April 2015

Teacher Submissions
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  Site and Science News

Windows to the Universe Educator Membership Options!

Windows to the Universe offers membership options for Windows to the Universe educators that include course webpage support, as well as options for homework and online quizzes.  We will continue to offer Basic Educator Membership (which provides advertising-free access to the website plus additional member benefits), but we are expanding now to offer Silver Educator Membership (Basic Educator Membership supplemented by course webpage support and course login for students) or Gold Educator Membership (with course support including online quizzes and homework upload/download and individual student subscriptions).  We also offer support for classrooms, with or without course support.  For more details, see our Educator Membership Benefits and Services page. We hope you'll visit the Windows to the Universe web site many times this year!

Total Lunar Eclipse on April 4th

There will be a total lunar eclipse on April 4, 2105. This eclipse of the full moon will last less than five minutes, which makes it the shortest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. This eclipse will be visible from eastern Asia, the Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, and western North America. See this EarthSky page for more detailed viewing information.

April Meteor Showers

I'm not sure what kind of flowers they might bring in May, but April does usher in one of the major meteor showers of the year - the Lyrids.  If you spot any meteors on the night of April 22nd (into the morning of the 23rd), you will be carrying on a long tradition...for Chinese astronomers first observed Lyrid meteors more than 26 centuries ago!  The moon sets in the early evening on April 22, which means a dark sky will make for optimal viewing for the 2015 Lyrids.

Typically the Lyrids produce a meager 10-20 meteors per hour, though they sporadically generate large outbursts of 100 or more meteors per hour (as happened in 1803, 1922, 1945, and most recently in 1982).  Look toward the shower's namesake, constellation Lyra, on the night of the 22nd (or any time from the 16th-25th when the shower could still be active) to catch a glimpse of a "falling star".

Space Missions in April

April is a good month to talk about space exploration.  On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space.  He orbited the Earth once aboard the Vostok spacecraft.  The flight lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes.

20 years later, on April 12, 1981, the first space shuttle Columbia was launched, with two crewmembers aboard - astronauts John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen.  Columbia orbited the earth 36 times and returned to Earth on April 14.

On April 24, 1990, space shuttle Discovery launched the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.  Since its launch, it has been responsible for many groundbreaking astronomical observations and has captured awesome images of the solar system, distant stars, and galaxies.  In March 2013, NASA extended Hubble's science operations contract, so hopefully the telescope will be operating well into 2016!

Check out more manned and unmanned space missions on Windows to the Universe.

New Desktop Application Has Potential to Increase Asteroid Detection, Now Available to Public

A software application based on an algorithm created by a NASA challenge has the potential to increase the number of new asteroid discoveries by amateur astronomers and citizen scientists. Analysis of images taken of our solar system’s main belt asteroids between Mars and Jupiter using the algorithm showed a 15% increase in positive identification of new asteroids.

“The Asteroid Grand Challenge is seeking non-traditional partnerships to bring the citizen science and space enthusiast community into NASA’s work,” said Jason Kessler, program executive for NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge. “The Asteroid Data Hunter challenge has been successful beyond our hopes, creating something that makes a tangible difference to asteroid hunting astronomers and highlights the possibility for more people to play a role in protecting our planet.”

Astronomers find asteroids by taking images of the same place in the sky and looking for star-like objects that move between frames, an approach that has been used since before Pluto was discovered in 1930. With more telescopes scanning the sky, the ever-increasing volume of data makes it impossible for astronomers to verify each detection by hand. This new algorithm gives astronomers the ability to use computers to autonomously and rapidly check the images and determine which objects are suitable for follow up, which leads to finding more asteroids than previously possible.

The desktop software application is free and can be used on any basic desktop or laptop computer. Amateur astronomers may take images from their telescopes and analyze them with the application. The application will tell the user whether a matching asteroid record exists and offer a way to report new findings to the Minor Planet Center, which then confirms and archives new discoveries.

