Lunar and Planetary Institute

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter

March, 2008

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graphic illustration of phoenix mission landing on MarsMarch 20Sun-Earth Day

April 22Earth Day

May 25Phoenix Mission lands on Mars




Workshops and Courses

field trip logoNASA-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.

EinsteinPlus Teacher Workshop
The EinsteinPlus Teacher Workshop is a one-week, intensive residential workshop for international high school teachers that focuses on key areas of modern physics — including quantum physics, special and general relativity, and cosmology. It also incorporates sessions on innovative teaching strategies suitable for all areas of physics. The application deadline is April 15.

Summer Astronomy Courses for Teachers
The College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, offers accredited two and four graduate credit summer residential courses for teachers in a variety of subjects, including astronomy. Room and board are available at the College. Introduction to Astronomy (July 13-26) is a four graduate credit course that presents astronomy concepts and content through a variety of activities that participants can use in their classrooms. Teaching with a Portable Planetarium (July 27-August 2) is a two graduate credit course that provides instruction in setting up, taking down, and maintaining a portable planetarium, and includes the development of instructional programs. For further information, contact Jean Sylvia, Associate Director of Summer Programs, at or 800-597-9500.

G-Camp for Texas Science Teachers
The Texas A&M Geology and Geophysics Department is offering an opportunity for 4th - 12th grade science teachers to learn about geology in the field through a 2-week field trip through Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. This free program includes an opportunity for teachers to earn 3 hours of graduate credit in geology if they so desire. Applications are due no later than March 31, 2008.

IMiddle School Aerospace Scholars
This NASA program brings Texas middle school teachers to Johnson Space Center in Houston for a one week workshop during the summer. This program is free for each participant, and includes opportunities to meet NASA scientists and engineers. It also highlights many of the freeNASA education resources. Teacher teams design a six week unit to take back and implement at their school, with a interdisciplinary approach in mind. The deadline to apply has been extended to March 21, 2008.




IYA logoPreparing for the International Year of Astronomy: A Hands-on Symposium
This symposium, the Annual Meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), cosponsored with the 2008 Summer Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, will take place June 2 - 4, 2008, in St. Louis, Missouri. The symposium will bring together education and public outreach professionals, educators in museums, planetaria, and other informal settings, college instructors, and scientists and graduate students who want to become engaged in astronomy outreach during the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in 2009.

IYA celebrates the 400th anniversary of the astronomical telescope. Activities are being planned in over 100 countries and throughout the U.S. If you are interested in planning IYA programs in 2009, this meeting is an excellent chance to learn more about what various institutions and organizations are proposing to do, to coordinate your ideas and activities with colleagues, and to find out where funding may be available.

Turnaround Management Association Invites Nominations for Teaching Awards
T he Turnaround Management Association is accepting applications for the 2008 Butler-Cooley Excellence in Teaching Award, which recognizes teachers who have changed the lives of students and communities in which they live. The program, funded by the John Wm. Butler Foundation, provides $5,000 cash stipends to each of three to five public or private school teachers as well as travel and lodging expenses to TMA’s 2008 Annual Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, October 27-29, 2008. Applicants must be licensed and active elementary or secondary school teachers employed by accredited schools for at least five years.

graphic design for the GLAST telescopeName That Space Telescope
NASA is inviting the general public from around the world to suggest a new name for the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, otherwise known as GLAST, before it launches in mid-2008. GLAST is designed to probe the most violent events and exotic objects in the cosmos from gamma-ray bursts to black holes and beyond. All suggestions will be considered. The period for accepting names closes on March 31, 2008. Participants must include a statement of 25 words or less about why their suggestion would be a strong name for the mission. Multiple suggestions are encouraged.
banner for Earth Day Photo ContestEarth Day Photo Contest for Middle School Students

During the week of Earth Day (April 22), U.S. students in grades 5-8 can be part of a unique national effort to capture our changing world. From April 22 through April 29, students are invited to take a photograph of something that is changing in their local environment, and research and write an explanation of the photograph. Entries must be received by email or postmarked by May 9, 2008.

Jordan Fundamentals Teacher Grant Programs
T he Jordan Fundamentals Grant Program awards $1 million annually to teachers across the United States who motivate and inspire students toward achieving excellence. Applicants must be public school teachers or paraprofessionals working with students in grades one through twelve. At least 50 percent of the school's student population must be eligible for the free or reduced school-lunch program at the time of application. The program provides for both Innovation Grants (grants averaging $2,500 each to individual teachers for projects that will impact classroom innovation and improve instruction) and Inspiration Grants (Grants totaling $10,000 will be awarded to teams of teachers in support of scaling-up implementation of approaches developed with Innovation Grants. )

Geoscience Secondary Student Competition
In an effort to engage the next generation of Earth scientists, the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) is now accepting entries for the 2008 Thacher Scholars Award, to be given to secondary school students demonstrating the best use of geospatial tools or data to study our home planet. Eligible tools and data include satellite remote sensing, aerial photography, geographic information systems (GIS), and the Global Positioning System (GPS). Entries must be received by April 4, 2008.



