Winter Solstice 2011

The sun, nearing winter solstice, travels low across the sky in a multiple-exposure picture made in Maine in 2002.This year, the winter solstice takes place on Thursday, Dec. 22 at 12:30 a.m. EST. The winter solstice marks the day when winter officially starts in the Northern Hemisphere and when days start to become incrementally longer. Do you understand why this happens? Find out at the Chandra website and then incorporate the information into the NES lessons Heat Transfer: MESSENGER — My Angle on Cooling (grades 5-8), Analyzing Solar Energy Graphs: MY NASA DATA (grades 9-12), and Temperature and Earth Climate: Modeling Hot and Cold Planets (grades 7-9).

NES Engineering Design Challenge Brings Rigor and Relevance to Classroom

NASA Explorer Schools educator Kaci Heins from Northland Preparatory Academy had seen the Engineering Design Challenge: Thermal Protection System demonstrated but did not have the lesson plans. However, this year she saw the module for the Thermal Protection Systems in the NASA Explorer Schools lesson library. She was thrilled because she had to teach thermal energy to her students as part of the new sixth-grade science curriculum. She knew this would be the perfect investigation to incorporate rigor and relevance into this unit.

Take time to read the NEON forum post <> to learn how Kaci used this lesson and see how you too can use it in your classroom.

NES Educator Uses Summer Research Experience to Enrich Lesson

Amanda Blough’s fourth-grade students at Corpus Christi School completed a unit on weather and the water cycle. The class talked about water, how it affects weather, and how it is recycled.

As a NASA Explorer Schools teacher, Amanda was able to add several additional resources to this unit after attending the NES summer recognition opportunity “Water Filtration” at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. By searching NASA Educators Online Network, or NEON, she found a recommendation for a NASA e-Clips video about how water is recycled on the International Space Station. The video shows students how much water people consume on Earth per day compared to how much water astronauts use on the space station per day. Her students did the NASA Engineering Design Challenge: Water Filtration Challenge to see what it takes to filter water to make it clean again. Blough showed pictures of the Environmental Control and Life Support System at Marshall and explained how it works.

To cap off the lesson, Blough took her students for a tour of the local water treatment plant so they could see firsthand how their city cleans the water they use in their homes.

NPP Settles Into Orbit

VIIRS data imposed on a globe.On Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, the NPOESS Preparatory Project spacecraft was launched aboard a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NPP represents a critical first step in building the next-generation Earth-observing satellite system that will collect data on both long-term climate change and short-term weather conditions. NPP will extend and improve upon the Earth system data records established by NASA’s Earth Observing System fleet of satellites that have provided critical insights into the dynamics of the entire Earth system.

Learn all about the NPP satellite, different types of orbits and how NASA keeps satellites in orbit in NASA Now: Orbital Mechanics: Earth Observing Satellites. This NASA Now classroom video is found on the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus.

To read about the latest NPP mission discoveries and news, visit the mission website.

To share comments from your classroom on this or other episodes of NASA Now, visit the NASA Now Facebook wall.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

New NASA iPhone App: Tracking Meteoroids

Surprising but true: Every day, on average, more than 40 tons of meteoroids strike our planet. Most are tiny specks of comet dust that disintegrate harmlessly high up in Earth’s atmosphere, producing a slow drizzle of meteors in the night sky. Bigger chunks of asteroid and comet debris yield dozens of nightly fireballs around the globe. Some are large enough to pepper the ground with actual meteorites.

With so much “stuff” zeroing in on our planet, NASA could use some help keeping track of it all.

Enter the Meteor Counter–a new iPhone app designed to harness the power of citizen scientists to keep track of meteoroids.The app is available free of charge in Apple’s app store. Just click on the link in the previous sentence or search for Meteor Counter in the app store, and let the observing begin.

Take a Tour of the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Front cover of Tour of the Electromagnetic Spectrum showing various planets and Isaac Newton, among others.This resource presents the electromagnetic spectrum by introducing how we interact with these waves on a daily basis and how NASA scientists use the unique qualities of each wavelength to study the sun, planets and origins of the universe. EM waves measured by Earth-observing satellites help NASA scientists understand our Earth system and changing global patterns and climate.