Thunderstorms and Tornadoes Becoming More Prevalent as Weather Warms

This is a good time of year to explore the atmospheric conditions that create persistent squall lines that form over the U.S. central plains when cool, dry Canadian air masses collide with warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico.  Near the ocean, the Great Lakes, and mountains, uneven heating of land surfaces can produce spectacular afternoon thunderstorms announced by crackling thunder, life-threatening lightning, hail, tornadoes, and flash flooding.  Sharing information about thunderstorm and tornado safety with your students is very important.

The weather section of Windows to the Universe provides information about thunderstorms and tornadoes, explains how tornadoes form, and tells how meteorologists forecast when and where tornadoes will occur.  In addition, our Tornado in a Bottle activity provides a great way to illustrate tornadoes for your students.

Black Carbon - Background and a Classroom Activity

Little particles in the atmosphere called aerosols may be small, but they have the ability to change climate.  These tiny particles are a natural part of the atmosphere, coming from erupting volcanoes, sea salt, and wildfires.  However, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, additional aerosols have been added to the atmosphere as fossil fuels are burned.  Black carbon is the term that has been given to the product of the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuel, and biomass. It is commonly known as soot.

Black carbon stays in the atmosphere for several days to weeks and then settles out onto the ground.  Sources of black carbon are open biomass burning (forests and savannah burning that can start from natural causes like lightning or human-induced causes like slash and burn methods for clearing land), biofuel burning, diesel engines, industrial processes, and residential coal burning.  Black carbon is produced around the world and the type of soot emissions vary by region.

Black carbon contributes to global warming in two ways.  First, when soot enters the atmosphere, it absorbs sunlight and generates heat, warming the air.  Secondly, when soot is deposited on snow and ice, it changes the albedo of that surface, absorbing sunlight and generating heat.  This warming causes snow and ice to melt, and darker-colored Earth surface and ocean are exposed and less solar energy is reflected out to space causing even more warming.  This is known as ice-albedo feedback.

The amount (and type) of aerosols in the atmosphere has an impact on the albedo of our planet.  Earth’s planetary albedo is about 0.31.  That means that about a third of the solar radiation that gets to Earth is reflected out to space and about two thirds is absorbed.  Aerosols like black carbon have a low albedo and reflect very little solar energy.  This air pollution is having an impact on Earth’s climate.

Scientists Ramanathan and Carmichael estimate that black carbon emissions are the second largest contributor to global warming, after carbon dioxide emissions.  Reducing black carbon emissions is one of the fastest strategies for slowing global warming.  Luckily, many policies have been put in place to reduce the production of black carbon around the world, and the technology necessary to lessen black carbon emissions already exists.  To improve further, we need to better regulate the industrial processes that produce black carbon, and individuals need affordable and available technology to be able to make shifts away from practices like biofuel cooking and residential coal combustion that are still used in much of the world today.  The importance of black carbon's role in global warming has come to the forefront of the minds of many concerned citizens and exciting steps are already being taken to address issues like making cleaner burning cook stoves available in developing nations.  These reductions of black carbon around the world will not only aid in reducing global warming, but will improve human health and environmental aesthetics.

Try out the Changing Planet Activity called Black Carbon - A Dusty Situation to teach about black carbon in your classroom.

A Recipe for Clouds

Many teachers present their weather unit in the spring.  You can't teach about weather until you have talked about clouds!

Do you talk to your class about the 'ingredients' needed to make clouds?  Cloud physics is extremely complicated and scientists are researching that area every day.  Fundamentally though, you do need three main ingredients to create a cloud - water, CCN, and a drop in pressure.

Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN) are vitally important in this 'recipe'!  When water in the vapor form experiences a drop in pressure, it wants to condense, but it needs a surface on which to condense.  That's where the CCN come in.  A CCN can be a speck of dirt, dust, pollen, or even a piece of human skin or hair.  Do you know what the most common CCN is?  It's tiny bits of sea salt released in sea spray.  It makes sense when you think about how much of the Earth is covered with ocean water.

