December 2009

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements
Windows to the Universe Facebook Group

Another Year Comes to a Close

Looking at the calendar, it appears that yet another year is on its way into history. This reminds me that we are now approaching the 15th anniversary of the Windows to the Universe project. The project was started with support from the NASA Public Uses of Remote Sensing Data Bases program in February 1995. We must have a celebration! Over all this time, the project has been visited over 100 million times, serving nearly half a billion web pages - who would have thought!

We are now well into our Fall NSTA offerings, with Minneapolis and Fort Lauderdale sessions already behind us, and Phoenix coming up in early December. Randy, Sandra, and I are looking forward to seeing those of you that can make it to this last regional NSTA. We are absolutely delighted that we have had such a positive response to our workshops so far - several have been overflowing, with well over 100 participants each. Hundreds of new teachers have signed up for this newsletter at these events, and we look forward to having them join us here. Given all the interest, it seems clear that we need to expand our professional development offerings for teachers, and we are looking into new options for this.

Team members highlight several new resources and updates on the website. In addition, there are numerous opportunities from partner organizations available in the lower half of the newsletter - please be sure to check these out, as there are deadlines for most of them.

Finally, as we all consider what we are thankful for this year, I'd like to encourage you to consider a donation to the Windows to the Universe project. We need your help to keep our website up-to-date and to support our professional development workshops. Donations to the site are tax-exempt. Just click on the donations page and go to the "UCAR Payment Website". Scroll down on that page, and you'll find "Windows to the Universe Donation" as the last item of the list of options. Thanks so much for your consideration and support!

Graphing Sea Ice Activity Updated with 2009 Data

We've added data for 2009 (so far!) to our "Graphing Sea Ice Extent in the Arctic and Antarctic" activity. A decrease in the thickness and area of Arctic Sea ice has been one of the early warning signs of our planet's warming climate. This graphing activity helps students explore the changing nature of the polar regions by plotting seasonal and long-term changes in sea ice extent around both poles using actual (and current!) data. The Arctic ice pack made headlines in 2007 as it reached historical lows. How has it been doing since? See for yourself... we just added data through October 2009 to this activity.

You'll also want to take a look at animations (North Pole and South Pole) of the seasonal "pulse" of sea ice expansion and contraction. Our monthly animations run from 2002 through 2008. Finally, make side-by-side comparisons of changes in sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic by viewing maps spanning 30 years. Our interactive multimedia viewer now includes data from 1979 through 2009.

Dining with Biodiversity

While our minds wander towards warm comfort foods this time of year, let us not forget the diversity of living things that makes those foods possible. When you look at your holiday table you may instantly recognize the presence of representatives from the Kingdoms Animalia and Plantae, but did you realize that the two other kingdoms of the Eukaryota domain of life may be contributing to your holiday meal as well? Here are a couple of examples of how some unsung, single-celled heroes of the Kingdom’s Fungi and Protista wind up at the table.

To get dough to rise, bakers rely on single-celled helpers called yeast. Yeasts are living things, classified as part of the Kingdom Fungi. They are eukaryotic microorganisms. Not only found in your bread dough, wild yeasts are also found worldwide in ocean and terrestrial ecosystems. In the kitchen, yeast eats sugars in the dough and respires making carbon dioxide bubbles, causing the dough to rise. When the dough is baked, the yeast die.

Algae, usually included within the Kingdom Protista, are a staple in Asian cuisine. Even if you do not eat them, algae can contribute to your dinner because they are used as fertilizer in organic farming. Most industrial fertilizers are made chemically and are problematic for ecosystems when they get into waterways, forming dead zones where rivers empty into the ocean. Organic farms do not use these fertilizers, but instead use natural soil amendments such as species of algae called kelp. Kelp is brown algae that grow in cold-water areas of the shallow ocean, forming large forests that are home to a diversity of marine life.

Winter Weather

Winter storms have already hit various places in the U.S. this fall, and more are surely on the way! Since many students get excited about winter weather, share some information with them on snow, blizzards, and other types of dramatic weather. Snowflakes are intricate and fascinating. Some are perfectly symmetrical and others are lopsided, depending on the conditions occurring in the atmosphere when the snowflake falls to the ground. Blizzards are very powerful storms, with winds greater than 35 mph (56 kph), large amounts of snow, and visibility of less than ¼ mile (0.4 km).

If you live in an area with cold and snowy winters, be on the alert for severe weather advisories. Check out our information on blizzard safety - cold temperatures can cause frostbite or hypothermia and winter storms can create dangerous driving conditions. Be safe and have fun out there!

Also, we encourage you to check out our Postcards from the Field - Antarctica 2008-2009. That will put cold weather into perspective!

Blue Moon on New Year's Eve

Most years have 12 full moons, but a calendar month is longer that a lunar month, so every two or three years there is an extra full moon. It is called a "blue moon". Different definitions place the "extra" moon at different times.