For more information and links to the education materials, visit

NASA Now — Exploring Asteroids: An Analog Mission

NASA Now program slateNASA Now — Exploring Asteroids: An Analog Mission is available on the NES Virtual Campus beginning Dec 14, 2011.

NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO, project lead Bill Todd describes this analog mission and how aquanauts living and working in an undersea habitat are helping NASA prepare for future asteroid exploration. NASA Now Minutes are excerpts from a weekly current events program available for classroom use at the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus. 

Preview the program below

2011 OPTIMUS PRIME Spinoff Award Video Contest

Optimus PrimeNASA has opened registration for the 2011 OPTIMUS PRIME Spinoff Award Contest. Featuring OPTIMUS PRIME, the leader of the popular TRANSFORMERS brand, the contest highlights spinoffs from NASA technologies that are used on Earth. The goal is to help students understand the benefits of NASA technology to their daily lives. Last year’s contest was open to students in grades 3-8 and resulted in 76 video submissions from over 190 students in 31 states.

For 2011, the OPTIMUS PRIME Spinoff Award Contest has been expanded to include students in grades 3-12. Each student, or group of students, will submit a three- to five-minute video on a selected NASA spinoff technology listed in NASA’s 2010 “Spinoff” publication. Videos must demonstrate an understanding of the NASA spinoff technology and the associated NASA mission, as well as the commercial application and public benefit associated with the spinoff technology.

Participants must register for the contest by Jan. 3, 2012.

Video entries are due Jan. 17, 2012.Video entries will be posted on the NASA YouTube channel, and the public will be responsible for the first round of judging. The top five submissions from each of the three grade groups (Elementary [3rd-5th], Middle [6th-8th] and High School [9th-12th]) will advance for final judging. A NASA panel will select a winning entry from each group. Among other prizes, a crystal OPTIMUS PRIME Spinoff Award Trophy will be given to winners at a special awards ceremony being held in Florida in April 2012. The innovators associated with the NASA technology highlighted in the winning videos also will receive trophies, as will their commercial partners.

For more information, visit the OPTIMUS PRIME Spinoff Award website.

Questions about this contest should be directed to Darryl Mitchell at

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

REMINDER: Live Video Chat Today at Noon

Did you know there are approximately 19,000 man-made objects orbiting Earth that serve no useful purpose? And those are just the objects having a diameter of 10 centimeters (4 inches) or larger. The estimated population of objects between 1 and 10 cm in diameter is closer to 500,000! Now, think about launching new spacecraft or satellite into space without hitting any of these objects and you can appreciate the kind of work Danielle Margiotta does as an engineer for NASA. Join us at noon EST on Dec. 13, 2011, to ask Danielle questions about the ins and outs of contamination engineering, or how to help a spacecraft and satellites navigate and manage their inevitable encounters with space junk.

Submit questions during the chat through a chat window, or send them to

Classroom Discussion: Buy a Live Christmas Tree or an Artificial One?

Know your trees: Images of a Douglas Fir, Eastern Red Cedar, Fraser Fir, Noble Fir, Norway Spruce, Scotch Pine, Virginia Pine and White SpruceGet a real tree this holiday season. Buy it or cut it yourself at a tree farm. Either way, you will be helping the environment.

Surprised? Most people think it’s bad to cut a live holiday tree. Instead, they buy an artificial tree made of plastic or other synthetic material. Because they reuse this artificial tree year after year, they think they are saving real trees. Farmers plant Christmas trees in rows just as if they were corn.

But not so. Farmers grow trees especially for the holidays. They plant huge tracts of land in beautiful noble pines, Douglas firs, blue spruce, and other favorites. It may take 8 to 12 years to grow a good sized tree. But during that time, the tree is taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. It is cleaning the air and helping global warming. If people didn’t buy the cut trees, the farmers wouldn’t plant them.

When you are done with your holiday tree, you can recycle it. Most cities have programs to pick up your holiday tree and grind it up into mulch. Then it is spread back onto the land to help grow something else-or more trees.

No matter how many years you reuse an artificial tree, someday it will get thrown away and end up in a landfill for the next 1000 years!

So, help save Earth. Chop down a tree!

Let us know what you or your students think by adding a comment to this post.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.