We have an activity on the site called the Three Clouds Activity.  It will reinforce these concepts nicely.  The Cloud in a Bottle part comes with a great Student Activity Sheet that you are welcome to use in your classroom.

  Calendar of Events

April is National Garden Month

Every April, communities, organizations, and individuals nationwide celebrate gardening during National Garden Month.  Gardeners know, and research confirms, that nurturing plants is good for us:  attitudes toward health and nutrition improve, kids perform better at school, and community spirit grows.  Join the celebration and help to make America a greener, healthier, more livable place!

Here's 101 ways to celebrate Garden Month this April and ideas and useful tips from the EPA for greenscaping (environmentally friendly practices to improve the health and appearance of your lawn and garden).  Remember, when you garden, you grow!  

NASA, Honeywell Bring Hip-Hop Education Show to Northeast U.S. Schools - Spring 2015

This year marks the 11th anniversary of FMA Live! Forces in Motion, an innovative collaboration designed to ignite students' interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

FMA Live! is a high-energy live show that features actors, hip-hop dance, music videos, interactive scientific demonstrations, and video interviews with NASA scientists to teach Sir Isaac Newton's three laws of motion and universal laws of gravity.  The name of the show comes from Newton’s second law of motion:  force = mass x acceleration. 

"This innovative collaboration between NASA and Honeywell has been immensely successful over the past decade," said Donald James, NASA’s associate administrator for Education. "The combination of exciting, NASA-unique content and a dynamic stage performance is a proven formula for helping students grasp the fundamentals of physics. Together, we are inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers."

The show is currently touring Northeast U.S. schools.  A similar schedule is slated for the Midwest part of the U.S. this fall.

2015 International Year of Soils

Six thousand members strong, the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a scientific organization that aims to support geoscience teaching and learning about soils.  This AGI member society provides an educational resources web page that includes lessons, activities, fun facts, information about soil disciplines, and soil definitions for the novice soil scientist.

This year, the SSSA is coordinating with the Global Soil Partnership and other organizations around the world to celebrate the 2015 International Year of Soils and raise awareness and promote the sustainability of our limited soil resources. During the International Year of Soils, SSSA will have monthly themes that reflect the diverse value of soils to our natural environment and society. Each month will have information on the theme (April's is Soils Clean and Capture Water), a lesson plan, and other outreach activities. Visit the International Year of Soils page for more information and to sign up to receive monthly lesson plans.

National Week of the Ocean - March 29-April 4, 2015

National Week of the Ocean will be celebrated March 29-April 4, 2015.  Week of the Ocean is a marine education program credited with more than three decades of learning about and caring for the ocean.  It is a grassroots program that appreciates, protects and uses the ocean wisely.  Check out the schedule page for more information.

What Week Will You Pick to be Your Green Week? Now-May 2, 2015

Green Week is turning 6!  Celebrate by selecting any week now to May 2, 2015, to be your Green Week!  Participate for the whole week, a day, or just one lesson, reading, or activity. Schools and groups are encouraged to take this opportunity to spend time with students discussing sustainability topics and exploring ways they can make a difference. 

The Green Education Foundation is hosting National Green Week.  Get started by signing up today!

Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) - Deadlines are April 1 and May 1

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) is the nation’s highest honors for teachers of mathematics and science (including computer science). PAEMST nominations and applications for the 2014-2015 cycle are open for 7-12 grade teachers.

Established by Congress in 1983, the PAEMST program authorizes the President to bestow up to 108 awards each year. NSF administers PAEMST on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Presidential awardees receive a certificate signed by the President, a trip for two to Washington, D.C., to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities, and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Last year, the most recent cohort of PAEMST awardees even had the opportunity to meet with President Barack Obama

Please consider nominating a talented science or math teacher using the PAEMST website today. NSF is offering free webinars from now until the end of April to help applicants complete the application process. Nominations close April 1, 2015. Applications close May 1, 2015. For more information, contact info@paemst.org or call 855-723-6780.

