February 2008

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements

February Highlights and Happy Anniversary!

This month's newsletter highlights several timely resources and new content on the Windows to the Universe website, as well as our professional development activities planned for the upcoming National Science Teachers Association meeting this coming March in Boston. We also highlight several resources and opportunities provided by Partner organizations and programs, including the National Earth Science Teachers Association, NCAR Online Education, and the International Polar Year.

February is special for us here at Windows to the Universe since it marks the anniversary of the project. Windows to the Universe started in February, 1995, with funding from NASA. Since that time, we have continued to develop content and resources for teachers, students, and the public, as well as developed a professional development program for teachers with the support of NASA, the National Science Foundation, and collaboration with numerous university partners and projects. Thanks to everyone that has made it possible for us to support Earth and space science education and literacy over the past 13 years, now reaching over 21 million users per year annually.

Leap Year Is Here!

The calendar used in most parts of the world today has 365 days in most years. However, it takes the Earth 365.2425 days to make one trip around the Sun. How is this extra quarter of a day taken into account? Approximately every four years in the Gregorian calendar, February has 29 days instead of the usual 28 days. This type of year is called a leap year. Have your students do some math to figure out which years have that extra day. The instructions are on the leap year page.

Latin februum

Celebrations are an important part of every culture. They provide common bonds allowing people to share a meaningful connection to one another. The word ‘February’ derives from the Latin februum, which means “cleansing or purification”, reflecting the rituals undertaken by the Romans before spring. Having only 28 days in non-leap years, February is also known in Welsh as ‘y mis bach', which means ‘little month’. There are many celebrations during February which are related to the Sun and Moon .

February 3, Carnival Sunday, to February 10, Piñata Sunday: The word Carnival originates from Latin carn-, caro, carne- flesh + levare to remove, the word literally means, removal of meat. Carnival is celebrated in preparing for the Lenten season. It is the predecessor of the Mardi Gras and Fat or Shrove Tuesday. The ancient Egyptians were the first recorded culture that celebrated Carnival, setting aside five of the 365 days of the year to restore harmony to their relationship with the gods of the universe by the custom of aligning the occurrence of Easter Sunday and then Mardi Gras annually with the Sun, Spring full moon and the rhythms of the magic number seven.

February 9, Chinese New Year: The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar cycles. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. In order to "catch up" with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an extra month once every few years (seven years out of a 19-year cycle). This is the same as adding an extra day on leap year. According to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. Each year begins with the New Moon and ends on the full moon 15 days later.

February 20-21, Full moon eclipse! From start to finish, this lunar eclipse will last for about three hours and twenty-six minutes, not including the penumbral phases. The entire lunar eclipse will be visible from South America and most of North America, as well as from Western Europe, Africa, and western Asia.

Birthdays in February

  • February 8 - Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) - a Russian chemist who created the first version of the periodic table of elements.
  • February 11 - Thomas Edison (1847-1931), a famous American inventor who patented over a thousand inventions, including the light bulb, phonograph and a motion picture machine.
  • February 12 - Charles Darwin (1809-1882), English naturalist whose book On the Origin of Species laid the basis of modern evolutionary theory.
  • February 15 - Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), an Italian physicist, astronomer and philosopher who was called "the father of modern science" by Albert Einstein.
  • February 19 - Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) - a Polish astronomer and mathematician who introduced the heliocentric model of the universe.
  • February 25 - Maria Kirch (1670-1720), a German astronomer who discovered the comet of 1702.
  • February 28 - Linus Pauling (1901-1994) - an American chemist who was awarded a Nobel price for his work in biochemistry and another one for his efforts at stopping nuclear weapons testing.

National Science Foundation Funded Research Results Highlighted on Windows to the Universe

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 regularly, so please check back again soon to see what is available! Recent additions include a new podcast on the speed of human evolution and news about what earthquakes under the Pacific Ocean reveal about the circulation of the water in hydrothermal vents.

