LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter

Winter 2009

We’ve changed the format of our news, to provide more timely information; please go to http://www.lpi.usra.edu/education/resources/news/
for current information on Earth and space science education opportunities, events, resources, and news.

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graphic of sunset, shadows for Sun Earth dayJanuary 1- December 31, 2009 International Year of Astronomy

March 20Sun-Earth Day

March 20 Spring Equinox

April 2-5100 hours of Astronomy

April 22Earth Day

April 24– Current scheduled launch date for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
and Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS)

May 2Astronomy Day


Workshops and Courses

The Heat from Within: A Field-Based Workshop
Intermediate grade level science teachers and other educators are invited to spend 12-19 July 2009 with planetary scientists investigating different types of volcanos in the Bend and Crater Lake regions of Oregon. Contrast these Earth-based analogs with volcanic features on Mars, the Moon, Venus, and even the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune! From field experiences and classroom exercises, participants build an understanding of the planetary processes that produce volcanos, and the patterns of volcanism on planets in our solar system. 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.Applications are due April 7, 2009.

photo of Moon rising over Earth's atmosphere, as seen from Earth orbitEarth-Moon Institute for Teachers
Teachers for 5- 8th grade (both in-service and pre-service) are invited to register for this week-long summer institute investigating the Moon, July 27-31, 2009. Participants discover tools to address student misconceptions, use hands-on activities modeling science concepts, bridge content from the Moon to Earth's geology and environment, and experience authentic inquiry.

photo of teachers examining a globeWeek-long Summer Earth and Space Science Teacher Workshops at Penn State
Keep pace with the latest science research, engage in standards-based classroom activities, and explore ways to make science fun as you work side by side with Penn State faculty in our workshops. Network with peers and earn 2 graduate credits and PA ACT 48 hours. Travel grants and tuition subsidies are available.

teachers outside McDonald ObservatoryTeacher Workshops at McDonald Observatory in Summer 2009
McDonald Observatory's teacher professional development summer workshops are now accepting registrations. The workshops are held at the observatory in the Davis Mountains of West Texas.  All workshops include daily hands-on activities in a classroom setting, interaction with astronomy professionals and researchers, tours of research telescopes, night-time telescope observations (weather permitting), and lodging in the scenic Davis Mountains State Park.

Mission logo for Dawn mission to asteroid beltDAWN Mars Flyby Educator Workshop
On March 7, 2009, from 9:00–2:00 p.m., educators are invited to join participate in a set of unique, convergent workshops at 4 locations: Pasadena, CA, Portland, OR, Denver, CO, and Fairmont, WV. Dawn flies by Mars in February 2009. As the spacecraft prepares to encounter, the asteroid Vesta, science and engineering teams will be sharing key updates and information with conference participants. Participants will explore interactive curricular materials and enjoy special, site-specific opportunities.

Science Workshop"Teachers Embracing Science through Education"
This free two-day workshop April 14-15 will be held as part of the National Organization for the  Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers(NOBCChE) conference in St. Louis, Missouri.  



NASA's Endeavor Science Teaching Certificate
NASA has unveiled the Endeavor Science Teaching Certificate Project. The goal of the project is to ensure that teachers across the country can use the discoveries that NASA makes on a daily basis to inspire the next generation of explorers, scientists, engineers, and astronauts. The program will provide workshops, online and on-site graduate courses and NASA content and materials to teachers and students in K-12 classrooms. NASA will work in partnership with state departments of education to ensure program participants can apply credit from project courses towards state certification requirements.

ecobot logoAll Earth EcoBot Challenge in Houston Saturday, April 25, 2009
This student contest held at George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston, Texas will teach creative and scientific thinking skills through the construction of robots that reduce, reuse and recycle.  The competition is open to 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders in Harris County.  Teams may have up to four students each.  The Ecobot building and completion schedule will accommodate the TAKS testing period. Grants for LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education NXT robot kits are available.

Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) Educator Launch Conference
Feb. 21-23, 2009, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. OCO will provide space-based observations of atmospheric carbon dioxide and will improve our understanding of the natural processes and human activities that regulate the distribution of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This K-16 educators conference will provide a general introduction to OCO and a variety of workshops and resources for classroom use. Registration Deadline:  Feb. 13, 2009

Earth and Space Science Webcasts for Teachers
The NASA Digital Learning Network features a variety of upcoming Webcasts for teachers.

National STEM Careers Competition and Project for High School Students
The "No Boundaries" project collaboration introduces students to the limitless opportunities at NASA and hopefully, encourages them to work toward STEM careers. For this project, teachers assign student groups to STEM fields. Students research a NASA career, and develop and present a project to share and enter into the competition. Entry Deadline: May 15, 2009.



poster of the Moon

New Moon Posters for Download
A series of three posters, designed for students in grades 6-9, explores what — and how —we know about our Moon’s formation and evolution, and how its history affects lunar resources. The front of the posters provide content depth for students, while back panels provide educators with information, activities, stories about the Moon, resources, and introductions to lunar scientists.


Connect to the Moon
A menu of high-quality programs, activities, and information designed for a variety of audiences, and sorted by type and audience subcategories. Categories exist for formal and informal educators of various grade levels, as well as students and more general audiences.

graphic icon for 3 D ViewProject 3D-VIEW (Virtual Interactive Environmental Worlds)
This interdisciplinary science curriculum for Grades 5 -6 utilizes simple-to-use 3D technologies and is designed to increase student performance in science by building understanding of difficult concepts. There are no fees for training, materials, rubrics, and assessments.

false-color image of the SunSun–Earth Day 2009 - Our Sun Yours to Discover
The new Space Weather Viewer has better images, new data and many more videos about the science of the Sun and the Missions that observe the Sun. New activities for Educators include Galileo Project, Space Mathematics, and Exploring Magnetism. To enhance your lessons, they have placed a variety of materials including interactive children's books, multimedia viewers, games and an interactive timeline called "Sun Watchers Through Time".

