September 2008

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements

Lots for Windows to the Universe Teachers in September!

With September here, the school year is likely in full swing for most subscribers to our monthly newsletter. This month, we have lots of things to share with you. These include the obvious - the onset of fall in the Northern Hemisphere and the equinoxes, and the less obvious - the Arctic sea ice minimum and the background behind names for full moons. We also highlight the discovery of bacteria in 1683 by Antony van Leeuwenhoek, a discussion of our place in the Universe, and the announcement of a new portal on Windows to the Universe to highlight an international science campaign off the western coast of South America. The portal will include not only background information on the science of the campaign but also field reports from ~15 scientists engaged in the effort. The portal also provides our first opportunity to integrate Google Maps in Windows to the Universe - an exciting development we are working with the Google team to implement and expand across the site.

We also announce our workshops at the upcoming NSTA Regional Conferences this fall in Portland, Oregon and Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as the opportunity to sign up for Climate Discovery online courses offered through NCAR Online Education (developed and offered by the same folks that bring you Windows to the Universe), and to participate in to Citizen Science campaigns this fall - the Great World Wide Star Count (October 20 through November 3) and Project Budburst.

Arctic Sea Ice Minimum

You don't have to live in the Arctic to know that sea ice is very important. Polar bears roam on top of it.  Arctic marine life lives under it. And its light color reflects solar energy out to space, helping to keep the Earth's climate from warming too fast.

Each year Arctic sea ice freezes during the cold winter months and then melts during the warm summer months.  September is the time of year when there is the least sea ice in the Arctic. This is known as the Arctic sea ice minimum. In recent years, the minimum amount of ice in the Arctic has grown smaller. Last September there was less ice in the Arctic than ever before in observed history. This year the acceleration of melting sea ice appears to be continuing. As of August 11, the Northwest Passage is free of ice. This route from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean amidst Canada's Arctic islands was famously explored by Roald Amundsen in 1903.

Because of global warming, the sea ice starts melting a little earlier each spring and starts freezing a little later each autumn. So there is more time during the year when melting occurs. As more ice melts, the albedo of the Arctic is decreased, meaning that less solar energy is reflected and more is absorbed by the Earth. More energy means more warmth in the Arctic which causes more ice to melt. This compounding process is called the ice-albedo feedback. For up to date information on the state of Arctic sea ice throughout the year, visit Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis on the web site of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Take a look at these Windows to the Universe resources for teaching about sea ice:

Bacteria Discovery

325 years ago, on September 17, 1683 Antony van Leeuwenhoek wrote to the Royal Society about his observations on the plaque between his own teeth and teeth of other people. Looking at it with a microscope of his own design, he reported that he had seen "very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving". This was the first observation of bacteria.

The name "bacteria" was introduced only in 1838 by a German scientist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg, and is derived from the Greek word meaning "small staff". Later in the 19th century Louis Pasteur and several other doctors and scientists suggested that some diseases may be caused by bacteria. This theory was finally proved by Robert Koch, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for this in 1905.

Recent studies have found that bacteria are far more diverse than anyone had suspected. They comprise two out of three of the domains of life: Archaea and Eubacteria. The third domain, Eukaryota, contains all other living things, including plants, animals, protists, and fungi. This means we are more closely related to trees or amoebas than some bacteria are to other bacteria!

Our Home in the Universe

Our Universe today is a moving, expanding, luminous and dark Universe. Stars cluster together to form galaxies. There are groups and clusters of galaxies too. Our own galaxy is called the Milky Way. When we look into the sky and see the Milky Way we are looking sideways at a disc of stars, our home galaxy, our island in the Universe. Seen from above the Milky Way is a Spiral Galaxy, a family of about 100 billion stars. Our Sun is one of these stars! It's not located in the center, but on the outskirts of the galaxy.

It takes visible light from our Sun eight and a half minutes to reach the Earth, while light from the other closest star take four years and three months to reach Earth. The distance that light travels in a vacuum in one year is what astronomers call a light year. The Milky Way is 100,000 light years in diameter. It is 30,000 light years from Earth to the center of the galaxy! Scientist have taken a "snapshot" of the oldest light in the Universe! As this NSF interactive indicates, itís all a matter of scale!

