June 2011

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Last Call for Responses to Earth and Space Science Educator Survey
by Roberta

In order to better serve Earth and space science teachers, we have prepared an anonymous survey to gather information about your Earth and space science education needs and concerns, your satisfaction with Windows to the Universe and this newsletter, and your ideas about how we can serve you better. We have 801 responses so far, but would love to have more!  Please take a moment to complete this survey at your earliest convenience, if you haven't already. You may receive notice about this survey from a variety of sources, but please be sure to only complete the survey once! Thanks so much for your time and effort!

Summer is Here!?
by Roberta

Summer is here! Or so it seems on the calendar at least.  Here in Boulder, Colorado, the weather has been quite cool and rainy, relative to the climatological averages for the Spring.  As a result, many plants seem to be late with their first blooms, including the peonies in my backyard!

This brings to mind the difference between weather and climate.  A wise middle school student once made the following observation - "Climate determines what clothes I buy, and weather determines the clothes I wear".  Climate at any location is the long-term average of weather conditions, typically over 30 years, and is related to the location's latitude, altitude, proximity to geographic barriers, and position on a continent (by the ocean or inland).  Weather is the day-to-day variation in temperature, precipitation, humidity, and winds that sets the tone for each day (and determines our choice in clothing)!

Sometimes, a continued period of cool or warm weather over several weeks makes us think that something odd is happening with the weather.   For a prolonged period of different weather conditions to have an impact on climate, they would need to persist for years (on average).  Scientists typically don't associate any particular weather event with climate change - because weather is too transient.  Instead, they look at the long-term averages of temperature and precipitation, among other factors.  And when they look at these averages, they do, indeed, see that our climate is changing over the long run.

Mississippi Floods
by Jennifer

Many of you have been watching the Mississippi river this past month as it rose to historic high levels and caused major flooding all along its path through the U.S..  In April, two major storm systems produced a huge amount of rainfall on the Mississippi basin, which resulted in very high water levels by early May.  The river was already rising from springtime snowmelt, and the extra rain led to floods in Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  The flooding was so bad that for the first time since the 1970's, the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana was opened in order to divert large amounts of water that were threatening Baton Rouge and New Orleans (the water was diverted to rural Louisiana, where it flooded several thousand square miles of farmland).  Our thoughts go out to all of those affected by the floods.

This might be a good time to teach students about floods.  Teaching about how floods happen, the different types of floods (such as flash floods which occur in only a few hours and are usually characterized by raging currents of water), and the difference between flood warnings and advisories will help them understand more about weather and climate and also prepare them for potential weather emergencies.

Read more about how floods arise and what can cause them at FloodSmart.gov.

Learn about Tornadoes!
by Jennifer

Although tornadoes can happen at any time of the year, they are especially common during the spring and early summer. May and June are usually the peak months in terms of numbers of tornadoes in the northern hemisphere.  In 2011, April saw the unfortunate outbreak of many tornadoes across the U.S.  On May 22nd, an EF-5 tornado tore through Joplin, MO, injuring more than 900 people and killing at least 142 people.  This makes it the nation's single-deadliest tornado in six decades.  Remember to visit redcross.org now to see how you can help those affected by these recent tornadoes.

The conditions that lead to the formation of tornadoes are most often met in the central and southern U.S., where warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico collides with cool, dry air from the Rockies and Canada. The area where tornadoes occur most often extends roughly from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, and from Iowa and Nebraska to the Gulf of Mexico. The center of this area, which includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, is often called tornado alley. Tornadoes can also occur elsewhere though, including all U.S. states, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

The weather section of Windows to the Universe provides information about these storms, including how tornadoes form, how meteorologists forecast where and when tornadoes will occur, and how scientists use the Enhanced Fujita Scale to determine the strength of a tornado. In addition, our Tornado in a Bottle classroom activity provides a great way to illustrate tornadoes for your students.

The Most Volcanic Object in the Solar System
by Jennifer

New data analysis from NASA's Galileo spacecraft reveals a subsurface ocean of molten or partially molten magma beneath the surface of Jupiter's volcanic moon Io.  The finding heralds the first direct confirmation of this kind of magma layer at Io and explains why the moon is the most volcanic object known in the solar system. 