Games at SpaceMath
Space Math @ NASA has now ventured into the 'gaming world' by offering five unique 'find it' games. Students will compare two images drawn from space-related themes to find a dozen differences; some obvious and some subtle.
spiral galaxy photoGalaxy Zoo
Teachers and students can help scientists classify galaxies using this site to in online classification and analysis of galaxies using real data. The results are used in scientific research.

Exoplanet Transit Hunt
Exoplanet Transit Hunt is a Flash interactive simulation of how the NASA Kepler mission will discover exoplanets through the transit method. Explore a simulated star field, record data, make measurements and perform calculations to discover new planets.

SciJinks Weather Laboratory
This web site for middle school-age children, sponsored by both NASA and NOAA, presents weather and other Earth science topics via games, stories, and fun facts, as well as simple, concise answer to often-asked "how and why" questions.


Mission News and Science
artist's depiction of a brown dwarf forming

Artist rendering of a brown dwarf forming from gravitational collapse . Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

New Evidence: Brown Dwarfs Form from Collapsed Gas
Modified from http://www.universetoday.com/2008/12/03/brown-dwarfs-form-like-stars/

Brown dwarfs are too small to be called stars and too large to be called planets. Typically, brown dwarfs have masses between 15 and 75 times that of Jupiter. More massive objects will develop nuclear fusion in their cores and be considered stars. As a result, brown dwarfs are sometimes called failed stars. Astronomers haven't been sure whether brown dwarfs form like stars, from the gravitational collapse of gas clouds, or if they form like planets, where rocky material comes together until it grows massive enough to draw in nearby gas.

Astronomers have now found evidence that brown dwarfs form more like stars. Using the Smithsonian's Submillimeter Array, astronomers detected molecules of carbon monoxide shooting outward from a brown dwarf. This type of molecular outflows typically is seen coming from young stars or protostars. However, this object has an estimated mass of 60 Jupiters-- a brown dwarf.

image of the Milky Way
Diagram of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Milky Way Twice as Massive as Thought
Modified from http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/press/2009/pr200903.html

The Milky Way is faster, heavier, and more likely to collide than we thought. Astronomers making high-precision measurements of the Milky Way say our Galaxy is rotating about 100,000 miles per hour faster than previously understood. That increase in speed increases the Milky Way's mass by 50 percent, bringing it even with the Andromeda Galaxy. Our solar system is about 28,000 light-years from the Milky Way’s center, moving at about 600,000 miles per hour in our Galactic orbit.


3D graphic of the north polar cap of Mars
The north polar cap of Mars.

Pure Water on Mars
Modified from http://www.universetoday.com/2009/01/20/lots-of-pure-water-ice-at-mars-north-pole/

Mars' north polar cap contains water ice "of a very high degree of purity," according to an international study. Using radar data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers say the water is at 95 percent purity in the polar ice cap. The north polar cap is a dome of layered, icy materials, with mostly ice and a small amount of dust. Combined, the north and south polar ice caps are believed to hold two to three million cubic kilometers (0.47-0.72 million cu. miles) of water ice, roughly 100 times more than the total volume of North America's Great Lakes.

Mars southern polar cap was once thought to be carbon dioxide ice, but the Mars Express confirmed that it is composed of a mixture of water and carbon dioxide.

data from distant galaxy

Enlarge VLA image of gas in young galaxy seen as it was when the Universe was only 870 million years old. Image: NRAO/AUI/NSF, SDSS

Which Came First, Black Holes or Galaxies?
Modified from http://www.universetoday.com/2009/01/07/which-comes-first-galaxy-or-black-hole/

Astronomers have been trying to determine whether galaxies form first and then a black hole springs up in the center, or galaxies form around an already existing black hole. New evidence shows that the black holes form before the host galaxy, and somehow grow a galaxy around them.

Previous studies of galaxies and their central black holes in the nearby Universe revealed a connection between the masses of the black holes and of the central "bulges" of stars and gas in the galaxies. The bigger the galaxy bulge is, the more massive the black hole at the heart of that galaxy is. This ratio is nearly the same for a wide range of galactic sizes and ages. But astronomers have now measured this ratio in galaxies formed in the first billion years after the Big Bang. The black holes in these young galaxies are much more massive compared to the bulges than those seen in the nearby Universe, implying that the black holes started growing first.

map of the location of methane on Mars during summer
Methane plumes found in Mars' atmosphere during the northern summer season. Credit: Trent Schindler/NASA

Mars is Alive?
Modified from http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2009/15jan_marsmethane.htm?list812372

Mars is a world of cold deserts, apparently without life of any kind. Mars' atmosphere is so thin, any liquid water on the surface quickly boils away, while the Sun's ultraviolet radiation scorches the ground. But the recent detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars indicates that Mars is still alive, in either a biologic or geologic sense. A team of scientists found methane in the atmosphere of Mars by carefully observing the planet over several Mars years using spectrometers attached to telescopes at NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility and the W. M. Keck telescope, both at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. According to the team, the plumes were seen over areas that show evidence of ancient ice or flowing water.

Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere, so the discovery by scientists of substantial plumes of methane indicates some process is releasing the gas. Methane is the main component of natural gas on Earth. Much of Earth's methane come from living organisms. However, life is not required to produce the gas. Other purely geological processes, like oxidation of iron, also release methane. Another possibility is vulcanism. It will take future missions, like NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, to discover the origin of the Martian methane.