Full Moon Names

You've probably heard a Full Moon in the autumn called a "Harvest Moon" or a "Hunters Moon". You may even realize that farmers can work late, after sunset, by the light of the Full Harvest Moon; hence the name. But did you know the Moon has ten other aliases, one for each month of the year? Did you know that the names of the Full Moon come from Native Americans, the Algonquian tribes of eastern and northern North America? Learn more at The Many Names for the Full Moon.

Climate Science from the South East Pacific: From Easter Island to the Andes

We're excited to announce the upcoming opening of a new portal on Windows to the Universe to share the science of the "VOCALS" campaign - short for the Variability of the American Monsoon Systems Ocean-Cloud-Atmosphere-Land Study Regional Experiment. The core period of science observations for the VOCALS campaign will begin October 15 and continue through the month of November. During this time, over 100 students, scientists, engineers, and technicians from many countries will be engaged in research to learn more about the climate of the South American Continent and the Southeast Pacific Ocean using numerous instruments on board ships, aircraft, and in space. Over 15 of them will be sending Postcards from the Field to share their experiences with you. We will open the portal shortly before the campaign begins, and announce this to you all in advance so you can use it in your classrooms - this is a great way to share what real science is like with your students! We're also excited to be incorporating Google Maps interactive images in this new portal - a collaborative effort with the team at Google. Keep your eyes posted for the email announcing this new portal shortly.

Autumnal Equinox is September 22

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 22nd (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!).

Join us at NSTA This Fall!

Will you be at the NSTA Regional Conferences in either Portland, OR (November 20-22, 2008) or Cincinnati, OH (December 4-6, 2008)? If so, we invite you to participate in one or more of the Windows to the Universe sessions listed below.

Portland NSTA Regional Conference

Time Location
Thursday, November 20
Magnetism Activities, Space Weather, and Geomagnetism
8:00-9:00 am Oregon Convention Center, Room E147/148
Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future 8:00-9:00 am Doubletree Lloyd Center, Oregon Room
Project BudBurst and The Great World Wide Star Count 12:30-1:30 pm Doubletree Lloyd Center, Oregon Room
Cool Science from Cold Places! Activities and Online Resources About Science of the Polar Regions 3:30-4:30 pm Doubletree Lloyd Center, Ross Island/Morrison Room
Friday, November 21 NESTA Share-a-Thon 9:30-10:30 am Oregon Convention Center, Oregon Ballroom 201
Water, Air, Land, Life, and Space! (WALLS!) 12:30-1:30 pm Oregon Convention Center, Room E147/148
Saturday, November 22
Microworlds! Online Tools Exploring Earth's Atmosphere, Water Cycle, and Greenhouse Gases
11:00 am -12:00 pm Doubletree Lloyd Center, Oregon Room

Cincinnati NSTA Regional Conference

Time Location
Thursday, December 4
Microworlds! Online Tools Exploring Earth's Atmosphere, Water Cycle, and Greenhouse Gases
8:00-9:00 am Duke Energy Center, Room 207
NESTA Share-a-Thon 2:00-3:00 pm Duke Energy Center, Room 206
NESTA Rock Raffle 3:30-4:30 pm Duke Energy Center, Room 206
Friday, December 5
Cool Science from Cold Places! Activities and Online Resources About Science of the Polar Regions
9:30-10:30 am Duke Energy Center, Room 204
Magnetism Activities, Space Weather, and Geomagnetism 2:00-3:00 pm Duke Energy Center, Room 207
Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future 5:00-6:00 pm Duke Energy Center, Room 204
Saturday, December 6
Water, Air, Land, Life, and Space! (WALLS!)
11:00 am -12:00 pm Duke Energy Center, Room 206

Second Annual Great World Wide Star Count

Join us in October for the second annual Windows to the Universe Great World Wide Star Count. This international event encourages everyone to go outside, look skyward after dark, count the stars they see in certain constellations, and report what they see online.

During the 2007 inaugural event, over 16,000 individuals from 64 countries and all 7 continents participated in this campaign that measures light pollution globally. Star Count is designed to raise awareness about the night sky and encourage learning in astronomy. All the information needed to participate is available on the Star Count Web site. Participation involves use of a simple protocol and an easy data entry form. At the conclusion of the event a map will be generated highlighting the results of this exciting citizen science campaign.

