July 2011

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements
Windows to the Universe Facebook Group

Our Obligations to Promote Global Sustainability
by Roberta

"Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder." - Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History (1961)

As I write this contribution to our newsletter, I'm traveling back from a meeting in Switzerland, where an impressive group of university leaders from around the world came together to discuss the role of research universities in promoting global sustainability.  Although some of the contributions focused on the question of how to promote the sustainability of the universities themselves, in this era of rapid social change, other contributions looked at the activities universities have developed to promote campus sustainability (the Net Zero Movement).  These activities are very impressive, and frequently are led by university students, who bring their passion, technical savvy, and communication skills into critical projects on their campuses.

Still other contributions (including my own) looked at the new roles that research universities should take in promoting sustainability education more broadly, in service to society.  As I noted in my contribution to the conference, Research universities, as the home of those lucky individuals who have had the opportunity for highly advanced education, systems thinking, and research, are natural sources of the expertise we need to do research within and across disciplines with a focus on sustainability issues – helping to develop solutions to vexing interconnected problems.  But precisely because of their specialized expertise, research universities should take their role several steps further."

It was wonderful to hear about activities at institutions that are stepping up to this role of heightened social engagement, but a bit depressing to see that at some leading universities, leadership does not see this as an area where they have an obligation to contribute.

As I enjoy my summer - a time for refreshing my batteries without the day-to-day obligations that come with school (in my case, getting my kids off to school every day) - I hope that you, also, are having a great break and are recharging for the new school year.

by Jennifer

As I write this piece, there are currently over 45 separate wildfires occurring in the U.S. alone.  Over 34,167,900 acres have burned in this U.S. so far this year!  Although wildfires can be a naturally occurring and even a beneficial environmental event, this has been a severe month for wildfires because they've threatened populated areas and have required evacuations in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  Many blame dry conditions and high winds for such severe happenings.  Our thoughts go out to all evacuees and those fighting the fires.

FEMA can help you prepare for the threat of a wildfire, CDC has good resources on health impacts of wildfires, and of course, Smokey the Bear can help children (and people of all ages) prevent wildfires.

Magnetic Bubbles Reside At Solar System Edge
by Jennifer

Observations from NASA's Voyager spacecraft, humanity's farthest deep space sentinels, suggest the edge of our solar system may not be smooth, but filled with a turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles.  These are not tiny bubbles either - they are approximately 100 million miles wide!

The bubbles are created when the Sun's distant magnetic field lines reorganize. These bubbles are likely self-contained structures disconnected from the solar magnetic field.

The Voyager spacecraft, more than nine billion miles away from Earth, are traveling in a boundary region. In that area, the solar wind and magnetic field are affected by material expelled from other stars in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy

Understanding the structure of the Sun's magnetic field will allow scientists to explain how galactic cosmic rays enter our solar system and help define how the star interacts with the rest of the galaxy.

NASA News: Atlantis Launch and the Next Space Transportation System
by Julia

The upcoming STS-135 mission to the International Space Station will be the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program. Space shuttle Atlantis with four veteran astronauts is scheduled to launch July 8. During the 12-day flight, Atlantis and its crew will deliver the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module filled with supplies and spare parts that will sustain station operations once NASA's shuttle fleet is retired. For more information about the STS-135 mission and crew, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

Meanwhile, work continues on a new spacecraft known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) that will carry humans into space. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced in May that the system will be based on designs originally planned for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. Lockheed Martin Corp. will continue working to develop the MPCV. The spacecraft will carry four astronauts for 21-day missions and be able to land in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast. It is designed to be 10 times safer during ascent and entry than its predecessor, the space shuttle. To learn more about the development of the MPCV, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/mpcv

Plate Tectonic Movements Are Current Events
by Jennifer

Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are evidence of plate tectonic movements.  The USGS reports the week's volcanic activity (new and ongoing) and earthquakes.  If you look at one of these sites and the places in the world affected by volcanoes and earthquakes, it is striking how evident the plate boundaries on Earth really are.

Our thoughts go out to those in Indonesia who have been heavily affected by continued volcanic activity and to residents in New Zealand affected by ongoing earthquakes and aftershocks.  To help people deal with the devastation brought about by these natural disasters, visit redcross.org.

Visit the plate tectonics section of Windows to the Universe to learn how and why the Earth’s plates move. Then allow your students to explore how plates move by trying the Snack Tectonics classroom activity.

What's in a Name? Hurricanes!
by Jennifer

As we move into summer, we’re also beginning the 2011 hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin. The hurricane season traditionally begins on June 1st of every year, lasting until the end of November, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting an above-normal amount of activity this season.