Global Youth Service Day - April 17-19, 2015

Your students don't need to wait to grow up to change the world!  Have them plug into the Global Youth Service Day, where children and teens are creating change every day through service to others.  They can create their own project or join an already-existing project.  This year, Global Youth Service Day is April 17-19, 2015.

Free Entrance Days in National Parks - April 18-19, 2015

The National Park Service is proud to once again join with the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America's national parks, to present National Park Week (April 18-26).

Looking for something fun and fantastic to do with family and friends?  Head out to America's national parks where millions of stars light up the dark night sky, deer and antelope (and a few other critters!) play on the wide-open range, and history is an unbelievable experience, not an exam.

And the best news?  Our national parks are kicking off National Park Week with fee-free entrance days on Saturday, April 18, and Sunday, April 19!  So, whether it is your first trip, or one of many memorable park experiences, there couldn’t be a better time to get out and explore!  Enjoy!

Coming Up - Environmental Education Week 2015 - April 19-25, 2015

EE Week, sponsored by Samsung, is April 19-25, 2015.  EE Week 2015 will focus on Greening STEM. You can celebrate Environmental Education Week at your school, workplace or in your community.  

The EE Week blog provides educators with a forum to interact and engage with experts and their peers on a variety of topics surrounding environmental education and Greening STEM.

Earth Day 2015 - April 22, 2015

Every year on April 22, over a billion people in 190 countries take action for Earth Day.  From San Francisco to San Juan, Beijing to Brussels, Moscow to Marrakesh, people plant trees, clean up their communities, contact their elected officials, and more - all on behalf of the environment.

Like Earth Days of the past, Earth Day 2015 will focus on the unique environmental challenges of our time. This year, Earth Day celebrates its 45th anniversary and it could be the most exciting year in environmental history! The year in which economic growth and sustainability join hands. The year in which world leaders finally pass a binding climate change treaty. The year in which citizens and organizations divest from fossil fuels and put their money into renewable energy solutions. These are tough issues, but we know what’s at stake is the future of our planet and the survival of life on Earth. On Earth Day, we need you to take a stand so that together, we can show the world a new direction. It’s our turn to lead (the 2015 Earth Day theme). So our world leaders can follow by example.

Let's be among those who make a difference for the Earth on April 22 and all year long!

Celebrate Arbor Day on April 24!

Arbor Day is a nationally celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and care.  Founded by J. Sterling Morton in 1872, it's celebrated on the last Friday in April.

An Arbor Day celebration can be as large or as small as you want to make it.  Your Arbor Day can be a few neighbors gathering to plant trees in a park behind your homes or at a nearby school.  It can be a weeklong regional festival with activities for thousands of kids and adults.  Arbor Day can be a single class project or an event for the whole school, an inner city neighborhood planting trees in a vacant lot, or a huge citywide or statewide celebration.

Learn how you can incorporate Arbor Day throughout your school curricula as well.

Save the Frogs Day 2015 - April 25, 2015

Save The Frogs Day is the world's largest day of amphibian education and conservation action.  Last year, supporters held 192 events in at least 23 countries, directly reaching over 19,000 participants.  Please get involved and help spread the word so we can make Save The Frogs Day 2015 even more successful!  Check out events in your area here.

National DNA Day is April 25, 2015

April 25 is National DNA Day, when people around the U.S. commemorate the successful completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of DNA's double helix by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953.  Although the structure of DNA was only discovered 60 years ago, it sparked a revolution in biology and medicine that has continued into the present day in the field of genomics, and this annual celebration offers students, teachers, and the public many exciting opportunities to learn about the latest advances in genomic research and explore what they may mean for their lives.

