SDO Sundog Mystery

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), best known for cutting-edge images of the sun, has made a discovery right here on Earth.

Solar Dynamics Observatory at launch just before it passes through the sundog.“It’s a new form of ice halo,” says atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley of England. “We saw it for the first time at the launch of SDO–and it is teaching us new things about how shock waves interact with clouds.”

Ice halos are rings and arcs of light that appear in the sky when sunlight shines through ice crystals in the air. A familiar example is the sundog—a rainbow-colored splash often seen to the left or right of the morning sun. Sundogs are formed by plate-shaped ice crystals drifting down from the sky like leaves fluttering from trees.

Last year, SDO destroyed a sundog—and that’s how the new halo was discovered.

Read more about this extremely interesting discovery and watch a video the shockwaves as SDO has a close encounter with a sundog.

Source: Science@NASA

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips

Link to the NES Virtual Campus.

Thrill of Discovery — Educator Workshops in Four Locations

Workshop Banner
It’s 2011 — NASA’s Year of the Solar System! Join us on a cosmic road trip to explore solar system mysteries and share in the thrill of discovery at an exciting new workshop for educators of all grade levels. 
NASA’s Discovery and New Frontiers missions are traveling vast distances to find answers to age-old questions. These celestial detectives are revealing how our solar system formed and evolved, doing brilliant science with “way cool” technologies! 

   • See sights never before seen on Mercury: MESSENGER! 
   • Get up close to asteroids and comets: Dawn, Stardust-NExT and EPOXI! 
   • Map the moon’s gravity with twin satellites: GRAIL! 
   • Peer through Jupiter’s clouds: Juno! 
   • Cruise to the outer reaches of the solar system: New Horizons! 

Hear from mission scientists and engineers, discover engaging activities for grades K-12 classrooms and out-of-school time programs, and receive a resource book loaded with activities and links. 

When: Saturday, March 19, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at each location listed below.
   • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
   • NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.        
   • Jackson Middle School Observatory, Champlin, Minn.
   • Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
Cost:  $25 (lunch and snacks included).

Special Speakers

  • Six years after launch, MESSENGER will enter orbit around Mercury on March 18. We are very fortunate to have Dr. Sean Solomon, MESSENGER’s Principal Investigator, tell us about the mission’s goals, the science findings so far, and the excitement of reaching the orbiting phase of the mission.
  • The Dawn mission uses ion propulsion to visit the two largest objects in the asteroid belt. Launched in September 2007, Dawn will arrive at asteroid Vesta this July for a year-long orbit. Dawn’s Chief Engineer, Dr. Marc Rayman, will share why this mission is so unique and what scientists hope to learn.
  • Juno’s quest is to aid in the understanding of the formation and evolution of Jupiter, which will help us comprehend the origin of the entire solar system. Juno will launch this August. Dr. Ravit Helled from the gravity team tells us how Juno will reveal “the giant planet story.”
Watch the speakers on the free webinar if you can’t be at one of the sites.
Questions? Send e-mail to Shari Asplund at JPL. 

NES — 1K and Counting

FireworksThis week,the NASA Explorer Schools project enrolled its 1,000th participant. The projectincludes educators from schools in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico,plus a U.S. State Department/Department of Defense school in Turkmenistan.That’s quite an accomplishment!

Enrolling 1,000teachers is an exciting milestone for NES because it means we are pursuing ourvision of actively engaging schools and partners to deliver unique andauthentic NASA experiences in science, technology, engineering and mathematicsdisciplines.

Welcome NESteachers! We hope to see more of you sharing your ideas on NEON, using Virtual Campus content, and applyingfor recognition!

Link to the NES Virtual Campus.

Twin STEREO Probes Provide View of Entire Sun!

On Feb. 6, NASA’s twin STEREO probes moved into position on opposite sides of the sun, and they now are beaming back uninterrupted images of the entire star — front and back.

”For the first time ever, we can watch solar activity in its full three-dimensional glory,” says Angelos Vourlidas, a member of the STEREO science team at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.

”This is a big moment in solar physics,” says Vourlidas. “STEREO has revealed the sun as it really is — a sphere of hot plasma and intricately woven magnetic fields.”

Read more about this story by logging into NEON, join the NASA Explorer Schools group, and find the “GENESIS: What Are We Made of? The Sun, Earth and You” forum. The complete write-up on this exciting new development is available in that forum.

STEREO VideoThis movie shows a spherical map of the Sun, formed from a combination of STEREO Ahead and Behind beacon images, along with an SDO/AIA image in between. The movie starts with the view of the Sun as seen from Earth, with the 0 degree meridian line in the middle. The map then rotates through 360 degrees to show the part of the Sun not visible from Earth. The black wedge shows the part of the Sun not yet visible to the STEREO spacecraft.

For more information about the STEREO spacecraft, visit the mission website.

