NSTA @ Nashville


   I’m in Nashville Tennessee for the next several days at the NSTA national conference. Planets and stars will still be in the skies but not as easy to see from downtown Nashville as it is where I live. On the morning of April 1st the waning waning crescent Moon will be within a few degrees from Dwarf Planet Pluto. Too dim to be seen without a large telescope it is, nonetheless, a neat idea that when you look toward the Moon you are also looking in the direction of Pluto. It’s out there!
   And here is a sequence of graphics showing the pre-sunrise morning sky at 5:30 am EDT for each day during the conference, and one night view on April 1st showing Jupiter. Both Pluto and the Moon are located just above and to the left from the handle of the teapot asterism for Sagittarius the Archer.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

An EarthKam Mission

iss_flyover-ani   This coming week, the last one in January, is going to help make this month a more memorable month than I had previously thought.
How so?
Firstly January marks my 200th monthly column of Scope on the Skies for Science Scope Magazine, the NSTA‘s Professional Journal for Middle School Science Teachers. In that column I wrote about Earth viewing missions.”A New Year, A New Earth View”. take-pics   Secondly, and very coincidentally, earlier this month an opportunity came up to apply to take part in the next scheduled Sally Ride EarthKam Mission. I was accepted and so this week will be for requesting images on the orbits between Sunday and Friday.
“Doing this alone?” You ask.
I have teamed up with two Science Teachers at Summit Lakes Middle School here in Lee’s Summit Missouri, and starting Monday morning students will begin making their requests. Also my college Astronomy class students will be requesting images as part of a lab lesson on tools Astronomers and Earth Science (among others) use.
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Making requests is a simple 10 or so step process beginning with logging in to the web site. However the Teacher first needs to register at the mission website, and then register for the next mission. The teacher will receive a list of codewords a few days ahead of the actual mission dates. Each codeword may only be used once; one codeword = one picture request. I’ve prepared a guidebook of sorts using screen captures that steps through the process of logging in and making a request. A more detailed and useful guidebook is the one prepared by the Sally Ride EarthKam Mission folks. Some time ago I wrote a short blog about the EarthKam mission.
orbits-ani

Our week looks promising for getting pictures of the southern hemisphere according to the mission orbit plotter. That is weather permitting. By clicking on the desired orbit group the map will then display the paths for that group. Remember that red lines show where it will be daylight and only when pictures could be taken.
zoom-ani

Using Google Earth means that you are able to zoom in to better place your marker for a picture. There are limits to getting a ‘good’ picture, one taken from as directly overhead as possible. Specifically it is the distance from the ISS orbit path. The further away from the orbit path the lower the ISS will be relative to the horizon.

I’ll share the pictures sometime next week after we get them.

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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Tweets From ISS

iss-pic   If you have followed my postings you know that I am an avid fan of watching for the International Space Station passages over my part of the world. I especially enjoy capturing the ISS as it travels past celestial objects like the Moon.
iss-crop   In an interesting twist it is possible to take advantage of the ‘bird’s-eye’ view from the ISS and see what the ISS astronauts see as they orbit the Earth. Listed below are some of the web sites with pictures taken by ISS astronauts, however I wanted to call attention to this web site – ISS EXPS 40 & 41. This web site has a map of the world that links tweets from the astronauts to accompany the pictures they took of the Earth’s surface.
   Additionally the web site shows the position of the ISS updated every minute so you can track its current flight and position as you browse the pictures.
Click here to go to the ISS Exps 40 & 41 website.

Some ISS sighting web sites:

NASA Space Station Live
ISS Sightings
Heavens Above

Pictures from Astronauts on the ISS:

Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth
ISS Astronaut Pictures of Earth

   
   
   
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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

A Song For My Science Class

   One of my college classes is Physical Science, which is essentially a general science course covering Physics, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Astronomy. Part of the class, 10% of the grade, is from having students do independent projects on topics relating to the class content. They may do anything from research, article summary’s, writing poems, developing lesson plans, and basically using their own interests in selecting the projects. One of my students wrote and performed a song that fits very nicely in the section we covered on Earth Science – plate tectonics, plate boundaries, subduction, faults (not mine!), and volcanoes.

