August 2007

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The Two Faces of August

August brings two things immediately to my mind - summer is ending, and school is just around the corner. I hope your summer has given you all a chance to relax and recover from the previous school year, and hopefully you have some great new experiences to share with your students.

This month's newsletter has information about meteor showers, a new game, an Arctic culture, and historical events important in science. Please see below also for information about our sessions at fall NSTA meetings, as well as those of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, and an opportunity for your students to be involved in global debates. Also in this month's newsletter you will find information about how you and your students can be involved in two worldwide science projects - Measure Your World and the Great World Wide Star Count.

St. Lawrence's Tears

This time each year (in August) the best-known meteor shower Perseids makes its appearance. It is summer in the Northern Hemisphere and many people are vacationing far from city lights, where skies are dark and meteors are most visible. This year's Perseid meteor shower promises to put on an above average display. Last year the meteors were difficult to see because the full Moon overwhelmed most Perseids. ( See Newsletter Archive - August 2006 for more information about Perseids.) But this time around we are going to have a full spectacle as the weather is nice and warm here in the Northern Hemisphere and because we will have no moon.

The Perseid meteor shower is also known as "The Tears of St. Lawrence." Who was St. Lawrence? Laurentius, a Christian deacon, is said to have been martyred by the Romans in 258 AD on an iron outdoor stove because he refused to hand over Church valuables. In the midst of this torture Laurentius cried out, “I am cooked on that side; turn me over, and eat.” The saint's death was commemorated on his feast day, 10 August. The abundance of shooting stars seen annually between approximately 8 August and 14 August have come to be known as St. Lawrence's "fiery tears." Today we know that these meteors are actually pieces of the Swift-Tuttle comet and they stream from a point in the sky known as the "radiant" in the constellation Perseus. An easy-to-recognize pattern of stars near the radiant is "W"-shaped Cassiopeia. Jupiter and Saturn are also not very far away.

All you need to observe these celestial displays is a dark sky, a way to stay comfortable, and a little patience. Light pollution or moonlight will drastically reduce the number of meteors you see, so plan accordingly. Make yourself comfortable with a reclining chair, sleeping bag, coffee or hot chocolate. Have plenty of snacks on hand along with good music and the company of other stargazers. And don’t forget to make a wish . . . or two!

NOTE: Image, courtesy of Marina LaGrave, shows the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls). As the name indicates, the basilica is dedicated to St. Lawrence and is located outside the old walls of Rome.

New Polar Wordsearch

Did you know that we have a new game on the Windows to the Universe site? It’s a wordsearch game where all of the words have to do with the poles of the Earth. Try all three levels for a challenge!

Need ways to take a break this summer while cooling off?! Take a look at our Polar Games and Activities Page.

August notable dates

Have you checked out our Science History Calendar lately? There are several notable dates in August. Here are some of them:

  • August 1, 1818 - Birthday of Maria Mitchell (1818-1889), an American astronomer who was the first female professor of astronomy in the United States.
  • August 6, 1945 - The first atomic bomb was dropped by the U.S. on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. This sad date reminds us of social and moral responsibility of science.
  • August 17, 1877 - American astronomer Asaph Hall discovered Phobos and Deimos, the moons of Mars.
  • August 25, 1609 - Galileo demonstrates his first telescope to Venetian lawmakers.
  • August 27, 1883 - Krakatoa island destroyed by volcanic explosion.
  • August 27, 1962 - Launch of Mariner 2, the first interplanetary spacecraft.
  • August 30, 1871 - Birthday of Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), a physicist who is considered the father of nuclear physics.

Windows to the Universe Events at NSTA Conferences this Fall

Will you be at the NSTA Regional Conferences in either Detroit (18-20 October) or Denver (8-10 November)? If so, we invite you to participate in one or more of the Windows to the Universe sessions listed below.

Detroit NSTA Regional Conference

Date/Time Location
Bring Writing and Reading into Your Earth Science Classroom: Innovative Assessment Ideas
18 October ,

Room 02-44

WALLS! Water, Air, Land, Life and Space!
19 October ,
Cobo Room M2-29
Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future
19 October ,
Cobo Room W2-68
Magnetism Activities, Earth's Magnetism, and Space Weather
19 October ,
Cobo Room W2-70
National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) Share-a-Thon
19 October ,
Cobo Room W1-55

Denver NSTA Regional Conference

Date/Time Location
Cool Science About Cold Places: International Polar Year
8 November,

CCC Room 709

Short Course- Climate and Global Change: A Toolkit for Teachers (This is a ticketed event - register through NSTA .)
8 November,
Hyatt, Capitol 2
Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future
8 November,
CCC Room 403
National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) Share-a-Thon
9 November,
Hyatt, Capitol 4
WALLS! Water, Air, Land, Life and Space!
9 November,
CCC Room 709
Magnetism Activities, Earth's Magnetism, and Space Weather
10 November,
CCC Room 407


Eratosthenes Measured Our World

Eratosthenes, an ancient Greek scientist, made the first reasonably accurate measurement of the size of the Earth in 240 B.C. He knew that the Sun made no shadow in a well in the Egyptian town of Syene on the summer solstice; and, therefore, that the Sun must be directly overhead in Syene on that day. He measured the length of the shadow of a tall tower in his home town of Alexandria on the solstice. He combined this information with the distance between Alexandria and Syene (about 800 km), and with a little geometry, was able to determine the circumference of the Earth.

