September 2006

Exciting Start to Another School Year!

September brings the start of the academic year for most schools in the US, so we wish you all success in a great new year sharing the Earth and space sciences with your students! This September is also the 1st anniversary of the Windows to the Universe Educator Newsletter, and you'll notice that we've taken this opportunity to launch a new look and some new features. Several months ago, we asked you to let us know if you would be interested in sharing information with other Windows to the Universe Educators around the world, and your answer was a resounding "yes" at 93%. 77% of respondents indicated they would like to periodically post information on the newsletter. In this anniversary issue, we've included this new feature in our newsletter, under "Teacher's Corner", below.

We've also expanded this approach to allow Windows to the Universe Partner programs and organizations to post information about upcoming events and new resources in our new "Announcements from Partners" section of the newsletter.

Finally, an update on our Educator community. As of the end of August, 2006, we now have over 4300 teacher subscribers to our newsletter in 122 countries around the world. See our map of subscribers for more information by country and state in the US.

Pluto, the "Dwarf Planet"
by Randy

In August the International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted to officially strip Pluto of its status as a full-fledged planet. The debate and controversy surrounding the "What is a planet?" question provides a great "teachable moment" about the nature of science, the contents of our Solar System, and the properties of planets and other objects in our Solar System. Here are some resources on Windows to the Universe which may help you learn about, and teach about, this newsworthy topic.

Autumnal Equinox is September 23rd
by Jennifer

The tilt of Earth's rotational axis and the Earth's orbit work together to create the seasons. As the Earth travels around the Sun, it remains tipped in the same direction, towards the star Polaris.

At the equinox times in the Earth's revolution, the Earth is neither tilted directly towards nor directly away from the Sun. In other words, both hemispheres receive roughly equal amounts of sunlight. Equinoxes mark the seasons of autumn and spring and are a transition between the two more extreme seasons, summer and winter.

This year, the Autumnal equinox will occur on September 23rd (the beginning of Fall for the N. Hemisphere and the beginning of Spring for the S. Hemisphere). This is a great thing to note to your students and a great time to introduce or reinforce the concept of seasons. As you know, seasons are an area where many misconceptions lie (especially concerning the reason for the seasons!).

Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Climate
by Lisa

In 2005, numerous hurricanes and tropical storms, including strong storms like Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, trekked west across the Atlantic and pounded the Caribbean and southern U.S. with wind, rain, waves, and storm surge. At the same time, the hypothesis that global warming is causing hurricanes to become more destructive was being debated in scientific circles.

In contrast with 2005, the Atlantic hurricane season this year has been relatively calm. Sea surface temperatures have been cooler, which keeps hurricanes from growing. Looking only at the Atlantic, it might appear that global warming is not influencing hurricane strength. However, a worldwide perspective tells a different story. This year, the Pacific has been unusually stormy. Tropical cyclonic storms are called typhoons west of the dateline in the Pacific. A month ago, Typhoon Saomai hit the southeast coast of China. More than 1.5 million people were evacuated from the coastal area and several tens of thousands of homes were destroyed by the storm. It was the strongest Typhoon to hit the Chinese coast in decades. Other strong storms have been reported as well.

The timely intersection of scientific debate about hurricane strength and the practical implications of stronger hurricanes have sparked interest in the general public to better understand the effect of climate change on hurricanes. The link between hurricane strength and warmer sea surface temperatures is supported by data yet scientific debate continues. The relationship between global warming and hurricane strength may be complex. Scientists continue to search for answers so that we may better understand how our planet works. This is an excellent example of the scientific process to share with your students!

How Little Things Become BIG Ones!
by Marina

Matter, the stuff around us, is composed of atoms. Elements are collections of atoms of a single type. Atoms combine to create molecules. Everything you see is built from something else. It all starts with matter and it keeps adding up to our Universe! It just keeps going on and onů

To understand and remember all the different types of elements, scientists organized them all into a table called the Periodic table of the elements.

Do you think this is too complicated? Not really, it really is very simple! If you want to have a language, you will need an alphabet. Vowels combine with consonants to make words, and words build sentences. Letters, words, and sentences come together to create meaning that provides a message. If you want to build a mountain, you need rocks. If you want to build molecules, you need atoms; atoms are the alphabet of the language of molecules.

Here are some of the most renowned scientists who have helped us understand that really small things become big ones!

Aristotle believed that the Earth was at the center of the universe and made up of only four elements: earth, water, air, and fire

Democritus developed the concept of the 'atom', Greek for 'indivisible'. He believed that everything in the universe was made up of atoms, which were microscopic and indestructible.

Louis Pasteur discovered microorganisms he later called "germs".

Ernest Rutherford believed that an atom is like a small planetary system.

Linus Pauling was the first person to understand and explain how atoms bond with each other to form molecules.

What do you think?

Should Pluto remain a planet?

Take our poll!

Teacher's Corner

Would you like to share information with other teachers around the world that subscribe to the Windows to the Universe newsletter? This is the appropriate place to share ideas for classroom activities, tips on how to use Windows to the Universe and its activities and interactives in the classroom, pedagogical approaches, and geoscience educational challenges you're facing in your school, district, state, or country. For information about how to post to the newsletter, as well as relevant procedural issues, click here.

Partner Announcements

The National Earth Science Teachers Association announces its schedule of Shareathons and Rock Raffles at NSTA Regional conferences this fall:

Omaha, Nebraska
October 20, 2006, Qwest Center Omaha, Ballroom C
  • 14:00-15:00 - NESTA Share-a-Thon,
  • 15:30-16:30 - NESTA Rock and Mineral Raffle

Baltimore, Maryland
November 03, 2006, Baltimore Convention Center, Room 308

  • 15:30-16:30 - NESTA Share-a-Thon
  • 17:00 - 18:00 - NESTA Rock and Mineral Raffle

Salt Lake City, Utah
December 08, 2006, Salt Palace Convention Center, Ballroom F

  • 14:00-15:00 - NESTA Share-a-Thon
  • 15:30 - 16:30 - NESTA Rock and Mineral Raffle

Would you like to highlight events or resources from your program or organization to educators around the world? If so, please click here to find out how to enroll as a Windows to the Universe Partner, and guidelines for announcement submissions.