Friday, July 8, 2016

Feel The Heat...NASA Space Weather and Toys in Space

How Hot Is It?

Public Domain Images

It's mid-summer and the temperatures are rising.  The sweat is pouring off our necks as the mercury rises....85 degrees....90 degrees....95 degrees....10,000 degrees....wait a minute!  What?!
Where on Earth is it that hot? Well, that's the point. It's not that hot here on Earth, but it sure is on the Sun. And that's the topic of today's post. Weather on the Sun is one of the most interesting topics of study that I have done with students over the years. As I have watched the temperature continue to rise in my part of the world over the last week I have been reminded of this unit and my own interest in the Sun, planets, solar system and everything NASA.

Sun in February.jpg
Image from Wikipedia Courtesy of NASA
I truly took the Sun for granted for many years.  I knew that it provided warmth for our Earth and was important to the growth of crops and that as Earth moved around the Sun in our orbit the change of our Earth's tilt on its axis would affect which season we were experiencing. But, I never thought much about the Sun having weather. That all changed about six years ago when my dear friend and colleague, Sharon, and I took advantage of a fantastic opportunity to travel to Raleigh, NC and actually study with folks from NASA! The educational specialists that we worked with over the next couple of years couldn't have been more knowledgeable as they taught us how to use free online NASA technology to teach our students about locating solar storms and flares on the sun's surface and predicting when these flares or "coronal mass ejections" could fling magnetic particles out into space which, depending on the direction of the flare, could head toward earth as a solar storm. Luckily, we learned that the Earth is surrounded by a sort of magnetic force field (my terminology) called the "magnetosphere" which, most of the time, simply repels these magnetic storms away from the Earth. Some of the magnetic particles tend to gather at the poles and cause the beautiful "auroras" that create such lovely light shows in the sky. Occasionally, a strong magnetic storm can cause disruptions to power grids, cell phones, radar equipment and satellite systems. So, NASA has scientists that are on the lookout for solar storms 24 hours a day in case a particularly strong solar storm is headed our way. The power grids can then be adjusted to compensate for the magnetic interference. 

sun sun 21
Courtesy Public Domain Clip Art
The sun actually operates on an eleven year cycle for sunspot activity. We are nearing the end of an eleven year cycle, presently, and you may have noticed that there is more press about sunspot activity and solar storms than previously. There has also been a lot of NASA news recently with the Juno Spacecraft mission to Jupiter. Have you been following? So far, the Juno Spacecraft has done just what the NASA scientists want it to do and it will be sending back information about Jupiter to Earth for many months. 


In addition to learning about Sun-Earth connections during our NASA training, my friend and I also learned about toys in space! Did you know that astronauts have taken toys up to the International Space Station in order to experiment with how the toys react in "microgravity?" Microgravity is the relatively small amount of gravity above Earth's atmosphere. The International Space Station is about 220 miles above the Earth's surface in orbit around Earth in a constant state of free fall. This is why the astronauts experience "weightlessness" on the ISS and float around. The NASA educational specialist provided us with some of the toys the astronauts took into space; toys such as climbing bear, soccer balls, kendamas (ball in cup), and yo-yo to name just a few. We were taught how to engage students in exploring with these toys, thinking about how the toys work in Earth's gravity and how they would work differently in microgravity. We would experiment with each of the toys, have discussion and then watch the videos provided online by NASA actually showing what happened on the ISS when the astronauts played with the toys there! 

old spaceman drawing

And do you think the students enjoyed these two units on Space Weather and Toys in Space? You bet they did....and so did the teachers! And what is really awesome, is that the sites for these cool topics are available for general public use! So, if you are interested in learning more about Solar Storms and near live time sun images, go here. If you are interested in learning more about toys in space go here

Now, you know I always enjoy a good trip to Colorado. So, how wonderful was it last summer when Mr.thisandthat and I just happened to stop at a Rocky Mountain National Park ranger station and lo and behold NASA was there!! I couldn't believe my luck! I had such a great time talking with a real NASA scientist and a NASA educational specialist. I got to learn about and hold a model of the James Webb Space Telescope which is the new "Hubble" telescope that will be sending space information back to Earth. And......wait for it.....I got pictures! 

Can you tell I was in awe and thought this was exciting?  I'm such a nerd!!  I've had these pics on display on my classroom door at school so what you are seeing is a "picture of a picture." That's why there is purple around the edges. Anyway, thanks for indulging me today as I dish on my love of space and all things NASA. I have a secret desire to take astronaut training. my age....nah! It's fun to dream though....and watch lots of science fiction movies.....(Star Trek anyone?)......and dream.....

Until Next Time,

Are you interested in space?  Do you keep up with what NASA is doing?   What's new with you?   Leave a message.....I love to hear from you!

Clip art images courtesy of Public Domain Clip Art.  I am not an employee of NASA and received no compensation of any kind for writing this post. All writing and opinions are my own. 

Linking With:
Katherines Corner
Marilyn's Treats


Anonymous said...

I never gave this much thought, but learned some interesting things reading this today! Thank you for the impromptu lesson! This is why you are a teacher!

Debbie Styles Life said...

Ha! Yes, the teacher in me will always come out!

Over Fifty in Hollywood said...

So interesting! Thanks for the blog!!! I, too, love all things space-related and am looking forward to what information Juno provides about Jupiter!

julie Wunder said...

What a fun post! I've always been interested in space and obviously weather. I'll take the "nerd" title any day!

Debbie Styles Life said...

Thanks, Hollywood, for stopping by. I'm looking forward to info on Jupiter, as well!

Debbie Styles Life said...

I'm with you, Julie.....I'll take the "nerd" title any day, also!

csuhpat1 said...

That is so cool.