Science on TV

Wow! I can't believe it's been nearly three months since I made a post. I've got to do a better job.

I love watching the science shows that are on TV. I can't believe the choices we have. I'd like to recommend some of the great science shows available.

How the Earth Was Made (History Channel). This is a great series about the Earth. Past episodes include how the Earth was made, the Sahara Desert (I'm watching that as I type this!), the Great Lakes, the history of Manhattan Island, and other great episodes.

Clash of the Dinosaurs (Discovery Channel). Clash is a new series that began about two weeks ago. Using modern technology along with newly discovered information, you see the physiology of dinosaurs, learn about their lifestyles, and other interesting facts.

Naked Science (National Geographic Channel). If it's science, you'll eventually see an episode. This is one of the best science shows on TV today.

The Universe (History Channel). Learn about what makes up our Universe. Episodes include black holes, galaxies, fate of the Universe, etc.

Mythbusters (Discovery Channel). An example of extreme science. These guys use science to test all sorts of urban legends and common myths. It's entertaining and educational at the same time.

How It's Made (Science Channel). If you've wondered how something is made, this is the show for you.

There's also new shows that talk about specific topics on a one time basis (such as Five Years On Mars [National Geographic Channel] about the successful on-going Mars Rover Missions).


Gigagalaxy Zoom

I heard about a new website called Gigagalaxy Zoom. This is a picture of the galaxy as it looks in our sky. This site gives you the chance to explore the Milky Way. According to the website, "Through three giant images, the GIGAGALAXY ZOOM project reveals the full sky as it appears with the unaided eye from one of the darkest deserts on Earth, then zooms in on a rich region of the Milky Way using a hobby telescope..."

Take some time and explore our home galaxy!


Cool Space Pictures

This picture looks like a picture of Earth. This is Hales Gully on Mars taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The small shadow on Saturn's ring is from the moon Tethys. The large shadow in Saturn. 2009 is the first time we've been able to get pictures like this. This photo was taken by the Cassini probe orbiting Saturn.

Solar flares taken by the TRACE spacecraft September 5, 2005.

Have you ever wondered what a solar eclipse would look like from space? NASA Images writes that "(t)his spectacular picture of the Aug. 11, 1999 solar eclipse was one of the last ever taken from the Mir space station."

The Sun has been "quiet" over 80% of 2009. For a near record 51 days, there have been no sunspots. If there is no change, this will be the quietest the Sun has been in nearly 100 years. This movie is the SOHO Pick of the Week.


9/11 Thoughts

The Student Council decided to do a special activity for 9/11. One of the member's father is going to New York on a business trip. Her mother made a large banner so we could have students sign it as a remembrance of 9/11. Her father will take it with him, have a picture taken of the banner at Ground Zero, and will leave it there letting the world know our students will remember this atrocity. The banner with all the students' signatures looked great. I think it was a great activity.

One of my thoughts, in particular, was philosophical. I remembered that a flag was flying amid the rubble. (I have had the opportunity to see this battered flag in the Smithsonian a few years ago. It was a very emotional experience.) For me, this was a particular spiritual message. It was as though G-d was saying, "Yes, I know that you've suffered a painful and horrific atrocity inflicted by evil people. Remember, this flag still stands. It represents the strength of America's principles and its people. As painful as today will always be, you will survive and become stronger."

I know we don't always live up to our principles. We're human and seem to frequently fall short of our ideals. Yet, Americans are striving to make America better. America is still true the beacon of liberty to the entire world.


First Week Over!

Friday ended the first week of school. Mrs. Chornous asked the Student Council to help with the Welcome Back assembly on Friday. We spent the week working on what they needed to do. I was absolutely delighted with their performance. They worked hard, and it showed. They were outstanding. We're fortunate to have such a great group of students in our Student Council this year.

Even though it's only been one week, I'm already a day behind. The astrolabe activity went longer than I hoped. It was more complicated than I expected. I now know do not start with the astrolabe activity ever again.

Now we're done with the first week of school, it's time for me to begin organizing the 7th grade GAVRT team. I'm hoping to have the team organized, trained, and working on their first assignment with the radio telescope by the first of October. Once the 7th grade team is organized, I'll begin organizing the 6th grade team.


First Week

It's been a good week so far. I really like the classes I have.

It's strange how students end up getting assigned to classes. In my 1st and 5th hour classes, I have between 8 and 10 girls and the rest boys. In my 2nd and 6th hour classes, I have between 8 and 10 boys and the rest girls. My 3rd hour class has 18 boys and 14 girls. It's odd how these things can turn out.

