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Mercury magazine

Autumn 2011 - Volume 40, Number 4

Autumn 2011 - Volume 40, Number 4

Table of Contents



[14] Tips for Successful Clicker Use, Douglas Duncan
There are a number of key practices that lead to successful clicker use in the classroom. Here’s a summary of best practices, plus a look at what not to do.

[16] ASP Posters from Baltimore
Within this issue are five of the 71 posters that were presented at the 2011 ASP Conference in Baltimore. Here’s an excerpt from one of them.

[28] New Views of Diverse Worlds, David T. Blewett
MESSENGER at Mercury is revealing numerous fundamental features about the planet that we don’t yet understand. Here’s a first look at some of the results from David Blewett’s talk at the ASP’s Baltimore meeting.

[35] Astronomy in the News
More discoveries at Mercury and Vesta, 50 more exoplanets found, and a new story of galactic evolution — these are some of the discoveries that recently made news in the astronomical community.


[4] Editorial, Paul Deans
That First Telescope

[5] First Word, James G. Manning

[7] Echoes of the Past, Katherine Bracher
30 Years Ago: Our Bigger and Better Galaxy

[8] Annals of Astronomy, Clifford J. Cunningham
Hevelius at 400

[9] Astronomer's Notebook, Jennifer Birriel
Earth Analogs with Oceans

[10] Planetary Perspectives, Daniel D. Durda
We Couldn't Have Done It Without You...

[11] Armchair Astrophysics, Christopher Wanjek
Seeing Double

[12] Education Matters, David Bruning
Leading Them to Water

[13] Reaching Out, James Lochner
Connecting in the Twitterverse

[40] Society Scope/ASP Supporters
New Board Members

[44] Sky Sights, Paul Deans
December's Total Lunar Eclipse

[47] Reflections, Paul Deans
Deep-Sky Wonders: A Review

Tips for Successful Clicker Use

by Douglas Duncan

More than one million clickers are in use nationwide, and more than 17,000 of them are at Colorado University. Data gathered during the past few years makes clear which uses of clickers lead to success, and which lead to failure. "Success" means both the faculty member and students report being satisfied with the results of using clickers. Clickers have many possible uses:

  • find out if students have done assigned reading before class;
  • measure what students know before you start to teach them and after you think you've taught them;
  • measure attitudes and opinions, with more honest answers if the topic is personal or embarrassing;
  • get students to confront common misconceptions;
  • facilitate discussion and peer teaching;
  • increase student's retention of what you teach;
  • transform the way you do demonstrations; and
  • increase class attendance; improve student attitudes.

Of course, none of these outcomes are magically achieved by the clicker itself. They are achieved — or not — entirely by how you implement their use.

ASP Posters from Baltimore

by Randy Russell

Computer-based simulations and virtual labs are valuable resources for science educators in various settings, allowing learners to experiment and explore "what if" scenarios. Educational computer games can motivate learners in both formal and informal settings, encouraging them to spend much more time exploring a topic than they might otherwise be inclined to do.

This poster is effectively a "literature review" of numerous sources of simulations, games, and virtual labs.

Although we have encountered several nice collections of such resources, those collections seem to be restricted in scope. They either represent materials developed by a specific group or agency (e.g. NOAA's games website) or are restricted to a specific discipline (e.g. geology simulations and virtual labs).

This poster directs viewers to games, simulations, and virtual labs from many different sources and spans a broad range of Earth science and astronomy disciplines. The poster is also a sampler of a broader, more in-depth collection of such resources available online at a website dedicated to disseminating such items.

New Views of Diverse Worlds

by David T. Blewett

A lot of strange sights have been seen on Mercury, things that the MESSENGER team is still trying to understand. For instance, the images reveal certain craters that have dark rims; several are found within the Caloris basin. This rather surprising. The dark rim indicates that the impact dug up dark material from beneath the surrounding smooth plains, which have a higher albedo.

Another class of crater on Mercury has highly unusual bright stuff on their floors. Mariner 10 spotted a number of them, though at fairly poor spatial resolution, and few scientists at the time really thought much about the bright material. But now we've seen many more with MESSENGER — I'll have more to say about them later on, but they're turning out to be amazing.

Astronomy in the News
Dawn Science Team Presents Early Science Results


Scientists with NASA's Dawn mission are sharing with other scientists and the public their early information about the southern hemisphere of the giant asteroid Vesta.

Dawn, which has been orbiting Vesta since mid-July, has found that the asteroid's southern hemisphere boasts one of the largest mountains in the solar system. Other findings show that Vesta's surface, viewed by Dawn at different wavelengths, has striking diversity in its composition, particularly around craters. Science findings also include an in-depth analysis of a set of equatorial troughs on Vesta and a closer look at the object's intriguing craters. The surface appears to be much rougher than most asteroids in the main asteroid belt. In addition, preliminary dates from a method that uses the number of craters indicate that areas in the southern hemisphere are as young as 1 billion to 2 billion years old, much younger than areas in the north.

Scientists do not yet understand how all the features on Vesta's surface formed, but they did announce, after analysis of northern and southern troughs, that results are consistent with models of fracture formation due to giant impact.

Since July, the Dawn spacecraft has been spiraling closer and closer to Vesta, moving in to get better and better views of the surface. In early August, the spacecraft reached an orbital altitude of 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) and mapped most of the sunlit surface, during survey orbit, with its framing camera and visible and infrared mapping spectrometer. That phase was completed in late August, and the spacecraft began moving in to High Altitude Mapping Orbit.

and more in a new and up-to-date blog format. 

"We live in turbulent yet exciting times, so it is our hope that Mercury Online will showcase humanity's drive to explore by delivering high-quality  articles for members and nonmembers alike." — Ian O'Neill, Editor, Mercury magazine and Mercury Online