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

 Posted by DrJeff on October 16th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog



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.

Read the rest of this entry


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?


Read the rest of this entry


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.


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—


Read the rest of this entry


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



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.


Read the rest of this entry


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.


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—

Read the rest of this entry


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

 Posted by DrJeff on July 13th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog



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


Photo caption: Photograph by Michael Collins in Apollo 11 command module Columbia, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin return from the lunar surface in Eagle. With the exception of Michael Collins, the entire human race is in the picture. It happened almost exactly 40 years ago. Eagle blasted off from the surface at 1:54:00 pm EDT, July 21, 1969.


I decided to start a new business. I know space flight for us average folk is just around the corner. As a shrewd business person (hah) I recognize the market potential for interplanetary vacation travel. So I’m therefore happy to report that I’ve just established my new company—Dr. Jeff’s Interplanetary Travel Agency, LLC, and I need some help from you all in designing my marketing material. I’m thinking images of alien vistas is the way to really entice clients.


Last night I happened to look up at the Moon as it was rising above the trees (read why HERE) ,and I thought to myself “Wow! If I didn’t live on Earth, a picture of that would certainly make me want to visit Earth!”


So I started imagining the view from the surface of other worlds. In particular, I’m thinking of a tour package to moons of some of the planets, with stays at the Best Western Satellite Hotels, each located a comfortable distance from the regional spaceport. (Sorry, the Four Seasons and Hilton Hotels only wanted to build on the planets.)


I’m hiring you as my interplanetary photographer. I’d like you to travel to some moons and get me some cool pictures for my brochure. For each shot, I’d like something comparable to what I saw when I looked at the full Moon from Earth.


Here now the Challenge—


Read the rest of this entry


A Day in the Life of the Earth: Understanding Human-Induced Climate Change

 Posted by DrJeff on June 13th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog



This post is a Driving with Jordi.

This is crossposted at Huffington Post HERE.

Note to reader: click on the links in the text for the real data. This is not a work of fiction.

From Dr. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies concerning this post—

Public understanding of climate change depends on an understanding of time scales. Goldstein [Dr. Jeff] does a brilliant job of making clear the rapidity of the human-made intervention in the climate system, and the correlation of global warming with the appearance of technology powered by fossil fuels.

“Daddy, how long is a billion years?”

As soon as we got in the car this morning, and buckled up, I said “so Jordi, I need some help. I need more material for the blog.” “Daddy, what do you mean by ‘material’?”  “That’s what writers call the stuff they use to create stories”, said daddy.

It was a beautiful, sunny morning, so he started talking about … the Sun. He had lots of questions—where did it come from, what’s burning on it to make it so bright, how old is it, what will happen to Earth when it stops burning? The last one was particularly cool. I asked him if he thought the question “what will happen to the Earth when the Sun dies?” is something lots of kids might ask. He said “yes!!” I asked him who he thought was the first person to actually figure it out. He didn’t know. I told him it was me.

Read the rest of this entry


My Really Long Drive with Jordi

 Posted by DrJeff on June 6th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog




This post is a Driving with Jordi, and a Dr. Jeff’s Jeffism.

“Daddy, how long would it take to drive around the Sun?”

So there we were on the Washington, DC, beltway heading for his elementary school. We were cruising at 60 mph—yes, on the beltway, I know!! (© Craig Ferguson, CBS).  Jordi said, “daddy, how far has this car gone since you and mommy got it?” I looked down at the odometer and read 249,000 and some odd miles. Cool! The ’95 Camry was doing just fine. Besides getting close to the 250,000-mile mark, the space guy in me knew that the Earth’s circumference is about 24,900 miles. “Jordi! This car could just have gone around the entire planet Earth 10 times!” He wasn’t expecting that answer. He thought that was … way cool. Cars aren’t supposed to be able to go around an entire planet are they?

But before we get to the rest of the story, first a detour at a Jeffism

Science Education is about conceptual understanding

at an emotional level.

Read the rest of this entry


THE SOLUTION TO Weekly Challenge 1: A Pound of Ants and the Capabilities of Intelligent Biomass

 Posted by DrJeff on June 1st, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog


Read Original ChallengeHERE.


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


For those of you that read last week’s Weekly Challenge 1 and are now waiting on the edge of your seats for the answers, well here they are. For those of you that haven’t yet read Weekly Challenge 1, DON’T LOOK! Go directly to the challenge and read it first, do not pass go, and do not collect $200.


And now the answers—


Read the rest of this entry


Our Earth in Space – the Nature of Our Existence

 Posted by DrJeff on May 28th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog



I started this blog to share exciting stories of exploration with those that teach the next generation—parents and teachers. I hope it can help you inspire our children. More generally, these stories are for anyone who gets joy from learning, and aspires to know.


If you really want to get a sense of where I”m coming from, read my Resource Page The Nature of Our Existence. I hope it moves you. And if it does, share it by leaving a comment on the bottom of the page.


It’s a story—a philosophy—reflecting programs developed and delivered over 19 years at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and across the nation—to families, teachers, and the public.


I’d like to see this blog continue for quite a long time. I’ve got lots to share. But that requires us to build an audience. So please let parents, teachers, and friends know about this blog so we can make a difference together. Send out a tweet or some emails!


You might also like to read other Resource Pages in the section called Dr. Jeff on Stuff (see the column at right.) And subscribe for e-mail notification to stay up-to-date with new Posts.


To all those teachers finishing their year and feeling exhausted, you could probably use a reaffirmation right now about why you went into teaching! I think reading The Nature of Our Existence might help. It’s a good way to start your summer!

—Dr. Jeff