A wide variety of National DNA Day events are sponsored by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), in cooperation with the American Society of Human Genetics, the Genetic Alliance, the American College of Medical Genetics (AMCG), the International Society of Nurses in Genetics (ISONG), the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC), and the American Pharmacist Association.

To read more about DNA day, and for ideas on how to celebrate it in your classroom, visit the DNA Day website.

NASA Challenge Invites Students to Help Design Journey to Mars Systems - Deadline is April 30, 2015

College students have the opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation for NASA’s Journey to Mars by designing systems for future space habitats and exploration systems through the agency’s Exploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge.

The challenge is designed to engage students directly in the design, research and development of functional components of future habitats. As NASA develops missions to send astronauts to destinations far into the solar system, such as an asteroid and Mars, a habitat to sustain the crews pioneering deep space environments will be needed. This year’s challenge includes a broad array of topics such as power distribution systems, deployable structures, habitat architectural layout studies and food production systems. 

The challenge also will help develop strategic partnerships with universities in order to increase knowledge in critical exploration capabilities and technology risk reduction activities.

To apply for the challenge, student teams must submit their plans for designing, manufacturing, assembling and testing systems for evaluation by April 30.

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) - May 10-15, 2015

Intel ISEF is the world's largest international pre-college science competition and will be held May 10-15, 2015, in Pittsburgh, PA.  It is the premier global science competition for students in grades 9–12.  Each year more than 1,700 high school students from over 70 countries, regions, and territories display their independent research and compete for more than $5 million in awards.  We encourage you to visit the Intel ISEF homepage to learn more, view the Recent Results page for information about past Intel ISEF award winners, and check out all the latest pictures from the event on Facebook.

Endangered Species Day - May 15, 2015

President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law on December 28, 1973.  Our legislators understood that, without protection from human actions, many of our nation's living resources would become extinct.

What are some ways that you can help protect endangered species?  Celebrate Endangered Species Day on May 15, 2015, by attending an event, preserving wildlife habitats, or cleaning up the outdoors where you live.

Earth Science Week 2015 Theme Announced: "Visualizing Earth Systems" - October 11-17, 2015

The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) is pleased to announce that the theme of Earth Science Week 2015 will be "Visualizing Earth Systems." 

Earth Science Week 2015 learning resources and activities will engage young people and others in exploring ways of visualizing Earth systems. Using technologies ranging from on-site data collection to satellite-based remote sensing, scientists investigate conditions of Earth systems. And today's geoscientists display their findings in charts, graphs, diagrams, illustrations, photos, videos, computer-generated animations, and 3D-printed creations.

"With this theme, Earth Science Week explores what it means to see our planet through eyes informed by the geosciences," says Geoff Camphire, AGI's Manager of Outreach. "Geoscientists are finding innovative ways to not only examine natural phenomena, but also present that information to professional, educational, and other audiences. In addition to tools such as telescopes and microscopes, we also can view and map changes in natural systems through new avenues such as computer games, smartphone apps, and online videos."

Earth Science Week 2015 will be celebrated October 11-17. For more about this week and ways to get involved -- including newsletters, local events, and classroom activities -- please see the Earth Science Week web site.

Webcast Details 'Focus Days' Of Earth Science Week - October 11-17, 2015

What does Earth Science Week 2015 have in store for you? Each day during the week, you can focus on a different area of Earth science. Go online today to view a new webcast about the "Focus Days" of this year's celebration:

* International EarthCache Day (Sunday, October 11)
* Earth Science Literacy Day (Monday, October 12)
* No Child Left Inside Day (Tuesday, October 13)
* National Fossil Day (Wednesday, October 14)
* Geoscience for Everyone Day (Thursday, October 15)
* Geologic Map Day (Friday, October 16)
* International Archaeology Day (Saturday, October 17)

This free webcast, narrated by AGI Outreach Assistant Katelyn Murtha, provides an overview of opportunities, activities, and resources available. The roughly four-minute tutorial includes a wealth of online links, which viewers can click during the presentation to review available resources.