   
   
   
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Rock On

Landsat Image of Mt. St. Helens - September 1980

Landsat Image of Mt. St. Helens – Sep. 1980

   Whether you are a teacher of Earth Sciences, a ‘closet’ Geomorphologist like me, or one who is interested in the Earth, then you will probably agree that the following web sites have a lot to offer for teaching or learning more about our active planet.
   NASA’s web site, Earth Observatory is the home of images of the Earth from the many orbiting satellites dedicated to monitoring changes in the Earth – in this case the surface features. Look for a link on the web site for the ‘World of Changes’ where you may see the many pictures of the Earth’s surface and changes in forests and oceans, for example, that have taken place over the past several decades. This picture was taken by a Landsat satellite four months after the May 1980 eruption of the volcano Mt. St. Helens. At the World of Changes web site you can view a series of images of the volcano that span thirteen years and show how the area that was devastated has slowly recovered. Click here to see the images of Mt. St. Helens.

   Here are links to three short videos on YouTube produced by the USGS, United States Geological Service, that explain in basic terms some interesting information about the ways scientists measure volcanic activity.

    Volcanic Deformation
    Gas Monitoring
    Volcanic Earthquakes

   Our National Park Service, NPS, has enhanced their web site with some useful resources for teachers on part of their web site called, Come and experience your America in a new way.

   Here is a link to a WordPress science writer I follow. Stephanie Sykora is a Geologist living in Australia. However from her writings she never seems to be at home! Instead she is somewhere in the world exploring and writing about many of the Earth’s geological features and processes. Since my blog today is about volcanoes I thought it appropriate to include a link to her recent blog, The Real Mount Doom… and The Real Mount Doom – Volcanoes in Taupo, New Zealand.

   
   
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

InSight Into the Red Planet

Click on image to download a bookmark.

Click on image to download a bookmark.

   InSight or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the next NASA planned mission to Mars. Set for launch in March 2016 the lander will have a flight time of approximately 6 months with a scheduled landing during September of 2016. In order to learn more about how terrestrial planets form this mission will be studying the Martian interior rather than the surface as all previous lander and rover missions have done.
   As a lander the power will be generated with solar panels and in order to maximize the efficiency of the solar panels a location near the equator needed to be chosen. This led to helping decide the final landing area within the Elysium Planitia, a large relatively flat plain like feature that lies on the equator. However a decision on the specific landing spot has not been made yet.
Click on image to go to mission multimedia web page

Click on image to go to mission multimedia web page.

   On board will be two types of instruments that will be used for a variety of tests including the use of a seismometer, and a heat flow probe. Cameras will record daily events and operations. Precise measurements of the distance to the sun will be made that will enable scientists to determine how the planet wobbles as it is tugged on by the Sun’s gravity. The wobble of a planet is determined by how unevenly mass is distributed throughout the planet’s interior. Areas with a greater concentration of mass in one part of the interior will cause that part of the planet to have a greater attraction with the Sun than an area with a less dense lower concentration of mass. So as the planet rotates and revolves with respect to the Sun the gravitational attraction between the two varies slightly causing the wobble. Among other things this results in a better understanding of how the process of differentiating occurred within the planet and how that mass is distributed within the interior.

   Click here to go to the InSight mission web site for more information.

   
   
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Martian Flight-Seeing

   The ESA, European Space Agency, recently released a short 5 minute video of a fly over of the Hebes Chasma, a canyon lying along the Martian equator near the Mariner Valley. This canyon is around 8000 m deep and is thought to have had water flowing through it in the past.
dexter   The video offers a fascinating look at the Martian surface features however there is no narration nor music. So… I added a favorite Mars themed song by Jazz artist Dexter Wansel to the video. The song, “Life on Mars” is on one of the albums in my record collection. The song was part of the audience walk-in music I used to play years ago when I worked in a Planetarium in Peoria Illinois. The walk-in music preceded the showing of a Planetarium show about Mars that was narrated by Carl Sagan. While the show was a good one it had what I thought was the most annoying musical soundtrack I had ever had to listen to.
   Watch the ESA produced video below. Also watch one of the early Mars fly over videos produced by NASA. This one takes you around the Mariner Valley system. That video was produced in the late 1980s and the difference in video technology and imaging capabilities is very obvious. And the soundtrack is rather familiar!

Click here to go to the ESA web site.
Click here to view the original video at the ESA web site.
Click here to go to the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter web site.

   The banner graphic at the top of the page is from a colored topographic map of Mars. Click here to download the map.

Click here to read my review about ‘The Martian’, a fictional account of a survivor on Mars.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.