Mark your calendars and plan on joining thousands of other students, families, and citizen scientists counting stars this fall. The Great World Wide Star Count will be held from October 20 through November 3, 2008.

For more information visit or email

Celebrate the Changing Seasons with Project BudBurst!

Fall is a wonderful time to participate in Project BudBurst.  Don’t let our name fool you – we are interested in the timing of the changes at all stages of the plant life cycle -  from bursting buds in the spring to leaf color change and seed dispersal in the fall. Join thousands of volunteers across the United States in collecting important climate change data through Project BudBurst, a Windows to the Universe citizen science event! By recording the timing of the leaf color change and seed dispersal of native and other plant species each year, we can learn more about the prevailing climatic characteristics in a region over time. With your help, we will be compiling useful environmental information that is submitted to a national database.

Project BudBurst is ideal for teachers and students, families interested in participating in a science project, scouts and 4-H groups, gardening clubs, botanical gardens and others interested in contributing to a socially and scientifically relevant research study. All information needed to participate can be found at the Project BudBurst Web site (

Register Now for Fall Climate Discovery Online Courses!

Registration is now open for NCAR Climate Discovery Online Courses for educators.

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? This fall, NCAR offers a series of seven-week online courses for middle and high school teachers that combine geoscience content, information about current climate research, easy to implement hands-on activities, and group discussion. The courses run concurrently beginning September 18 and run through November 8.

  • CD 501 Introduction to Earth's Climate 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.
  • CD 502 Earth System Science: A Climate Change Perspective 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.
  • CD 503 Understanding Climate Change Today 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.

There is a $225 fee per course. For complete course schedule and registration information, visit

Table of Contents

Arctic Sea Ice
Bacteria Discovery
The Universe
Full Moon Names
Project BudBurst
Fall courses

Astronomy Podcasts











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Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence-West

COSEE-West is a National Science Foundation funded partnership between USC, UCLA and the College of Exploration, designed to be an information hub for marine sciences. We emphasize educator professional development via scientific lectures, workshops and online courses on topics as diverse as climate change, extreme environments, sustainable seafood, coral reefs, the deep sea and bioluminescence. We also have week-long summer teacher institutes designed to bring educators up to speed on Ocean Observing Systems (buoys, satellites, ROVs, etc.). Collaborators include the Ocean Institute, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Free Podcasts of Nontechnical Lectures by Noted Astronomers

Audio recordings of twelve public lectures by noted astronomers are now available as free MP3 downloads at the web site of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP):

Among the talks now available are:
* Dr. Jill Tarter (SETI Institute): "Better Searches for Signals from Extra-terrestrial Civilizations"
* Dr. Geoff Marcy (U. of California, Berkeley): "Hunting for Earth-like Planets Among the Stars"
* Dr. David Morrison (NASA Ames Research Center): "Asteroid Impacts and the Evolution of Life on Earth"
* Dr. David Grinspoon (Denver Museum of Nature & Science): "Climate Catastrophes in the Solar System"
* Dr. Dale Cruikshank (NASA Ames): "The Planet Pluto: Maligned but Not Forgotten"
* Dr. Alex Filippenko (University of California, Berkeley): "Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe"
* Dr. Frank Drake (SETI Institute): "Estimating the Chances of Life Out There"

A few talks are also available as video files (instructions can be found on the same page.)
These lectures are co-sponsored by:
+ NASA's Ames Research Center
+ The SETI Institute
+ The Foothill College Astronomy Program
+ The Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Now Accepting Applications to PolarTREC - Teacher Research Experiences in

The PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating) program is currently accepting teacher applications for the third year of teacher research experiences. Teachers are invited to submit an application to participate in field research learning experiences during the 2009 (Arctic) or 2009-2010 (Antarctic) field seasons.

Teacher Application Deadline: Monday, 29 September 2008

Interested teachers, researchers, and the public are encouraged to participate in a PolarTREC informational webinar (web conference), scheduled for Wednesday, 10 September 2008. An online webinar registration form is available at:

More information and application forms are available at: Or, email: or call 907.474.1600.

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The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at 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.