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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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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THE SOLUTION TO Weekly Challenge 6: Today’s Special in the Cosmic Kitchen is …

 Posted by DrJeff on August 24th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

Read Original Challenge HERE.

KitchenFinal

This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge.

 

Welcome humans nice folks. We have assumed you are here for the answer to Weekly Challenge 6. Men in black team #26,342 is therefore now en route to your home. If you don’t know why, before reading any further we recommend (with great strength) that you read Weekly Challenge 6. Our team is rolling (very fast).

 

And now the answer—

 

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Weekly Challenge 6: Twilight Zone, the Missing Episode – “Today’s Special in the Cosmic Kitchen”

 Posted by DrJeff on August 17th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

KitchenFinal

This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge.

 

On a recent tour of CBS, I got separated from my group, got pretty lost, and ended up in a dusty storage room filled with nightmarish props that really creeped me out. In the corner I found an old envelope marked “Rod Serling’ with a script inside. Wow. I decided to turn it into a BotU Weekly Challenge and introduce a new character kinda like, well, me. (It is my Blog.)

 

First a word from our Sponsor—

Come back Monday, August 24. for the solution to this Weekly Challenge.


Come back Friday, August 21, for a new post “The Scale of the Solar System—A Voyage in Corpus Christi”

 

 

Submitted for your consideration, I invite you to accompany me to a Cosmic Kitchen where each entree is of galactic proportions, and ingredients are folded together with forces both unimaginable and seemingly limitless. As we enter the infinite spaces allocated for baking, a solar-system-sized pasta press has just been loaded with planet Earth, and an ejector plate has been inserted which has but a single hole in the center with an adjustable diameter. Chef Jeff has closed the massive door behind the planet, and now the only way out for Earth is through that small opening—for today’s special in the Cosmic Kitchen is Earth spaghetti.

 

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Commentary on Blue-Ribbon Panel Exploring NASA’s Strategic Options for Human Space Flight

 Posted by DrJeff on August 13th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

sciencegoal4_400_041014190552

This post is a Dr. Jeff Speaks Out and a Teachable Moment in the News.

This is crossposted at the Huffington Post HERE.

 

Should humans next travel to Moon, Mars, or …

 

The blue-ribbon panel tasked by the White House with reviewing NASA’s current strategic plans for human space flight, and exploring other options, wraps up deliberations this week. They’ve been at it just 2 months, and this Friday (August 14) Norman Augustine, the panel’s chair, presents the list of options to new NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and WH science and technology advisor John Holdren. I thought I’d weigh in.

 

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The Milky Way: Our City of Stars

 Posted by DrJeff on August 10th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

HST Sag Final2

This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Jeffism.

 

First a word from our Sponsor—

Come back Thursday August 13, for my take on the White House blue-ribbon panel looking at the future of NASA’s human space flight program.


Come back Monday, August 17, Rod Serling will be posting here on BotU: “Weekly Challenge 6: Today’s Special in the Cosmic Kitchen is …”

 

 

There’s no sight like the sky on a cloudless night far from city lights. The heavens filled with seemingly countless stars is overwhelming. At those moments, I cannot help but wonder if on a planet orbiting that star over there might be someone also looking heavenward, and in their sky is our Sun as one star among many. It touches the depths of one’s soul to look up into the night sky and wonder who might be staring back.

 

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THE SOLUTION TO Weekly Challenge 5: Dr. Jeff’s Interplanetary Travel Agency

 Posted by DrJeff on August 7th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

Read Original Challenge HERE.

gpw-20061021-NASA-AS11-44-6642-half-illuminated-Earth-Apollo-11-Lunar-Module-ascends-from-Moon-surface-Apollo-XI-mission-July-21-1969-medium

This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge.

 

Nice to see you again! Now that you’re back from your interplanetary romp through the Solar System, let’s see those cool photographs you took for the Dr. Jeff’s Interplanetary Travel Agency tour brochure.

 

[Hmmm …. silence.] You there?? Earth to my contracted photographer, you seem to be processing all this a bit slowly. I suspect you’re suffering from ‘rocket lag’. It’s perfectly understandable after traveling over 10 billion miles and visiting 7 worlds. I don’t think any photographer has ever been this dedicated. You’re clearly worth more than I’m paying you. So take a load off, and first re-read Weekly Challenge 5 to get back up to speed.

 

And now the answers—


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An Apollo 11 Personal Story

 Posted by DrJeff on July 16th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

279739main_moonwalk_lg

This post is a Teachable Moment in the News.


Photo caption: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. Photo by Neil Armstrong.

 

I think it was August 1998. I got a call from Gina Ross, the principal of Buzz Aldrin Elementary School in Reston, VA. Her teachers were about to return to school for the new academic year, and before the kids returned she wanted me to come and visit. My mission? To inspire her teaching staff with an inter-disciplinary talk on the nature of human exploration, what we as a species of explorers are capable of achieving when we put our minds to it, and that teachers and parents are the link that binds each generation to the next, allowing us personally and collectively to aspire to new heights.

 

The presentation was going well. They were with me, and I could see them getting energized for the new year. Midway through, I was telling them about how I was inspired to be a space explorer when I was just 11. It was one of those singular moments that changes us forever. I was watching a black and white television and on the screen were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking around … on the Moon! You just have to step back from that sentence and let it soak in.

 

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