MESSENGER Spacecraft Named by Time Magazine as One of 2009′s 50 Best Inventions, and Other Cool Mission Highlights & Updates

 Posted by DrJeff on December 10th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

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Photo Caption: Image taken September 29, 2009 by MESSENGER’s Narrow Angle Camera (NAC). The distance across the bottom of the image is 250 miles (410 km), which means the crater at lower left is about 80 miles (130 km) across! The crater’s appearance points to Mercury’s volcanic past—to a time when the crater was filled with lava and now only portions of the crater’s circular rim are visible. (Click on image for zoom.)

 

This post is a Teachable Moment in the News.


Remember the MESSENGER spacecraft we were all following back in September as it flew by Mercury? The little spacecraft that gave us all a scare during the September 29 flyby (hey little fella, don’t do that again) is day-by-day getting closer to orbital insertion on March 18, 2011. We’re now just 15 months away!

 

I promised to keep you all posted with new mission updates. My last was October 17, and there have been a bunch of things piling up to report. I could have just quietly inserted the new updates on the MESSENGER Mission Updates page here at the Blog, and snuck in a date change in the Teachable Moments in the News QuickLinks Box in the upper right corner above (your cue to look in upper right corner). But hey! When Time Magazine names a family member as one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2009 (and by the way, we were number 11) YOU’VE JUST GOT TO CELEBRATE WITH AN OFFICIAL POST!

 

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Shuttle Atlantis Home! Prompts Me to Look to America’s Future … and I’m Troubled

 Posted by DrJeff on November 27th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

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

 

This is crossposted at the Huffington Post HERE and at the Space Tweep Society Blog HERE.

 

I just watched space shuttle Atlantis land at Kennedy. I had lots and lots of mixed emotions. The shuttle is just a remarkable technological achievement, and watching it land can be a pretty emotional experience.


But the space shuttle was never supposed to be more than a space truck to low Earth orbit. I was left reflecting on my childhood when I watched Apollo astronauts walking on the Moon, and dreamed of what awaited us in the 21st century in terms of human spaceflight. It has definitely not come to pass. In fact, approaching 2010 we are now at a crossroads. Shuttle has just 5 more flights, and then the U.S. will need to rely on the Russians for years just to have astronaut access to the International Space Station. And that’s just keeping the status quo with humans continuing to travel no farther from the surface of Earth than a couple hundred miles. I drive farther than that visiting my mom just north of New York City from my home near Washington, DC. It’s called low Earth orbit, and we’ve been stuck here now for 37 YEARS. Is this the grand vision for human spaceflight we embraced 40 years ago when we saw Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the Moon?


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Me, the Pilgrims, and My Sister – Happy Thanksgiving 2009

 Posted by DrJeff on November 26th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

Pleiades as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Caption: The Pleiades as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

 

This post is a Teachable Moment in the News.

 

So here I am in NY, visiting my mom and my sister’s family. We’re sitting on the couch and my sister comes up with this bizarre Thanksgiving challenge. “Hey Jeffrey! (my family calls me Jeffrey … yuck), why don’t you come up with a personal Thanksgiving story involving the pilgrims. Sort of a 3 degrees of separation thing.” Ok, fine. Here goes—

 

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TMN QuickLinks: Shuttle Atlantis in Orbit, Make it a Teachable Moment

 Posted by DrJeff on November 19th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

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Photo Caption: Atlantis blasts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, 2:28 p.m. EST, November 16, 2009.

 

This is a Teachable Moments in the News QuickLinks Post. It connects a news story with this Blog’s existing powerful library of Posts and Resource Pages. The cited Posts and Pages provide a deep understanding of concepts in the earth and space sciences relevant to the news story. Teachers—the Posts and Pages are also designed for use as lessons, allowing you to easily bring current science into the classroom as a teachable moment. Each cited Post is outlined in the Teachers Lesson Planner, which includes the Post’s essential questions, concepts, objectives, and math skills.

 

This is crossposted at the Huffington Post HERE.


A space shuttle has now lifted off from Kennedy Space Center 129 times. The flight of Atlantis that began on November 16 is also the 31st to the International Space Station. After she returns to Earth, a space shuttle will clear the tower only 5 more times before the fleet—Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis—is retired in 2010. Atlantis is scheduled to go up only once more.


We take the technical aspects of shuttle flights for granted, even the shuttle flights themselves. But it’s a remarkable technological achievement that deserves both our reflection and awe. So let me help. Here’s what happened November 16 close to 2:30 pm EST, when folks on the west coast of the U.S. were thinking about where to go for lunch. East coasters were looking forward to the end of the work day. But down at Kennedy Space Center, a now famous clock was ticking.


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A Doctor Jeff Myth Buster: Carbon Dioxide is Just a Trace Gas – BIG DEAL!

