May 2009

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For many newsletter subscribers, this month will bring a close to the school year, and a well-deserved rest, hopefully! Here at Windows to the Universe, we will be busy preparing resources over the coming summer months. We will be finishing up work on our new Poles in Space section (made possible with funding from NASA). This section will highlight what we know about the poles of all the major bodies in the solar system. We will also continue to enhance our resources on weather, clouds, climate, space weather, and solar variability. Before the new school year, we will have a new module completed for you and your students that will allow you to investigate energy choices and climate change connections.

The Highs and Lows of Weather Maps

As I write this, there is a tremendous low pressure system working itself across the eastern portion of the United States. The area around it on the weather map is various shades of green dotted with yellow and red. The low pressure system is marked with a red L. Behind that system are two blue "H"s. No green around those H's!

Weather maps can be fascinating to study! They certainly are ever-changing. By studying weather maps, you can be better prepared for what weather is coming your way. Here's a very basic pressure system briefing for those of you who aren't atmospheric scientists. If you see a red L on a weather map, that represents a low pressure system. In general, a low pressure system will bring clouds and possibly precipitation. Heavy rain around a "low" is marked with dark green on most weather maps, light rain is marked green, yellow means moderate rainfall and red means intense rainfall.

If you see a blue H on a weather map, that represents a high pressure system. This High will bring with it good weather, i.e., clear skies.

Follow the links above to find out more about the link between these pressure systems and the weather they bring!

Explore Hurricanes Online and Stay Dry!

As the school year wraps up and students look longingly towards summer, what better time to teach about the perils of hazardous summer weather than now! The largest and most long lived of these weather events are hurricanes.

Hurricanes are tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane season begins June 1 in the Atlantic. Have your students explore the Windows to the Universe section about hurricanes to foster understanding of how hurricanes form and the damage that they can cause in coastal areas, including damage from storm surge. Peruse the hurricane section of the Windows to the Universe image gallery for pictures of hurricane damage, satellite images of hurricanes, and illustrations to use in your teaching.

Enjoy May Flowers with Project BudBurst!

Now that we're past April showers, join Project BudBurst to enjoy May flowers! As we mentioned last month, the 2009 field campaign for Project BudBurst is officially underway. Project BudBurst is a national field campaign for students, families, and other volunteers, and is 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. In 2008, thousands of people of all ages participated by taking careful observations of the phenological events such as the first flower, first leaf, 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!

  • New guides to phenophases with description and photos
  • Updated plant species Identification Guides
  • Real-time mapping with Google Maps
  • Additional Project BudBurst plants from across the country
  • New resources for the classroom
  • Photo sharing of plant observations
  • ...and more!

For more information, please visit the Project BudBurst Website.

The Poles of Neptune and Triton

Our "Poles in Space" section continues to grow. We've just added info on the poles of Neptune and its largest moon, Triton. Did you know that volcanic activity (including cryovolcanism) has only been observed on four bodies in our Solar System? Triton is one of them, sporting ice volcanoes in the vicinity of the moon's South Pole. On the other hand, infrared images show that Neptune's South Pole is the warmest place on the planet. That makes more sense once you realize that it has been summertime in Neptune's southern hemisphere for the past four decades!

May Birthdays

May 15th is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Pierre Curie (1859 1906), a French physicist. Together with his wife Marie Curie he discovered two new elements, Radium and Polonium, and studied the x-rays they emitted. For their work on radiation Pierre and Marie Curie received the Nobel prize in 1903. Less well known is that Pierre also did pioneering work in crystallography and magnetism, and together with his brother Jacques discovered piezoelectricity - a form of electricity created when certain crystals are deformed. Piezoelectricity is widely used today, for example, in quartz watches.

Another 150th anniversary comes May 22th for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthdate (1859 1930). He wasn't a scientist, but in his Sherlock Holmes stories he did much to popularize the scientific method and he promoted using forensic science in criminal investigations.

Other notable birthdays in May include:

  • May 1 - Evelyn Granville (born 1924) one of the first black women mathematicians in the United States, who has made many contributions to NASA's Space Shuttle program.
  • May 11 - Richard Feynman (1918-1988) - an American physicist who contributed to many areas of physics, including atomic theory and quantum electrodynamics.
  • May 15 - Williamina Fleming (1857-1911) - a Scottish-American astronomer who discovered many nebulae, novae and variable stars.

