September Equinox

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   On Sunday 22 September at 3:44 pm CDT the Sun will have reached the astronomical coordinates of 0 degrees declination and 12 hours of right ascension, or RA. This places the Sun within the boundaries of the constellation Virgo the Maiden, or as some would say, “the Sun is in Virgo.”
Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Declination is the astronomical equivalent to latitude measuring from 0 degrees at the equator to 90 degrees at either pole. Right ascension, or RA, is like longitude except that there is only east RA. The globe is divided into 24 sections, and like meridians of longitude, these hour circles are 15 degrees wide at the celestial equator and taper to a ‘point’ at the north and south pole respectively. In RA the ‘hour’ circles are counted from 0 hours to 23 hours. The 0 hour circle is at the intersection of the ecliptic and the celestial equator in the constellation of Pisces the Fishes.
Click on picture to see it full size.

Click on picture to see it full size.

   In a class lesson about seasons today would be one of the two days during the year when the Sun would be described as being over the Earth’s equator. If you were at the Earth’s equator the Sun would have an altitude of 90 degrees, or straight up in your sky at your local time for midday. At that moment there would not be a shadow. However at any other latitude, north or south at midday, the Sun would be at an angle less than 90 degrees and there would be a midday shadow. (Midday is the local time when the Sun is halfway between local rising time and local setting time. At any midday the Sun is at its maximum altitude above the southern horizon in the northern hemisphere, or is at its maximum altitude above the northern horizon in the southern hemisphere.)
   What is often most notable about an equinox day is the reminder that equinox means equal night as a reference to there being equal amounts of daylight, and night. Also on an equinox day the Sun would rise due east and set due west for virtually everywhere on the globe. The times for sunrise and sunset would be approximately 12 hours apart, and the rising time would be around 6 am local time, and the setting time would be around 6 pm local time.

Hola Moon doh

Hola ‘Moo’ndo! Think Globally.

   So why “September Equinox” instead of using the more familiar “Fall Equinox”. Primarily because the southern hemisphere is also changing seasons on this day however for the southern hemisphere this is the start of their spring season. Despite the opposite seasons it is somewhat of a northern hemisphere bias that traditionally we would call this day the “Autumnal or Fall Spring Equinox”, and in March we would say the “Spring” or “Vernal Equinox”. I favor the use of the name of the month so that regardless of which hemisphere it is just simply the March equinox or the September equinox, and by extension we would also have the June solstice and the December solstice..
   This short video shows students at Colegio Menor San Francisco de Quito, a school in Quito Ecuador, measuring the altitude of the sun hourly on the day of the 2004 September Equinox. They were taking part in Project SunShIP, Sun Shadow Investigation Project. There are also some pictures showing a local midday shadow from other participating schools in the United states.

   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.

Tomatoes, Our Sun, and eCybermission

Sun-Earth Days 2013: This year, NASA would like to feature your astro photographs and videos (up to 90 seconds each) of our active sun on the Sun Earth Days Solar Maximum Flickr group. We will feature your images with accreditation and select an image each week to feature on the NASA Sun Earth Day home page.

   Click here to go to the Sun-Earth Days web site for more information.

“Tomatosphere is a research project that will involve about 15 000 Canadian classrooms this year. In 2013, students will have the opportunity to grow tomatoes from two sets of seeds. One set will be seeds which have been exposed to a process called priming and the other set will be the control group. In this research project, students will be asked to germinate the seeds, but the two sets will not be identified until their results are reported to the web site. This methodology, known as a “blind study” will allow the mystery of the project to be real for the students.”

   Click here to go to the Tomatosphere web site for more information.

eCYBERMISSION is a web-based Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics competition for 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grade teams. Your team will propose a solution to a real problem in your community and compete for State, Regional and National Awards.
eCYBERMISSION challenges you to explore how Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics work in your world.

   Click here to learn how to register as a virtual judge, or participate with students for the eCybermission contest.

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

Citizen Scientists

   Yesterday morning I once again took part in the annual Meet the Science Mentor event hosted by Science Pioneers on the UMKC campus. This is a gathering of scientists from many areas of expertise meeting and talking with students in grades 4 to 12 who are working on or planning a Science Fair project. Usually I ‘work’ alone but yesterday I had a partner, an Aerospace Engineering major from the University of Kansas in Lawrence KS.
   Among the discussions we had, especially for the youngest students doing Science Fair for the first time, were to suggest that they look into doing a Citizen Science project as their introduction to doing a Science Fair project. Basically a Citizen Science project is one in which the participants do something with the data from the project they are helping. For example there are projects where the participants catalog lunar craters by shape, or one in which the spectra of stars are studied. Some projects, like the SETI@Home project, install a small program on a home computer. The program works in the background as it downloads packets of data, analyzes the data, and returns its analysis all while your computer is on.

   To get involved with Citizen Projects go to the SciStarter web site. This is probably the best web site collection of the many types of Citizen Science projects out there. So get involved!