 Posted by DrJeff on October 24th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

testPhoto caption: CO2 concentration in the atmosphere in parts per million over the last 400,000 years. Credit: NOAA.

 

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

This is crossposted at the Huffington Post HERE.

 

Here’s how the argument goes—and do it justice by reading it out loud, and kinda yelling whenever you see words in CAPS.

 

“Hey, you’re worried about CO2 concentration in the atmosphere going up because of human activity and causing an increase in global temperature?! GIVE ME A BREAK! It’s only a TRACE gas, currently making up only 0.038% of the atmosphere, or 380 parts per MILLION!!  SO WHAT if we increase it to a WHOPPING 1,000 parts per million (ppm) by 2100. Then it would ONLY comprise 0.1% of the atmosphere. BIG DEAL!! There is NO CONCEIVABLE WAY that changes in such a miniscule amount of CO2 could have any significant impact on the global environment. You’re preaching the sky is falling, and ANYONE WITH HALF A BRAIN can see that this is just SILLY! YOU must be part of some Scientists-in-Need-of-Federal-Funds—Green Business—Government (SiNoFF-GB-G) conspiracy that’s bent on destroying everything that is good. TAKE A WALK YOU ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST IN NEED OF A CAUSE. Why … you’re likely a paid operative of the SINoFF-GB-G machine!”

 

Ummm.. has anybody else heard this argument, or is it just me? Here’s my rebuttal (and you’re still using the CAPS-means-shouting thing.)

 

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Blog News October 19, 2009

 Posted by DrJeff on October 19th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

A great deal has been happening at the Blog this past month, so I thought I’d give you an update.

 

MESSENGER Flyby of Mercury, and Ongoing Updates

through Orbital Insertion in March 2011

We had a great time at Mission Control covering the MESSENGER flyby of Mercury live via Twitter September 29 through October 1. Judging from the tens of thousands of page views that week, lots of folks were going along for the ride. Cool! That’s why we did it!

 

I recently put up a MESSENGER Updates Post which will be providing ongoing updates through MESSENGER’s orbital insertion at Mercury in March 18, 2011. If you’ve not seen the Post yet, you’ll be surprised at how many updates there are already, and the other cool resources provided there, including a play-by-play of the nail-biting in Mission Control when we lost signal from the spacecraft near close approach, and the Twitter Archives of us Voices of Mission Control which allow you to relive the experience. Note the MESSENGER Updates Post can always be accessed from the TMN QuickLinks Box at upper right. Over the next 18 months, you’re also invited to use the MESSENGER Ideas for Lessons in the Classroom, and Educational Resources Post which addresses the nature of human exploration, the exploration of the Solar System, and the exploration of Mercury, with powerful essays, activities, and lessons.

 

A Presentation on the Universe For Your School or Community?

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Weekly Challenge 8: How Big is Big? The Earth Edition

 Posted by DrJeff on October 16th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

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This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge and a Driving with Jordi.

Photo caption: the Hawaiian Islands, with the Big Island of Hawai’i at lower right. The Big Island was formed from five volcanoes including Mauna Kea. True color from the NASA Terra satellite, May 27, 2003.

The solution to this Challenge will be posted Monday, October 26, 2009.

It’s a new school year, and I couldn’t wait to get back into the routine of my morning drive with Jordi. I missed our daily conversations about Earth, space and everything else in his known universe while we navigate the fabled Washington, DC, Beltway to his school. Sure, we spent lots of great family time together over the summer at the pool club, and in New York. But there was something magical about taking 30 minutes of dull driving each morning and turning it into a free-for-all ‘Jordi where do you want to take the conversation today?’

To help you picture it, I’m always driving with my cup of coffee, glancing in the rear view mirror—waiting. He’s usually staring forward, transfixed. You’d almost think that my now 7-year-old is just zoning—except that he’s got that slight squint which tells me wheels are turning furiously inside. Then BOOM! He launches our great morning adventure with a simple, elegant, deep thought.

So last week, like always, just out of the blue—

“Daddy, how many Empire State Buildings tall is the tallest mountain?”

Today he wanted daddy to help him conceptualize the height of a really tall mountain. He wanted to use a familiar ruler.

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TMN QuickLinks: Five Powerful Climate Change Lessons for A Very Important Earth Science Week October 11-17, 2009

 Posted by DrJeff on October 11th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

EarthFromSpace_2560x1024Photo Caption: The Sun setting over the Pacific and a towering thundercloud, July 21, 2003 as seen from the International Space Station (Expedition 7). Click on the image and explore your world close-up using the scroll bars. The time to protect it is at hand.


This is a Teachable Moments in the News QuickLinks Post. It connects a news story with this Blog’s existing powerful library of Posts and Resource Pages. The cited Posts and Pages provide a deep understanding of concepts in the earth and space sciences relevant to the news story. Teachers—the Posts and Pages are also designed for use as lessons, allowing you to easily bring current science into the classroom as a teachable moment. Each cited Post is outlined in the Teachers Lesson Planner, which includes the Post’s essential questions, concepts, objectives, and math skills.

