Monthly Archives: April 2013

Cool Astronomy Resources For Kids

Hello everyone!

In addition to running this blog and giving nightly astronomy tours, I am also working on developing a kid’s astronomy program for the resort. In my quest to make astronomy fun, accessible, and interactive for young people, I came across some valuable free resources that I’d like to share with you. Obviously there are hundreds of blogs, podcasts, video channels, and websites out there and I could never share them all, so if you like this post and think something should be added, let me know! I’d be happy to make this a new page on the blog and follow up weekly with new resources.

So here is a short multimedia collection of links that you can show to your young ones to get them excited about space:

Video channels

Deep Sky Videos– An excellent channel, not only for astronomy, but for science all together. It features great pictures by professional astro-photographers and lots of valuable data.


NASA TV- Here’s NASA’s official YouTube Channel, which provides you with simple, clear explanations of what our space agency is doing. Sometimes they interview astronauts on the International Space Station, and get them to talk about life in space.

NASA JPL Live This is not Youtube, but a live feed from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Whenever there is any kind of live event at NASA, such as the docking of a spacecraft, or live pictures from Mars, you can access it with this link!

Video streaming by Ustream
Apps

Exoplanet- A free app that allows you to keep track of any new planets discovered outside our solar system. You can use your mobile device to find each planet in an interactive map of the galaxy, zooming at warp speed to newly discovered worlds.

Sky Viewer- This app tells you exactly what planets and constellations you are looking at by overlaying names and a connect-the dots pattern over the night sky. A GPS compass keeps track of where you are, and you can see the stars using the display. There is a pay version that also shows you more planets and keeps track of satellites, but the free version is a nice way to learn the constellations and keep track of where you are in the sky.

NASA Space Weather Map (Android App only)

View near real-time images of outer space from current NASA missions. Learn about weather near the Sun, Solar Wind, Magnetosphere, Aurora, and Heliosphere from scientists who study them

I did find some neat pay apps from this website too, just in case you aren’t  satisfied with the free stuff:

Websites

Astronomy.com– The official website of Astronomy Magazine, loaded with pictures, articles, and tips for amateur astronomers, and yes, there’s a kids’ page.

ISS Tracker- A website that allows you to know where the International Space Station is at all times!

NASA’s JPL Planet Quest- A great interactive site which teaches kids about planets beyond our solar system, by allowing them to create one, studying the ideal conditions for creating life in the universe.

Social Media

The Curiosity Rover’s Twitter Page- Updates from the mission, written in the first person by the robot.

Kids Needs Science (Tumblr Page)-Full of beautiful pictures of space objects and links to articles.

International Space Station Facebook -Regularly updated with videos, pictures, and news articles.

So there’s a rough start to the vast world of astronomy for kids on the web. Like I said earlier, I’d be happy to post any of your suggestions, or turn this into a regular feature on the blog. Let me know in the comments. In closing, just to show you how far we’ve come with online education, I’d like to post an oldie but a goodie- Bill Nye the Science Guy explores comets and meteors:

Happy Stargazing!

 

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Happy Birthday, Shakespeare

Today, I’d like to switch hats for a little while from Astro-nut to Shakespeare Geek. I’ve been studying Shakespeare for a long time and since today is his birthday, I thought I’d take some time to celebrate it. Like a lot of Elizabethans, Shakespeare believed that the stars and planets helped to influence a person’s destiny. Of course, he lived in the time of Galeleo and Copernicus who questioned these established opinions, and you can hear this changing tide of ideology in the dialogue of his plays. Plus, Shakespeare frequenly uses stellar images to add some extra spice to his love poetry. After all, who doesn’t want to be compared to the radient Venus, the brilliant stars, or the kingly Jupiter?

So today, I’d like to sojurn with you for a while away from the shores of science, and into the sweet waters of music and poetry related to the stars, with Shakespeare as the pilot for our vessel. Hope you enjoy it!

The Facts Are These:

  • Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1613, and died at the age of 52.
  • He wrote 37 surviving plays, 154 sonnets, and four epic poems.
  • The word “Stars” appears 77 times in Shakespeare’s work.
  • The god Jupiter appears as a character in one of his final plays, “Cymbeline”
  • In his tragedy “King Lear” an old lord worries about disasters called by eclipses and comets.
  • One of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, Prospero, is a magician who uses the powers of astrology to control the elements.
  • Shakespeare was called “Sweet Swan Of Avon” by his contemporary Ben Johnson. The river Avon flowed through his home town of Stratford in Warrickshire. You can still see the swans today!

Some Famous Quotes From Shakespeare About Stars:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love. – Hamlet

Take him and cut him into little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun -Romeo and Juliet

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves – Julius Caesar

FOOL: The reason the seven stars are only seven is a pretty reason,

KING LEAR: Because they are not eight?

