Sun-Earth Day 2011: Ancient Mysteries — Future Discoveries

Join NASA in celebrating Sun-Earth Day on March 19, 2011.

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Sun-Earth Day comprises a series of programs and events that occur throughout the year, culminating with a celebration on or near the spring equinox. This year’s theme, “Ancient Mysteries — Future Discoveries,” opens the door to a much deeper understanding of the sun and its impact across the ages.

Over the past 10 years, the NASA Sun-Earth Day team has sponsored and coordinated education and public outreach events to highlight NASA heliophysics research and discoveries. The SED team’s strategy involves using celestial events, such as total solar eclipses and the transit of Venus, as well as Sun-Earth Day during the March equinox, to engage K-12 schools and the public in space science activities, demonstrations and interactions with space scientists.

On March 19, 2011, join the Sun-Earth Day team for a live Sun-Earth Day webcast. For this webcast, the team will combine forces with the award-winning NASA EDGE team known for their offbeat, funny and informative look behind the NASA curtain. The webcast will focus on sites in the United States and Mexico that present unique opportunities to develop cultural connections to Native Americans, highlighting the importance of the sun across the ages.

You can participate in this year’s celebration through Twitter! Over 100 participants will be attending a tweetup at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Everyone talking about the webcast and tweetup will add #SED2011 or #NASATweetup to the end of their tweet. Don’t miss out on a variety of very lively conversations! To learn how to host your own tweetup, visit

For more information, educational resources and social media connections, visit the Sun-Earth Day website at 

Questions about Sun-Earth Day events should be e-mailed to


NASA Now logo

In this episode of NASA Now, Dr. Larry Evans, Senior Scientist for MESSENGER, discusses the difficulty of getting to Mercury, the challenges of visiting a planet so close to the sun and what we hope to discover when the spacecraft gets there.
The planet Mercury has long been a mystery to us. In 1975, NASA sent Mariner 10 to do flybys of Mercury and take images of the surface. This mission gathered images of only half the planet. This was the first and last mission NASA would make to Mercury until MESSENGER.

Is ice on Mercury? Why is Mercury so dense? What is Mercury’s geologic history? What is the nature of Mercury’s magnetic field? MESSENGER is equipped with seven scientific instruments that aim to answer these questions and more.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

NASA Now Minute: MESSENGER in Orbit

Thundersnow Hits the Deep South: Extension to the Satellite Meteorology Module

Scientists use data from satellites to study weather phenomena. When thundersnow recently hit the Deep South, the snowstorm provided an excellent opportunity for atmospheric scientists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., to take detailed measurements of precipitation. They used those observations as a type of database or model to simulate what the constellation of Global Precipitation Measurement satellites would see from space. By combining the observations at the ground with those of the polarimetric radar, scientists expect to learn a great deal about the processes responsible for creating the snowfall. From space, they can measure the water content of the snow and the rate at which that snow-water equivalent accumulates on the ground more accurately.

Read more about the description of the activity in NEON. Register, log in, join the NASA Explorer Schools group and find Satellite Meteorology. The link to the article is available in that forum.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

Applications Now Available for NASA's INSPIRE Online Learning Community (9th – 12th Grade)

Inspire bannerApplications for membership to the 2011 – 2012 INSPIRE Online Learning Community, or OLC, are now being accepted. The deadline for applying is 12:00 p.m. CDT on June 30, 2011. This opportunity is for current 8th – 11th grade students, interested in pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, who will be enrolled in grades 9 through 12 for the 2011 – 2012 school year.
Using NASA missions of research and discovery as a foundation, members of the OLC have the opportunity to discover new knowledge while exploring their interests through unique activities and challenges; connect with NASA experts through weekly chats and blogs, as well as their peers on an exclusive discussion board; and equip themselves through access to resources designed to help students prepare for their future as well as information about other NASA competitions/opportunities.

Applications for the OLC can be found on the INSPIRE website.