The Farmer's Almanac used to define a blue moon as the third full moon in a season that has four full moons instead of three. More recently, due to misinterpretation, a blue moon came to mean a second full moon in a month. This kind of blue moon will happen on New Year's Eve this year, December 31, 2009. However, in Australia and most of Asia, it will occur not in December but in January 2010 due to date differences between time zones.

The origins of the name "blue moon" are unclear. The expression "once in a blue moon", dating from the 19th century, means something that happens very rarely. Another explanation connects it with the word "belewe" from the Old English, meaning, "to betray", since it skewed the calculations for the date of Easter in church calendars, based on moon cycles. Read more about full moon names on Windows to the Universe.

Join Us in Phoenix!

Will you be attending the NSTA regional conference in Phoenix? We will! We would love to see you at one of the following events. Our presentations and workshops cover timely science topics like climate change, space weather and Earth system science. We try to show as many hands-on activities as we can and we always provide handouts. Please join us!

Phoenix, AZ

Time Location
Thursday, December 3 Activities from Across the Earth System 8:00–9:00 AM Phoenix Convention Center, 229A
Friday, December 4 Magnetism Activities, Earth's Magnetism, and Space Weather from Windows to the Universe 11:00 AM–12:00 PM Phoenix Convention Center, 224B
Friday, December 4 Math Activities in the Earth Sciences Using Interactive Multimedia from Windows to the Universe 2:00–3:00 PM Phoenix Convention Center, 221A
Saturday, December 5 Tackling the Global Warming Challenge in a Rapidly Changing World 8:00–9:00 AM Phoenix Convention Center, 222C
Saturday, December 5 Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future 11:00 AM–12:00 PM Phoenix Convention Center, 229A

Fermi Telescope Happenings

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has been operational for a year now, and already it has provided scientists with a detailed new perspective on the extreme universe. The Telescope's primary instrument, the Large Area Telescope (LAT), has mapped more than 1,000 new sources of gamma rays, and the secondary instrument, the Gamma Ray Burst Monitor, has been used to observe more than 250 gamma ray bursts.

One of the most exciting uses of the Fermi Telescope occurred this past May, when it was used to test a long-debated aspect of Einstein's theories of space-time and relativity. These theories are based in large part on Einstein's hypothesis that all electromagnetic radiation--radio waves, infrared, visible light, X-rays and gamma rays--travels through a vacuum at the same speed. This idea has been very difficult to test, and some physicists have recently suggested models in which higher-energy gamma rays would move more slowly than photons at lower energy levels. This type of model contradicts Einstein's premise, but there has not been a good way to determine which is correct. This past May, however, the Fermi Telescope was used to show that photons at very different energies (differing by more than a million-fold) traveled at speeds that were identical to within one part in 100 million billion. That eliminates models that include energy-dependent speed changes and proves that Einstein was correct after all.

The Fermi Telescope has been used to make a number of other very interesting observations such as a gamma ray burst that ejected matter moving at 99.99995 percent of light speed, and another burst that produced energy equivalent to 9,000 typical supernovae. It is currently scanning the entire sky every three hours, and NASA hopes it will continue to help scientists make high-impact discoveries about the extreme universe and the fabric of space-time. For more information about the Fermi Telescope, as well as images and animations, see the project website.

Green Ideas for the Holidays

Many will be celebrating various holidays in the month of December. We hope that your holidays will be happy and peaceful. Here are some ideas for keeping those holidays "Green". Please share them with your students, and hopefully, they will share them with family and friends. It's when everyone pitches in, that it makes a difference!

Our "Green" Ideas from UCAR's Education and Outreach Department:
1. With guests around, you'll likely have more dishes to wash and laundry to do. Don't run the dishwasher or washing machine unless it's full. And use cold water to wash clothes. These ideas save energy and money!

2. Put small electric candles in your windows as a house decoration versus the long strings of lights and light bulbs. Use compact fluorescent bulbs in the candles. Turn them off when you turn in for the night or use timers so that you don't forget!

3. When shopping for holiday meals, don't worry about the question of paper or plastic - bring your own reusable bags to the store! Many stores give monetary credit for your effort and you keep paper or plastic out of landfills.

4. When you're on the road for a quick meal, remember to take a minimum of napkins. Many people take a large handful, only to throw away many unused napkins. If everyone does this, we can save billions of pounds of waste from needlessly filling landfills. At home, use cloth napkins.

5. Use gift bags instead of wrapping paper - they can be reused for several years. Or make your own gift wrap out of old newspapers! Also, you can always visit the remnants bin at the local fabric store for present wrapping "paper". There are many, many pieces large enough to wrap just about anything. Plus the cloth is re-usable year after year!

6. Choose your gifts wisely. For example, gifts of food add less to our collective "accumulating domestic mass", and significantly reduce our CO2 emissions. Vegan, locally-produced, organic food, with its own natural packaging (e.g. a pie one bakes from locally grown pumpkins or bushel of avocados, etc.) are perfect!