Io produces about 100 times more lava each year than all the volcanoes on Earth. While Earth's volcanoes occur in localized hotspots like the "Ring of Fire" around the Pacific Ocean, Io's volcanoes are distributed all over its surface. A global magma ocean about 20 to 30 miles (30 to 50 kilometers) beneath Io's crust helps explain the moon's activity.

NASA's Voyager spacecraft discovered Io's volcanoes in 1979. The energy for the volcanic activity comes from the squeezing and stretching of the moon by Jupiter's gravity as Io orbits the largest planet in the solar system.

Galileo was launched in 1989 and began orbiting Jupiter in 1995. After a successful mission, the spacecraft was intentionally sent into Jupiter's atmosphere in 2003.

Eratosthenes Measured Our World
by Julia

Eratosthenes, an ancient Greek scientist, made the first accurate measurement of the size of the Earth in 240 B.C. June 19th will be 2250th anniversary of this event (remember there was no year 0!). He knew that the Sun made no shadow in a well in the Egyptian town of Syene on the summer solstice; and therefore, that the Sun must be directly overhead in Syene on that day. He measured the length of the shadow of a tall tower in his hometown of Alexandria on the solstice. He combined this information with the distance between Alexandria and Syene (about 800 km), and with a little geometry, was able to determine the circumference of the Earth with surprising accuracy for that time.

Eratosthenes was a mathematician, elegiac poet, athlete, geographer, astronomer, music theorist, a friend of Archimedes and a chief librarian of the famous Alexandrian library. He proposed a simple algorithm for finding prime numbers, known in mathematics as the Sieve of Eratosthenes. He made other major contributions to mathematics, geography and astronomy. Surprisingly, his contemporaries nicknamed him beta, from the second letter of the Greek alphabet, because he supposedly proved himself to be the second best in almost every field.

Warming of Large Lakes - Video and Classroom Activity
by Jennifer

Many of us will be vacationing during this upcoming break.  Lakes are a great place to visit on family vacation.  Did you know that scientists have found a global warming trend in large lakes?  Now warmer water to swim in might sounds like a good thing, but like other effects of global warming, the warming of large lakes could have undesirable implications.  We sure hope you don't find these on your travels, but these effects are something to be aware of for yourself and your students.

Scientists are just starting to study and understand the implications of rising temperatures on lake ecosystems. One area of concern is the fact that rising lake temperatures result in increased algal blooms. Algae are naturally found in lake ecosystems and are in fact the base of the aquatic food web. But when the numbers of algae in a lake rise dramatically, a bloom results. Some algal blooms are harmless to life, but are simply unappealing. Water in that area might look terrible, smell foul or even taste bad (when water is drawn for drinking and purification from that source). Other times, algal blooms can be toxic to fish, other aquatic organisms, wild and domestic animals that use that source of water, and humans. Humans can experience gastroenteritis (if the toxin is ingested), lung irritations (if the toxin becomes aerosolized) or skin irritation (if the algae/toxin is touched for instance while swimming).

Rising lake temperatures have also been shown to favor invasive species found in lakes. In the Great Lakes region, two examples of invasive species under scrutiny are zebra mussels and lampreys. Zebra mussels have been seen to thrive in warmer and warmer waters, which means they can extend their living range to higher and higher latitudes. Lampreys seem to thrive in warmer waters growing bigger and bigger and are staying active for more of the year. Both of these invasive species are extreme pests that are killing off native species, eating the food of native species, or in the case of zebra mussels, causing billions of dollars of damage to structures and aquatic vehicles.

Clearly, more study and attention is due these important limnic ecosystems where so many people live, work, make their homes, and enjoy recreation and relaxation.

To learn more, explore our Warming Lakes Classroom Activity or watch a video produced by NBC Learn called Warming Lakes.

Endeavour's Final Flight
by Jennifer

The final launch of space shuttle Endeavour occurred on May 16, 2011.  The shuttle's first landing opportunity at Kennedy is scheduled for 2:32 a.m. on June 1. STS-134 is the 134th shuttle flight, the 25th flight for Endeavour and the 36th shuttle mission dedicated to station assembly and maintenance.