The Wealth of Life on our PLANET!

Life is the feature of our planet that is most unique--although there are hints that there might be other places in the universe that could support life, living things haven't been found anywhere else (at least not yet!).

On Earth, life comes in many different forms, and over the past several hundred years scientists have come up with a detailed system of organizing life forms. Their system is still evolving as new discoveries are made, but reading a little about it should convince you that it is extremely useful for keeping track of all the different species that exist, and how they're all related to each other.

The classification of living things by how they evolved, and who their relatives are, is called taxonomy, and that's just one way that scientists organize species. The other major way is based on the environment each species lives in, and the fact that living things--this includes plants, animals, fungi, and even microorganisms--often have a particular environment and climate that they are especially adapted to. The organisms that live in a specific environment (the desert, for instance) interact in complicated ways, and together with the environment itself they make up an ecosystem. Groups of similar ecosystems are called biomes, and studying biomes helps us understand the relationships between animals, plants, and other organisms that make life on Earth so diverse and rich.

Encourage your students to play and learn with two of our fun life-related games, Food Chain Checkers and Adaptation investigation, two excellent ways to illustrate how dynamic life is in our planet!

Breaking Science News from the National Science Foundation

Windows to the Universe continues to post news releases and podcasts from the National Science Foundation. The news releases highlight science research that is funded by NSF and covers a wide variety of topics. We have provided links from the news releases to content pages on Windows to the Universe, so you and your students can explore, in depth, the subject matter covered in the news release. The podcasts feature short audio stories related to current events in science. You can listen to them online or download them to your mp3 player. There's some really interesting research going on out there and this is a fun way to engage in science learning. Enjoy!

Printing Out Windows to the Universe Content

Several people recently inquired how to print Windows to the Universe pages without the black background. When you print a page from the site, the color scheme automatically changes to black text on a white background. This should be true for most browsers, but check "Print Preview" to make sure this works for you. However, many images that have a black background will not change. To print only text without images, you can switch to the text-only version of the site. With most browsers it is also possible to set a fixed color scheme in the Options menu and have it apply to any site you visit.

Play in School with Food Chain Checkers!

What does it take for an ecosystem to remain in balance?  Play Food Chain Checkers in class, and your students will find out! This new classroom activity uses a board game as an informal scientific model to foster student learning of ecosystem science. Students work together during the game to make predictions, experiment, and to improve the model.

Teaching through games that are science models allows students to develop a more comprehensive understanding of concepts such as the dynamic nature of ecosystems and the delicate balance that is needed for them to games are just plain fun!

Elementary School Science Resources

Do you teach science at the elementary level? If so, we have resources for you!

We have thousands of content pages written at a Beginner level. That means the vocabulary is simpler and the text length is shorter overall. Use our Table of Contents to access our content pages at the Beginner level.

We also have Classroom Activities designed specifically for use in your elementary classroom.

Younger students will love to try out our games, Journals and our popular Solar System Coloring Book!

Bookmark our Elementary Resources Page to have easy access to all of these resources.

Taking a Field Trip Soon?

Use our Snapshot Exercise to have your students write about a select moment of the trip. We have a simple page for elementary school students where they can write down as many words as they can think of that have to do with what they see, hear, smell and touch. For middle-high school students, we have a large list of sensory adjectives that would be helpful in writing their snapshot!

This activity makes your field trip or outing more meaningful and addresses this National Standard for all levels (Assessment Standard B: The ability to communicate effectively about science).

Sedimentary Rocks Contain Clues to Past Environments

Sedimentary rocks contain clues about their past! Environments change over time, but by looking at sedimentary rocks in an area you can figure out what the environment was like when those rocks were formed. Environmental features, like swamps, dunes, and oceans, contain different types of sediments. The type of sediment and the way it was deposited determines the kind of sedimentary rocks that will eventually be formed in a particular area. Check out this page to view photographs of different environments and the rocks that are made from them.