Happy and "Green" Holidays!

Table of Contents

Sea Ice 2009 Data
Winter Weather
Blue Moon
Fermi Telescope
Green Holidays


Online Courses
Teachers-Costa Rica
Current NASA Ops
Env Ed Award
Contest 9-12
Einstein Fellowship
PEYA Applications











Teacher Submissions

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Announcements from Partners

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Last Chance to Save $25 on Climate Discovery Courses!

Register before January 1st to save $25! Registration for the winter session of NCAR Climate Discovery Online Courses is now open. 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 22 through March 14.

  • 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 save $25. For complete course schedule and registration information, visit

2010 Toyota International Teacher Program to Costa Rica

The Institute of International Education and Toyota Motor Sales, USA, announced that they are accepting applications for the 2010 Toyota International Teacher Program to Costa Rica. This program is a fully funded professional development program for U.S. educators, and its aim is to advance environmental stewardship and global connectedness in U.S. schools and communities. The program will take place June 18-July 3, 2010. Full-time teachers and librarians for grades 6-12 can apply, and the deadline for applications is January 6, 2010. More information can be found on the program website.

NASA Connects with Students

Send Your Own Experiment up in a NASA Research Balloon
NASA is now accepting applications from students who would like to send their experiments to the edge of space. Twelve students from U.S. colleges and universities will be chosen, and their experimental payloads will be flown aboard NASA's High Altitude Student Platform (HASP) to an altitude of >20 miles. The deadline for applications is December 18, 2009, and more information can be found at the
program website.

NASA Sponsors Student Water Recycling Competition
NASA is inviting fifth through eighth grade students to participate in a competition to design water recycling systems that could be used for future exploration of the moon. Teams of up to six students and one teacher or mentor should submit their proposals to NASA by Feb. 1st, 2010, and the winning team will receive a free trip to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Visit the Kennedy Space Center Education website for details.

Take a Virtual Spacewalk with NASA's New Video Game
NASA has developed a new video game called Station Spacewalk to give people a virtual opportunity to experience the thrill of working on a mission at the International Space Station. The game is based on actual work astronauts performed during the course of several NASA missions. To play the game, visit the project's website.

Richard C. 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 high school educator who can serve as an inspiration and model for others. The winner receives a $5,000 award and a trip to Washington D.C. where he or she meets with representatives from the environmental education community to further his or her education network. Do you know a teacher who stands out among the rest? If so, please nominate him/her for the 2010 Richard C. Bartlett Award. Nominations will be accepted through January 15, 2010. To learn more or to submit your nomination visit

2010 Thacher 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.

Einstein Fellowship - Application Now Open!

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship is a paid fellowship for K-12 math, science, and technology teachers. Einstein Fellows spend a school year in Washington, DC, serving in a federal agency or on Capitol Hill. To be considered for an Einstein Fellowship for the 2010-2011 school year, apply and submit three letters of recommendation online by January 13, 2010.

Apply online at

For more information about the Einstein Fellows program visit or contact Program Manager Kathryn Culbertson at

2009 President's Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) Applications

Applications due Dec 31, 2009

Since 1971, EPA has sponsored the President's Environmental Youth Awards (PEYA). The program recognizes young people across America for projects that demonstrate their commitment to the environment. Young people in all 50 states and the U.S. territories are invited to participate in the program.

Projects submitted in the past have covered a wide range of subject areas including recycling programs in schools and communities; construction of nature preserves; major tree planting programs; videos, skits, and newsletters created by students that focused on environmental issues; and environmental science projects. To be eligible to compete, a student or students, sponsored by an adult, must submit to their local EPA regional office evidence of a completed project as defined in the PEYA application, as well as a completed application.

The deadline for submitting applications for the regional award program is December 31 of each year.

HIPPO - HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations

The “HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO) of Carbon Cycle and Greenhouse Gases Study” is measuring cross sections of atmospheric concentrations approximately pole-to-pole, from the surface to the tropopause, five times during different seasons over a three year period. A comprehensive suite of atmospheric trace gases pertinent to understanding the Carbon Cycle will be measured. The program will provide the first comprehensive, global survey of atmospheric trace gases, covering the full troposphere in all seasons and multiple years. Wonderful learning opportunities can be found on the HIPPO website which provides detailed information about the scientists, the research instruments, the global itinerary of the project, as well as image and video galleries documenting each phase of the project. Follow the project on Facebook too, and submit comments and questions for the scientists along the way!

A Perfect Time to Join NESTA!

Are you looking for resources and support to help you bring the best to your students? Are you concerned about the state of Earth and space science education today? Now is the time to join the National Earth Science Teachers Association! Membership benefits are many and include receiving The Earth Scientist (a quarterly journal), full voting privileges, access to members-only areas of the NESTA web site and the monthly e-mail newsletter that shares new resources, opportunities, alerts, and upcoming events. There are also many special NESTA events at professional meetings. Plug into this supportive network. Cost is low! Join today!

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