FOOL: Yes, indeed: thou wouldst make a good fool.

Shakespeare and Astrology

A diagram from the 17th century of the different planetary spheres and their influence on the four elements.

A diagram from the 17th century of the different planetary spheres and their influence on the four elements.

As I’ve mentioned in the “This Month In Astrology” posts, people of Shakespeare’s day believed that the planets and stars could influence a person’s desitny and their character. They believed that the universe contained four basic elements called humours, that were the forces behind the planets, the stars, and our bodies. The four humours corresponded to the four basic elements- Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. These humours reflected aspects of people’s personality- the cold and dry meloncholy, the warm and airy blood, the hot and fiery cholor, and the slow and temperate phlegm (the humour of water). Living in ballence with the planets, stars, and your own bodily humours was the best way to live a healthy life, so Shakespeare and his contemporaries studied the stars to figure out how to control and understand their lives. Queen Elizabeth herself had a pesronal astrologer who helped her get through the invasion of the Spanish Armada. A lot of Shakespeare’s tragedies focus on people whose destinies seem to be influenced by bad stars or planets. As I mentioned in “The Ides Of March” post, a bad planet or a comet could influence the fates of powerful people. Meanwhile, the comedies focus on people who let their humours take over them; from the melancholic Jaques to the foolish constable Dogberry, to the brave but idiotic Orlando, Shakespeare’s characters are at their funniest, when they are at their most “humourous.” In short, Shakespeare’s understanding of the humours and the stars allowed him to classify and examine different types of people, and how they deal with extrodinary situations. This is one reason we continue to read his work 400 years later.Finally, a little poetry reading. Here is one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a short poem that’s only 14 lines long.

In this poem, the speaker rejects the doctrine of Astrology when looking into the face of his beloved, and instead claime that the only celestial light he needs is in the bleoved’s eyes. When those lights are gone, the universe as he knows it will end, so he advises the object of his affection to have children to allow those lights to renew. This is the format of the first 126 sonnets, but Shakespeare uses incredibly varied devices to make the same simple point.

So I hope this little sojourn into Shakespeare’s swan boat was entertaining for you and I hope combining my love of astronomy and Shakespeare will help you, the reader to appreaciate both even more.

Happy Stargazing,

Paul
“Jove and my stars be praised! Here is yet a postscript” – Twelfth Night

PS. If you liked this little exploration into stellar poetry, please leave a comment below. There is a rich vein of poetry related to the Sun, Moon, and stars, and I would love to write about them in future posts.

Happy Earths Day!

Hi everyone, and no, that is not a typo- Today marks not only the celebration of Earth Day on our planet, it also heralds the discovery of not one, not two but THREE Earth-like planets!

Kepler-62-system

Just three days ago, the Kepler Space Telescope, which is designed to look for planets beyond our solar system, discovered a group of planets known as Kepler 62b, 62c, 62d, 62e and 62f. These planets come from two star systems over 1,200 light years away. Although the discovery was a few days ago, we’re celebrating now because it coincides with the celebration of our own planet.

Now, there are over 600 confirmed extra-solar planets in our galaxy and certainly there may be many, many more, but these planets are special because they orbit their respective stars within what’s called the “habitable zone,” that is, a safe distance from the star that keeps the planet from being scorched like Mercury, or frozen like Neptune. Since we can’t actually see the surface of these planets, this is our best guess to determine if a planet is capable of supporting life.

This isn’t the first time scientists have attempted to find inhabited planets in this century. In our tours at Primland, we go into detail about the search for Earth like planets outside our solar system in our presentations, including the search for planets that might be inhabited by intelligent life! Hope you’ll come down and join us soon!

So Happy Earth Day everyone!  Also, (as a special bonus), I thought I’d include a video of Earth from space, so that you can see our planet in a new, special light:

Happy Stargazing!

Happy Anniversary, Hubble!

 
That’s right, today is the 23rd anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s year in space. Its mission: observe the furthest objects ever seen in our universe, further beyond any human’s reach. After 1,000,000 peeps through the mighty space telescope, scientists have learned more than ever thought possible about the origins of our universe, the nature of planets beyond the Earth, and our place in the cosmos. Just today, Hubble scientists released a photo of the Horsehead Nebula, which Hubble last photographed in 2001. Using infra-red light, the telescope peered deeper into this mysterious dark cloud, and found the filaments that give it structure. Check it out in the video below!

 

 

If you like looking at Hubble photos like I do (and who doesn’t?), check out their facebook page, and their website: http://www.spacetelescope.org/, which also has videos, merchandise, and educational materials for teachers and students.

Mars discoveries, Curious?