We have our welcome back to school assembly tomorrow. The Student Council will have a big part in the assembly. They've been working on their presentations. I have no doubt they'll do well. They are a great group of young women and men. I have enjoyed getting to know them this week. It's going to be a great year.

I started another gifted and talented class last night. Let's just say I was less than enthused about the instructor. She cut off class discussion (about the chapters) which I felt was quite interesting and informative. Then she read from the book, looked at her notes, talked, read from the book, and so forth. The class was supposed to end at 6:30 p.m. At 6:55 she ended the class (and there was no formal class break in that entire time). By 6:30, I was fuming thinking about the time I was wasting when I had projects that need my attention. Wasted time instead of productive time. I honestly don't want to go back to the class; however, getting the endorsement is important to me, so I'll continue. I'm grateful Donna Capasso, one of the science teachers at my school, is in the class. We get along great. I hate to say it, but the more bored we became, the more we talked and joked. Three other people at the table joined in. One student tried to pay attention. While I felt sorry for her, I guess I didn't feel bad enough to stop. Shame on me. We behaved in a way that would not have been acceptable under any circumstances in my class (once again proving teachers make the worst students!). There is no way our instructor could have been unaware of the behavior. She just ignored it and plugged on, boring us even more. Maybe she'll improve over the next few weeks. One can hope!


First Two Days

It's been a good first two days. The only problem we face is hot classrooms. I feel bad for our students having to learn in the environment. Things will be more comfortable by the middle of September.

I've got great classes. Most of the students enjoy the challenge I've been giving my 6th graders. I am having them make astrolabes and learn how to use them. Once they do, I'll teach them how to determine the altitude of the Sun. They will measure the Sun's altitude once a week for the next twelve weeks. I'm doing this so they will be able to see how the Sun appears to move in the sky over a period of time.

I had a bad experience today in my 1st hour class. I started to explain what we were going to measure and how we were going to do use the astrolabe to make the measurements. My explanation didn't go very well. (I had dug myself into a hole!) I tried two or three different approaches but none of them worked very well. I felt like every time I tried a new approach, I ended up digging myself deeper into a hole instead of climbing out.

By the third time I explained things (5th hour), I had greatly improved upon my explanations and my students understood what I was telling them. I feel bad for 1st hour. I mess things up, but get better as the day goes on. At least I will be able to actually explain using an approach they will understand.


GAVRT Project

The GAVRT project gives students the opportunity to use a radio telescope and do real science. DSS-12 (Deep Space Station 12) is located at Goldstone, California. Students use this telescope to work on astronomy projects.

I enjoyed the week I spent learning how to run the GAVRT program. There are four hundred teachers worldwide involved in GAVRT.

We spent three days in class learning about the Project. We first learned about the Campaigns. Next, we learned how to actual run the software to do each Campaign. (You can see DSS-12 live on video.) It was so exciting to enter coordinates and watch DSS-12's 34-meter dish move.

One of the highlights of the week was spending a day at Goldstone. We first saw our telescope shortly after we entered the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. We got off our bus and saw it off in the distance just under "GOLDSTONE" on the mountainside. Most of the day was spent touring telescope facilities. We had the opportunity to go also go inside and see the equipment used to run the telescopes. We also spent some time learning about Mission Control. The highlight of the tour (not counting seeing DSS-12) was seeing the 70-meter (about 230 feet in diameter) radio telescope. That's so large that if you took the dish, set the center right at the common corner where my lot as well as the other three lots meet, it would not only cover all four lots, but it would overlap into the streets.

This is the most active telescope at Goldstone. NASA uses this to keep in contact with current space probes (e.g., Mars Rovers, Cassini, Voyager, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, etc.). Voyager 1 is currently 10,230,000,000 from Earth. Travelling at the speed of light, it takes over 15 hours for a signal to be received from the spacecraft. The signal is very week (less than one billionth of one billionth of a watt). We were told that if you collected all the energy from Voyager 1 for a million years, you would have enough energy to run a light bulb for less than 1/1000 of a second. The 70-meter telescope is still able to collect a signal that week. Amazing!