Climate Change: Our Planet Out of Balance

"The Earth's climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming," according to the statement about the human impacts on climate released by the American Geophysical Union on January 24, 2008. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is a scientific organization with over 50,000 members that is dedicated to improving our understanding of the Earth and space for the betterment of humanity. Their new statement is an update of the organization's 2003 statement to reflect current understanding of the science of climate as well as the extent to which we humans can better the situation. The statement goes on to say that temperatures of the atmosphere, land, and oceans, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, sea level, and other aspects of the Earth system, "are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century."

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 content about the science of climate, the impact of climate change on the Earth system, paleoclimates, climate modeling, and short summaries of the reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. Peruse our suite of classroom activities that allow students to explore aspects of climate science in a hands-on way. If you are interested in furthering your own understanding of this rapidly advancing science and how to incorporate the science in your middle or high school classroom, consider taking a Climate Discovery online course for educators.

NASA International Polar Year Resources

Check out the NASA IPY website at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/IPY/main/index.html for loads of resources about the poles and the ongoing International Polar Year. This includes resources for educators, IPY multimedia, a poster, a video on NASA and the IPY, a multimedia tour of the cryosphere, and information about the Polar-Palooza program (an exciting program coming to a museum venue near you!). Upcoming Polar-Palooza events are available here, including a student and teacher workshop and presentations at National Geographic Headquarters (Grosvenor Auditorium) in Washington DC on March 13-14, 2008. Check out the news on this site as well, including a report on the speed up of Antarctic ice loss, the new real color map of the Antarctic, and changes observed in the circulation of the Arctic Ocean.

Photo Album of Inuit Experience from Early 1900s

A spectacular collection of images documenting the Inuit experience at the turn of the last century is available on Windows to the Universe. Check out these evocative images from the Library of Congress, and links to related content on the website.

Cosmic Rays

Cosmic rays are a type of radiation that comes from space. They aren't really "rays" at all, but a type of particle radiation. There are several different types (and corresponding sources) of cosmic rays: solar cosmic rays, galactic and extragalactic cosmic rays, and anomalous cosmic rays. Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere shield us from most of this high-energy radiation, though astronauts in space and satellites aren't so lucky. Future missions to the Moon and Mars will need to take special precautions to protect crews and equipment from cosmic rays. Surprisingly, the greatest threat from cosmic rays is not at the time when the Sun is at the most active phase of its 11-year solar cycle. Radiocarbon dating using carbon-14, with its many applications to archeology and other fields that delve into our past, would not be possible if there were no cosmic rays. Want to know more? Click here to delve deeper into the mysteries of cosmic rays!

Mark your calendars for the kick off of Project BudBurst on February 15, 2008!

Project BudBurst will officially get underway for the 2008 campaign on February 15, 2008. Project BudBurst is a national field campaign for citizen scientists designed to engage the public in the collection of important climate change data based on the timing of leafing and flowering of trees and flowers. Last year's inaugural event drew thousands of people of all ages taking careful observations of the phenological events such as the first bud burst, first leafing, first flower, and seed or fruit dispersal of a diversity of tree and flower species, including weeds and ornamentals. Your help in making observations and sharing information about Project BudBurst will help us in making this year even more successful.

We are excited to announce new features added to the Website that will greatly expand the usability and enhance your experience while participating in Project BudBurst!
• Expanded time to participate! Staring February 15th and continuing until the fall.
• A myBudBurst member registration space! This allows you to save your observation sites and plants online as you monitor phenological changes throughout the year and for future years.
• More plant species! We have expanded the targeted species list based on your feedback. We have also included the 19 ‘calibration' species from the National Phenology Network.
• Feature of the Month! Each month our Website will share pictures of the latest plants blooming.
• An online geolocator! This gives you an easy way to obtain latitude and longitude coordinates for your observation sites

For more information, please visit the Project BudBurst Website.

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

In the Mood for Some Games?

