On July 19, 2013, one of the most exciting events of the Cassini mission this year will be when the satellite takes images of the whole Saturn system while it is backlit by the sun. With Saturn covering the harsh light of the sun, mission scientists will be able to gather unique ring science.
Cassini is also going to take images of Earth from the satellite’s location in space, some 1.44 billion kilometers (898 million miles) away. Opportunities to image Earth from the outer solar system are few and far between, and special care must be taken so the satellite’s cameras are not “blinded” by looking in the direction of the sun, where Earth is. There have been only two images of Earth made from the outer solar system in all the time humankind has been exploring space. The first and most distant image was taken 23 years ago by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft from 6 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, showing Earth as a pale blue dot. The other image was captured by Cassini in 2006 from a distance of 1.49 billion kilometers (926 million miles).
Cassini’s July image is a special opportunity for Earthlings to wave at the “photographer” in the Saturn system. Mission personnel are asking you, or your group, to go outside July 19 and have a photograph taken of you or your group waving, while looking in the general direction of Saturn. You can share your pictures by joining the Flickr group wave at Saturn, adding them to the Wave at Saturn Facebook event page, or tagging pictures on Twitter #waveatsaturn. The mission hopes to make a special collage of all of the images if they receive enough of them.
The Cassini portrait session of Earth will last about 15 minutes from 2:27 to 2:42 p.m. PDT. For more information about Waving at Saturn, visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/waveatsaturn/.
It has long been assumed that our solar system, like a comet, has a tail. Just as any object moving through another medium – for example, a meteor traveling through Earth’s atmosphere – causes the particles to form a stream trailing off behind it. But the tail of our solar bubble, called the heliosphere, has never actually been observed, until now.
NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, has mapped the boundaries of the tail of the heliosphere, something that has never before been possible. Scientists describe this tail, called the heliotail, in detail in a paper published on July 10, 2013, in The Astrophysical Journal. By combining observations from the first three years of IBEX imagery, the team mapped out a tail that shows a combination of fast and slow moving particles. There are two lobes of slower particles on the sides, faster particles above and below, with the entire structure twisted, as it experiences the pushing and pulling of magnetic fields outside the solar system.
To see images and read more about this development, visit https://www.nasa.gov/content/nasa-s-ibex-provides-first-view-of-the-solar-system-s-tail/index.html#.Ud74gIVTcvQ.
This discovery is a great extension to NASA Now: Space Science: Voyager’s Grand Tour of the Solar System. To access this video, visit the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus website.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, has traveled more than half of the distance needed to get from a site where it spent 22 months to its next destination.
The rover has less than 800 meters to go to finish a 2 kilometer dash from the rim of one crater segment, where it has worked since mid-2011, to another, where mission controllers intend to keep Opportunity busy during the upcoming Martian winter.
Opportunity departed the southern tip of the Cape York segment 6 weeks ago and headed south for Solander Point. Both are raised portions of the western rim of 22 kilometer-wide Endeavour Crater, offering access to older geological deposits than the rover visited during its first seven years on Mars.
This story is a great extension to the NES NASA Now Mars Month episodes housed on the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus website.
To read more about Opportunity and why it’s heading to Solander Point, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mer/news/mer20130702.html#.UdReYoV8mds.
NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, solar observatory separated from its Pegasus rocket and is in the proper orbit. This followed a successful launch by the Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. It was the final Pegasus launch currently manifested by NASA. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida managed the countdown and launch.
To read more about IRIS, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/iris/index.html
This article is a great extension to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. Access this lesson on the NES Virtual Campus.
The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 6:49 p.m. on June 7, 2013. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however, when intense enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where communications signals travel. This disrupts radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.
This flare is classified as an M5.9 flare. M-class flares are the weakest flares that can still cause some space weather effects near Earth. This flare caused a moderate radio blackout, rated an R2 on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s space weather scales, which range from R1 to R5. It has since subsided.
This is a real-world connection to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. To access this lesson, visit the NES Virtual Campus.
To read more about this solar flare and see an image of the flare captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/News060813-m5.9flare.html.
Students and educators are invited to join NASA for the Sally Ride EarthKAM Summer 2013 Mission from July 9-12, 2013. Guide your students in hands-on research as they program a camera aboard the International Space Station to take pictures of specific locations on Earth. The optional online curriculum at the Sally Ride EarthKAM website is designed for middle school students, but could easily be adapted for other grade levels. All students and educators are invited to participate, including participants in summer and after-school programs.
For more information and to register for the upcoming mission, visit the Sally Ride EarthKAM home page at https://earthkam.ucsd.edu/.
NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, mission has uncovered the origin of massive invisible regions that make the moon’s gravity uneven, a phenomenon that affects the operations of lunar-orbiting spacecraft.
Because of GRAIL’s findings, spacecraft on missions to other celestial bodies can navigate with greater precision in the future.
GRAIL’s twin spacecraft studied the internal structure and composition of the moon in unprecedented detail for nine months. They pinpointed the locations of large, dense regions called mass concentrations, or mascons, which are characterized by strong gravitational pull. Mascons lurk beneath the lunar surface and cannot be seen by normal optical cameras.
This mission update is a great classroom extension to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Engineering Design Process: On The Moon. To have your students playing the role of engineers in designing lunar missions, access this set of engineering design challenges on the NES Virtual Campus.
To read more about GRAIL’s discovery, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/grail/news/grail20130530.html.
Detailed analysis and review have borne out researchers’ initial interpretation of pebble-containing slabs that NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity investigated last year: They are part of an ancient stream bed.
The rocks are the first ever found on Mars that contain stream bed gravel. The sizes and shapes of the gravel embedded in these conglomerate rocks — from the size of sand particles to the size of golf balls — enabled researchers to calculate the depth and speed of the water that once flowed at this location.
To learn more about the challenges the Mars Science Laboratory team faced during Curiosity’s landing, also known as the “seven minutes of terror”, check out NASA Now: Forces and Motion: Curiosity—Entry, Descent and Landing. You can access this classroom video on the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus.
To read more about this discovery by Curiosity on Mars, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/news/msl20130530f.html
NASA Explorer Schools and the National Science Teachers Association are hosting a 90-minute live professional development Web seminar for grades 6-8 educators on June 4, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. EDT. This seminar will address the Next Generation Science Standards. As a result of this seminar, you will be able to use the lesson “Engineering a Stable Rocket” from NASA’s Rockets Educator Guide to address the middle school dimensions associated with forces and interaction performance expectations. This seminar provides an overview of the activity, explores the NASA connections, shares tips and tricks for implementing this lesson in the classroom, showcases videos of students engaged in the lesson and discusses possible modifications or extensions.
This is the only time this seminar will be offered during the current school year.
For more information and to register online, visit the NSTA Learning Center.