Back to the Moon for fresh perspectives

Perspectives on the Moon
I thought we could head back to the Moon for an updated visit and marvel at our first off-world landing site.

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We see it in our skies regularly and we forget what a momentous achievement it was for humanity to land on the Moon. As exciting as the planned Mars missions are, there is still so much to learn about our nearest neighbour.

Did you know?

  • The Moon was probably formed when an object about the size of Mars collided with the Earth a long time ago. The debris from that collision formed what we now know as the Moon.
  • Our rocky satellite orbits the Earth at a distance of roughly 384 thousand kilometers.
  • It takes the Moon about 27 days to orbit the Earth. This is also about the length of a lunar day so we only ever see one side of the Moon from Earth.
  • It has a very weak atmosphere called an exosphere. It is not enough to support human life so visitors to the Moon need to wear spacesuits.
  • The Moon’s gravity is about 0.16 of the Earth’s gravity so objects on the lunar surface weigh about a sixteenth of what they would weigh on Earth.

There are many more facts about the Moon on the NASA page titled “Earth’s Moon – In Depth”.

The first Moon landing

The Apollo 11 Prime Crew

Humans first landed on the Moon on 20 April 21 July 1969. The astronauts who took part in the Apollo 11 mission were Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.

The mission to the Moon captivated the world. You can get a sense of how people must have felt as the astronauts headed to the Moon and eventually landed on the lunar surface from this CBS footage of that momentous day:

We’re so accustomed to seeing high quality images and video footage of modern space exploration that it’s easy to forget that the technology back then was not nearly as advanced. We’ve certainly come a long way since then.

Aldrin Next to Solar Wind Experiment

What does the Moon look like?

Thanks to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, we have some incredible footage. Here are two videos of both hemispheres of the Moon, including the side we don’t see from Earth.

This video footage shows the Moon’s position throughout 2017 with a lot of useful data that includes the Sun’s relative position, the Earth’s relative position and the phases of the Moon in tremendous detail.

The Moon’s Northern Hemisphere

The Moon’s Southern Hemisphere

A virtual tour of the Moon

Have you ever wondered what all those features of our rocky satellite are? Here is a terrific tour of the Moon from NASA:

Blue Marble

One of my favourite views from the Apollo missions is this iconic photograph of our home. It was taken by the Apollo 17 crew on their way to the Moon and it’s titled “Blue Marble”:

The Blue Marble

There is so much more for us to explore in our solar system. At the same time, we know so little about our own planet and have a lot of work to do to preserve it for new generations of explorers.

Header image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, licensed CC BY 2.0

The Biodiversity Heritage Library

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The Biodiversity Heritage Library has a wonderful collection of resources about our shared biodiversity online. What is “biodiversity”? Wikipedia explains it as follows:

Biodiversity, a contraction of “biological diversity,” generally refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth. One of the most widely used definitions defines it in terms of the variability within species, between species and between ecosystems. It is a measure of the variety of organisms present in different ecosystems.

The goal of the Biodiversity Heritage Library is to improve “research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community”.

A Sperm Whale

It is a remarkable resource, especially for school projects and for all you science geeks. One of the best parts of the Library is its extensive Flickr collection which has an enormous collection of scans and imagery.

The Library “serves as the foundational literature component of the Encyclopedia of Life” which you can find here. What is the Encyclopedia of Life?

Our knowledge of the many life-forms on Earth – of animals, plants, fungi, protists and bacteria – is scattered around the world in books, journals, databases, websites, specimen collections, and in the minds of people everywhere. Imagine what it would mean if this information could be gathered together and made available to everyone – anywhere – at a moment’s notice.

Its mission:

To increase awareness and understanding of living nature through an Encyclopedia of Life that gathers, generates, and shares knowledge in an open, freely accessible and trusted digital resource.

Between the Library and the EOL, these are wonderful biodiversity resources. Definitely worth bookmarking for all those school projects and personal exploration. I’ve added both sites to our Sources page.

