NASA Now: The Reason for the Seasons

NASA NOW LOGOIn this episode of NASA Now, you will learn what it’s like to study the atmospheres of other planets. We are approaching the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Dr. Kelly Fast, astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., discusses the reason for the seasons. Fast explains what an equinox is and whether or not other planets in our solar system have seasons.

Corresponding NES Teaching Materials:


NASA Now Minute: The Reason for the Seasons

Elizabeth Petry Uses NES Resources to Prepare for Virtual Student Symposium

Mack Benn, Jr. Elementary SchoolNASA Explorer Schools educator Elizabeth Petry from Mack Benn, Jr. Elementary School found NES resources helpful when preparing for the Virtual Student Symposium. Her fifth-grade students conducted an investigation using a teaching module, Fingerprints of Life, and the NASA Now program, Microbes at NASA. The students were able to perform their experiment, record the data, and analyze it within a manageable time period. They took one class period to experiment and record data, plus a second class period to analyze data and derive conclusions.

To see pictures and the lesson, go to NEON, register, log in, join the NASA Explorer Schools group and find the NES resources forum.

Goldilocks in Space

Baby Bear watches Goldilocks sleepHow is finding a habitable planet like the story of Goldilocks? If a planet is not too cold or not too hot, but it is just the right temperature to have liquid water, then there can be life. If a planet is too small, it does not have enough gravity to hold an atmosphere. If it is too large, it holds too much atmosphere. If it is just the right size, it can have an atmosphere capable of supporting life.

“Goldilocks” refers to an exoplanet whose conditions are “just right” to maintain water and support Earth-like life. The Goldilocks zone is the range of orbits around any star where is the conditions are neither too hot nor too cold but just right for liquid water to exist on the surface. And that is the key ingredient for the existence of life.

NASA’s Kepler mission is looking to find terrestrial planets that are in the Goldilocks zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist. In the Habitable Planets activity, your students determine the size of a planet as well as the distance from its star. Students learn what makes a planet habitable.

Read more about the description of the activity in NEON.  Register, log in, join the NASA Explorer Schools group and find Fingerprints of Life? Extremophiles: Its Just Right. The Habitable Planets activity is available in that forum.

Click here for more information about the Goldilocks zone.

NASA Prepares to Orbit Mercury

Artist concept: Messenger orbiting MercuryToday, Mar 17, NASA’s MESSENGER probe will become the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. It’s a seminal moment in planetary exploration. Researchers can finally take a good long look at a rocky world that is both akin to Earth and shockingly alien.

The sun blazes up to 11 times brighter there than at Earth, and surface temperatures at Mercury’s equator can reach 450 degrees Celsius (840 degrees Fahrenheit). The small planet’s hot dayside radiates much of that thermal energy back into space at a rate four times that at Earth.

Researchers are anxious for new discoveries at Mercury. It’s a planet of many mysteries: the most active planetary exosphere in the whole solar system, a surprisingly “live” magnetic field that has puzzled scientists for years, a core that makes up 60% of the planet’s mass and is at least partially liquid, an intriguing landscape pitted with an interesting variety of craters and volcanic vents and marked by towering scarps that snake hundreds of miles across the planet’s face. And that’s just for starters.

MESSENGER is bristling with scientific instruments – high resolution imagers, lasers, and magnetometers – designed to solve these mysteries once and for all.

NASA Explorer Schools educators can check out these related Resources on the Virtual Campus:
• Teaching Module – MESSENGER: Cooling with Sunshades
• Teaching Module -MESSENGER: My Angle on Cooling-Effects of Distance and Inclination
• NASA Now: MESSENGER in Orbit

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

Link to register for the NASA Explorer Schools project.

Japan Quake May Have Shortened Earth Days, Moved Axis

Satellite image of Sendai, JapanThe March 11, magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan may have shortened the length of each Earth day and shifted its axis. But don’t worry—you won’t notice the difference.

Using a United States Geological Survey estimate for how the fault responsible for the earthquake slipped, research scientist Richard Gross of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., applied a complex model to perform a preliminary theoretical calculation of how the Japan earthquake—the fifth largest since 1900—affected Earth’s rotation. His calculations indicate that by changing the distribution of Earth’s mass, the Japanese earthquake should have caused Earth to rotate a bit faster, shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds (a microsecond is one millionth of a second).

The calculations also show the Japan quake should have shifted the position of Earth’s figure axis (the axis about which Earth’s mass is balanced) by about 17 centimeters (6.5 inches), towards 133 degrees east longitude. Earth’s figure axis should not be confused with its north-south axis; they are offset by about 10 meters (about 33 feet). This shift in Earth’s figure axis will cause Earth to wobble a bit differently as it rotates, but it will not cause a shift of Earth’s axis in space—only external forces such as the gravitational attraction of the sun, moon and planets can do that.

Click here to read the full article.

View NASA images of the earthquake area at

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

NES Educators Participate in Annual STEM Conference

Forest Lake Elementary School logoNES Educators from Forest Lake Technology Magnet Elementary School and Forest Heights Elementary School participated in NASA Langley Research Center’s 3rd Annual STEM Conference in Charlotte, N.C. During the three-day conference. The educators attended breakout sessions where they learned about engineering design challenges, problem-based learning activities, distance-learning modules, inquiry-based lessons and other hands-on projects.

During the closing ceremony, astronaut Lee Morin, who has accumulated 259 hours in space, shared his experience as a flight surgeon, spacewalker and advocate of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

Teacher Uses NES Resources to Stimulate Career Interest

Cindy Dwyer, NASA Explorer Schools teacher with Sayville Public Schools, used NASA educational materials to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers in her gifted student program. Cindy says, “I teach a gifted student enrichment program in the three elementary schools in my school district. We used the Field Trip to the Moon curriculum from NASA. We also used Google Earth’s moon interface to view photos of the landing sites mentioned in the Navigation team kit and photos from the LCROSS mission. My students find NASA missions fascinating and displayed active engagement throughout this project.”

The school received attention when the project was featured on a local news station. Students were interviewed on their specific roles in the lunar activity.

Read details of Cindy’s experience in NEON. Register, log in, join the NASA Explorer Schools group, and find the On the Moon Educator Guide: On Target forum. The complete story is available there, as well as other educators’ experiences with the On Target activity.

The featured lesson, On Target from On the Moon Educator Guide, may be found in the Teaching Materials section of the NES Virtual Campus.

Tomorrow: Live Video Chat – Aquarius Habitat — Analog to the International Space Station

NASA Explorer Schools invites students in grades K-12 from across the U.S. and Department of Defense schools to participate in a live video chat with NASA engineer aquanaut Tara Ruttley. The event will take place on March 15, 2011, at 1 p.m. EDT. Students and teachers can submit questions to Dr. Ruttley during this hour-long chat. Ruttley will answer questions about participating in the NEEMO 6 project and her career as an engineer aquanaut and Associate International Space Station Program Scientist.

Go to the chat page on the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus website to participate in the webchat. You’ll find background information about Ruttley and links to NEEMO. You do not need to be a participant of the NASA Explorer Schools project to join the chat. To learn more about NES, visit the website and click on the What Is NES? video or the About NES link.