June 2007

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements

Summer Plans

For those of you who are just finishing the school year, we wish you a well-deserved break in the coming months. No matter how worthwhile the cause, by the end of the school year, everyone involved is looking forward to time to relax and recharge their batteries! I hope you have plans that you are looking forward to, and that you will have a chance to visit inspiring places in the world for the Earth and space sciences, or have a great professional development opportunity planned.

Here at Windows to the Universe, the team will be working on a number of continuing priorities over the summer months. These include development of content, interactives, and classroom activities associated with the International Polar Year (IPY), research on climate, atmospheric science, space weather, solar variability and biogeochemistry. We're also excited to be adding new Citizen Science projects to Windows to the Universe. In April, we opened Project BudBurst, developed in collaboration with the Chicago Botanical Garden and other partners. This fall, we will be opening a new project called "Measure Your World", in which teams will work collaboratively to determine the radius of the Earth using the method developed by Eratosthenes in Ancient Greece. In addition, we will continue translation of our content and resources into Spanish, and prepare for our upcoming professional development workshops this fall. Don't worry! We'll take vacations, too!

We're happy to announce that over the coming two years, in collaboration with the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) and with support from NASA, we will highlight IPY research and educational resources through Windows to the Universe, as well as at NESTA communication venues and events. We'll be sharing information about these resources regularly through this newsletter, so keep your eyes posted!

Saturn's Hexagon

Astronomers spotted a bizarre, hexagon-shaped feature in the clouds of Saturn near the planet's North Pole. The feature was first seen in images returned by the Voyager spacecraft in the 1980's, and was later observed using the Hubble Space Telescope. In each case, however, the hexagon was hard to see - it was near Saturn's limb (edge) as viewed from each perspective (Voyager's and Hubble's) - and scientists weren't quite sure what to make of their observations. Now, the Cassini spacecraft that is currently orbiting Saturn, has returned an image of this strange phenomenon as viewed from above Saturn's North Pole. And scientists still aren't quite sure what to make of it! They think the hexagon, which was imaged by an infrared camera on Cassini last October, is some sort of wave in Saturn's atmosphere about 75 kilometers beneath the planet's visible cloud tops. Astronomers are still not sure why the feature has such a regular shape; nor why it is so long-lived, having been around since the time of Voyager's flyby in the early 1980's. Click here to read more about Saturn's strange hexagon!


Children tend to resemble their parents in appearance. Parents and children generally have similar eye color, hair texture, height and other similar characteristics! It all starts when a child is conceived; each parent contributes with one complete set of genes to the child. Each cell in a baby's body has two copies of each gene, one copy from the mother and one from the father.

The copies that are passed down from our parents are selected randomly (e.g., your mother has two different copies of gene X that she received from her grandmother and grandfather, and the copy that you get is randomly selected), so that every child has a UNIQUE combination of genes (and therefore traits)! The study of how genes are passed on from one generation to next, and how they determine our traits, is what we call genetics.

Genes are like instructions manuals to our bodies --they tell our bodies how and when to make all the things from which our bodies are built. Genes are parts of DNA molecules, and DNA molecules are packaged in chromosomes in the nucleus of each cell in our body. When we talk about genes being inherited from one generation to the next, we are really talking about how the gene-carrying chromosomes behave during meiosis and fertilization. We all are UNIQUE beings!

Travel through our Evolution tour in order to review the scientific theory that explains how and why living things change over many generations.

New Tornado Scale in Use

Did you know that a new scale for rating the strength of tornadoes became operational on February 1, 2007? It is called the Enhanced Fujita Scale and it replaced the Fujita scale released in 1971.

The Enhanced Fujita Scale or EF Scale has six categories from zero to five, with EF5 being the highest degree of damage. The Scale was used the first time as three separate tornadoes took place in central Florida early on February 2, 2007. It even swept through the Villages, where my maternal grandparents live! These tornadoes destroyed many houses and businesses and killed at least 21 people. And these tornadoes were only rated EF3 tornadoes.

