January 2008

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all subscribers to the Windows to the Universe Educator Newsletter! We hope you are all enjoying a relaxing break, and are storing up energy for when school starts up again soon. This month's newsletter gives you a heads up about a number of new developments at Windows to the Universe, including our new portal to resources made available through the National Science Foundation, new additions to our Clouds section, and new postcards from the Antarctic.

Thanks to everyone we had a chance to meet this past fall at NSTA Regional conferences in Detroit and Denver! We look forward to seeing you in March in Boston - please see a list of our events in Boston, below. While you're there, be sure to check out the offerings of the National Earth Science Teachers Association. Finally, don't forget the opportunity to become a sponsor of Windows to the Universe. If this website is valuable to you, and is a resource you use, please consider supporting our project through an online donation. Your support will help us keep the website up-to-date, develop new content, and offer professional development for educators.

Postcards from the Poles Highlight Penguin Science

The Penguin Science program, including educator Jean Pennycook and the research team lead by scientist David Ainley, is back in Antarctica to study Adelie Penguins and how they are coping with climate change, as well as making a documentary film about the research. Jean is sending virtual postcards to Windows to the Universe that share her observations of the Adelie Penguins this season. Peruse these postcards from the Adelie Penguins of the Antarctic main page and learn more about these endearing animals.

If you like science postcards, also take a look at Postcards from the Field sent in from other researchers and science educators. Jean's postcards about this Adelie Penguin colony from last year's visit with Penguin Science are linked from there too!

National Science Foundation Features Portal

We have a new portal to some great resources from the National Science Foundation (NSF)! Check out some of the best materials from NSF, including podcasts, video clips, interactive features, and news stories. These projects span many different science topics and provide a fun way to engage in science learning. We will be adding more items in each of the categories, so check back again soon to see what is available!

Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The first meteor shower of the new year peaks on the night of January 3rd/4th. The peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to occur around 6:40 Universal Time on January 4th (that's 1:40 AM Eastern time). Since the Moon will be at its waxing crescent phase then, it won't cast much moonlight (which interferes with spotting dim meteors). So 2008 should be a good year to see some Quadrantids.

Though the Quadrantids are a major meteor shower, they have been studied less than some of the other major meteor swarms. Winter storms in the Northern Hemisphere often obscure the view of this event, and even the most die-hard meteor observers sometimes find lying on a lawn chair for hours on a crisp January evening to observe this shower a bit chilling. Unfortunately, the view of this shower from the warmer Southern Hemisphere is not very good because of the Quadrantids' location in the sky.

The Quadrantids are a shower with an interesting history; they are named after a now defunct constellation, and, like the Geminids, the source of these meteors is a mysterious object that may be an asteroid or an extinct comet (and which was discovered only recently, in 2003!). Look for the Quadrantids on the night of January 3rd and 4th; to learn more about them, click here.

Updates to the Cloud Section

Check out our newly expanded and revised clouds section! You will find new photographs of clouds, a table that categorizes the various cloud types, information on some unusual clouds, and content about the heights of the different types of clouds. In addition, we have a Cloud Image Gallery that provides multiple images of each cloud type. The photographs are beautiful!

Once you have brushed up on all of this cloud content, visit the Clouds in Art section to explore clouds with a humanities perspective.


The Earth is a place with lots of water. Nearly 70 percent of the planet's surface is covered with water. The water exists in the air in steam form and in aquifers underground . Due to the water cycle, the water sources of our planet are in constant movement, from one place to another and from one form to another. All things on Earth would undergo deterioration if the water cycle did not exist! When you look for water around you, you might see it in streams, rivers, and in lakes. This water is known as surface water. When rain falls, it fills up rivers and lakes that flow into areas of the ocean known as tidewater regions and estuaries.

But, how do you explain that water continues to flow in rivers weeks after the last rain? The answer is that our water supply is made up of much more than just surface water, since there is a great amount of groundwater under our feet!

Science History Events in January

January is a month rich in astronomic discoveries. On January 7, 1601 Galileo wrote a letter containing the first mention of moons of Jupiter. He saw three of them first, and discovered the fourth in a few months. The 4 major moons of Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, are now called the Galilean satellites. Their discovery was a key piece of evidence that the Earth was not the center of the Universe.

On January 1, 1801 Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the first asteroid, which he named Ceres after the Greek goddess of grain. In 2006, Ceres was classified as a "dwarf planet", along with Pluto and Eris.