Did you ever wonder how hurricanes get their names? All tropical storms with winds reaching 39 mph or higher are given names to make it easier to refer to them and track them. For many years, storms were named based on the saint’s holiday they occurred on, but in the mid-1950’s the U.S. Weather Service began using female first names for storms. In 1979, male first names were added, and as storms occurred, they were given a name based on an alphabetical list that has one name for every letter in the alphabet except for Q, X, and Z. The first storm of the season has a name that starts with A, the second storm has a name that starts with B, and so on. In the Atlantic, all names are English, Spanish, or French, since those are the dominant languages spoken by the countries affected by the storms.

The World Meteorological Organization has 6 lists of names that rotate, each one being used once every six years. The names alternate from male to female, and a name is replaced on a list only if it represents a storm that was particularly costly or deadly. The names for 2011 are mostly the same ones used for 2005 (though this year Dennis is replaced with Don, Katrina with Katia, Rita with Rina, Stan with Sean, and Wilma with Whitney.). So the 2011 list of names starts with Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don and Emily.

Be sure to prepare for a hurricane before it strikes. Plan ahead by reviewing EPA's suggestions for what to do before, during and after a hurricane.

Dawn Spacecraft Approaching Asteroid
by Jennifer

After 3.5 years of interplanetary travel, NASA's Dawn spacecraft has reached its official approach phase to the asteroid Vesta and has begun using cameras to aid navigation for an expected July 16 orbital encounter. The large asteroid is known as a protoplanet - a celestial body that almost formed into a planet.

"We feel a little like Columbus approaching the shores of the New World," said Christopher Russell, Dawn principal investigator, based at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). "The Dawn team can't wait to start mapping this Terra Incognita."

Using its ion engine to match Vesta's orbit around the sun, the spacecraft will spiral gently into orbit around the asteroid. When Dawn gets approximately 9,900 miles (16,000 kilometers) from Vesta, the asteroid's gravity will capture the spacecraft in orbit.  It will stay in orbit around Vesta for one year.  After another long cruise phase, Dawn will arrive at its second destination, an even more massive body in the asteroid belt called Ceres, in 2015.

These two icons of the asteroid belt will help scientists unlock the secrets of our solar system's early history. The mission will compare and contrast the two giant asteroids, which were shaped by different forces. Dawn's science instrument suite will measure surface composition, topography and texture. In addition, the Dawn spacecraft will measure the tug of gravity from Vesta and Ceres to learn more about their internal structures.

Join others to celebrate a Vesta Fiesta from August 5-7, 2011!

Thunderstorms and Other Severe Weather
by Jennifer

This is a good time of year to explore the atmospheric conditions that cause thunderstorms to form. These storms can include lightning, thunder, rain, hail, and tornadoes. Knowing and sharing information about thunderstorm safety is very important.

Ordinary thunderstorms last about one hour. Severe thunderstorms can last several hours and are much more dramatic. One type of supercell thunderstorm produces large amounts of precipitation and potentially creates downbursts, flash floods, and large hail. The other type doesn't produce much precipitation, but develops tornadoes and large hail.

A squall line consists of several thunderstorms banded together in a line. One type of squall line is a line of cumulonimbus clouds that grow and decay. The other type is a line of steady supercells. A squall line can produce heavy precipitation and strong winds, and can extend over 600 miles (1000 km).

This summer, take some time to learn more about these weather conditions! The weather section of Windows to the Universe provides information about many types of severe weather, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes.

Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower
by Jennifer

Every day about 100 tons of meteoroids -- fragments of dust and gravel and sometimes even big rocks – enter the Earth's atmosphere. Stand out under the stars for more than a half an hour on a clear night and you'll likely see a few of the meteors produced by the onslaught. But where does all this stuff come from? Surprisingly, the answer is not well known.

The Delta Aquarids meteor shower, which occurs steadily throughout late July and early August, is thought to be caused by Earth crossing through the orbit of an unknown comet.  The meteors radiate from the constellation Aquarius, for which the shower is named.  The shower produces approximately 15 meteors per hour and the optimal viewing time is an hour or two before dawn. Meteor watchers in the Southern Hemisphere and in the Northern Hemisphere's tropical latitudes enjoy the best views.

If you turn your gaze skyward during the summer and see something you don't recognize, check out the NASA All-sky Fireball Network web site to figure out what you saw.  This site hosts data from a network of cameras that observe and track meteors brighter than the planet Venus (also called fireballs).

Ultraviolet "Light"
by Jennifer

Summer is here (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere at least!), and with it comes trips to the beach or pool. When you go outside this summer, make sure to wear your hat, sunglasses and to slather on sunscreen. Ultraviolet "light" can cause sunburn or even skin cancer, and can also damage your eyes. Fortunately, our atmosphere's ozone layer absorbs most ultraviolet radiation before it reaches the ground. Thanks to our protective atmosphere, a few simple precautions can help keep us safe from the remainder of this potentially dangerous type of radiation!