Table of Contents

Weather Maps
Explore Hurricanes
Project BudBurst
Neptune/Triton Poles
May Birthdays
Life on Earth
News from NSF
Printing Content
Food Chain Checkers
Elementary Resources
Writing-Field Trips
Sedimentary Rocks


Climate Discovery
IPY Lesson Plans
Harlem Ecology Ctr
Smithsonian Academy
Top Stars: Hubble











Teacher Submissions

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Announcements from Partners

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Register Early for Climate Discovery and Save $25!

This summer, NCAR is once again offering a series of 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 June 19 through August 9.

  • 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, but you will save $25 if you register before June 1st! For complete course schedule and registration information, visit

International Polar Year Related Lesson Plans

The International Polar Year ran from March 2007 - March 2009. During this time, scientists conducted research in the Arctic and Antarctic. They focused on a wide range of research topics, with the goal of gaining further scientific understanding in the Earth's polar regions. NASA has provided a suite of lesson plans for students in grades 4-12 on topics such as snow cover and changes in snow and ice. Even though the 2007-2009 scientific program is complete, these topics are important ones for your students to learn about and there's a wealth of information available for you to explore!

Free Spring Events at Harlem River Ecology Center

Family Spring Fest at UDEC Harlem River Ecology Center
Every Saturday is Family Walk-in & Kids Day 1pm- 6pm

Special Family Programs
May 9th- Solar Scoping on the Harlem River
May 30th- "Urban Wings Over Water", Birds of Prey Presentation, and Living Dinosaurs of the Urban Estuary

For more info call 347-224-5828, 347-224-5687 or 718-901-3331.

New JOIDES Resolution Web Site!

Check out this brand new resource! The /JOIDES/ Resolution (JR) scientific ocean drilling ship, run by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, is currently out at sea collecting core samples from the ocean floor to study questions about Earth's history, climate, and more. The core samples are studied by teams of scientists including paleontologists, geochemists, paleomagnetists, and more. You and your students can follow her adventure on the new JR website at

Through the website you can interact with scientists, watch daily or weekly videos from on board, track her location, play games, and share in the scientific adventure through daily blogs, Facebook, Twitter, My Space and more.

Also, visit the Deep Earth Academy website ( for lessons and resources based on real data obtained by the drilling ship. Also posted on the website are opportunities for teachers to get involved.

Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers: Earth's History & Global Change

National Science Resources Center/Smithsonian Institution July 26-31, 2009, Washington, D.C

As part of its annual program of teacher events, the National Science Resources Center (NSRC) is conducting a week-long academy for teachers (of grades 6-12) on Earth's History and Global Change. The academy utilizes the unique resources of the Smithsonian Institution's museums, as well as scientists from organizations, and laboratories around Washington DC to explore concepts and content relating to the formation of our planet, and the evidence for planetary change through natural processes and human intervention. Sessions will include behind-the-scenes access to museum collections, special museum floor visits, interactions with scientists in research laboratories, hands-on inquiry-based sessions, and more. Topics investigated include planet formation, volcanism and plate tectonics, geological evidence for different paleoenvironments and recent changes in our oceans and atmosphere.

The course is residential. Course fees include hotel accommodation near the National Mall, some meals, and transport to session venues. 3 graduate credits, (for an additional fee of $300) are available from the Virginia Commonwealth University.

For additional information on the course fees, registering online, the nature of this course, and others like it, visit or contact Juliet Crowell at the NSRC by email at or phone at 202-633-2968.

Top Stars: Educators Invited to Submit Examples of Inspiring Uses of Hubble in Education

For almost 20 years, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has inspired and engaged educators and students of all ages. U.S. formal (K-12, college) and informal educators -- both individuals and teams of up to four members -- are invited to submit their best examples of using Hubble in science, technology, engineering or mathematics education.

Entries will be accepted from May 2009 to January 2010, and may include any combination of text, graphics, video and photos. Selected entries will be recognized as "Top Stars."

Educators selected as Top Stars will have their entry featured on the Top Stars Web site and will receive the following recognition and awards:
-A high-quality photo print (48" x 24") of a Hubble image;
-Invitation to attend via teleconference a special briefing by a Hubble scientist or engineer; and
-Recognition as Top Stars on NASA Web sites.

The Top Stars Web site is accepting applications now! For more information, please visit:

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