Endeavour's crewmembers were Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg H. Johnson and NASA Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff and European Space Agency Mission Specialist Roberto Vittori. Crewmembers executed four spacewalks to do ISS maintenance work, installed new components, and performed a complex series of tasks to top off the ammonia in one of the station's photovoltaic thermal control system cooling loops. Endeavour also made important deliveries to the ISS.

As Endeavour's flight concludes, the NASA blog will detail the spacecraft's return to Earth. For NASA's launch blog and mission highlights, visit:  http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

Solstice is Coming!
by Roberta

The solstice occurs this month on June 21. The solstices (summer and winter) and equinoxes (spring and fall) are astronomical events that mark our seasons. Because of the tilt of Earth's axis, the Sun appears to climb higher (in the summer) and sink lower (in the winter) in the sky as viewed from our planet. A solstice is a time when the Sun momentarily pauses in this apparent migration as it reaches the greatest extremes of its "wanderings" and begins to "move" back in the opposite direction. The word "solstice" comes from two Latin roots: "sol", which means "Sun", and "sistere", which translates as "stand still".

The June solstice is the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The situation is, of course, reversed in the Southern Hemisphere - where the June solstice is the winter solstice. The solstice is commonly referred to as the start of summer (or winter), but it is actually the midway point of the season from an astronomical perspective. Since our planet's atmosphere and oceans "store" heat, temperature extremes tend to lag behind the dates of minimum (or maximum) heating by the Sun, so the coldest part of winter (or hottest part of summer) happens after the solstice.

Students often mistakenly believe that the seasons are caused by variations in Earth's distance from the Sun. This misconception doesn't make sense when one remembers that the seasons are opposite in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres - why isn't it cold everywhere on the globe when the Earth is farthest from the Sun? As Earth travels around the Sun in its elliptical orbit, its closest approach to our celestial furnace is in January, during the depth of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

To learn more about the solstice and seasons, check out these pages on Windows to the Universe:

Table of Contents

Mississippi Floods
Large Lakes
Endeavour Final

Natl Sci Edu Conf
World Oceans Day
IYC 2011
Lunar Projects
Green Thumb
Natl Fossil Day
EE Week Follow-Up
Env Photo Project
Sustain Ed
Build It Big Contest
SoI 2011
Aero Scholarships
NASA Ed Partners

















Teacher Submissions

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Announcements from Partners

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A National Conference on Science Education and Public Outreach

Presented by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) in Partnership with the American Geophysical Union and the Space Telescope Science Institute

July 30-August 3, 2011

Important deadline:

•   Late abstract proposals accepted!

Exciting schedule:

  • Best selling author/keynote speaker Chris Mooney will present - "Unscientific America: What's the Problem? What's the Solution?"
  • America's favorite public astronomer, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, discussing social media and the "Twitterverse" as an avenue to public access
  • Plenary sessions on the challenges of climate-change education, and the Year of the Solar System
  • A Science night featuring leading Hubble scientists
  • A weekend workshop and short courses for teachers in grades K-12 – flyer available at http://www.astrosociety.org/events/2011mtg/teacher_flyer.pdf

Explore both basic science (tied directly to standards) and the most recent developments in our understanding of the universe and the Earth's climate!

Visit www.astrosociety.org or call 415-337-1100 for more information.

World Oceans Day 2011: Youth - The Next Wave for Change

June 8th of every year marks the official, United Nations-recognized celebration of World Oceans Day, and hundreds of aquariums, zoos, museums, conservation organizations and thousands of individuals around the world will participate in educational events. This year, celebrations will draw attention to the importance of getting young people inspired to protect the ocean as part of the 2011 theme: Youth - the Next Wave for Change.

International Year of Chemistry 2011 (IYC 2011)

Already underway, the International Year of Chemistry 2011 (IYC 2011) is a worldwide celebration of the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the well being of humankind. IYC 2011 offers a range of interactive, entertaining, and educational activities for all ages.

Aiming to increase public appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs, IYC 2011 especially encourages interest among young people. Covering the calendar year 2011, the event will include activities such as lectures, exhibits, and hands-on experiments - and will explore how chemical research is critical for solving our most vexing global problems involving food, water, health, energy, transportation, and more.

