March 2010

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements
Windows to the Universe Facebook Group

In Like a Lion and Out Like a Lamb?

There's a saying that March "comes in like a lion and out like a lamb". In a way, this seems to be true in many places in the Northern Hemisphere. Typically, temperatures are lower at the beginning of the month, and winter storms may still occur. By the end of the month - hopefully - temperatures begin to warm and winter storms become less frequent.

This winter has certainly been something to behold in much of the United States - with record snowfall in many places and very cold temperatures too (see the photo, a shot of park benches in Washington DC, courtesy of my daughter!). In fact, some people have pointed to this cold weather and strong winter storms as evidence that the Earth's climate is not warming. Unfortunately, extreme weather events are actually one of the expected signatures of global warming because that warming forces the water cycle to intensify. According to a preliminary analysis of land and ocean temperatures for the month of January 2010 by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), January 2010 was the fourth warmest January on record globally - showing that although it may be cold where you are, it may well be warmer than normal elsewhere!

There's a really funny bit from Jon Stewart on the question of our recent weather along the East coast of the US - click here, and fast forward to 3:30 for the part of the 7-minute-long skit about weather and climate. More seriously, you might want to check out our weather and climate activity, which helps students understand the difference between these two terms.

Notice that no matter how bad the snow storms have been in the Northern Hemisphere, the destruction they have brought is nothing in comparison to what has happened in Haiti, due to the earthquake in mid-January. We provide information about Haiti earthquake resources below in the Partners section.

Finally, as you can see below, we will be VERY BUSY at the NSTA in Philadelphia from March 18 - 20. If you are there, please come by and see us! Windows to the Universe will have a booth #1916 or obviously, you may visit us at one of our many workshops! We'd love to meet you for the first time, or again, if we've already met.

Massive Earthquake in Chile Produces Tsunami and Tsunami Warnings

There was an earthquake on February 27 with magnitude 8.8 off of the Chilean coast at Maule, Chile. The depth of the earthquake was 35 km, at the boundary between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates, at geographic coordinates 36.1 south and 72.6 west. The Nazca plate is subducting and moving landward beneath the South American plate, and has generated a tsunami of up to 2.35 m (7.7 ft) as measured in Talcahuano, Chile. A tsunami warning was issued by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center for the entire Pacific basin. Chile has experienced many major earthquakes in the past, as a result of its proximity to this active tectonic region. For background information about these topics, please visit our pages on plate tectonics, earthquakes, and tsunamis.

New Movies: Magnetic Storm, Greenhouse Effect, Earthquake Testing

We've added more videos to the web site. The first movie illustrates the chain of events that begins with an explosive coronal mass ejection from the Sun, continues as this "solar storm" distorts Earth's magnetosphere, and culminates as a shower of subatomic particles striking our upper atmosphere producing auroral light shows. In this month's second video, Professor Scott Denning of Colorado State University provides a very animated explanation of the Greenhouse Effect and how greenhouse gases work. The third movie, from the National Science Foundation, shows researchers testing new construction methods to help buildings withstand earthquakes... using the world's largest "shake table".

The Global Climate Change Educator Professional Development Network

With support from NASA, and in collaboration with NSTA, Windows to the Universe and the UCAR Office of Education and Outreach are offering a series of free web seminars on teaching global climate change. Building on our existing Climate Discovery online courses, these short web seminars showcase special topics such as how scientists study ancient climates and the effects of climate change on living things. Each web seminar combines science content with classroom activities that your students will love. Online networking after each web seminar will allow you to continue the conversation about teaching climate change with teacher participants and our professional development staff.

These six free web seminars will take place from late March through the end of April. We hope you can join in and participate in one or more of the topics. For more information, please visit the Global Climate Change Educator Professional Development Network. For registration information, please visit NSTA Web Seminars.

White Roofs May Cool Cities

If you are from an area of the world that is currently snowy, you are probably familiar with how white surfaces reflect light. Forget your sunglasses on a sunny day when snow is on the ground and you will find yourself squinting. White surfaces have a high albedo, meaning that they reflect most of the solar energy that hits them.

In a new study funded by the National Science Foundation, scientists have found that painting roofs white can reflect enough solar energy to drop summer afternoon temperatures in cities. Cities are affected more by global warming than rural areas. Roads, dark roofs and other surfaces in cities absorb heat from the Sun. This creates an urban heat island effect that can raise temperatures 2-5 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1-3 degrees Celsius) or more, compared to rural areas.