 

 

Earth Science Week takes on a rather unique importance in 2009. This year’s theme is Understanding Climate. On December 7-18. 2009, the entire world will meet in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to hammer out the next international agreement on climate change and put in place new targets for greenhouse gas emissions. It may be humanity’s last opportunity to craft an agreement—AND get it ratified by the world’s nations—before the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 (and in force in 2005) expires in 2012. This seems to me to be a very big deal for the future of this planet, particularly in light of the latest projections for the impact of global warming—which indicate we need to act NOW or face irreversible consequences (see CNN, March 12, 2009)—and Copenhagen is the venue for that action.

 

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has now issued 4 Reports, the last issued February 2, 2007:

 

On Feb. 2, 2007, the United Nations scientific panel studying climate change declared that the evidence of a warming trend is “unequivocal,” and that human activity has “very likely” been the driving force in that change over the last 50 years.

New York Times, October 11, 2009

 

If we allow things to continue unchanged and we don’t take action today, it would destabilize human society.

—Rajendra Pachaurihead, Head of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Climate chief warns against ‘Tragic’ inaction”, CNN, August 21, 2008


Here are some relevant links:

Findings of the UN IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, see Union of Concerned Scientists, February 16, 2007

 

June 16, 2009 White  House Report Global Climate Change Impacts the United States: coverage by USAToday (‘Game Changer’),  CBS (White House Sounds Alarm), CNN (Report Warns of Cimate Change Effects), ABC (US Climate Report Dire)

 

Assessment by U.S. Department of Defense on U.S. National Security, and on the grave scenarios that can play out from global warming: New York Times (August 8, 2009)

 

My point is that over the next few months, the world faces a unique and seminally important moment in time, and Earth Science Week 2009 should serve as a timely catalyst for education in the US. HERE is the countdown clock to Copenhagen.

 

To date I’ve created 5 Posts at Blog on the Universe—5 powerful lessons—on climate change and global warming that I’d like to share with you as resources to use in classrooms and in discussions at home this coming week.

 

First, what is Earth Science Week?

 

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Oh No! NASA’s LCROSS Is Going to Hit the Moon! Run!

 Posted by DrJeff on October 8th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

johnny_automatic_angry_moon

This is a supplement to my earlier post NASA LCROSS to Slam into Moon October 9, 2009.

This is crossposted at the Huffington Post HERE.

 

 

We’re slamming this thing into the Moon?! Hasn’t anybody thought this through?! The Moon’s going to be forced from its orbit! Giant tides will wash around the Earth! Buildings will topple! The Man in the Moon will be mad at us! Do we really need another catastrophe?!


An hour after I put up my NASA LCROSS to Slam into Moon post to help teachers make this a Teachable Moment on the Moon in classrooms, my good Twitter friend Heather Good at FoundonMars.com tells me there are actually folks out there thinking about impending doom (check out the comments at this recent HuffPost article.) She asked me to come up with something that can put everyone’s mind at ease. There was tension, anxiety, scared people … shades of Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast that had folks running from their homes. Cool (not the running thing. The “can you come up with something to calm folks” thing.)

 

Ready?

 

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TMN QuickLinks: NASA LCROSS to Slam into Moon October 9, 2009

 Posted by DrJeff on October 7th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog

 

This is a Teachable Moments in the News QuickLinks Post. It connects a news story with this Blog’s existing powerful library of Posts and Resource Pages. The cited Posts and Pages provide a deep understanding of concepts in the earth and space sciences relevant to the news story. Teachers—the Posts and Pages are also designed for use as lessons, allowing you to easily bring current science into the classroom as a teachable moment. Each cited Post is outlined in the Teachers Lesson Planner, which includes the Post’s essential questions, concepts, objectives, and math skills.

 

 

226580main_2007-08-02 On Way In

There’s an exciting event scheduled on the Moon, and you’re invited. The NASA LCROSS spacecraft and it’s Atlas V Centaur upper stage rocket will slam into the lunar South Pole on October 9 at 4:30 am PDT. It is going to be a BIG news story AND IT SHOULD BE VISIBLE TO YOU if you’re west of the Mississippi (in the U.S.) AND you can hook up with an amateur astronomer with a good-sized (recommended 10-12-inch aperture) telescope. Sounds like a good motivation for an impact party to me.

 

There is a Blog on the Universe Post—If I Could Gift Wrap the Moon—that is perfect for a thought-provoking, conceptually hard-hitting classroom discussion about the size of the Moon and its relationship to Earth in advance of (even after) the LCROSS impact. It includes simple and quite elegant hands-on activities.

 

Here are the links:


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