The Curiosity Rover in Self-Portrait

The Curiosity Rover in Self-Portrait

Well, the Curiosity Rover is still working, though it will be unable to communicate with the Earth for over a month. However, it won’t  stop working, using its 10 scientific instruments to peer into the chemical, geological, and atmospheric makeup of Mars. Today I want to give you a general overview of the project, and some of its hopes and dreams; above all, the dream of finding life. Curiosity has the tools to find the building blocks of life, not just water but the chemical compounds that allow us to exist on Earth. If Curiosity can find these on Mars, someday we may be able to sent people to Mars and make it a new home for sustaining Earth plants and animals on another world.

What Is Curiosity?

The Curiosity is a rover, a robot that can roll around the surface of another planet, taking pictures, soil and gas samples and other scientific data back to Earth.

What’s It Up To?

Curiosity’s basic objective is to investigate the presence of water on Mars. As far as we know, water is the essential ingredient of all life. Other NASA missions have found clues that there was water on Mars, but in order to get a better view of Mars, Curiosity is here to use its advanced instruments to find a clear answer. Curiosity also trying to find clues in the Martian atmosphere, to see how different it is from Earth. Just yesterday, after 248 days on Mars, NASA announced that ancient Mars could have supported life:

“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably — if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,”   said John Grotzinger, NASA’s chief scientist for the Curiosity Project.

11 Cool Facts About the Curiosity Rover

  1. The mission cost $2.5 billion!
  2. The MSL spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral FLA, the same place where in 1971, NASA launched the first ever spacecraft to orbit Mars, (Mariner).
  3. Around 1,000 people gathered in New York City’s Times Square, to watch NASA’s live broadcast of Curiosity’s landing.
  4. The landing site of the Curiosity Rover is called the “Bradburry Landing Site,” named in honor of author Ray Bradburry, author of “The Martian Chronicles,” who died just two months after the rover landed.
  5. The Bradbury landing site rests within a 3.5 billion year old crater that could have actually been formed by wind erosion and water sediment, which is one reason for the trip- to discover whether Mars could potentially support life as we know it, or if it did support life in the past.
  6. Because of the vast distance between Earth and Mars, it took over 7 minutes to send a message from the Curiosity Rover to the scientists over at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a period which the JPL dubbed, “The Seven Minutes of Terror”
  7. Just two days ago, (4/9/13) Curiosity found proof that the Martian atmosphere used to be thicker, and more Earth like. Now the atmosphere is mostly full of Greenhouse gases, which suggests that some kind of Global Warming might have happened on Mars
  8. The Rover is about the size of a small car, and weighs about 2,000 pounds
  9. Curiosity is powered by a small Nuclear Reactor, called a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
  10. The Rover actually has a lucky penny! To calibrate its complex cameras, the rover has a 1980 Lincoln penny attached to its  Mars Hand Lens Imager
  11. Curiosity is the only robot in the solar system to have a Twitter Account, which by the way, has been nominated for a Webby Award. If you visit the page and like what you see, you can vote to make Curiosity, a very happy interplanetary robot.

Key moments in the Curiosity Timeline

  • November 26, 2011- The MSL spacecraft, containing the Curiosity Rover, launches from Cape Canaveral
  • August 6, 2012- The Curiosity Rover lands on Mars, after a journey of 127 million miles.
  • August 7th, 2012- First pictures from the surface of Mars. Later photos would also be broadcast in 3D!
  • August 22nd- Curiosity Rove tests out its on-board laser, and tests its driving motors around the surface of Mars.
  • August 29- Curiosity beams a song from the surface of Mars back to Earth, composed by Will.I.am from the Black Eyed Peas.
  • September 27th- The rover discovers the remnants of an ancient river bed on Mars, making  a great case for the existence of water.
  • October 27th- Curiosity discovers mysterious pockets of Methane gas below the surface of Mars, which might be by-products of microscopic life forms.
  • November 24th- Curiosity tracks a dust storm on Mars.
  • February 7th- Curiosity starts drilling into the surface of Mars, to find the chemical composition of the soil.
  • March 12th- Samples from the drilling uncover evidence of ancient microorganisms, and chemicals that are necessary building blocks for Carbon-based life.
  • April 9th- The Curiosity Rover’s atmospheric sensors show the gradual decay of the atmosphere from primarily oxygen and argon rich, to mainly Carbon Dioxide, not unlike the Greenhouse Gasses in our atmosphere.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this re-cap of Curiosity’s great career so far, and we wish it luck as it wonders on alone, without parental supervision from Earth. If you want to see Mars yourself, you’ll have to wait until its path takes it away from behind the Sun, on June 20th.

Happy Stargazing!

Sources:

Time Magazine: “A Cosmic SUV Blasts Off for Mars” http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2100299,00.html

LA Times: “Signs Of Life On Mars” by Amina Khan http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-signs-of-life-on-mars-live-video-discussion-20130313,0,3183926.story

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curiosity_rover