Check today's UV Index where you live (developed by the National Weather Service and EPA).

Travel the Ecosystems of the World Without Leaving your Computer!
by Jennifer

Are you on summer vacation? If so, what a great time to visit another ecosystem! Can't take a trip right now? Then take yourself on a virtual trip by visiting the ecosystems section of Windows to the Universe. There you can travel from a tropical rainforest to the Arctic tundra with just a click of your mouse. Explore the desert, temperate forests, or grasslands. Or perhaps you'd rather head to the ocean. Whether you are taking a virtual trip or an actual trip this summer, remember to have fun!

A Picture is Worth – A Lot!
by Jennifer

A good photo or illustration can make teaching a difficult topic so much easier – especially for younger learners and for visual learners of all ages. Check out our Image Galleries and use the images freely in your classroom! We update these image galleries frequently, so check back often. Recent updates include Earth-Living Things and Earth-Climate.

NESTA also hosts a great geoscience image collection and you are encouraged to submit photos of your own for relevant topics.

Finally, NASA has combined its entire past image archives into one impressive site which you can easily search. You won’t be disappointed looking through the NASA Images web site. Enjoy!

Table of Contents

Magnetic Bubbles SS
Current Plate Tect
Dawn Spacecraft
Delta Aquarid MS
UV Light
A Picture is Worth

Natl Sci Edu Conf
Lunar Projects
Build It Big Contest
Green Thumb
Year of SS
Sci Education Blog
Inuit - Env Change
Elem Teachers Mag
Faces of Climate
Natl Fossil Day
Aero Scholarships
















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

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.

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 or at 281-486-2163  if interested.

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.

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, comprised of up to ten photos with captions
  • Scanned artwork with descriptions

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

Year of the Solar System

In October 2010, NASA introduced the Year of the Solar System - 23 months (or a Martian year) of events, activities and resources to bring the solar system down to Earth. Explore a different topic each month.  Our Planetary Family Tree, Volcanism and Water in the Solar System, and the Birth Story of the Solar System are already available.

June 2011's topic is Impacts! and July 2011's topic is Asteroids - both are available now.

Upcoming topics include Windy Worlds, Gravity, Moons and Rings, and Magnetospheres.  Many other interesting topics are forthcoming and you won't be disappointed by taking time to explore these topics!

Explorations and Inspirations in Science Education Blog

Stephanie Chasteen is a physicist, writer and educator in Boulder, CO.  Her web site explores science education and communication.  Read her blogs or listen to her podcasts on topics such as climate change, science and music, hands-on activities, science myths and weird science tips.  Her writing and ideas will definitely inspire your science education!

Linking Inuit Knowledge and Scientific Understanding of Environmental Change

The Spring 2011 issue of Witness the Arctic has been published online and is available at: http://www.arcus.org/witness-the-arctic.

The feature article is entitled Linking Inuit Knowledge and Scientific Understanding of Environmental Change: A Case Study in Wind Observations. It highlights National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) researcher Shari Gearheard's work with Inuit hunters and documents their knowledge and observations of local changes in the climate and environment. The direct link to the article is:

Other highlights of this month's Witness the Arctic issue are updates on the Arctic System Science Program, the Snow Science Expedition (Traveling 2000 km on Snowmobiles for Outreach and Education) and news from the recent Workshop on International Collaboration and Cooperation in Arctic Science.

Online Magazine for Elementary Teachers - Beyond Weather and the Water Cycle

Beyond Weather and the Water Cycle is an online professional development magazine that focuses on preparing elementary teachers to teach climate science concepts while also integrating inquiry-based science and literacy instruction. The project draws on research showing that an integrated approach can improve student achievement in science, as well as in reading comprehension and oral and written discourse abilities.  Explore a new thematic issue each month like the Sun and Earth's Climate, Understanding Earth's Climate, and We Study Earth's Climate.

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears is an online magazine for K-5 teachers that integrates science, literacy, and the polar regions.  Read an issue of the magazine, browse their photo galleries, participate in free webinars or follow their blog and Twitter updates.

The Faces of Climate Change

Three short online videos depict the dramatic changes in Alaska’s marine ecosystems through interviews with scientists and Alaska natives. The videos were produced by the Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) Alaska, the Alaska Sea Grant program, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and the Alaska Ocean Observing System.

To view Introduction to Climate Change, Disappearing Sea Ice, and Life on the Ice, visit http://vimeo.com/19581877. To view more Alaska COSEE Resources, go to http://www.coseealaska.net/resources/.

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/.

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.

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 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.