Image credit: Biodiversity Heritage Library

Seeing our planet from the International Space Station

Our planet from the space station
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NASA publishes a large collection of photos and videos of our planet as seen from the International Space Station. They offer a truly spectacular view of our home.

What really stands out, particularly when you watch the videos, is that you don’t see borders and the many differences that divide us. Instead, what you see is the one, beautiful planet that we all share.

A wonderful example of this is astronaut Jeff Williams’ video of the Earth as he passed overhead during a recent visit to the International Space Station. This video, titled “Jeff’s Earth” is mesmerizing on a big HD TV:

This 2012 video titled “Earth Illuminated: ISS Time-lapse Photography” is another wonderful opportunity to see what the astronauts see from the ISS as they orbit the Earth:

It is easy to forget that the Earth is the only home we have and that we share it. Fortunately, photos and videos from organisations like NASA help remind us of what we have in common.

Here are some photos from the NASA Johnson Space Center collection on Flickr:

Featured image credit: NASA Johnson Space Center

Will a bowling ball fall faster than a feather?

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If you dropped a feather and a bowling ball at the same time, which would hit the ground first? You would probably say that the bowling ball would hit the ground first, right? After all, a bowling ball is so much heavier.

It turns out that the relative weight of the objects doesn’t make a difference to which object will hit the ground first, as strange as that may sound.

One of the parents in our class chat group shared this terrific video from the BBC that explains what really makes a difference and, surprisingly, that a bowling ball and a feather will hit the ground at the same time under the right conditions:

So, as you can see, the factor that makes the difference in normal conditions isn’t the objects’ weight, it’s air resistance! When you remove the air, both objects fall at the same rate and hit the ground at the same time.

Image credit: Pixabay

One-stop guide to our Solar System

Solar System
I just came across NASA’s terrific one-stop guide to our Solar System and wanted to share it with you quickly. It’s a great quick reference with links to more in-depth materials. Click on the graphic below to get started:

Solar System - the 8 planets

Featured image credit: Kira, 5th Grade, Palm Crest Elementary, La Canada, Calif (17 July 2003) – sourced from NASA.

What happens when lightning strikes an airplane?

This morning our daughter asked me what happens when lightning strikes an airplane. She is a little afraid of storms and she was concerned about the passengers of airplanes when there are lightning strikes.

Understanding lightning better

Lightning is, at the same time, an awesome and terrifying phenomenon. It seems to affect us on a very primal level. Understanding it better helps us appreciate its awesome beauty while making sure we are safer during lightning storms. I found a great video from SciShow Kids about lightning:

National Geographic also has a great video that explains lightning:

Lightning moves pretty quickly so we don’t always see lightning in more detail. I found this terrific video on Wikipedia (your browser may not play the video if it doesn’t support .ogv formats):

So what happens when lightning strikes an airplane?

The prospect of lightning striking an airplane can be scary. I was fascinated to learn that planes are engineered to handle lightning strikes in an interesting way. Here is a video from the Smithsonian Channel:

If you are interested in reading more about how airplanes are engineered to withstand lightning strikes, also read an article on Scientific American titled “What happens when lightning strikes an airplane?”. Here is an extract from the Scientific American article that answer my daughter’s questions about passengers’ experience of a lightning strike:

Although passengers and crew may see a flash and hear a loud noise if lightning strikes their plane, nothing serious should happen because of the careful lightning protection engineered into the aircraft and its sensitive components. Initially, the lightning will attach to an extremity such as the nose or wing tip. The airplane then flies through the lightning flash, which reattaches itself to the fuselage at other locations while the airplane is in the electric “circuit” between the cloud regions of opposite polarity. The current will travel through the conductive exterior skin and structures of the aircraft and exit off some other extremity, such as the tail. Pilots occasionally report temporary flickering of lights or short-lived interference with instruments.

Thunderstorms are impressive and powerful natural phenomenon and it’s usually a good idea to keep your distance, regardless of your mode of travel. At the same time, it is good to know what even when you are suspended in the air, traveling through a storm, you are probably safe.

