps are believed to have formed when Mercury’s interior cooled and the entire planet shrank slightly as a result. However, Mariner 10 was able to view less than half the planet, so the global extent of these scarps has been unknown. MESSENGER images are providing the first high-resolution looks at many areas on Mercury’s surface, and science team members are busy mapping these newly discovered scarps to see whether they are common everywhere on the planet.

MESSENGER acquired over 1200 images of Mercury's surface during its flyby, and the MESSENGER team is busy examining all of those images in detail, to understand the geologic history of the planet as a whole, from pole to pole.

Enhanced photo of the nucleus of Comet Wild2
Combined long- and short-exposure images captured during the Stardust flyby of the comet Wild 2.

Comet Materials Resemble Asteroids
Modified from

When the Stardust mission returned to Earth with samples from the comet Wild 2 in 2006, scientists knew the material would provide new clues about the formation of our solar system. Scientists have been surprised by finding minerals that must have formed very close to the young Sun. Now new research reveals that the dust from Wild 2 also is missing ingredients that would be expected in comet dust.  Surprisingly, the Wild 2 comet sample better resembles material from the asteroid belt rather than an ancient, unaltered comet.

Comets are expected to contain large amounts of the most primitive material in the solar system. Comets formed beyond the so-called frost line, where water and other liquids and gases existed as ices. Planetary scientists have thought of comets as virrtual freezers, preserving the original ingredients of the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago.

Scientists have now compared the Stardust samples to cometary interplanetary dust particles collected from Earth's upper atmosphere. The Stardust sample contained much less of the two silicate materials normally found in cometary dust. Their results, along with the earlier discovery of minerals formed under high temperatures indicate that the Stardust material resembles materials from the asteroid belt.


photo of the Large Magellanic Cloud with artistic rendering of escaping star added
An artistic rendering of a star ejected from the Large Magellanic Cloud. (Image courtesy of European Southern Observatory)

Alien Star
Modified from

Astronomers have found some stars moving fast enough to escape the gravity of our Galaxy--hypervelocity stars. New studies of one of these stars indicate that it has come all the way from another galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. Astronomers suspect that it was ejected from that galaxy by a yet-to-be-observed massive black hole.

The star is young (about 35 million years old) and one of ten so-called hypervelocity stars so far found speeding away from the Milky Way. The other hypervelocity stars appear to have been ejected from the center of our galaxy, where there is a super-massive black hole. This star could not have come from the center of our galaxy; it would have taken 100 million years to get to its location. Astronomers compared details of this young star's composition to both stars within the Milky Way and other galaxies, and now have evidence that this star is from the Large Magellanic Cloud--a smaller galaxy near our own. The astronomers believe that the star was originally part of a binary system. The binary could have passed close to a black hole 1,000 the mass of the Sun. As one star was pulled into the black hole, the other was whipped into frenzy and flung out of the galaxy.