December 2008

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements

Happy Holidays!

Please accept holiday greetings from the team here at Windows to the Universe! Becca, Marina and I are just back from the 8th National and 1st International Convention of Natural Sciences Professors in Zacatecas, Mexico where we offered a workshop as well as presenting in a Share-a-Thon. It was a great opportunity to meet new colleagues, and share our resources with teachers from all across Mexico. Of the 10,066 subscribers to this newsletter from around the world, 536 are from Mexico, not including the many new subscribers we reached in this recent event. We are in the midst of NSTA Area Conference season, with many workshops in both Portland and Cincinnati - I hope we get to see you there!

I have just started a "Windows to the Universe Users" Group on Facebook, for those of you that are interested in sharing ideas there. There's not much there yet, but I hope this is a way to facilitate discussion among users of our website and professional development resources. Please feel free to join the group and share your ideas!

Winter Officially Begins!

The winter and summer solstices as well as the equinoxes (spring and fall) are astronomical events that mark our seasons.

This year's winter solstice occurs on Sunday December 21st when the Earth's northern axis is slightly tilted away from the Sun and the Northern Hemisphere receives less sunlight. Because of this the Sun appears to climb higher (in the summer) and sink lower (in the winter) in the sky as viewed from our planet. On a winter day in the northern hemisphere the sun is not up for very long, and it never gets very high in the sky. This moment in the year is when the shadows stretch their longest, and when we get the fewest daylight hours. The opposite occurs in the southern hemisphere, where the sun rises early in the northeast, takes a high path across the southern sky and we get longer hours of sun light as it sets in the northwest later in the evening. At mid-northern latitudes, the earliest sunset of the year comes two weeks BEFORE the winter solstice and the year's latest sunrise comes two weeks AFTER.

The word solstice comes from the Latin 'Sol Stetit' or 'Sol sistere', which translates as ‘Sun stands still’ because the Sun moves at a snail's pace during this time of year!

Since the Winter Solstice has always marked the time of the longest dark and the shortest light, symbolically, it portrays, on this darkest of nights, the goddess as the ‘great mother’ giving birth to the young-hero god—the Sun god. This is the symbolic birth of the messenger of light (the Sun's birthday!). It is no exception that the Incas and the indigenous cultures of the Andes that preceded them adored Inti the Sun-god. Cultures around the world have always celebrated this special time of the year--the time of the longest night. In its own special way the Solstice provides hope for the rebirth of Spring after the “death” of Winter, in other words, it's a worldwide celebration of life!

Halley's Comet Observed 250 Years Ago

250 years ago, on December 25, 1758, German farmer and amateur astronomer Johann Georg Palitzsch first observed the predicted return of Halley's comet. In 1705, English astronomer, mathematician and physicist Edmond Halley had suggested that the comet observed in 1531, 1607, and 1682 was the same one, and predicted its return every 76 years.

Halley's comet had in fact been observed since 240 BC and is next scheduled to return in 2062. During its last appearance in 1982, the Giotto mission and several other spacecrafts flew past the comet and collected a wealth of data on its different regions. The debris left behind by Halley's comet is responsible for the Orionid meteor shower each October and Eta Aquarids meteor shower in May.

Haumea - Fifth Dwarf Planet Announced

Our Solar System now has five dwarf planets. The International Astronomical Union announced in September that the Kuiper Belt Object named Haumea will join the ranks of the dwarf planets, along with Pluto, Eris, Makemake, and Ceres.

Haumea is any icy world which, like Pluto, orbits on the outer fringe of the Solar System beyond the planet Neptune. The dwarf planet has two known moons and is "stretched" into an elongated, oval shape due to its rapid rotation - the days on Haumea are less than four hours long! Haumea is named after a goddess of childbirth and fertility from Hawaiian mythology.

Click here to read more about Haumea, or here to see a data table for this dwarf planet.

Winter Climate Discovery Online Courses Coming Soon!

Registration for winter session NCAR Climate Discovery Online Courses will be open soon. Mark your calendars!

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 winter, NCAR will be offering a series of six- and 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 January 23 through March 15.

  • 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 Earth systems 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.

Register early and save! There is a $225 fee per course, but if you complete your registration by January 1st, you can save $25. For complete course schedule and registration information, visit

The Ocean Biome

From plankton to whales, clams to sharks, the ocean is home to a diverse array of marine life.Their home, the ocean biome is the largest biome on Earth, covering over two-thirds of the planet.

The ocean biome is not the same everywhere. Variations in water temperature, the amount of sunlight that filters through the water, and the amount of nutrients allow different ecosystems to form. A series of new articles on Windows to the Universe provide an overview of four different environments where life thrives in the ocean. Explore the links below to learn more about the physical conditions and living things in these environments.