January 31 marks the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. Satellite, Explorer 1. Its successful flight made the United States the second nation in space, following the Soviets who had launched Sputnik 1 just four months earlier. Explorer's major accomplishment was the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt.

On January 14, 2005, the The Huygens space probe landed on Titan. It made measurements of Titan's thick atmosphere and took pictures of the moon's surface. And a year later, on January 16, 2006, NASA's Stardust mission returned to Earth, bringing the first comet samples.

Other notable dates in January include a birthday of a scientist who is often considered to be the greatest of them all - Isaac Newton, as well as birthdays of Ben Franklin (1706-1790), astronomer Simon Marius (1573 - 1624) and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (born in 1942).

Windows to the Universe Events at NSTA Boston, March 2008

Will you be at the NSTA National Conference in Boston this spring (March 27-30, 2008)? If so, we invite you to participate in one or more of the Windows to the Universe sessions listed below.

Time Location
Thursday, March 27
Magnetism Activities, Space Weather, and Geomagnetism
8:00-9:00 am

The Westin Boston Waterfront, Grand Ballroom D

Friday, March 28
Interactive Simulations and Hands-On Activities Across the Earth and Space Sciences
8:00-9:00 am The Westin Boston Waterfront, Faneuil
NESTA Geology Share-a-Thon 9:30-10:30 am The Westin Boston Waterfront, Grand Ballroom B
NESTA Oceans and Atmospheres Share-a-Thon 11:00 am - 12:00 pm The Westin Boston Waterfront, Grand Ballroom B
Playing with Ecosystem Science: Informal Modeling Games to Explore the Delicate Balance 11:00 am - 12:00 pm Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Room 160B
NESTA Space Science Share-a-Thon 12:30-1:30 pm The Westin Boston Waterfront, Grand Ballroom B
Bringing Writing and Reading into the Earth Science Classroom: Innovative Assessment Ideas 2:00-3:00 pm The Westin Boston Waterfront, Commonwealth C
Saturday, March 29
NESTA International Polar Year/Climate Change Science Share-a-Thon
9:30-10:30 am The Westin Boston Waterfront, Grand Ballroom B
Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future 12:30-1:30 pm The Westin Boston Waterfront, Grand Ballroom A
Water, Air, Land, Life, and Space! (WALLS!) 2:00-3:00 pm The Westin Boston Waterfront, Grand Ballroom E
Sunday, March 30
Cool Science from Cold Places! Activities and Online Resources About Science of the Polar Regions
8:00-9:00 am Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Room 052B

Table of Contents

Penguin Postcards
NSF Features Portal�NSF Features Portal
Quadrantid Meteors
Precious Water!
Science History
W2U at NSTA Boston
Climate Discovery
Weather and Climate


Teacher Submissions

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Announcements from Partners

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NCAR's Online Climate Discovery Courses Begin Soon!

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? The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) offers a suite of distance learning courses that build upon our face-to-face professional development workshops.

Climate Discovery is a series of six-week, online courses for middle and high school teachers instructed by science education specialists. Each course combines geoscience content, information about current climate research, easy to implement hands-on activities, and group discussion.

  • Introduction to Earth's Climate (January 11 - February 22, 2008), the first course in the series, 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.
  • Earth System Science: A Climate Change Perspective (January 18 - February 29, 2008) 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.
  • Understanding Climate Change Today (April 4 - May 16, 2008) 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.

The tuition is $200/course. There is an additional fee for optional teacher recertification credits. Sign up by January 2, 2008 for the 1st 2 courses and by March 7, 2008 for the 3rd course. For more information, visit http://ecourses.ncar.ucar.edu. If you have questions, contact Dr. Sandra Henderson.

Hands-On Atmospheric Science Activity Ideas from the Little Shop of Physics

The Little Shop of Physics is a partner in the Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes (CMMAP) at Colorado State University. We've been busy developing hands-on investigations that illustrate the science behind the workings of weather and climate. All of our experiments use easy-to-find items like pop bottles & poker chips, and are intended for a wide range of ages. Each one starts with an intriguing question, like "Why Does it Get Colder on Clear Nights Than on Cloudy Nights?" and then sets out an investigation. Topics include air and air pressure, the role of water in the atmosphere, visible light and electromagnetic waves beyond the rainbow, and how to make a simple climate model. Please download our experiment guides and let us know what you think!

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The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at http://www.windows.ucar.edu/ at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). 1995-1999, 2000 The Regents of the University of Michigan; 2000-07 University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. All Rights Reserved.