Featured image credit: Pixabay

Better storm prediction by knowing more about raindrops

The GPM satellite studying raindrops
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Did you know that knowing the size of raindrops in clouds can help meteorologists more accurately predict rainfall? A new joint American and Japanese mission promises to help scientists make even more accurate predictions based on the size of the raindrops in clouds. This next video is a great overview of the mission:

According to NASA’s Goddard Media Studios blog post titled “GMS: Why Do Raindrop Sizes Matter In Storms?”:

Not all raindrops are created equal. The size of falling raindrops depends on several factors, including where the cloud producing the drops is located on the globe and where the drops originate in the cloud. For the first time, scientists have three-dimensional snapshots of raindrops and snowflakes around the world from space, thanks to the joint NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. With the new global data on raindrop and snowflake sizes this mission provides, scientists can improve rainfall estimates from satellite data and in numerical weather forecast models, helping us better understand and prepare for extreme weather events.

If you are curious about the spacecraft that is conducting this amazing survey work, here is a helpful explanatory diagram:

The GPM spacecraft

Here is a great video that explains how the size of raindrops can help better understand storm behaviour:

A transcript of the video is here.

NASA also published a great comic for kids about the mission titled “Raindrop Tales – GPM Meets Mizu-Chan” which you can download and print or read online.

NASA’s GPM mission site has a wonderful collection of videos, images and other information about the mission. Another great video is this one titled “NASA | GPM: One Year of Storms”:

This is a fascinating mission. I didn’t realise just how much storm prediction can be improved by understanding how big raindrops are.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and it’s Mars mission

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
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One of the amazing vehicles humans have sent to Mars to explore the red planet is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. What is the MRO? According to Wikipedia:

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. The US$720 million spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin under the supervision of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The mission is managed by the California Institute of Technology, at the JPL, in La Cañada Flintridge, California, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. It was launched August 12, 2005, and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006. In November 2006, after five months of aerobraking, it entered its final science orbit and began its primary science phase. As MRO entered orbit, it joined five other active spacecraft that were either in orbit or on the planet’s surface: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express, 2001 Mars Odyssey, and the two Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity); at the time, this set a record for the most operational spacecraft in the immediate vicinity of Mars. Mars Global Surveyor and the Spirit rover have since ceased to function; the remainder remain operational as of March 2016.

MRO contains a host of scientific instruments such as cameras, spectrometers, and radar, which are used to analyze the landforms, stratigraphy, minerals, and ice of Mars. It paves the way for future spacecraft by monitoring Mars’ daily weather and surface conditions, studying potential landing sites, and hosting a new telecommunications system. MRO’s telecommunications system will transfer more data back to Earth than all previous interplanetary missions combined, and MRO will serve as a highly capable relay satellite for future missions.

בעברית: בויקיפדיה

The official NASA MRO website also has a great overview of the MRO’s mission which you should read for more background information and links to more information about aspects of the mission.

I noticed a terrific video commemorating 10 years of the MRO’s mission which includes some wonderful imagery:

You can also find a huge gallery of high resolution imagery in the NASA JPL Photojournal that is worth spending some time exploring. Here are some examples:

Wind at work
The Ares 3 Landing Site: Where Science Fact Meets Fiction
Aeolian Features of Scandia Cavi

Image credit: Wikipedia (Public Domain)

Audio clips and a companion Facebook Page

I have some news to share with you quickly.

Audio clips

Firstly, I have added audio clips to each of the articles on the site with a short overview of what the article is about. It occurred to me that many of the kids who may visit the site may not be able to read and all the text would be lost on them. Here is an example:

Please let me know if any audio clips don’t work for you? I used an HTML audio tag to embed the clips and the audio clips themselves are hosted on Amazon S3.

Now on Facebook

I created a companion Facebook page to go with this site and make these articles more accessible through the single biggest social network on this planet. I’m still deciding how to use Facebook best but, for now, I’ll share articles from this blog on the page and use Facebook to share quick updates too.

I have also added AMP and Instant Articles support for this site so articles should display that much better on mobile going forward.