  • Life in the Intertidal Zone - Where the ocean meets the land, hardy animals, plants, and algae make their homes between the low tide and high tide levels.
  • Life in the Open Ocean – The largest area of the marine ecosystem, the open ocean is home to swimming fish, drifting plankton, and other creatures.
  • Life in the Shallow Ocean – In the sunlit parts of the shallow ocean, many animals, plants, and algae thrive on the seafloor as fish zoom above.
  • Life in the Deep Ocean – This cold, dark world offers some very unusual extreme environments where many living things have found ways to survive.

Explore the collection of photographs from these four different environments in the Ocean Biome Image Gallery. And try playing Food Chain Checkers (1.8MB PDF) with students, a classroom activity that is a simple model of a marine food chain.

Earthrise Photo Turns 40!

This month marks the 40th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 8 mission. Launched on December 21, 1968, it was the first crewed voyage to leave the Earth's orbit. Its 3-person crew became the first humans to see the far side of the moon as they orbited it for 20 hours. During this mission, they took one of the most famous photographs in history - the Earth rising over the limb of the moon - on Christmas Eve, December 24th.

The first "Earthrise" photos were taken on black & white film by Astronaut Bill Anders, who switched to color film moments later to take the more famous version of the photograph. This photograph has become an icon for environmental groups around the world, showing the living Earth as a tiny blue and white marble in contrast to the lifeless lunar landscape.

Cincinnati NSTA Regional Conference

Will you be at the NSTA Regional Conference in Cincinnati, OH (December 4-6, 2008)? If so, we invite you to participate in one or more of the Windows to the Universe sessions listed below.

Cincinnati NSTA Regional Conference

Date Title Time Location
Thursday, December 4 Microworlds! Online Tools Exploring Earth's Atmosphere, Water Cycle, and Greenhouse Gases 8:00-9:00 am Duke Energy Center, Room 207
NESTA Share-a-Thon 2:00-3:00 pm Duke Energy Center, Room 206
NESTA Rock Raffle 3:30-4:30 pm Duke Energy Center, Room 206
Friday, December 5 Cool Science from Cold Places! Activities and Online Resources About Science of the Polar Regions 9:30-10:30 am Duke Energy Center, Room 204
Magnetism Activities, Space Weather, and Geomagnetism 2:00-3:00 pm Duke Energy Center, Room 207
Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future 5:00-6:00 pm Duke Energy Center, Room 204
Saturday, December 6 Water, Air, Land, Life, and Space! (WALLS!) 11:00 am -12:00 pm Duke Energy Center, Room 206

VOCALS: Climate Science in the Southeast Pacific - Postcards

We have wonderfully written postcards with great photos being submitted daily for the VOCALS campaign. Read through them to see a real and exciting science story unfold. I promise you and your students won't be disappointed!

Recent submissions include Sunset Drizzle, Solar Noon, Night Launch and Peregrine Falcon at Sea!

Table of Contents

Winter Solstice
Halley's Comet
Dwarf Planet Haumea
Online Courses
The Ocean Biome
Earthrise Photo
NSTA Cincinnati
Climate Postcards

Earth Gauge Website
Environmental Award











Teacher Submissions

Click here to submit your ideas to the newsletter

Announcements from Partners

Click here to submit information about your program to the newsletter

Polar Resources from POLAR-PALOOZA

POLAR-PALOOZA has lots of resources available for you and your students! Check out a new video called "The McMurdo Dry Valleys: Day Becomes Night" to learn about the work some scientists are doing in Antarctica. In addition, on the POLAR-PALOOZA site you'll find podcasts, information about the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and classroom activities about penguin adaptations, thermal expansion of water, and the effects of melting ice sheets. Spend some time exploring the poles - you and your students will enjoy the adventure!

POLAR-PALOOZA is part of the International Polar Year which is a large scientific program focused on the Arctic and Antarctic that continues until March 2009.

New Earth Gauge Kids Website Is Here!

The new Earth Gauge Kids website is here! Designed for fifth through eighth graders, the website focuses on a new weather-environment theme each month. Kids can find an interactive quiz, activity ideas, fun facts, and links to "cool tools" and games on the web. November's theme is "Migratory Birds," while December's theme is "Winter Weather."

Earth Gauge Kids is a project of the National Environmental Education Foundation. We hope the new website will be useful to you and your young audiences. Visit

Bartlett Environmental Education Award

The Richard C. Bartlett Environmental Education Award is awarded annually by the National Environmental Education Foundation to an outstanding educator who has successfully integrated environmental education into his or her daily education programs. The award is given to a 5th-12th grade educator who can serve as an inspiration and model for others. A $5,000 cash award is provided for the recipient to continue their work in environmental education. Do you know a teacher who stands out among the rest? If so, please nominate him/her for the 2009 Richard C. Bartlett Award. Nominations will be accepted through January 31, 2009. To learn more or submit your nomination visit

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements

Newsletter archive
Log in to visit our members' area, change your registration information or newsletter options.

The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). © The Regents of the University of Michigan. Windows to the Universe® is a registered trademark of UCAR. All Rights Reserved. Site policies and disclaimer