Check out the following resources on Windows to the Universe to help bring this science into your classroom!

Participate in Earth Hour on March 27th!

During Earth Hour hundreds of millions of people, organizations, corporations and governments around the world will come together to make a bold statement about their concern for climate change by doing something quite simple—turning off their lights for one hour. The movement shows that by working together, individuals can make a positive impact. To participate, turn off your lights on March 27th at 8:30 p.m. local time. Nearly one billion people participated in Earth Hour 2009!

For more information about the science of Earth's climate system, visit the Climate and Global Change section of Windows to the Universe. There you will find information about the science of climate, the impact of climate change on the Earth system, climates of the past, climate modeling, short summaries of the reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007, and a blog about the happenings at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009. Also, visit our suite of classroom activities that allow students to explore aspects of climate science.

Women in Science History

March is Women's History Month. Read about some notable women scientists on Windows to the Universe:

  • En Hedu' Anna - the first female name to be recorded in technical history. She was a priestess in Babylon and along with other priests contributed to early astronomy and mathematics.
  • Hypatia (370-415) - an Egyptian mathematician and philosopher. She was killed due to her teachings, which were considered pagan.
  • Maria Winkelmann Kirch (1670-1720) - a German astronomer.
  • Nicole-Reine Lepaute (1723-1788) - a French astronomer.
  • Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) - a German astronomer who worked alongside her brother, astronomer William Herschel. Her birthday is on March 16.
  • Ada Byron (1815-1852) - a British mathematician and one of the pioneers in computer programming.
  • Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) - an American astronomer and the first female professor of astronomy in the United States.
  • Williamina Fleming (1857-1911) - an American astronomer.
  • Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868-1921) - an American astronomer who discovered cepheid variables.
  • Florence Bascom (1862-1945) - an American geologist.
  • Marie Curie (1867-1934) - a Polish physicist and chemist who received two Nobel prizes for her studies in radioactivity.
  • Jocelyn Bell Burnell (born in 1943) - a British astronomer who discovered pulsars.
  • Wangari Maathai (born in 1943) - a Kenyan scientist who worked for many years to stop deforestation in Kenya and in other places in Africa.
  • Evelyn Granville (born in 1924) - an American mathematician who contributed to NASA's Space Shuttle program.

Welcome Spring! Let's Celebrate!

As Spring approaches in the northern hemisphere, it's a great time to discuss the reason for the seasons. The official first day of spring this year in the northern hemisphere will be March 20, 2010. Celebrate the end of a long winter by going outside and enjoying the great outdoors!

The tilt of Earth's rotational axis and the Earth's orbit work together to create the seasons. As the Earth travels around the Sun, it remains tipped in the same direction, towards the star Polaris.

At the equinoxes, the Earth is neither tilted directly towards nor directly away from the Sun. In other words, both hemispheres receive roughly equal amounts of sunlight. Equinoxes mark the seasons of spring and autumn and are a transition between the two more extreme seasons, summer and winter.

While the vernal equinox corresponds to the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the beginning of Fall in the Southern Hemisphere. This is a great thing to note with your students and a great time to introduce or reinforce the concept of seasons. As you know, seasons are an area where many misconceptions lie (especially concerning the reason for the seasons!).

Celebrate International Earth Day, also called Sun-Earth Day, on March 20th. NASA has collected many resources to help you and your students celebrate this day. This year, Sun-Earth Day has an exciting focus -- Magnetic Storms!

Join Us at the NSTA National Conference in Philadelphia

Will you be at the NSTA National Conference in Philadelphia this spring (March 18-21, 2010)? If so, we invite you to participate in one or more of the Windows to the Universe sessions listed below. Windows to the Universe will also have a booth #1916 in the convention hall. Stop by!

