30 Lectures by Distinguished Astronomers

Thirty non-technical talks on the latest ideas and discoveries in astronomy are now available as audio and video podcasts free of charge through the web and ITunes – http://www.astrosociety.org/education/podcast/.

Speakers include:
* Frank Drake, who began the experimental search for intelligent life among the stars,
* Mike Brown, who discovered most of the dwarf planets beyond Pluto (and whose humorous talk is entitled “How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming”),
* Natalie Batalha, project scientists on the Kepler Mission to find Earths around other stars, and
* Alex Filippenko (national professor of the year) on finding black holes.

Recent topics added to the offerings include: multiple universes, Saturn’s moon Titan (with an atmosphere, rivers, and lakes), our explosive Sun, and whether we should expect doomsday in 2012.

The talks are part of the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures, jointly sponsored by NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the SETI Institute, and Foothill College. The four organizations have offered six free public lectures per year for the last 12 years, with the audience ranging from 400 to 900 people. Recent talks have been recorded and made available free of charge as a public service thanks to an anonymous donor.

Celebrate Women’s History Month with STEM Stories

The STEM Stories website features a growing collection of digital resources that highlight the lives and work of individuals involved in STEM fields (mainly women). It combines compelling personal stories and multimedia to interest intermediate and middle school students in STEM subjects and careers.

From the In the Spotlight menu, you’ll meet 10 present-day women who are featured in depth, with interviews, photo albums and more.  They include dolphin communication researcher Diana Reiss, atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon, biologist and astronaut Millie Hughes-Fulford, and robotics engineer Heather Knight. (Heather helped work on the Rube Goldberg machine sequence for the OK-Go music video This Too Shall Pass).  On the Clips tab, the database includes short videos that introduce individuals working in varied STEM careers.  The Profiles tab lets you search biographies about women working in STEM fields throughout history.  Some include photo albums, such as Mary Pennington, Rachel Carson, and Virginia Apgar. (Tip:  double-click on images to see a larger view).

The project team, headed by Lois McLean and Rick Tessman (McLean Media) created STEM Stories with girls in mind, drawing on design ideas from an after-school club for at-risk middle and high school girls. In a 2010 pilot, more than 200 students (Grades 4–7) in Nevada County, California, used the site in classroom activities. In one school, fourth- and seventh-grade students worked in pairs to create pop-up books based on featured individuals. Survey results found no major differences between the responses of boys and girls. In fact, teachers reported that students did not even comment on or question the site’s emphasis on women. And, although the website focuses on personal stories, most students also reported learning something new about science and engineering.

STEM Stories was funded through a grant from the NSF’s Research on Gender in Science in Engineering Program (#HRD-0734004). New content is being added every month, including more current and historical photos, profiles, videos, and interactives.

To introduce your students to the STEM Stories site, try these activities:

STEM Stories Treasure Hunt

STEM Stories Crossword Puzzle

STEM Stories Lesson Ideas


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

What’s Happening With Hubble?

The Hubble Space Telescope has revolutionized the study of astronomy since its launch in 1990 and has sent a steady stream of striking images of space back to Earth from its orbit. It has:

Precisely measured the age of the universe
Found evidence of dark energy
Took images of distant galaxies in the young universe
Captured the “best ever” image of Mars
Provided proof of black holes
Gave first views of star birth
Showed how stars die
Caught spectacular views of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s collision with Jupiter
Confirmed that quasars are galactic nuclei powered by black holes
Gathered evidence that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating

In January 2004, NASA decided to let nature take its course and not send any more servicing missions to Hubble. The outcry from astronomers and the public was amazing. In November 2006, the space telescope escaped its death sentence when NASA approved a shuttle mission to service and upgrade the instrument. And with the state-of-the-art instruments delivered by Servicing Mission 4 (SM4), the Hubble Space Telescope will be able to look onto the universe with new eyes, surpassing even its previous vision. The mission is scheduled for October 8, 2008. Veteran astronaut Scott D. Altman will command the final space shuttle mission to Hubble.