A Valentine's Day Return to Comet Tempel 1

Stardust SpacecraftOn Feb. 14, 2011, NASA’s Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) mission will encounter Comet Tempel 1, providing a unique opportunity to measure the dust properties of two separate comets (Wild 2 and Tempel 1) with the same instrument for accurate data comparison. The encounter also will provide a comparison between two observations of a single comet, Tempel 1, taken before and after a single orbital pass around the sun.

NASA’s Stardust spacecraft will fly within 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) of Comet Tempel 1 on Feb. 14, 2011, at about 8:36 p.m. PST.

Comet Tempel 1NASA’s Deep Impact mission observed Comet Tempel 1 in the summer of 2005, as the comet was inbound toward the sun on its approximately 5.5-year orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Deep Impact’s primary mission was to deliver a special impactor spacecraft into the path of Comet Tempel 1. The spacecraft — and many ground-based observers — observed the impact and the ejected material. Scientists were surprised the cloud was composed of a fine, powdery material, not the expected water, ice and dirt. The spacecraft did find the first evidence of surface ice on a comet instead of just inside a comet.

The Stardust-NExT mission is a low-cost use of an in-flight spacecraft redirected to a new target. Prior to its tasking for Tempel 1, the Stardust spacecraft successfully flew through the cloud of dust surrounding the nucleus of comet Wild 2 in January 2004. The particles of cometary material gathered during this flyby were then returned to Earth aboard a sample return capsule that landed in the Utah desert in January 2006.

Sort Feature Added to the Virtual Campus

A search/sort function has been added to the NASA Now and Teaching Materials sections of the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus. Use the check boxes to search for items designed to support specific grade levels and subjects. The sort feature also has a keywords search to help further narrow the results. Don’t overlook the Show All button if you want to peruse the entire portfolio of items. You can search on a single element or any combination of elements.

Digital Playlist Presentations on the Virtual Campus

Eventually, each teaching module on the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus will have an extensive set of digital playlist items for a teacher to use when presenting the module content. Included in the playlist, and already on the Virtual Campus, are excerpts from the on-demand e-Professional Development videos. Added recently are presentation files accompanied by a screen-by-screen script. The files are in PDF format and can be shown to students as a slide show. Presentations are currently available for the following: 
   • Black Hole Math
   • Earth Climate Course
   • Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber
   • Engineering Design Challenge: Spacecraft Structures
   • Engineering Design Challenge: Water Filtration
   • Exploring Space Through Math: Lunar Rover
   • Fingerprints of Life

Coming very soon are presentations and scripts for the following:
   • Rockets Educator Guide
   • Math and Science @ Work
   • MESSENGER: Staying Cool

Presentations for the remaining modules will be announced in future e-blasts and Teachers Corner posts as the presentations are added to the Virtual Campus. To access the presentation files, log into the Virtual Campus. Go to one of the modules listed above and open the Materials Needed component in the right column. Look for files called Presentation Slides and Presentation Script. Larger presentations are spread across several files to minimize your download times.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

NES Virtual Campus Gets a Partial Facelift

Virtual Campus home page.The NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus is sporting a new home page. Items You Don’t Want to Miss is a set of rotating graphics, centered on the home page. The graphics are designed to give you additional information about featured NES topics and provide a richer Web experience for everyone coming to the site. If you’re interested in finding more information about a particular topic displayed in the graphic window, click on the graphic. Each of the individual graphics is hot-linked to further information about that topic. If the graphic changes before you can select the item, use the sequence counter in the bottom left corner of the graphics window.

Take a look at the new panels in the left column of the home page. A link now takes you to the sign-up page for the NASA Education Express listserv. The Express is NASA’s Office of Education weekly newsletter that provides information about current NASA education opportunities, competitions, solicitations and more. All NES participants are urged to subscribe to the Express listserv.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

Modification for the Fingerprints of Life-It's Just Right Module

Microscopic view of budding Baker's YeastHere is a modified activity from Fingerprints of Life, “It’s Just Right” module. Invite your students to discuss what is meant by an extremophile and extreme environment. In this activity, students design and implement an experiment to test the extremes at which Saccharomyces cerevisiae, one-celled organisms commonly known as baker’s yeast, can metabolize, as measured by the production of carbon dioxide. The students work in groups to test the limits of salinity.

Report your student’s results on the NASA Educators Online Network, or NEON.

The complete write-up of this activity is available in NEON. Register, log in, join the NASA Explorer Schools group and find the Fingerprints of Life: Extremophiles: “It’s Just Right” forum.

Is It Alive? An Idea from NASA Explorer Schools Professional Development

Colleen Orman, a NASA Explorer Schools teacher at Oceanair Elementary, attended a recent Fingerprints of Life e-professional development session. She used one of the additional resources suggested during the live Web seminar, a lesson called “Is It Alive?”
Oceanair Elementary School
Her students tested soil samples representing soil from a site on Mars. They investigated ways to determine which soil samples had life forms. After coming up with parameters to judge what would be considered living organisms, students observed each sample and recorded their observations.

Read more about Colleen’s experiences with this activity in the NASA Explorer Schools Fingerprints of Life: Extremophiles forum in NEON. The complete write-up on this activity is available in that forum.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.