Time Location
Thursday, March 18
Playing with Ecosystem Science: Informal Modeling Games to Explore the Delicate Balance
8:00-9:00 am Sheraton City Center Hotel, Freedom G
Point, Game, Set, Match: Science Wins With Tennis Ball Containers 9:30-10:30 am Convention Center, Hall D, Room 29
Magnetism Activities, Earth's Magnetism, and Space Weather from Windows to the Universe 3:30-4:30 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Freedom G
Cut It, Stab It, Slice It, Dice It: Using the Potato in the Science Classroom 3:30-4:30 pm Convention Center, Hall D, Room 6
Friday, March 19 NESTA Geology Share-a-thon 9:30-10:30 am Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
NESTA Oceans and Atmospheres Share-a-thon 11:00-12:00 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
NESTA Space Share-a-thon 12:30-1:30 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
Activities from Across the Earth System 2:00-3:00 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Philadelphia North
Simulations and Interactive Multimedia Across the Earth Sciences from Windows to the Universe 5:00-6:00pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Freedom F
Saturday, March 20 Tackling the Global Warming Challenge 8:00-9:00 am Sheraton City Center Hotel, Philadelphia South
NESTA Earth System and Environmental Science Share-a-thon 9:30-10:30 am Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
Cloudy Day Activities Bridging Cloud Science, Literacy, and Art 9:30-10:30 am Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel, Independence A
Getting Students Involved in Climate Change Research with Project BudBurst 2:00-3:00 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Philadelphia South
Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future
5:00-6:00 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty C

Table of Contents

Chilean Earthquake
Three New Movies
Web Seminars
White Roofs
Earth Hour
Women Scientists
Celebrate Spring!
NSTA in Philadelphia


Online Courses
Questbridge Prep
Haiti Earthquake
NESTA Resources
STEM Careers
AGI Winners!
Live from ISS!
IPY Summer Institute
Env Research Contest
Pick Pixels on Mars!











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Summer Session: Climate Discovery Online Courses for Educators

Are you seeking a K-12 professional development opportunity that will enhance your qualifications, competency, and self-confidence in integrating Earth system science, climate, and global change into your science classroom? This summer, NCAR offers a series of seven-week online courses for middle and high school teachers that combine geoscience content, information about current climate research, easy-to-implement hands-on activities, and group discussion. The courses run concurrently June 18 through August 8.

  • CD 501 Introduction to Earth's Climate is designed to guide participants through the basics of climate science, integrating content, classroom activities, and community-building discussions to help middle and high school educators understand the answers to common questions about climate.
  • CD 502 Earth System Science: A Climate Change Perspective explores Earth as a system from the perspective of climate and global change, describing the interactions between the various parts of the Earth system, including human activities, and how they all affect our climate.
  • CD 503 Understanding Climate Change Today presents some of the current and predicted impacts of global warming on our planet and human societies. This course explores how climate models are developed and used to understand likely scenarios of future climate and how current scientific research is improving the quality of climate predictions.

There is a $225 fee per course, but you will save $25 if you register before June 1st! For complete course schedule and registration information, visit

Questbridge 2010 College Prep Scholarship Program

QuestBridge has announced the 2010 College Prep Scholarship program, which provides more than 1,000 awards that equip outstanding low-income high school juniors with the knowledge necessary to compete for admission to leading colleges. The program gives students the chance to receive scholarships to college summer programs, college admissions counseling, college admissions conferences, and funding to visit top-ranked colleges. Applying for the program is free, and applications are due March 29, 2010. For more information, visit the program website.

Haiti Earthquake Resources

Relief efforts continue in Haiti as the nation attempts to rebuild itself and care for its people amid catastrophic damage caused by the earthquake in mid-January.

Please keep in mind that Teachers Without Borders (TWB) has collected many Haiti Earthquake Resources including Earthquake Science Lessons, the science behind the earthquake and information on organizations working on relief efforts. The IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) has also posted a group of resources for educators about the Haiti earthquake. Finally, we have a new NSF movie on the site that might be of interest: "Designing Earthquake-resistant Buildings".

TWB and many other non-profit organizations are also running auctions through ebay where the proceeds of the purchase go to organizations involved in the Haiti relief effort. This may be a real way that you and your students can make a difference - through a purchase or sale you were going to make anyway.

NESTA Earth and Space Science Today Resources

The National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) has compiled information on topics that highlight our active Earth and near space environment. Learn all about the latest earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, severe weather, wildfires, tides and currents, droughts, daily streamflow information, and access a calendar of solar and lunar eclipses.

Join NESTA today to enjoy the many membership benefits. And if you'll be at NSTA in Philadelphia this month, please check out NESTA's schedule of events. We hope to see you there!