Students can participate in the largest chemistry experiment ever during the International Year of Chemistry!   To help students from all over the globe understand that water is a precious resource that can’t be taken for granted, the Dow Chemical Company is supporting The Global Water Experiment.  The Global Water Experiment encourages teachers and students to participate in a global experiment allowing students to test the water where they live and interact with other students around the globe to share results. This will teach students about sustainable water management and the role that chemistry plays in purifying water for human consumption. The results will be showcased on an interactive global data map throughout the experiment, which runs throughout 2011.

Explore further with the IYC Worldwide homepage (http://www.chemistry2011.org) or check out the American Chemical Society’s IYC 2011 Chemistry Calendar (www.acs.org/iyc2011).

Center for Lunar Science and Exploration - HS Lunar Research Projects

Teams of high school students from across the nation are engaging in the process of science while supporting NASA Lunar Science Institute researchers in their quest to understand our Moon and prepare for future human exploration. At the end of their research experience, student teams will present their research to a panel of lunar scientists. The top four projects will be showcased at the NASA Lunar Science Institute forum held at the NASA Ames Research Center.

This project is looking for teachers and students for the 2011–2012 school year! Contact Andy Shaner at shaner@lpi.usra.edu at 281-486-2163 or if interested.

Green Thumb Challenge - $5,000 Award!

Green Education Foundation (GEF) and Gardener’s Supply Company have teamed up on an exciting funding opportunity for established youth garden projects nationwide! The organizations are calling on schools and youth groups to submit chronicles of their garden projects in a race to win a $5,000 prize. The award is designed to support the continued sustainability of an exceptional youth garden program that has demonstrated success, and has impacted the lives of kids and their community.

Green Thumb Challenge participants may submit any of the following, or a combination.

  • An overview describing your garden project
  • One video, up to ten minutes long
  • A digital portfolio, comprising up to ten photos with captions
  • Scanned artwork with descriptions

Deadline is September 30, 2011, and eligible contestants are garden programs involving children currently in grades K-12, from schools and youth groups nationwide.

Earth Science Week 2011 Coming in October - National Fossil Day

Earth Science Week 2011 is October 9-15, 2011, and celebrates the theme “Our Ever-Changing Earth.”

The National Park Service and AGI are collaborating to kick off the second annual National Fossil Day during Earth Science Week 2011. On Wednesday, October 12, you and your students can participate in events and activities taking place across the country at parks, in classrooms, and online.  Look for fossil-themed activities and materials, such as information on the NPS Junior Paleontologist program. And stay up-to-date on emerging resources and events through the National Fossil Day web site at http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/nationalfossilday/.

Environmental Education Week Follow-Up

In April, thousands of educators and millions of students across the United States joined in celebrating Environmental Education Week, our Ocean Connections.  Here's how you can share your EE Week experiences with organizers and the rest of this science education community:

  • Share photos and stories from your school or organization's EE Week and Earth Day activities in the 2011 EE Week Photo Blog Contest for a chance to win some great prizes;
  • Tell us what you think of EE Week and share your ideas for next year's program by responding to our participant evaluation survey; and
  • Submit an environmental education success story by emailing us at eeweek@neefusa.org, and your school or organization may be featured online or in an upcoming e-newsletter.

SOFIA Science and Education

SOFIA (the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft fitted with a 100-inch (2.5 meter) diameter telescope. It analyzes infrared light to study the formation of stars and planets; chemistry of interstellar gases; composition of comets, asteroids and planets; and supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies. Infrared observations are optimal for studying low-temperature objects in space such as the raw materials for star and planet formation and for seeing through interstellar dust clouds that block light at visible wavelengths.

NASA has selected six teachers to work with scientists aboard  (SOFIA) during research flights. This is the first team of educators selected to participate in SOFIA's Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program.

"Enabling educators to join SOFIA's scientific research and take that experience back to their schools and communities is a unique opportunity for NASA to enhance science and math education across the country," said John Gagosian, SOFIA program executive. "More than 70 teachers flew on NASA's previous flying observatory, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, from 1991 through 1995, and that program had long-lasting, positive effects on both the teachers and their students."

