LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter

December, 2007

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photo showing sunlight as a halo around the Sun on horizon
This picture was taken the morning of the 2000 Winter Solstice near Ames, Iowa. The halo is made by sunlight shining through millions of ice crystals.

December 22Winter Solstice (first day of winter)

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

February 20Total Lunar Eclipse

March 20Sun-Earth Day




Workshops and Courses

montage as the logo for Liftoff 2008LiftOff 2008: Space Travel: It's Out of this World!
This week-long teacher workshop by Texas Space Grant, held at NASA Johnson Space Center, emphasizes science, mathematics, and technology learning experiences by incorporating a space science theme supported by NASA missions. Teacher participants are provided with information, materials, and experiences through hands-on activities and field trips that promote space science and enrichment activities for themselves and others. Texas participants are free; out-of-state teachers pay a $600 registration fee and travel. Application deadline: April 4, 2008.

New Online Solar System Course from the American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History will offer The Solar System beginning in January, its latest addition to Seminars on Science, the museum's online professional development program. The course uses original essays, videos, and interactive media to address the origin and evolution of the Solar System, its rich diversity and extreme environments, the research focus of current space missions, and its eventual fate. Registration for the January session closes January 14.

Free Science Teacher Workshop in Philadelphia
The National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) and the Committee for Action Program Services (CAPS) are holding a free two-day Science Teachers’ Workshop this year in Philadelphia. The workshop will be held March 18 and 19, 2008.  The workshop theme is “Teachers and Professionals Unveiling Science through Education.”

Space Exploration Educators Conference
This 3 day conference provides complete submersion into the world of space exploration.  Participants attend cross-curriculum sessions hosted by scientists, engineers, educators and astronauts, while earning 24 professional development hours. Hosted by Space Center Houston, January 31-February 2, 2008.



banner for the International Year of AstronomyPreparing for the International Year of Astronomy: A Hands-on Symposium
The 120th Annual Meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific will be held May 31-June 3, 2008 in St. Louis, MO as a part of the 2008 Summer Meeting of the American Astronomical Society. At this meeting, education and outreach professionals will gather to discuss international, regional, and local programs for the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. During the weekend, there will also be model workshops to demonstrate and develop techniques for reaching a wide range of audiences.

graphic stating NASA Goddard Hosts the Sunday Experiment and Family Science Night
The third Sunday of every month is the Sunday Experiment at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Families and groups can learn about current NASA science and engineering projects, participate in hands-on activities and meet scientists and engineers. Middle school students and their families are invited to take part in Family Science Night to to discover the wide variety of science and engineering being performed at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Science Field Project in Antarctica
Teachers and students can participate virtually, in a science field project in Antarctica. Join Blanco Middle School science teacher, Kirk Beckendorf, and a team of meteorologists as they travel to and work on remote automated weather stations in Antarctica. Teachers and students can follow the daily journals, view photographs and ask questions of the team. Classes can also participate in the group's webinars, live from Antarctica. This is part of the Polar Trek Teacher Research Experience program listed in October's newsletter. PolarTREC pairs K-12 teachers with researchers to improve science education through authentic polar research experiences.

Track Spring’s Journey North
Teachers and students in K-12 classrooms are invited to participate this spring in Journey North’s 15th annual global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change, a free Internet-based “citizen science” project. Students monitor migration patterns of butterflies, birds, and other animals; the blooming of plants; and changing sunlight, temperatures, and other signs of spring. They share their local observations and look for patterns on maps. Participants put their observations into a global context, and connect with field scientists. Spring projects begin February 1st.

Artwork of early Solar SystemCosmic Exploration Speaker Series in Houston
How did the planets form?  On February 7th, Dr. Bill Bottke discusses recent advances that are re-writing the history of the Solar System!  New models are challenging long-held views on the formation and positions of the planets in our Solar System. Forming the Planets: What’s New with the Oldest Events in the Solar System will be the topic of this free presentation at USRA’s Lunar and Planetary Institute. All inquisitive adults are welcome to attend.



Embry-Riddle/NASA Educator Resource CenterNASA photo of a spacewalk
This NASA ERC in Prescott, Arizona, has a number of education resources for teachers and opportunities for students including multi-media teaching resources, classroom visits, video-conference opportunities with NASA staff, and FREE Teacher Professional Development Workshops.
Locate a different NASA Educator Resource Center

Earth & Sky International Polar Year Resources
On this website, Earth & Sky editors have compiled radio programs, podcasts, and a photo gallery with content related to polar science to help NASA celebrate the International Polar Year. They will continue to update this site with relevant interviews and sessions with polar scientists.

10 Podcasts of Nontechnical Astronomy Talks Available
Audio recordings of ten public lectures by noted astronomers are now available as free MP3 downloads at the web site of the nonprofit Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP). These talks were recorded at Foothill College in the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series.  Each hour-long lecture on some exciting development in our study of the universe is followed by an extensive question and answer period, in which the speaker gives further details and personal glimpses about the topics under discussion. A few talks are also available as video files.