Time Location
Friday, March 19 NESTA Geology Share-a-thon 9:30-10:30 am Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
NESTA Oceans and Atmospheres Share-a-thon 11:00-12:00 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
NESTA Space Share-a-thon 12:30-1:30 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
AGU Lecture - Predicting Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions: What Can and Can Not Now Be Done? (Dr. Stephen Malone) 2:00-3:00 pm Room 201C of the Philadelphia Convention Center
NESTA Friends of Earth Science Reception 6:30-8:00 pm Sheraton Horizons Rooftop Ballroom
Saturday, March 20 NESTA Resource Day Breakfast - Building meaningful Earth system science education partnerships across the K-20 community (Professors Tanya Furman and Laura Guertin) 7:00-8:30 am Sheraton City Center Hotel, Logans I
NESTA Earth System and Environmental Science Share-a-thon 9:30-10:30 am Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
NESTA Advances in Earth and Space Science Lecture I - Meteorology drives everything: the sensitivity of pollution episodes to atmospheric conditions in the mid-Atlantic region (Dr. Richard Clark) 11:00-12:00 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
NESTA Advances in Earth and Space Science Lecture I - Changing Seas, Changing Life: Paleontological Research with Student Participation (Dr. Robert Ross) 12:30-1:30 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
NESTA Advances in Earth and Space Science Lecture I - Environmental Earth System Science for Education in Urban Areas (Dr. Alexander Gates)
2:00-3:00 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
NESTA Rock and Mineral Raffle
3:30-5 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B
NESTA Membership Meeting
5-6:30 pm Sheraton City Center Hotel, Liberty A/B

The Funworks...for Careers You Never Knew Existed

The Funworks web site, developed by the Educational Development Center, features a collection of STEM career exploration resources. The site helps middle and high school aged students think about what they enjoy and how to connect those interests to STEM jobs they never knew existed!

The Teachers' area has lesson plans and activities, career counseling links and other resources.

AGI Announces Winners!

The American Geological Institute recently announced the winners of several competitions--the 2009 Earth Science Week (ESW) competitions and the International Year of Planet Earth-ESW photo competition.

The first competition, the ESW visual arts contest, invited students in grades K-5 to create two-dimensional artwork illustrating the theme "The Climate Where I Live". Taylor Joe Scott of Portsmouth, NH, won first place with a collage comparing landscapes, average sea levels, and wildlife in his area today and 100,000 years ago.

The ESW essay contest invited students in grades 6-9 to write up to 300 words addressing the theme "Climate Connections." Shreyas Havaldar of Dix Hills, NY, won first place for an essay about climate and changing seasons on Long Island.

The ESW photo contest centered on the theme "How Climate Shapes My World", and Michael Badding of East Amherst, NY, won with his photo of melting ice.

The separate IYPE-ESW photo contest invited entries illustrating the theme of "Exploring Earth Science around the World," and Amy Spaziani of Baton Rouge, LA, won for a photo of geology students examining soft sediment deformation in the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas.

For more details about these contests, and to view the winning entries, visit

Live Video from the International Space Station

NASA announced recently that they are providing live streaming audio and video of astronauts working in the International Space Station's laboratories. These streams will complement the live views of Earth and the ISS exterior that NASA has been providing since March 2009. Take a look and see what the ISS crew members are doing while in orbit. To find out when the ISS will be visible in your area, visit

IPY STEM Polar Connections

The University of Massachusetts IPY Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Polar Connections program is designed to promote the teaching of science concepts and processes related to the polar regions. It includes a one-week summer institute (July 12-16, 2010) hosted at UMass Amherst as well as regular online discussion forums, and features a variety of proven techniques for effective teaching. For more information, and to apply, please visit the program's website. Applications are due by April 1, 2010.

Environmental Research Contest for Grades 9-12

The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) is sponsoring the 2010 Thacher Environmental Research Contest for students in grades 9-12. Cash prizes will be given to entries that demonstrate the best use of satellites and other geospatial technologies or data to study Earth's evolving environment. Both individuals and teams are eligible to enter, and entries must be postmarked by April 5, 2010. For more information, please see the contest website.

Public Invited to Pick Pixels on Mars

NASA announced recently that the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will soon be taking requests from the public. The camera, which has already recorded nearly 13,000 images of the Martian terrain, will be targeting new locations on Mars based on suggestions from the public, which can be submitted using NASA's new "HiWish" tool online. Visitors to the site will be asked to suggest locations to be photographed, to explain the scientific benefit of imaging each site, and to title each observation. More information and the HiWish tool can be found at the project website.

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