The GAVRT Project has a number of campaigns they are actively supporting. They include:
  • Jupiter Campaign - Observe, measure, and calculate the temperature of Jupiter. This is done to see how temperature affects Jupiter. This Campaign will expand in 2015. The Juno probe will be launched to Jupiter in 2011. The Mission Scientist, Dr. Steven Levin, told us that he wants GAVRT to collect data for Juno beginning one year before it arrives at Jupiter, the entire year Juno is at Jupiter, and the year after the Juno mission ends.
  • LCROSS Campaign - The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's 3rd stage as well as the LCROSS probe are schedule to crash into the south polar area of the Moon on October 9th (around 5:30 a.m. MDT). GAVRT helps track the probe.
  • Quasar Variability Study Campaign - Scientists are using data showing how the light of specific quasars (quasi-stellar radio source is a powerfully energetic and distant galaxy with an active galactic nucleus) change over time. This information is important as they collect other information about quasars.
  • Spitzer Campaign - The Spitzer Space Telescope is studying the universe at the infrared wavelength (the wavelength just below red light in the electromagnetic spectrum). The Principal Investigator, Dr. Varoujan Gorjian, is researching the relationship between black hole mass and the radio and IR emission in Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs). Data collected by GAVRT students was used as a part of Dr. Gorjian's presentation to the American Astronomical Society. The study so far has been inconclusive, but it is continuing.
Educators can also come up with areas of interest (such as pulsars, radio galaxies, etc.) and GAVRT will work to get a scientist at JPL to work with our students.

I'm currently working to form a 6th and 7th grade Radio Telescope Team. I can't wait to begin studying the universe with my students!


Penn and Teller & Psychics

As my wife and I drove to Apple Valley, we decided to spend the night in Las Vegas. We both enjoy Penn and Teller, so we stayed at the Rio where they perform.

I would love to spend an evening talking with Penn and Teller about how they do their tricks. One trick that blew me away was when a person from the audience was brought to the stage. He sat at a table with Penn. Penn held up a plastic cow and asked the guy "Is this a real cow?" He responded, "No, that's not a real cow. It's plastic." This really broke up Penn.

At the end of the act, you can see the guy sitting at the table. Penn says and few things and ends it with "...I am going to swap you with Teller." There's a flash and Teller's sitting at the table. Wow! I have no idea how they made the transfer. I would love to know!

The Best Part of the Show

I particularly enjoyed the part when Penn attacks psychics, mediums, fortune tellers, etc. He "outed" them as the phonies they are. They use parlor tricks to exploit people when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable. He did a couple of tricks and then explained how it was done.

One trick involved a joke book. He handed four books out into the audience and had the audience hand the books to other people. Finally a person gets the book, selects a joke, and stands up with the book open to the selected joke. Penn then asks a few questions and recites the joke.

He explained that he has memorized all the jokes in the books. He then placed them into categories. Each question asked helped him eliminate possibilities. He told us that, while he was questioning, the guy gave subtle head movements - yes when Penn was moving in the right direction; no when Penn was moving in the wrong direction. The head movements, he said, were very common. We all do it.

Penn said he can do anything a psychic can, but without the supernatural claims. It is up to the others to prove that they have special powers and aren't using the tricks Penn used.

As a science teacher, I particularly enjoyed this part of the show. Too many people accept the supernatural (psychic power, telekinesis, etc.) as explanations for common everyday things. I wish everyone could see this performance and understand how these people take advantage of others, especially those like John Edwards who claims he can communicate with the dead.

Virtually all these people refuse to do their thing in front of people like Penn and the Amazing Randi. They know their tricks and can easily point out the fraud.

If you ever have a chance to see Penn and Teller live, do it! It was an enjoyable show.


GAVRT Program

It’s hard to believe summer’s over and school starts on Monday. I still have mixed feelings. If I had my “druthers,” I would prefer to start after Labor Day. Oh, well. They didn’t ask my opinion!

Last week I had the opportunity to learn how to use a radio telescope in the classroom. The program is GAVRT (Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope). The story how they came to run the telescope is quite interesting.

A teacher at the Lewis Education Center in Apple Valley, CA, held a star party for his students and issued an open invitation for anyone at the school to attend. He expected about 40 people and had four or five telescopes. He had over 400 people attend. A few days later, he heard that NASA had decommissioned a radio telescope. He decided that because of the interest in astronomy, a radio telescope would be a great addition to the school. He had a pick-up and a trailer and arranged for another person with a pick-up and trailer to go with him to get the radio telescope, if he was able to get it.

He wrote NASA asking them to donate the radio telescope to the Lewis Center. For some reason, NASA considered the request. The contacted Goldstone (about twenty miles from Barstow, CA) and asked them to make arrangements.

What he didn’t realize was he was dealing with a radio telescope with a 34 meter (110 feet) diameter dish. Obviously, there was no way to move the radio telescope. Instead, NASA and JPL kept ownership of the telescope, but allowed GAVRT to run the telescope.

Now, our school is now an official participant in GAVRT.

I’ll mention more about GAVRT in later postings.