NASA's Terra and Aqua Satellites Capture Disaster in Japan

Satellite image showing JapanThe Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, on NASA’s Aqua satellite and the MODIS sensor on NASA’s Terra satellite took photos of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Images were made with infrared and visible light to highlight the presence of water and other features on the ground.
To find out more about the images, read the article in NEON.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

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.

Researchers Crack the Case of the Missing Sunspots

Image of the sun taken on March 2008In 2008-2009, sunspots almost completely disappeared for two years. Solar activity dropped to hundred-year lows;  Earth’s upper atmosphere cooled and collapsed; the sun’s magnetic field weakened, allowing cosmic rays to penetrate the Solar System in record numbers. It was a big event, and solar physicists openly wondered, where have all the sunspots gone?  

Now they know. An answer is being published in the March 3rd edition of Nature, but you can read about it here.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips

Credit: Science@NASA

Just a Few More Weeks Until Mercury Orbit Insertion

Next month, MESSENGER will execute a 15-minute maneuver. placing the spacecraft into orbit around Mercury. It will be the first spacecraft ever to orbit the solar system’s innermost planet. Check out the MESSENGER module Staying Cool — My Angle on Cooling to prepare your students for this event.

Have your students look at some of MESSENGER’s science objectives and some of the challenges facing the spacecraft.

Let us know about your activities with your students by posting on NEON.

Read more about how to prepare your students for this event in NEON. Register, log in, join the NASA Explorer Schools group, and find the MESSENGER Mission to Mercury: My Angle on Cooling forum. The complete write-up is available in that forum.

For more information about the MESSENGER spacecraft, visit the mission website.

Thrill of Discovery — Educator Workshops in Four Locations

Workshop Banner
It’s 2011 — NASA’s Year of the Solar System! Join us on a cosmic road trip to explore solar system mysteries and share in the thrill of discovery at an exciting new workshop for educators of all grade levels. 
NASA’s Discovery and New Frontiers missions are traveling vast distances to find answers to age-old questions. These celestial detectives are revealing how our solar system formed and evolved, doing brilliant science with “way cool” technologies! 

   • See sights never before seen on Mercury: MESSENGER! 
   • Get up close to asteroids and comets: Dawn, Stardust-NExT and EPOXI! 
   • Map the moon’s gravity with twin satellites: GRAIL! 
   • Peer through Jupiter’s clouds: Juno! 
   • Cruise to the outer reaches of the solar system: New Horizons! 

Hear from mission scientists and engineers, discover engaging activities for grades K-12 classrooms and out-of-school time programs, and receive a resource book loaded with activities and links. 

When: Saturday, March 19, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at each location listed below.
   • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
   • NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.        
   • Jackson Middle School Observatory, Champlin, Minn.
   • Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
Cost:  $25 (lunch and snacks included).

Special Speakers

  • Six years after launch, MESSENGER will enter orbit around Mercury on March 18. We are very fortunate to have Dr. Sean Solomon, MESSENGER’s Principal Investigator, tell us about the mission’s goals, the science findings so far, and the excitement of reaching the orbiting phase of the mission.
  • The Dawn mission uses ion propulsion to visit the two largest objects in the asteroid belt. Launched in September 2007, Dawn will arrive at asteroid Vesta this July for a year-long orbit. Dawn’s Chief Engineer, Dr. Marc Rayman, will share why this mission is so unique and what scientists hope to learn.
  • Juno’s quest is to aid in the understanding of the formation and evolution of Jupiter, which will help us comprehend the origin of the entire solar system. Juno will launch this August. Dr. Ravit Helled from the gravity team tells us how Juno will reveal “the giant planet story.”
Watch the speakers on the free webinar if you can’t be at one of the sites.
Questions? Send e-mail to Shari Asplund at JPL. 

A Valentine's Day Return to Comet Tempel 1

Stardust SpacecraftOn Feb. 14, 2011, NASA’s Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) mission will encounter Comet Tempel 1, providing a unique opportunity to measure the dust properties of two separate comets (Wild 2 and Tempel 1) with the same instrument for accurate data comparison. The encounter also will provide a comparison between two observations of a single comet, Tempel 1, taken before and after a single orbital pass around the sun.

NASA’s Stardust spacecraft will fly within 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) of Comet Tempel 1 on Feb. 14, 2011, at about 8:36 p.m. PST.

Comet Tempel 1NASA’s Deep Impact mission observed Comet Tempel 1 in the summer of 2005, as the comet was inbound toward the sun on its approximately 5.5-year orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Deep Impact’s primary mission was to deliver a special impactor spacecraft into the path of Comet Tempel 1. The spacecraft — and many ground-based observers — observed the impact and the ejected material. Scientists were surprised the cloud was composed of a fine, powdery material, not the expected water, ice and dirt. The spacecraft did find the first evidence of surface ice on a comet instead of just inside a comet.

The Stardust-NExT mission is a low-cost use of an in-flight spacecraft redirected to a new target. Prior to its tasking for Tempel 1, the Stardust spacecraft successfully flew through the cloud of dust surrounding the nucleus of comet Wild 2 in January 2004. The particles of cometary material gathered during this flyby were then returned to Earth aboard a sample return capsule that landed in the Utah desert in January 2006.

NASA Research Team Reveals Moon Has Earth-like Core

Artist concept showing lunar core. Solid inner core surrounded by a fluid outer core surrounded by a partial melt area.Are you looking for an extension for the Lunar Surface Instrumentation Content Module on the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus? Bring current NASA discoveries into your classroom with this article!

State-of-the-art seismological techniques applied to Apollo-era data suggest our moon has a core similar to Earth’s. This new discovery tells us that the moon may have created and maintained its own strong magnetic field at one point. The study details how the seismological instruments used for lunar exploration have unveiled new information regarding the moon’s core.

Read more about this exciting new finding in the NES Math and Science @ Work – Lunar Surface Instrumentation forum in NEON. Register, log in, join the NASA Explorer Schools group and find the forum. The complete write-up on this discovery is available there.

Youngest Ever Nearby Black Hole Discovered

Composite image shows a supernova within galaxy M100Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have found evidence of the youngest black hole known to exist in our cosmic neighborhood. The 30-year-old object provides a unique opportunity to watch a black hole develop from infancy.

The black hole is a remnant of SN 1979C, a supernova in the galaxy M100 approximately 50 million light years from Earth. Data from Chandra, NASA’s Swift satellite, the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton and the German ROSAT observatory revealed a bright source of X-rays that has remained steady during observation from 1995 to 2007. This suggests the object is a black hole being fed either by material falling into it from the supernova or a binary companion.

Excerpt from NASA Science News

For more information and images, visit the Chandra page.

Link to the Dec 14, 2010 NES chat with Black Holes expert, Dr. Sten Odenwald, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Link to NES module, Black Holes Math. (Must be logged into the NES Virtual Campus as a participant of the NES project)

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.