Friday, November 30, 2007

The 2007 Antarctic Ozone Hole

The Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) aboard NASA's Aura spacecraft is able to "see" the "hole" that develops in the ozone layer above Antarctica every winter. What is known as a "hole" in the ozone layer (the layer of concentrated ozone that resides in the stratosphere) is actually a thinning or depletion of ozone concentrations in the stratosphere. Due to a complex series of physical and chemical reactions in the atmosphere, this thinning happens every winter in the southern hemisphere. As summer approaches in Antarctica, the ozone hole disappears, and normal ozone levels return. As Aura orbits the Earth, the data OMI takes enables scientists to study this chemical cycle. You can view a movie of the 2007 ozone hole from the Ozone Watch website:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Aura Sees California Fires from Space

The Aura spacecraft orbiting 400 km above the Earth (248 miles) has the capability to sense many different kinds of particles (physical and chemical) in the air. The Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) aboard the Aura spacecraft picked up smoke from the recent fires in California. You can visit the Aura website to see an animation of how the smoke traveled during the recent activity:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Back to the Moon with LRO

Follow LRO at

Tweeting from the LRO Project Science Working Group Meeting

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is the first step in NASA's return to the moon. LRO will launch in late 2008 with the objectives to finding safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment, and demonstrate new technology. I'm the Education and Public Outreach (EPO) lead for LRO. I'm using twitter to provide updates of the LRO Project Science Working Group (PSWG) that is taking place at Goddard Nov 28-30. You can follow my tweets here or in realtime at

Project Manager Craig Tooley is doing the "State of the Project" overview. The current launch date is October 28 2008. Greetings from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Project Science Working Group from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center!

Learn more about LRO at check the progress of the spacecraft assembly at

Link to instruments and pics

Craig just mentioned the Bruce Springsteen road crew tour." I got the most interesting technical questions from this group" during the tour

60 Minutes, BBC, Discovery, WETA, NPR Canada have all been out to capture LRO on film

Next up Joanne Baker with the LRO Orbiter Lever Integration and Test presentation

Joanne is talking about what instrument teams can expect during the integration of their instruments to the spacecraft.

All the instruments be tested before they are integrated...environmental tests ..vibe, thermal vac, acoustics and shock, EMC

new avatar FlatSat - mock up of where instruments go on prep for instrument integration

RIck Saylor is discussing the Mission Operations Center--the MOC is where LRO will be commanded and controlled after launch

The LRO MOC is in buidling 32 at Goddard...right next door to my building
The MOC also receives LRO telemetry and data and processed and distributes data to the instrument Science Operations Center-- the SOCs

Stan Scott is now speaking about the LRO Data Working Group. The group includes LRO folks and instrument team members

So, each instrument has a Science Operations Center..that processes it's own data after receiving it from LRO;

Within six months the LRO instrument data is provided to NASA's Planetary Data System (PDS) http://pds/index.html

All NASA Planetary missions are required to deliver data to PDS w/in six months of data acquisition by the instrument teams.

LRO instruments CrATER - effects of the lunar radiation environment on tissue equivalent plastic

LEND measures the flux of neutrons on the moon.. is the Russian contribution to LRO

LEND will use neutron flux to determine hydrogen concentration on the lunar surface - looking for possible sources of water

Next up is LOLA..the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter...

LOLA will make 140 measurements/second. measures range to surface (topography) surface slope, surface reflectance and surface roughness

Reflectance measurements may allow LOLA to "see" water ice in the permanently shadowed regions on the Moon

LOLA PI Dave Smith " ...a negative rock would be a hole" as LOLA 'sees' it

LOLA will do laser ranging-Earth Based laser tracking stations will range to LRO via LOLA for improved LRO timing and orbit determination

The LRO camera is up now with PI Mark Robinson

LROC has a wide angle and narrow angle camera.. LROC's measurement objectives are here:

LROC's narrow angle cameras will give us 25x better image resolution than the current lunar data sets

Diviner will measure lunar surface temperatures at scales that provide information for future surface operations and exploration

Diviner will map global day and night temperatures

LAMP is the Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project UV from starlight to see in shadowed regions on the Moon

The LAMP instrument is an exact copy of the Alice instrument on New Horizons

The LAMP website has a great summary of the search for water on the moon:

Now a talk on the LRO launch window: there are 2 opportunities to go to the moon each day...

Launch window is 2-3 days every two weeks that gives us the optimal lunar orbit

Discussion from LOLA PI Dave Smith about what LRO will do in it's science phase after year 1

LRO's nominal orbit is 50 Km above the lunar surface.

Dave says we will know the topography and gravity field very well after the first year of we could lower the orbit to 5-10 km

we will find the highest point on the moon when we hit it-eventually LRO will run out of fuel & will have an abrupt landing

Check out the LRO promo

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lesson: Investigating Seasonal Variation in NO2 Concentrations

This lesson was written using Aura data, so that students could use data in their own scientific investigations. Below is an overview of the lesson:

The dataset used in this lesson is monthly averages of NO2 as measured from NASA's EOS Aura spacecraft. NO2 is measured using the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI). OMI is a nadir-pointing instrument that measures trace gases in a column of air directly below the spacecraft. NO2 concentrations are measured in number densities, or the amount of NO2 molecules found in a cubic centimeter of air. Alternately, units of parts per billion can be used, as in the graph at the top of the page. This tells how many NO2 molecules would be found in a sample containing a billion molecules of air. The OMI instrument measures the amount of NO2 in the entire vertical column of air below it, thus the units for OMI measurements are molecules per square centimeter (of the surface).