The first time the EF5 measurement was recorded was in the Greensburg, KS tornado that occurred on May 4, 2007. The tornado was estimated to be 1.7 miles in width and traveled for over 22 miles. Its winds reached 205 mph. The city of Greensburg was virtually destroyed and 12 people lost their lives that day. Tornado sirens were sounded in Greensburg twenty minutes before the tornado hit, certainly saving countless lives. Still, much better tornado forecasting is needed to give even earlier warnings.

Tornadoes can occur almost anywhere in the world. About 75% of them happen in the United States, most in an area know as Tornado Alley. Movies of tornadoes and storms are of course available on the internet and many are taken by tornado chasers or spotters.

Please do review this Tornado Safety page put out by the Red Cross. We sincerely hope you never need to use these guidelines, but it may help you or a loved one.

Polar Jigsaw Puzzle

For the International Polar Year we have created new jigsaw puzzles with pictures related to Earth's poles. Besides having fun, your students can learn more about arctic cultures, the polar atmosphere, life in the polar regions and IPY history, or read about life in a penguin colony in Jean Pennycook's Postcards from the Antarctic. Try 12x12 puzzles for a real challenge!

Solstice is Coming!

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:

It's Hurricane Season in the Atlantic!

Storm surge, high winds, and heavy rain - it's that time of year again! Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on the first day of June. However, that did not stop Subtropical Storm Andrea from forming off the southeast coast of the United States before the official start of the season in May. Check Windows to the Universe to learn more about how hurricanes form.

Because El Nino conditions have weakened over the past few months, forecasters are predicting a relatively intense hurricane season with more storms than usual and at least a few intense hurricanes. Additionally, as climate change warms ocean waters long-term, hurricanes may become more frequent.

Check in at the NOAA National Hurricane Center web site for safety and preparedness information, the list of storm names that will be used this year, and hurricane tracking maps. Print out a map and plot the paths of the eye of each storm as it travels across the Atlantic this summer.

Table of Contents

Saturn's Hexagon
Tornado Scale
Summer Camp
Earth Science
Women Geoscientists


Teacher Submissions

Click here to submit your ideas to the newsletter

CanSat Satellite Summer Camp

Submitted by: Steven Heffel

The Federation of Galaxy Explorers will be conducting the CanSat Satellite Summer Camp for high school students at Westfield High School in Chantilly Virginia, July 19-24, 2007. This will be a very hands-on activity for the students. The students will construct a "CanSat" satellite with sensors, processors, and a radio transmitter. The students will also build a high-powered model rocket to launch the CanSat and set up a ground station to receive telemetry from the CanSat. The students will also learn about satellite orbits and they will simulate satellite orbits on a computer. The cost for this camp is $150 per camper and the program is limited to twenty participants. Contact the Federation of Galaxy Explorers at info@foge.org or at 877-761-1266.

Website: http://www.foge.org

Announcements from Partners

Click here to submit information about your program to the newsletter

Earth Science by Design Leadership Workshop

Submitted by Harold McWilliams, TERC.

Announcing the Earth Science by Design Leadership Workshop for school leaders, college faculty, and staff developers. The workshop, which will take place from the 25th-27th of June in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will address the following topics:

For more information and to register, visit http://www.esbd.org/

Earth Science by Design(ESBD) is a year-long program of professional development which may be offered by a school, district, or other organization to middle and high school Earth science teachers. Funded by the National Science Foundation, ESBD is a field-tested, effective way to develop the pedagogical and content abilities of teachers.

30th Anniversary Convention - Transitions

~ Come Celebrate With Us ~

Association for Women Geoscientists

To Encourage, Exchange, and Enhance
Keynote speakers will be Julie Brigham-Grette and David Chapman discussing the topic of Climate Change

Special panel topics will include: Balancing a Geoscience Career and Family Obligations and Science and Religion

Optional Saturday Field Trip to the Beautiful Geologic Surroundings of Glenwood Canyon

Glenwood Springs, Colorado
October 26 and 27, 2007

For more information Please contact the AWG Convention Committee
Registration forms and details are on-line at
Holly Brunkal: hollyb128@gmail.com or Sally Potter: sally.potter@utah.edu

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The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at http://www.windows.ucar.edu/ 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.