NASA Spacecraft Capture an Earth Directed Coronal Mass Ejection

On August 20, 2013 at 4:24 a.m. EDT, the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection, or CME, a solar phenomenon which can send billions of tons of particles into space that can reach Earth one to three days later. These particles cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth, but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground.

Experimental NASA research models, based on observations from NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, show that the CME left the sun at speeds of around 570 miles per second, which is a fairly typical speed for CMEs.

To see images of this CME and read more, visit

This story is a great extension to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. To access this lesson, visit the NES Virtual Campus at

NASA’s IRIS Telescope Offers First Glimpse of Sun’s Mysterious Atmosphere

The moment when a telescope first opens its doors represents the culmination of years of work and planning — while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a wealth of research and answers yet to come. It is a moment of excitement and perhaps even a little uncertainty. On July 17, 2013, the international team of scientists and engineers who supported and built NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, all lived through that moment. As the spacecraft orbited around Earth, the door of the telescope opened to view the mysterious lowest layers of the sun’s atmosphere and the results thus far are nothing short of amazing. The data is crisp and clear, showing unprecedented detail of this little-observed region.

To read more about IRIS and see images of the sun’s atmosphere, visit:

This story is a great extension to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. To access this lesson, visit the NES Virtual Campus at:

Activity Continues On the Sun

Solar activity continued on May 14, as the sun emitted a fourth X-class flare from its upper left limb, peaking at 9:48 p.m. EDT. This flare is classified as an X1.2 flare and is the 18th X-class flare of the current solar cycle. The flare caused a radio blackout – categorized as an R3, or strong, on NOAA’s space weather scales from R1 to R5 — which has since subsided.

The flare was also associated with a non-Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejection. CMEs and flares are separate but related solar phenomena: solar flares are powerful bursts that send light and radiation into space; CMEs erupt with billions of tons of solar material. They often, but do not always, occur together. Any time we can see a solar flare from Earth’s view, than at least some of its light and radiation must be directed at Earth. CMEs on the other hand may or may not be Earth directed. NASA observes CMEs even when they are not traveling toward Earth, because they may impact spacecraft.

To read more and see some incredible imagery on this solar activity, visit

This story is a great real-world connection to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. To access this lesson, visit the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus.

NASA Deciphering the Mysterious Math of the Solar Wind

Many areas of scientific research — Earth’s weather, ocean currents, the outpouring of magnetic energy from the sun — require mapping out the large scale features of a complex system and its intricate details simultaneously.

Describing such systems accurately, relies on numerous kinds of input, beginning with observations of the system, incorporating mathematical equations to approximate those observations, running computer simulations to attempt to replicate observations, and cycling back through all the steps to refine and improve the models until they jibe with what’s seen. Ultimately, the models successfully help scientists describe, and even predict, how the system works.

To read more about the math involved with solar activity studies, visit

This research provides an extension to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. To access this lesson, visit the NES Virtual Campus.

Electric Moon Jolts the Solar Wind

With the moon as the most prominent object in the night sky and a major source of an invisible pull that creates ocean tides, many ancient cultures thought it could also affect our health or state of mind — the word “lunacy” has its origin in this belief. Now, a powerful combination of spacecraft and computer simulations is revealing that the moon does indeed have a far-reaching, invisible influence — on the sun, or more specifically, the solar wind.

To read more about our moon’s effect on solar wind, visit

This article is a great extension to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems — Solar Storms. To access this lesson, visit

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

NES Events Next Week (Apr. 30 – May 4)

NES National Student Symposium, Johnson Space Center

Students from NES project schools across the country are attending the NASA Explorer Schools National Student Symposium at Johnson Space Center, Houston Tex. Students are presenting their investigation or design challenge findings to NASA personnel and other students attending the event. Other activities include an astronaut presentation, facility tours, student activities and a career awareness panel. To earn an invitation to the symposium, students conducted an investigation or design challenge and presented it to a panel of NASA personnel during the NES Virtual Student Symposium.

Professional Development

Professional Development – Geometry: Space Math Problems-Solar Storms

Apr. 30, 8 – 9 p.m. EDT
Get an overview of the problem sets, suggestions for implementation of best practices and some extension activities including additional Space Math problems that may be appropriate for your curriculum. 

May 2, 8 – 9 p.m. EDT
Go through three mathematical computations to determine usable and unusable portions of foods. The seminar includes an extension activity comparing mold growth on bread and tortillas in order to see why tortillas are an acceptable bread substitute in microgravity. The forms of packaged food products that are fine for travel on Earth are not always suitable for use on space flights. There are limitations to weight and volume when traveling and the microgravity conditions experienced in space also affect the food packaging.NASA Now: Balloon ResearchDebbie Fairbrother, Chief Technologist in the Balloon Program at Wallops Flight Facility in Va., discusses two types of high-altitude balloons NASA uses to test scientific instruments and spacecraft. Prepare to be amazed when you find out how big the balloons are and much mass they can lift.

Space Math Problems — Solar Storms

How do NASA scientists use geometry and measurement to predict the behavior of dangerous solar storms?

Use the problems in the NES featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems — Solar Storms, to bring relevance to your classroom by connecting your lesson to recent solar activity. In these problems, students analyze images of a solar tsunami and use geometry and measurement skills to find the speed of the wave. They step into the shoes of a NASA scientist and use geometry to find the speed of a coronal mass ejection, or CME, also known as a solar storm. CMEs can have hazardous effects on the International Space Station and astronauts.

To see how you can use Space Math Problems with your students, take a look at the NES video collection for teachers.

The solar flare (upper-left) on 7 March 2012 seen by the SWAP
instrument on ESA’s Proba-2 satellite.