Read more about Eratosthenes (such as the fact that he was the second head librarian of the famed Library of Alexandria); and find out more about his determination of Earth's size.

Windows to the Universe is coordinating a modern recreation of Eratosthenes' Earth-size measurement. Read more about the "Measure Your World" project, and get involved if you'd like to measure the size of our home planet yourself!

The Great World Wide Star Count

Join us in October for the first Windows After Dark citizen science campaign – the Great World Wide Star Count. This international event encourages everyone to go outside, look skywards after dark, count the stars they see in certain constellations, and report what they see online. This inaugural Windows After Dark event is designed to raise awareness about light pollution and the night sky as well as encourage learning of astronomy. All the information needed to participate will be available on the Star Count Web site. The Star Count uses a simple protocol and an easy data entry form. At the conclusion of the event, the submitted data will be analyzed and 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 1st through October 15, 2007. For more information visit or contact, Dennis L. Ward at

Learn about the Inuit Experience through Windows to the Universe

The Inuit are the native cultures that continue to live on coastal areas of Arctic tundra in Canada, Alaska (USA), Siberia (Russia), and Greenland. Over this broad area there are many different groups of people. Some share common ancestors, others probably do not, but most have similar ways of living in the Arctic.

New content on Windows to the Universe takes a look at Inuit culture, traditions, and history.  An online photo collection visually describes the Inuit experience at the turn of the last century. Read some Inuit myths, watch a video of explorers arriving in an Inuit village, and learn about how Inuit culture is affected by the warming Arctic.

Table of Contents

More about Perseids!
Polar Wordsearch
Star Count
The Inuit Experience
Global Debates
LPI Programs
NESTA Sessions
Measure Your World










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The People Speak Global Debates

Want to join in a truly global debate? This fall and spring, tens of thousands of high schools will all be debating two of the most pressing global issues facing our world today as part of The People Speak Global Debates. October’s topic is on lowering carbon emissions and March’s will be on water rights. The Global Debates are a chance for you and teammates to develop your research, public speaking and leadership skills. You could qualify to win a trip to the United Nations Foundation Global Student Leadership Summit in New York City in July 2008! Register your school today:

Support for Afterschool Programs

Submitted by Steven Heffel
Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, Texas

The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, Texas, is providing curriculum support and training for community based organizations that provide informal learning environments to youth, such as public libraries and afterschool programs (i.e. Boy Scouts, 4-H Clubs, Civil Air Patrol, Federation of Galaxy Explorers, etc.) To request a free copy of the "Explore! Fun with Science" video set, just write a letter to the LPI on the stationary for the organization needing the "Explore! Fun with Science" video set and specifying whether you need the videos in DVD or VHS formats and how the materials will be used and the video set will be provided to your organization.

The eight topics covered on the Explore! Fun with Science video set include: (1) Rockets; (2) Space Stations; (3) Space Colonies; (4) Space Capsules; (5) Solar System; (6) Shaping the Planets; (7) Our Place in Space; and (8) Comets. Curriculums relating to each video segment are also available from the educators section of LPI's website. The LPI education office can also be contacted at or at 281-486-2166.

Lunar and Planetary Institute

NESTA Sessions at Fall NSTA Conferences

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

Detroit, Michigan
October 19, 2007, Cobo Center, W1-55
  • 14:00-15:00 - NESTA Share-a-Thon,
  • 15:30-16:30 - NESTA Rock and Mineral Raffle

Denver, Colorado
November 09, 2007, Hyatt Regency Denver, Capitol 4

  • 12:30-13:30 - NESTA Share-a-Thon
  • 14:00-15:00 - NESTA Rock and Mineral Raffle

Birmingham, Alabama
December 07, 2007, Sheraton Birmingham Hotel, Medical Forum G

  • 11:00-12:00 - NESTA Share-a-Thon
  • 12:30 - 13:30 - NESTA Rock and Mineral Raffle

If you are interested in sharing your favorite classroom resources with teachers in one or more of these shareathon sessions, please be in touch with Roberta Johnson at

Measure Your World!

Join us this fall as we pilot a new student-centered project where teams from the United States, Chile, and Mexico partner to replicate the technique introduced by Eratosthenes to determine the circumference of the Earth. Around 240 BC, Eratosthenes used trigonometry and knowledge of the angle of elevation of the Sun at noon in Alexandria and in Syene to calculate the size of the Earth. Windows to the Universe, Educared, and CREA are working together to offer school children in the U.S., Chile, and Mexico the opportunity to form partnerships, take local measurements, and collaborate using the Eratosthenes method to Measure Your World.

All of the information necessary to participate in this pilot student project can be found on the Measure Your World Web sites ( and Student teams must have a parent or adult sponsor to participate. At least one of the team members or adult sponsors must be fluent in both English and Spanish. This event is open to all students in the three participating countries and does not have to be affiliated with a formal K-12 school. Home-schooled children and children participating in after-school programs (e.g. the Scouts, 4-H, etc.) are welcome to participate.

In addition to taking the measurements and calculating the circumference of the Earth, student teams will be encouraged to learn more about their partners in the other participating countries. Suggested activities to promote cultural exchange can be found on the Web site.

Registration for the Measure Your World event will be open from August 13 – September 14, 2007. Student teams will be notified of their partners by September 21, 2007. The time period for taking the measurements will be September 29 – October 7, 2007. For more information, please email Dr. Sandra Henderson at

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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.