Witness History: As MESSENGER Speeds by the Planet, See Mercury Before Sunrise! September 29 to October 1, 2009

 Posted by DrJeff on September 28th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

Mercury Sky
This post is a Teachable Moment in the News.

 

Given the BotU Special Post for the MESSENGER Flyby, I thought this would be a great supplemental post.

 

Some Cool Background

Imagine you’re looking at a bug flying around an outdoor light bulb at night. Let’s say you’re looking at it from a distance which is always greater than the distance the bug is from the bulb. Wow. It’s a really interesting bug you’ve never seen before, and you want to share the experience with a friend, or (in my case) your son or daughter. I might say “Hey Jordi! Check out this really cool bug!” He’d say, “Daddy, where??” Ok, now I’ve got to tell him where to look. What would you say? How about: “over there, near that light bulb.”

 

Well this is EXACTLY the situation with the planet Mercury for earthbound observers. Mercury is orbiting the Sun and we’re looking at it from Earth, which is at a greater distance from the Sun than Mercury is from the Sun.

 

So if you want to see Mercury in your sky, you need to look … near the Sun. Anybody see a problem with that? The Sun is a pretty high wattage light bulb, and if it’s up in the sky, you’re not going to see Mercury or the stars for that matter. They’re up there with the Sun but their light is absolutely swamped by the sunlight illuminating our atmosphere.

 

Just so you know, the Sun light bulb is General Electric model #big01bertha, and its wattage is 383,900,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Watts. It is also guaranteed for another nearly 5 billion years of operation. Handle with care.

 

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SPECIAL POST: The Flight of MESSENGER to Mercury: Live Web 2.0 Coverage of the Final Flyby on September 29, 2009

 Posted by DrJeff on September 18th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

NEWS: For continued coverage of the MESSENGER mission through orbital insertion on March 18, 2011, please visit the MESSENGER Updates page on this blog.

 

 

Quick Navigation for this BotU Special Post

Click on Main Page to Ensure You’re at Special Post, not Blog Home Page


Sub-pages:

1. Schedule for MESSENGER Flyby Events and Web 2.0 Live Coverage

2. Ideas for Lessons in the Classroom, and Educational Resources

for leveraging the live events into a broader science education experience

3. The Mission Scientists, the Voices of Mission Control, and their Links

4. How to Participate—It’s Easy even if you have Twitter & Facebook blocked

5. Witness History: See Mercury Before Sunrise! Sept 29-Oct 1, 2009


MercuryImage

Photo caption: Part of Mercury’s never before seen surface, from MESSENGER spacecraft data obtained during the first flyby on January 14, 2008. Read the story behind this imageYou want to see spectacular? Click on the image.

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/Arizona State University, 2008.

 

Every so often an upcoming event is compelling enough for me to put up a dedicated Special Post at Blog on the Universe. A good example is the Apollo 11 40th anniversary. Given my involvement for the last 10 years with the MESSENGER mission, I decided the upcoming encounter deserved a Special Post. The goal is to help facilitate public engagement with the event, and point followers of this Blog to the official web sites and relevant resources. I have also provided my own thoughts on MESSENGER. This post is a Teachable Moment in the News.

 

 

It is a historic mission to another world. It marks a dramatic end to the human race’s initial reconnaissance of the eight planets of our Solar System, and the beginning of detailed study of Mercury.

 

On September 29, 2009, at 5:55 pm EDT, the MESSENGER spacecraft will conduct the last of three flybys of the planet. Each flyby is gravitationally modifying the spacecraft’s orbit around the Sun to ready it for orbital insertion around Mercury on March 18, 2011. On September 29 through October 1, live Web 2.0 coverage from mission control at the Applied Physics Laboratory in Columbia, Maryland, will allow teachers, their students, and the public to experience this mission milestone, and through social networks … ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE in this great adventure. There will be 7 Voices of Mission Control—MESSENGER Educator Fellows and MESSENGER Education Team members—covering the flyby in real time on Twitter and Facebook. They will be able to interact with all of you through engaging conversations, and will answer your questions. Four MESSENGER Mission Scientists will be teaming with the Voices of Mission Control throughout the live coverage. Our goal is to capture the experiences and excitement of the events as they unfold, and to tell this very human story of exploration. We want to help inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, and promote scientists and engineers as heroes and role models to our children. We want to help teachers engage their students with a behind-the-scenes look at REAL science and engineering, and in this very moment of history.

 

Inspire … Then Educate: A Broader Commitment to Education

At this Special Post, I’ve also put together a sub-page that can serve as a one-stop-shop for information on MESSENGER and the science objectives for the flyby, and lists of activities, lessons, and educational resources. It’s meant to help you place the live coverage within a broader, richer science education experience that grows from National Science Education Standards, and offers deep curricular connections in the earth and space sciences. The idea is to inspire …then educate. The historic event provides the inspiration, and the resources leverage discussions on the nature of exploration, the nature of the Solar System, and MESSENGER and its mission at Mercury. Isn’t this precisely the curricular landscape in which MESSENGER resides?

 

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THE SOLUTION TO Weekly Challenge 7: Spaceship Earth

 Posted by DrJeff on September 15th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

Read Original Challenge HERE.

MW

Photo caption: Computer-generated image of the Milky Way galaxy based on real data.

 

This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge. It was requested by (teacher extraordinaire) Jami Lupold and her class in the great city of Houston, Texas, USA.

If you’re a teacher and your class has an idea for a blog post, slip me a note!