For information about SOFIA's science missions, visit:

The State of the Environment Photo Project

From 1971 to 1977, the Environmental Protection Agency hired freelance photographers to capture images relating to environmental problems, EPA activities, and everyday life in the 1970's. The U.S. National Archives digitized more than 15,000 photographs from the series. 4,000 of those images can be viewed here: 

After 40 years of greater environmental awareness and protection since the EPA opened its doors, how far have we come? Your submitted photos will be considered for a 2011 environmental time capsule. Selected photos will be displayed alongside the 1970's collection showing the same ideas. 

The State of the Environment Photo Project will run from April 2011 to Earth Day 2012. The EPA is inviting photographers to submit photos on the state of the environment as they experience it, to add to the Documerica project. Read more about the history of Documerica and how to enter your photos at http://www.flickr.com/groups/1667216@N23/  Selected photos will be featured on the EPA's website and at an Earth Day 2012 exhibit venue!

GEF Sustainability Education Clearinghouse

Check out a free resource run by the Green Education Foundation where Pre-K through high school sustainability lesson plans and activities can be uploaded and shared.  Help others to "go green"!

PBS Kids Design Squad Nation Build Big Contest

Kids across the country are being challenged to show their creativity by building a giant version of a Design Squad Nation activity. Form a team (that includes at least one adult), choose an activity, build it big, and upload a video of your design to YouTube. One prize (a flip camera) will be awarded to the winning team along with an opportunity to Skype with hosts Judy and Adam. Submissions may also be posted on the Design Squad Nation website. Entries must be received on or before August 1, 2011. For more details and complete official rules, click here. To view a video of hosts Judy and Adam challenging kids to participate and showing off their giant catapult, inspired by the Pop Fly activity, click here.

Summer of Innovation Projects

NASA's 2011 Summer of Innovation (SoI) will use NASA's out-of-this-world missions and technology programs to boost summer learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, particularly for underrepresented and underperforming students.

Selected partners will engage students during the summer with follow up during the academic year through afterschool programs.  NASA intends to award nine cooperative agreements for these SoI partnerships that total approximately $6.75 million. Awards have a period of performance of 48 months.

NASA's goal is to increase the number of future scientists, mathematicians and engineers, with an emphasis on broadening participation by low-income and minority students. Leland Melvin, NASA associate administrator for education said, "We look forward to building on the momentum that began last year, so we can engage and inspire even more middle school students to reach higher and pursue STEM career opportunities."

Aeronautics Scholarship Recipients and Future Opportunities

NASA has selected 25 graduate and undergraduate students from across the country to receive aeronautics scholarships for the next school year.  The Aeronautics Scholarships Program, which is in its fourth year, aids students enrolled in fields related to aeronautics and aviation studies.

Selected students will have the opportunity to intern with NASA researchers and directly work on projects such as managing air traffic more efficiently; reducing noise, fuel consumption and emissions; and improving safety.

The program annually awards 20 two-year undergraduate scholarships plus summer internships, and five two- or three-year graduate scholarships plus summer internships.  In September, students can apply online for 2012 aeronautics scholarships.

NASA Seeks Education Partners To Help Inspire The Next Generation Of Explorers

NASA is seeking partners to help achieve its strategic goals for education, including informal education done at museums, science centers, and planetariums. The agency is committed to sharing the excitement of NASA's space-based missions and inspiring students of all ages to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

NASA seeks unfunded partnerships with organizations to engage new or broader audiences on a national scale. The agency will work collaboratively to leverage partners' unique resources.

Potential partnership activities are varied. NASA is receptive to a broad range of possibilities from creative organizations with wide-ranging areas of expertise. All categories of domestic entities, including U.S. federal government agencies, are eligible to respond. NASA will accept proposals through Dec. 31.

To view the announcement, visit:

To learn more about NASA's broad education initiatives, visit:

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The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at http://windows2universe.org/ from the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA). The Website was developed in part with the support of UCAR and NCAR, where it resided from 2000 - 2010. © 2010 National Earth Science Teachers Association. Windows to the Universe® is a registered trademark of NESTA. All Rights Reserved. Site policies and disclaimer.