Earth and Space Science Blog
Adventures in Earth and Space Science is a blog that shares thoughts and experiences, activities, and resources by four education and outreach specialists for NASA Earth and Space Science Missions.

logo for NASA Quest ChallengeTwo New NASA Quest Challenges Coming Soon
NASA Quest Challenges are Web-based, interactive explorations designed to engage students in authentic scientific and engineering processes. As students work in teams to mirror NASA career roles, agency experts are available to answer questions and to encourage a proper design process. The interaction with scientists occurs via Q&A, chats, interactive Webcasts, and posted feedback on the Web site. Two new Quest Challenges will begin this spring:
Cratering the Moon Challenge : Help scientists at NASA find water on the lunar poles. Your students' challenge will be to design a lunar impact simulator and determine the optimal impact angle to give us the most information from the impact. Registration for this Challenge begins in February 2008.
LIMA Quest Become a scientist and propose Antarctic Research. During this challenge, your students will become the scientists who study the features on Antarctica, as never seen before, and will develop a research question and argue the value of studying a feature based on this new view of Antarctica. This is associated with the LIMA map and project: Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica


Mission News and Science
diagram of the Solar System and the heliopause
Artist concept of our solar system, with views of Voyagers 1 and 2. Image credit: NASA/Feimer

The Solar System is Squashed
Modified from http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2007-143&msource=14314407&tr=y&auid=3238832

NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft has followed its twin, Voyager 1, into the vast region at the edge of our Solar System where the solar wind runs up against the thin gas between the stars.  However, Voyager 2 took a different path to enter this region, called the heliosheath. Because Voyager 2 crossed the heliosheath boundary about 16 billion kilometers (10 billion miles) away from Voyager 1 and almost 1.6 billion kilometers (a billion miles) closer to the Sun, it confirmed that our Solar System is “squashed” or “dented”– that the bubble carved into interstellar space by the solar wind is not perfectly round. Where Voyager 2 made its crossing, the bubble is pushed in closer to the Sun by the local interstellar magnetic field.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft has a working plasma science instrument that can directly measure the velocity, density and temperature of the solar wind. When it crossed the heliosheath boundary, Voyager 2 experienced at least five shock crossings over a couple of days. The data indicates an unusual shock. In a normal shock wave, fast-moving material slows down and forms a denser, hotter region as it encounters an obstacle. However, Voyager 2 found a much lower temperature beyond the shock than was predicted. This probably indicates that the energy is being transferred to cosmic ray particles that were accelerated to high speeds at the boundary.

Photo of soil on Mars with white streaks exposed by wheels

The Spirit rover found a patch of bright-toned soil so rich in silica that scientists proposed water must have been involved in concentrating it. NASA/JPL/Cornell

Mars Rover Investigates Signs of Steamy Martian Past
Modified from http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2007-144

Researchers using NASA's twin Mars rovers are sorting out two possible origins for one of Spirit's most important discoveries. Last May, Spirit uncovered a patch of nearly pure silica -- the main ingredient of window glass. It could have come from either a hot-spring environment or an environment called a fumarole, in which acidic steam rises through cracks. On Earth, both of these types of settings teem with microbial life.

One way is to create such a high concentration of silica is to selectively remove silica from the rocks. Hot springs can do that, dissolving silica from the rocks at high heat and then dropping it out of the water solution as the water cools. Another way is to remove almost everything else in the rocks and leave the silica behind. Acidic steam at fumaroles can do that. Scientists are still assessing both possible origins; scientists see evidence from orbiting missions for clay minerals under the layered sulfate materials, indicating less acidic conditions


Building blocks of life formed on Mars
Modified from http://www.ciw.edu/news/building_blocks_life_formed_mars

Photo of mars meteorite
Mars meteorite ALH 84001

Organic compounds contain carbon and hydrogen and form the building blocks of all life on Earth. By analyzing organic material and minerals in the Martian meteorite "Allan Hills 84001" (ALH 84001), scientists have now shown that organic compounds formed on Mars early in its history. Previously, scientists have thought that organic material in ALH 84001 was brought to Mars by meteorite impacts or originated from ancient Martian microbes.

ALH 84001 is a meteorite, a rock that fell to Earth from space and found in December 1984 in Antarctica. In 1996, a team of scientists announced that they believed they have found evidence for ancient microbacterial life in this meteorite, sparking a scientific debate.

More recently, a Carnegie-led team made a comprehensive study of the ALH 84001 meteorite and compared the results with data from related rocks found on Svalbard, Norway, formed when volcanoes erupted in a freezing Arctic climate about 1 million years ago—possibly mimicking conditions on early Mars. (ALH 84001 formed originally from molten lava, about 4.5 billion years ago. ) Both the Martian and Norwegian rocks contained organic material inside tiny balls of carbonate minerals.

The organic material in the rocks from Svalbard formed when volcanoes erupted under freezing conditions. During cooling, magnetite within the rock acted as a catalyst to form organic compounds from fluids rich in carbon dioxide and water. This event occurred under conditions where no forms of life are likely to exist. The similar association of carbonate, magnetite and organic material in the Martian meteorite ALH 84001 is very compelling and shows that the organic material formed directly from chemical reactions within the rock. This is the first study to show that Mars is capable of forming organic compounds at all, and implies that building blocks of life can form on cold rocky planets, rather than just warm planets.