Click here or more information on the INSPIRE project.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

Robotics Contest: Watch, Cheer and Send Questions

In a challenge simulating planetary exploration, tabletop-size robots must perform different tasks within two minutes. The tasks include placing sensors in volcanoes, deploying habitats and rescuing a stranded “moon buggy,” or small robot. This robotic competition aims to excite and engage students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Competition Game BoardSixteen student teams from nine elementary, middle and high schools will put their software-enabled, battery-powered LEGO robots against the clock in the 5th Annual Southern California Robotics Competition at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. 

Involve your students in the competition by watching the broadcast live on the Web from 12:15 to 3:15 p.m. PDT. You are invited to send in advance your students’ questions about careers in robotics to During the career talk portion of the live program, NASA/JPL robotics engineer Paulo Younse will answer some pre-submitted questions. All questions must be received by Friday, March 11. Questions should be along the lines of “careers in robotics.” Please include either the student’s first name only or school name.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

Piedmont School Hosts Sen. John D. Rockefeller and Special NASA Guest

Students from Piedmont Elementary School in Charleston, W.V., had the honor of hosting West Virginia’s U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV on Feb. 24, 2011. During the senator’s visit, the fourth- and fifth-grade students participated in a 15-minute interactive video conferencing program about the International Space Station. 

During the conference, the students also had a surprise visit from former astronaut and NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin, who gave a quick message from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center via Skype. 

Rockefeller is sponsoring legislation supporting science and mathematics by providing scholarships to potential teachers who focus on these disciplines with a commitment to teach in schools with a high number of students from families below the poverty line. This was a great way for the senator to see an exemplary school in action.

Piedmont Elementary has two enthusiastic teachers, Lindsay Lucas and Kimberly Landers, who are participating in the NES project.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

NES Recognition Opportunity Sparks Idea for Classroom Activity

Research Vessel
NASA Explorer Schools educator Cheryl May, a teacher from Lebanon Middle School, created a great activity called Tracing the Toxins after attending last year’s NES Coastal Observation recognition opportunity. The goal of the activity is for students to understand the difference between toxic and harmful algal blooms. They determine the effects of phytoplankton on the aquatic food webs and learn how NASA monitors algae.

You may become eligible for this research experience by using and reporting on your use of the following: one classroom content module, one NASA Now, and one e-PD. Find out more by logging into the NES Virtual Campus and following the link called Recognition Opportunities. 

You will find a link to this exciting activity in NEON. Register, log in, join the NES group, and navigate to other NASA-related activities and look for the Tracing the Toxins forum.

Capt. Kirk Wakes Discovery Crew

William Shatner, the actor who played Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek television series, provided a special message to the crew of space shuttle Discovery during the 3:23 a.m. EST wakeup call on Mon., Mar. 7.

As Alexander Courage’s “Star Trek” theme song played underneath, Shatner replaced the original television introduction with, “Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30 year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”

The “Theme from Star Trek” received the second most votes in a public contest from a Top 40 list for NASA’s Song Contest. Shatner recorded the custom introduction for Discovery’s final voyage — its 39th flight and 13th to the International Space Station.

Glory Satellite Fails To Reach Orbit

NASA’s Glory mission ended Friday after the spacecraft failed to reach orbit following its launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. 

NASA has begun the process of creating a Mishap Investigation Board to evaluate the cause of the failure. Telemetry indicated the fairing, a protective shell atop the satellite’s Taurus XL rocket, did not separate as expected. 

The launch proceeded as planned from its liftoff at 5:09 a.m. EST through the ignition of the Taurus XL’s second stage. However, the fairing failure occurred during the second stage engine burn. It is likely the spacecraft fell into the South Pacific, although the exact location is not yet known. 

NASA’s previous launch attempt of an Earth science spacecraft, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory onboard a Taurus XL on Feb. 24, 2009, also failed to reach orbit when the fairing did not separate. 

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory Mishap Investigation Board reviewed launch data and the fairing separation system design, and developed a corrective action plan. The plan was implemented by Taurus XL manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corporation. In October 2010, NASA’s Flight Planning Board confirmed the successful closure of the corrective actions. 

The Glory Earth-observing satellite was intended to improve our understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth’s climate.