The first objective is to extend Hubble’s operational life by at least five years. Over a series of five spacewalks, astronauts will replace all six gyroscopes, install new batteries, and exchange a degraded Fine Guidance Sensor with a new one. They will also install replacement thermal insulation on critical component bays of the telescope, and attach a mechanism that will aid in Hubble’s final de-orbiting.

The second objective is to enhance Hubble’s scientific power. Astronauts will install two new instruments, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS). WFC3, which sees in visible, infrared and ultraviolet light, will improve Hubble’s sensitivity 10-30 times because of improvements in technology and design that have occurred since the last instruments were installed. COS, Hubble’s new spectrograph, will improve Hubble’s sensitivity at least 10 times. Spectrographs are instruments that break light into its component colors, revealing information about the object emitting the light. COS sees ultraviolet light, which is particularly important because most of the ultraviolet light from space is absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, making ground-based telescope observations impossible.

The third objective is to repair Hubble’s out-of-commission instruments, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) and the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). STIS stopped working in 2004 and ACS failed in 2007. ACS is Hubble’s most prominent camera. Its wide field of view and ability to see in wavelengths from ultraviolet to visible light allows it to conduct broad surveys of the universe, study the nature and distribution of galaxies, and examine some of the universe’s earliest activity. ACS was responsible for the Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image, NASA’s deepest view of the cosmos.

STIS is a spectrograph. It separates light into its component colors, allowing scientists to examine the object’s temperature, chemical composition, density and motion. STIS can see in ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared and has been used to examine black holes, quasars and planets.

If these objectives can be successfully carried out during the servicing mission, then Hubble will be at the apex of its scientific capability, with six working, complementary science instruments. These upgrades will keep Hubble functioning at the pinnacle of astronomy well into the next decade.

Behind the Pictures
The Hubble Space Telescope is noted for providing beautiful and often bizarre color pictures of galaxies, planets, and nebulae. Do the pictures really reflect the colors these objects would have if we visited them in a spacecraft? Why do some of the pictures have an unusual stair-step shape?

Hubble On The Go
Get the newest images and discoveries from Hubble sent directly to your email box or PDA.

Showcase of Hubble’s Smash Hits
This slideshow of Hubble’s greatest images is breathtaking. You can also download wallpaper, images, and murals.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School Portal publications. Email us at msp@msteacher.org.

Phoenix Mission to Mars: Final Seven Minutes of Terror

After traveling 422 million miles since its launch last August, the Phoenix Mars Lander is aiming for a touchdown on Sunday, May 25, 2008 in the unexplored regions of Mars. But first it must survive what engineers are calling the “final seven minutes of terror” to reach the surface of Mars. Watch a video of what the Lander will have to go through to touch down.

Over thousands of years, water carried explorers to new lands. Following water continues to guide exploration even as space is explored—find water and you might find life itself. One such mission that is following the water is the Phoenix Mars Lander project. On August 4, 2007, the lander was launched on its 10-month journey to the Red Planet. Phoenix will land on the northern plains of Mars and dig into the soil and water-ice seeking the Martian Holy Grail: water and possible life-supporting conditions.

Phoenix Mars Mission
The official project site includes background information, a mission blog, podcasts, a count-down clock to landing on Mars, and a gallery of pictures. Lessons specifically designed for grades 6-8 can be found at http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu/edu_whywater_lessons3.php.

MarsNSDL Annotation
This site provides a comprehensive overview of the planet including Mars Geology (tectonics, water, and volcanism); Mars Atmosphere; and Mars Seasons and Climate.

Welcome to Mars and MARS Dead or AliveNSDL Annotation
This NOVA site provides the teacher’s guides, transcripts, and supplementary materials for two programs: “Welcome to Mars” and “MARS Dead or Alive.” There are articles from scientists, interactive activities, animations, and information on robots.

The Great Debate: Terraforming Mars
At a 2004 conference cosponsored by Astrobiology Magazine, scientists and science fiction writers debated the promise and pitfalls of terraforming Mars; that is, making Mars suitable for life. In the first of seven debates, planetary scientist Christopher McKay advocated making Mars habitable for Martian life. Links to the other six debates are given.

From Earth to Mars: The History of Mars Exploration
This interactive time line includes text and video of previous missions.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School PortalNSDL Annotation publications. Email us at msp@msteacher.org.