image of CeresCeres and Pluto: Dwarf Planets as a New Way of Thinking about an Old Solar System
The decision by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2006 to redefine the term “planet” has not changed the makeup of the solar system; it has merely offered a different way of thinking about the bodies that make it up. This teacher's guide, developed for NASA’s Dawn mission, helps students understand the new definitions of planet and dwarf planet.
What is a Planet?
This unit, geared toward high school students, teaches students about the characteristics of planets, comets, asteroids, and trans-Neptunian objects through a classification activity.  Students can then apply what they have learned by participating in a formal debate about a solar system object discovered by the New Horizons spacecraft and by defining the term 'planet.'

A new issue of the Universe in the Classroom
This issue is A Silent Cry for Dark Skies by Connie Walker, National Optical Astronomy Observatory.. Focused on measuring light pollution and taking action to reduce it, the issue gives some background information on light pollution, focusing on its effects on plant and animal life, and linformation on how classes can get involved. Topics include: light pollution and its impacts; adverse effects on sea turtles, frogs, salamanders, fish, insects, and plants; the GLOBE at Night campaign; and a classroom activity: "Demonstrating Light Pollution & Shielding."

small images of Sun, Earth, GalaxiesThe Incredible Two-Inch Universe
This 4-step scale model demonstrates some of the distances involved in NASA’s explorations of the Universe, for chidren 9 years and up.



Mission News and Science
a color satellite image of Mars showing dust from an avalanche
Ice, dust, and rock are plummeting down a 700 meter cliff, creating a plume of dust on the right.
Avalanches on Mars
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A NASA spacecraft in orbit around Mars has taken the first ever image of active avalanches near the Red Planet's north pole. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's teams of scientists were surprised to see this activity, and don't yet know the cause of the landslides.

The orbiter's HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Experiment) camera was checking for seasonal changes in the carbon-dioxide frost covering a northern dune field. Scientists plan on taking more images of this region thorugh the changing Martian seasons to see if this kind of avalanche happens all year or is restricted to early spring. Material that fell from the upper portion of the scarp is probably more ice than dust.


Inside Earth’s Inner Core
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Geologists have confirmed the discovery of Earth’s inner, innermost core, and have created a three-dimensional model of its features.  Scientists have known for some time that the Earth has an outer core (about 7,000 km wide) surrounding a solid inner core, about 2,400 km wide.  They’ve now confirmed that inside the inner core, the center has different properties than the surrounding region.

Earth's core is composed mainly of iron. While the outer core is liquid, the inner core is solid due to the extreme pressures. The inner core plays an important role in the geodynamo that generates Earth’s magnetic field. Scientists studying the core using seismic waves have discovered that the center region of the inner core (about 1,180 km wide) has a different phase than the rest. The iron in this part of the inner core may be composed of a different phase of crystalline iron, or the iron may be aligned to a different pattern than the rest of the inner core.

artist's depiction of particles making up rings around Rhea, with Saturn in the background
An artist's depiction of the rings of Rhea, with the density of the ring material exaggerated.

Saturn's Moon Rhea Also May Have Rings
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NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found evidence of material orbiting Rhea, Saturn's second largest moon. This is the first time rings have been found around a moon. A broad debris disk and at least one ring appear to have been detected by six instruments on Cassini.  The discovery was a result of a Cassini close flyby of Rhea in November 2005, when instruments on the spacecraft observed the environment around the moon.

Rhea is roughly 1,500 kilometers (950 miles) wide, and the apparent debris disk is several thousand miles wide. The particles that make up the disk probably range from the size of small pebbles to boulders. These rings may be left from an asteroid or comet collision in Rhea's distant past, whcih would have exploded large amounts of gas and solid particles around Rhea.

Since the discovery, Cassini scientists have carried out numerical simulations to determine if Rhea can maintain rings. The models show that Rhea's gravity field, in combination with its orbit around Saturn, could allow rings that form to remain in place for a very long time.


a galaxy seen edge-on to depict its disk
A spiral galaxy seen edge-on can show its thickness. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Doubling the Milky Way
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It took just a couple of hours using data available on the internet for University of Sydney scientists to discover that the Milky Way is twice as wide as previously thought. The team discovered that our galaxy - a flattened spiral about 100,000 light years across - is 12,000 light years thick, not the 6,000 light years that had been previously thought.

Less than one hundred years ago, astronomers debated the size and shape of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Today astronomers have a much better picture of our galaxy, but it is still somewhat difficult to get the full picture from our position inside a spiral arm filled with gas, dust, and stars. The scientistsfrom the University of Sydney used the data from pulsars to measure their distances and how the pulsar's light interacted with the warm interstellar material that fills the disk of the Milky Way, and were surprised to discover a value twice the thickness that has been widely accepted for decades.