 

Last week I gave you a scare. It happened when I told you that you’re really on a spaceship hurtling through space. I was in the midst of describing all of Earth’s motions—it spins, it orbits the Sun, the Sun orbits the center of our galaxy carrying Earth and the Solar System along for the ride—and that’s when I saw panic on your face. You started to get a bit dizzy, so I turned on the “fasten seat belt sign” in light of all the conceptual turbulence ahead. To keep your mind off all the spinnin’ and revolvin’ I gave you an assignment to calculate Earth’s speed—your speed—due to these three motions. Does this all ring a bell? No? Why don’t you go and re-read the original challenge from last week, so you can refocus.

 

Good. Now that you’re back. Let’s get to the answers. Did I mention this week’s challenge was in our in-flight magazine in the seat pocket in front of you? By the way, I see you dug your fingernails into your seat, and your fingertips seem a bit blue. (Hope the answers don’t send you into a panic.)

 

And now the answers—


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September 8 and September 11: Joy, Pain, and Hope

 Posted by DrJeff on September 11th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

This post is a Teachable Moment in the News.

This is crossposted at the Huffington Post HERE.

 

12:01 am, September 11, 2009

 

I’ll remember Tuesday September 8, 2009 for quite a long time. My Jordi turned 7. How can that be? It seems like only yesterday I took my wife Kathy to the hospital, both of us thankful that he wasn’t going to be born on September 11. And now he’s 7! —looking for experiences under every rock, challenging his mom and dad to keep up. He is just a joy to behold. He inspired this blog.

 

Last Tuesday, it wasn’t just his birthday, it was his first day back at school. He was giddy with excitement when I drove him to school. He was going to see all his classmates he’d missed all summer. I walked him to class and he was bouncing off the walls. He also was given a gift that day. He sat down with his school and listened to the President of the United States, who spoke of the power of education.  He spoke of a student’s obligation to themselves, to their family, and to their country. He spoke to Jordi and his generation, and challenged them to reach within themselves and aspire to do great things. I believe deeply in those words. I also believe in those that tirelessly and patiently nurture our children so they can indeed aspire to great things. I believe in teachers. I am so very thankful for Jordi’s teachers, and my daughter Jada’s (an important future post for me). And I remember my own teachers that long ago invited me on a journey of a lifetime. So I did what I could do as well. I’m not sure how (it wasn’t planned that way), but an hour after the President spoke, my essay appeared at Huffington Post, titled The Art of Teaching – In Tough Times, a Thank You to Teachers Everywhere. It was my way of saying thanks.

 

There are threads through moments of time.

 

Today is September 11, 2009. It was 8 years ago that I watched President Bush talking to an elementary school class in Florida at the beginning of their school year. I remember that moment when he was interrupted with news beyond comprehension.

 

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Weekly Challenge 7: Spaceship Earth

 Posted by DrJeff on September 4th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

MW

Photo caption: Computer-generated image of the Milky Way galaxy based on real data.

 

This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge. It was requested by (teacher extraordinaire) Jami Lupold and her class in the great city of Houston, Texas, USA.

If you’re a teacher and your class has an idea for a blog post, slip me a note!


 

You wanted to be an astronaut? Poof. Done.

 

You and your friends are on a spaceship called Earth—with all known life aboard. With you sitting there calmly reading this, and no obvious need to hold on to something for dear life, it might seem that the spaceship under your feet is carrying you on a nice steady trajectory through space. Uh … Nope. Right now you’re being carried along on something more akin to a cosmic-sized amusement park ride. Earth is rotating on its axis, it’s orbiting the Sun, and the whole Solar System (the Sun and its planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, comets, and Trans-Neptunian Objects) is orbiting the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way itself is moving relative to other nearby galaxies, the local group of galaxies is moving through a greater space, and all this is set against a backdrop of an expanding fabric of space and time across the entire universe. I know!!!! (© Craig Ferguson) Dizzy?

 

[Pleasant Ding] The captain has just turned on the seat belt sign. There may be some conceptual turbulence up ahead. But I’ll make the ride as smooth as possible.

 

OK, I think a Weekly Challenge requesting that you calculate all the spinning, and revolving, and free-flying is a bit much, so let’s concentrate on three things:

 

Here now the Challenge—

 

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Powerful New Resource For Teachers – A BotU Lesson Planner

 Posted by DrJeff on September 3rd, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

It’s a new school year, and teachers are going back to the classroom in tough times. I wanted to do something to help. I’ve missed some posts this week because I was concentrating on a new Blog on the Universe Resource Page titled Teacher’s Lesson Planner for BotU Posts.

 

I created this Blog with teachers and parents in mind. The goal for all Posts and Resource Pages is to provide a creative new way of looking at science—conceptual understanding at an emotional level. I write each post recognizing that if done well, teachers can use it as a lesson in the classroom.

 

The Lesson Planner is designed as a one-stop shop for teachers where they can look through a list of all posts, sorted by general category, e.g., climate change, or Solar System content, and for each post see the essential question, concepts addressed, learning objectives, math skills required, and any special features of that post. The Lesson Planner is designed to be a powerful entry point into the Blog’s content for all teachers—and parents. My hope is that it will allow the posts to be put to work to inspire and educate our children.

 

Here now is the Teacher’s Lesson Planner Page.  Let me know what you think!

 

Finally, our teachers need all the support we can give them. If you feel it appropriate, please pass on the following essay The Art of Teaching to teachers everywhere. I wrote it to inspire the new teacher, to reaffirm to the seasoned professional why we went into teaching in the first place … and to celebrate the joys and rewards of the teaching profession.

 

Teachers and parents are the link between the current generation and the next. Teaching is something that we as a species of explorers must cherish, for without it we could not stand on the shoulders of past generations and see to the current horizon of knowledge.

 

For hopefully a poetic view of how teaching fits within the larger landscape of human exploration, read the essay The Nature of Our Existence.

 

As always,

Dr. Jeff