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

Learn with NASA

   Looking for ways to incorporate Earth and Space Sciences into your classes, or just curious about the neat stuff teachers and students have access to? Then take a look at the new NASA website designed with educators in mind. Called NASA Wavelength this is a web site that is organized into six sections by grade level, and also includes a section for higher education and informal education. Activities and lessons are further organized by topic (Earth and Space, Engineering, Mathematics, etc.) and type of resource (activity, lesson plan, data, instructor guide, etc.) – with materials available both online and downloadable. This web site was developed in conjunction with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and contains quite a lot of resources about science at NASA and is well worth taking advantage of the many resources available. For an even more in-depth look at science at NASA visit the NASA Science web site.

   Science at NASA is also available in Spanish.

   While the Wavelength web site is certainly complete there are many other web sites based on NASA activities or the various NASA facilities and their operations. One of these ‘other’ web sites is NASA Quest where there are “Web-based, interactive explorations designed to engage students in authentic scientific and engineering processes. The solutions relate to issues encountered daily by NASA personnel”. These quests, or challenges, are not just space-based but illustrate the many areas that NASA is involved with. For example, students could simulate the roll of an Air Traffic Controller with Smart Skies, or design their own exo-planet at Astro-Ventures.

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

Picture These – Write That

   NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory Astronomers have recently released some stunning images of planetary nebula taken as part of a survey of these types of objects. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory is an orbiting telescope designed to image objects in the x-ray wavelength part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Often images, such as this collection are a combination of images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and Chandra.
   Planetary Nebula are expanding bubble-like shells of gases, the outer layers of a red giant star shed by a star. They are called ‘planetary’ because when these objects, disk-like in shape, were first viewed with the optical telescopes of the previous centuries they resembled a planets disk shape. However when images taken in visible light are combined with x-ray images then the results are quite stunning, and reveal more than possible with just visible light images.
   At the Chandra web site there are some really neat resources for educators and learners of all ages. One of the resources I use in my Astronomy classes is the page that is sorted by constellation. Each constellation is described as are the Chandra imaged objects within that constellation. Each constellation has a picture showing its classical dot-to-dot shape and artwork of the figure.


   The deadline for the 2012 Cassini Scientist for a Day essay contest is now two weeks away. There’s still time for your students to write essays for the contest.
   The contest is open to students in grades 5-12. All students who enter will receive a certificate of participation. Winning entries will be posted on NASA’s Cassini website. Winners and their classes will be invited to participate in a teleconference, videoconference, or online discussion with Cassini scientists so the students can ask their space questions to the experts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
   Complete contest rules and videos about each of the three possible essay topics can be found on the contest website.
   The contest deadline this year is Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at noon (Pacific time). If you use the essay contest as an in-class assignment, please submit the best three essays from each of your classes, then e-mail with a list of the names of the other students who wrote essays but weren’t in the top three, so we can send them certificates of participation as well. Essays can be up to (but not longer than) 500 words.
   Some teachers choose to use the contest as an in-class writing assignment, since it meets both science and language arts national education standards. Others make it optional for extra credit, or let their students know about the contest whether or not credit is provided. (We ask that teachers submit their students’ essays because we can’t collect contact information of minors, so we communicate with the students’ teachers instead.)
   Here is the website for submitting your students’ essays:

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

Explore Space With Uwingu

Depending on the translation from the Swahili language Uwingu refers to the sky and could literally mean ‘sky’, or ‘cloudiness’. (My preference is for the former translation!) However to a group of scientists, educators, and artists it is not only the name for a commercial business venture, it is also the focus of the group. Currently they are in the process of generating enough funding through ‘crowd-sourcing’ to get the business started.
And with this funding what will they do?
With the start-up funding the group plans to develop and market products related to space and space exploration. This may be in the form of Apps, PC programs, and online resources. From the sales of such products funding will be made available to support space-based education and research – in a way enhancing the already limited funding available.
Check them out, see who is involved and what their plans are. Do an Internet search for the word Uwingu to read what others have reported about the group and its plans. Then consider joining me and many others by taking part.

Click here to visit the Uwingu web site

Tracking Hurricanes

Watching the weather news coverage of Hurricane Isaac had me go off in search of software or online resources for tracking this hurricane as well as past hurricanes. There are computer programs, and apps for smartphones however I decided to stick with online resources. So with that in mind here a few of the many web sites that will allow for observing hurricanes whether it is for home/personal use or for use with students in the classroom.

Screen Shot

TV Station WRAL in Raleigh NC maintains an interactive hurricane tracking and modeling web site as shown in the graphic.
On NASA’s Hurricane resource web site there are many links under the Educator’s page leading to videos, podcasts,posters, and other resources relating to hurricane study as conducted by NASA.
Faculty at Pennsylvania State University have developed a hurricane tracking web site, the Real-time Atlantic Hurricane Forecast, where a variety of maps and graphics are displayed showing location and path of each hurricane selected.
The National Hurricane Center, of the National Weather Service, is probably the ‘goto’ web site for things relating to hurricanes, or weather in general.