To view the webcast, visit http://www.earthsciweek.org/webcasts. In the coming months, look for additional webcasts on Earth Science Week 2015: "Visualizing Earth Systems." To learn more about Focus Days, go to http://www.earthsciweek.org/focus-days.

  Other Announcements

Climate Literacy & Energy Awareness

The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN) is a wonderful community with more than 500 different teaching resources on climate, climate change, and energy.  These resources (including classroom activities, experiments, and visualizations) are reviewed by educators and scientists, and are annotated and aligned with standards and benchmarks, making it easy to locate the best resources to meet your needs.  Make climate literacy and energy awareness a priority by visiting the CLEAN web site.

AGU's Blogosphere

Did you know that the American Geophysical Union hosts a collection of Earth and space science blogs?  Explore topics like extreme weather, landslides, volcanoes, astronomy, earthquakes and climate change.  And, of course, you and your students can join in discussions about these topics!

VHub - Volcano Resources

VHub is a site for collaborative volcano research and risk mitigation.  Use the Resource Warehouse to locate a plethora of quality educational resources including posters, crossword puzzles, slide shows, factsheets, and activities.  This is your one-stop free shop for all things volcanic!

IRIS Reaches Students At 'Teachable Moments'

Want to delve into the science behind current events with your students? IRIS (the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) offers a set of online resources - Recent Earthquake Teachable Moments - dealing with recent events of particular interest to seismologists, such as the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that shook southern Indonesia on February 27, 2015. View PowerPoint presentations, animations, and visualizations, as well as links to Spanish-language materials and USGS data. Additional resources address other quakes worldwide.

Founded in 1984 with National Science Foundation support, IRIS is a nonprofit consortium of over 100 universities engaged in the acquisition, management, and distribution of seismological data. To explore Teachable Moments, visit http://www.iris.edu/hq/retm online.

NOAA Citizen Science - Help Track Whale Movements

Are you a boater?  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration invites you to help scientists track the movements of endangered humpback whales between NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and its sister sanctuaries across the Caribbean as part of Carib Tails, an international citizen science effort.

By photographing the tails of humpbacks they encounter at sea, boaters can support on-going research to collect migration data on the shared population of approximately 1,000 humpbacks.  Photographs will be matched to entries in the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog and images of previously unknown and unphotographed whales will be added to the collection.  A dedicated website provides tips on how to photograph flukes for research purposes, photo submission forms and other information about humpback whales.

Researchers identify individual humpback whales by the black and white patterns on the underside of their flukes (tails). Scars and natural pigmentation, ranging from all white to all black, along with the scalloped shaped edge of the tail, give each whale a distinct identification. Photographs of humpback flukes have allowed researchers to monitor the movements, health and behavior of individual animals since this research began in the 1970's.

Read more about the program at the Carib Tails website.

Sea Turtles and the Quest to Nest

Sea Turtles and the Quest to Nest, a game developed by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Ocean Service, is designed to help students understand how they can help protect turtles and their habitats. The game takes place in the southeastern U.S. Students are introduced to all of the people and animals that play a role in the life of loggerhead turtles.

For more educational games created by NOAA, see http://games.noaa.gov/.

Table of Contents


New Member Options
Total Lunar Eclipse
April Meteor Showers
Space Missions
Help Detect Asteroid
Black Carbon

Time to Garden!
FMA Live!
2015 Year of Soils
Natl Wk of Ocean
Green Week 2015
Presidential Awards
Global Youth Service
Free Natl Parks
EE Week 2015
45th Earth Day 2015
Arbor Day 4/24
Save the Frogs!
DNA Day! 4/25
Student Mars Chall
Intel ISEF 2015
Endangered Sp Day
ES Wk Visualize OCT
ES Wk Webcasts

AGU Blogosphere
VHUB - Volcano
IRIS Teachable Mom
NOAA Citizen Science
Sea Turtles















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