Purpose: Students will examine data in several formats in order to determine the presence or absence of seasonal variability in tropospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations

For the full lesson plan, please visit the following website:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Update on LRO's Assembly

With less than one year to go until launch, the assembly of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft and its six scientific instruments is in full swing. The actual spacecraft and one of its instruments, the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), are being built here at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in MD. Both the spacecraft and all of its instruments must undergo rigorous testing to ensure that they can survive the physical stresses of launch and the extreme environment of space. Each component is exposed to excessive vibrations and extreme hot and cold temperatures in vacuum conditions. In addition, the wiring, electronics, and software is tested and retested to ensure that everything is connected and operating correctly and to ensure the validity of the procedures we'll use to operate the spacecraft and instruments once they're in space. Before we test the actual components that will be traveling into space, we first run the same tests on their mockups! As you can imagine, Goddard engineers and scientists work long and hard to make sure that all of these tests are successful so that the assembly of the spacecraft and its instruments stays on schedule.

Currently, a mockup of the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) instrument is at Goddard to undergo "FlatSat" testing before the actual flight instrument arrives for its own testing next month. "FlatSat" stands for flat satellite and is where all of LRO's electronic components will be laid out and hooked together on a long table and attached electrically like they will be during flight. In addition to testing LRO's components before launch, mission operations will use FlatSat to test commands before sending them to the spacecraft during its actual mission. Click here to see photos of LEND's FlatSat testing and to keep up with other developments in the assembly of LRO.

Monday, November 12, 2007

How Big is the Moon - Activity

Have you ever wondered how big the Moon was relative to the Earth? Since it is not possible to shrink the Earth and Moon, the following activity allows you to gain a better understanding using a piece of string and some image cut outs. This activity also allows you to use a regulation size basketball and a tennis ball to represent both the Earth and the Moon. By wrapping a piece of string around the 'equator' part of the basketball 9.5 times, this will be equivalent to the distance you would have to place the tennis ball at to have an accurate scale model.

For more information and images on how to do this activity please visit.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Making Our Way to Mercury Again...

MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging), launched August 3, 2004, is NASA's first mission back to Mercury in over 30 years. The first mission to visit Mercury was Mariner 10. It flew by the planet three times between 1974 & 1975. During that time, it only imaged about 45% of Mercury.

Unlike Mariner 10, MESSENGER is designed to orbit Mercury. But, in order to get there, MESSENGER will make one flyby of the Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury. During MESSENGER's three flybys of Mercury, it will have imaged the whole planet. The first of the three flybys will take play on January 14, 2008. It won't be until March 2011 when MESSENGER will enter into an orbit around Mercury.

Once in orbit, MESSENGER will begin to gather data to better understand Mercury and how the other planets formed. Scientist hope to answer the following six questions:
  1. Why is Mercury so dense?
  2. What is the geologic history of Mercury?
  3. What is the nature of Mercury's magnetic field?
  4. What is the structure of Mercury's core?
  5. What are the unusual materials at Mercury's poles?
  6. What volatiles are important at Mercury?
For more information on MESSENGER, please visit:
Stay tuned for future blogs on MESSENGER.

Monday, November 5, 2007

NASA and AIAA Student Podcast Competition

"What do you think is NASA's greatest exploration achievement in the past 50 years and why?"

Exploration provides the foundation of our knowledge, technology, resources, and inspiration. It seeks answers to the fundamental questions about our experience, responds to recent discoveries and puts in place revolutionary technologies and capabilities to inspire our nation, the world, and the next generation. Through NASA and its partners, we touch the unknown, we learn and we understand. As we take our first steps toward sustaining a human presence in the solar system, we can look forward to far off visions becoming realities of the future. The 21st Century Explorer Podcast Competition is an Education and Public Outreach project designed to inspire and motivate the next generation of explorers and to compete effectively for the minds, imaginations, and career ambitions of America's young people. Students will create an audio recording or video short to answer the question: "What do you think is NASA's greatest exploration achievement in the past 50 years and why?"
The contest starts on OCTOBER 1, 2007 AT 12:00 AM ET. Competition closes with the first 1,000 entries in each category or until midnight on JANUARY 4, 2008 ET, whichever comes first.

Division 1
Audio Podcast – Age Group (11-14)
Video Podcast – Age Group (11-14)

Division 2
Audio Podcast - Age Group (15-18)
Video Podcast – Age Group (15-18)

All entries must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Each contestant must be a United States citizen between 11-18 years of age.
  • Each contestant must submit an entry form.
  • Parents must consent if entrant is under the age of 18.
  • Entry must meet technical specifications (see right).
  • Any use of copyrighted material will disqualify entry.
  • Only one (1) entry per person.
Judging Criteria
A panel of judges will choose 15 finalists per each of the two areas (audio and video) and per each age group. Finalists will be displayed on the website between February 14th and February 14th and February 28th, 2008. First, Second, and Third Place winners will be selected from the fifteen (15) finalists in each category. Judges for the Final Round will be comprised of attendees at the Third Space Exploration Conference to be held in Denver, CO on February 26-28, 2008. The contest winners will be announced on the website on February 28, 2008.

Judging will be based on 5 point scale based on the following criteria:
  • Content: Is the treatment of the subject matter effective? (i.e. storytelling, script, etc.)
  • Creativity: Do the production elements add to the program? (i.e. graphics, SFX, or camera talent, design, animation, etc.)
  • Execution: Were technical levels maintained? (clarity, levels, distortion, etc.)
  • Clarity: Was the contestant able to communicate their idea effectively? (objectives, story flow, interest, etc.)
  • Summation: What was the overall impression?
Contestants will be able to receive a maximum of 25 points, which is based upon the contest’s criteria, is a perfect score.

Additionally, during the period of February 14th through February 28th, 2008, the public will vote for and select a “People’s Choice” winner.

More information go to