Did you know that the Windows to the Universe site has many educational games? Take a needed break and play one. Or recommend them to your students.

There's the Atmosphere and Clouds Word Search. Like the rest of the site, it's available at three different levels. Or how about a Jigsaw Puzzle? The Climate Crossword Puzzle is sure to challenge you. In the mood for some Planet Sudoku?

Our new Carbon Cycle Game even allows students to travel all around the carbon cycle, and find out about carbon reservoirs, greenhouse gases, climate change, and more. They will also answer quiz question on their way.

We hope you and your students will enjoy these and much more!

Table of Contents

Leap Year
Little month
Research Highlights
Climate Change
NASA IPY Resources
1900s Inuit Photos
Cosmic Rays
Project BudBurst
W2U at NSTA Boston
NESTA at Boston NSTA
Climate Course
Tour Iceland


Teacher Submissions

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Check out PolarTREK from Antarctica

A number of teachers this winter (summer in the southern hemisphere) are working on research projects in Antarctica. Other teachers, students and the public can participate virtually through these teachers' blogs and through live webinars. PolarTREC is an educational research experience, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and managed by the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S., in which K-12 teachers participate in polar research, working closely with scientists as a pathway to improving science education.

In celebration of the International Polar Year (2007-2009), a global scientific campaign to advance our understanding of the Polar Regions, thirty-six U.S. teachers will spend two to six weeks working with a research team in the Arctic or Antarctic, exploring the environments, cultures, history, and science. PolarTREC teachers will learn about cutting-edge scientific research on topics ranging from atmospheric chemistry to seabird ecology and will share their experiences with scientists, educators, communities, and hundreds of students of all ages across the globe.
Kirk Beckendorf
Blanco Middle School
Blanco, TX 78606

Announcements from Partners

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NESTA Events at the Upcoming NSTA National Conference in Boston

Will you be attending the National Science Teachers Association meeting in Boston this March? In addition to sessions offered by the Windows to the Universe project, mentioned above, the National Earth Science Teachers Association offers numerous events at this meeting including a Field Trip, four Share-a-Thons, 3 lectures on polar research offered by scientists, a fun Rock, Mineral, and Fossil Raffle where you can acquire wonderful specimens for your classroom, a Friends of Earth Science reception, and the NESTA Resource Day breakfast including a speaker. Check out the NESTA website conference page for more information about the NESTA program at the NSTA meeting, and to sign up for events. Tickets for the field trip and Resource Day Breakfast need to be purchased by March 15, and space is available on a first come, first served basis, so sign up soon!

Understanding Climate Change Today

Are you seeking a secondary science 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? Apply for the National Center for Atmospheric Research's (NCAR) newest Climate Discovery online course for educators that will be offered this spring, CD503: Understanding Climate Change Today. This six week course combines geoscience content, information about current climate research, easy to implement hands-on activities, and group discussion. We will address 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.

  • Course dates: April 4 to May 16, 2008
  • Cost: $200

For more information about Understanding Climate Change Today and the other Climate Discovery online courses, visit http://ecourses.ncar.ucar.edu.

Iceland Geology & Natural History Tour. June 21-29, 2008

An excellent opportunity exists for educators to experience a unique summer adventure! Icelandic nature is unspoiled, exotic and mystical with it’s spouting geysers, towering mountains, active volcanoes, tumbling waterfalls, vast lava plains and magical lakes. Iceland’s fjords, glaciers and highland plains present participants with some of the most beautiful and enchanting places they will ever see. Participants will see spouting geysers, stunning glaciers, thunderous waterfalls, vast deserts and fertile farmlands—all on this one exciting tour. The cost is $3260 (based on double occupancy) and includes accommodations, most meals, educational activity handouts, and professional Icelandic guide services. PSU college credit is being finalized. For more information and a complete itinerary, please contact Richard Duncan at: 503.744.0794 or: r2duncan@comcast.net.

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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.