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Mercury magazine

Spring 2014 - Volume 43, Number 2

Spring 2014 - Volume 43, Number 2

Table of Contents



[18] Project ASTRO: Linking Astronomers With Educators, Andrew Fraknoi
For 20 years, Project ASTRO has brought the excitement of scientific discovery through astronomy to students.

[26] What Makes a Project ASTRO Partnership Successful?, Theresa Moody and Brian Kruse
Successful teacher/astronomer partnerships seem to have five common characteristics.

[33] Project ASTRO: Evolving to Remain Relevant, Rommel J. Miranda and Wil van der Veen
The implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards in K-12 classrooms will be a challenging endeavor.

[40] Astronomy in the News
A ‘perfect’ solar storm, the Kepler mission announces a planet bonanza, and a spiral galaxy spills blood and guts — these are some of the discoveries that recently made news in the astronomical community.


[4] Perspectives, Paul Deans
Do You Cosmos?

[5] First Word, Linda Shore
Astronomy is Looking Up

[7] Annals of Astronomy, Clifford J. Cunningham
Classic Errors

[8] Astronomer’s Notebook, Jennifer Birriel
Lithium Giants, GC Pulsars, and Blue Stragglers — Oh My!

[10] Planetary Perspectives, Emily Joseph

[12] Armchair Astrophysics, Christopher Wanjek
Cosmic Inflation Discovered…Sort of, Maybe

[13] Education Matters, David Bruning
Gender Segregation

[14] Societal Impact, Catherine Grier
A Winning Telescope

[16] Reaching Out, David Prosper and Vivian White
Night Sky Network

[48] ASP Tidings/Michael Gibbs Memorial Fund Established

[50] Sky Sights, Paul Deans
A New Meteor Shower?

[53] Reflections, European Southern Observatory
A Vast Lagoon

Project ASTRO: Linking Astronomers With Educators

by Andrew Fraknoi

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) has had many educational and outreach activities during the years, but Project ASTRO remains the flagship in our fleet of programs. It was the first project for which the Society received federal funding; the first to feature formal, professional evaluation; and the first one to engage three different segments of the Society’s membership — professional scientists, amateur astronomers, and teachers. And it’s still the program whose training and materials have had the most lasting impact nationwide. In this issue, you will read about Project ASTRO from several perspectives. Here, I’d like to introduce the program and tell you a little bit about its history and evolution.

What Makes a Project ASTRO Partnership Successful?

by Theresa Moody and Brian Kruse

“You are about to embark on a rewarding and sometimes challenging partnership to improve science education.” These words, from the Project ASTRO How-To Manual for Teachers and Astronomers, encapsulate what it means to be a Project ASTRO partner. For the past 20 years, the ASP’s Project ASTRO has partnered educators with volunteer astronomers with the goal of enriching students’ astronomy experiences.

A successful partnership is not necessarily defined by the length of time they endure, but rather by the lasting impact the partnership has had on the students, teacher, and astronomer. To gain a better sense of these lasting impacts, we asked teachers and astronomers involved in Project ASTRO to write a short description of their partnership, and describe what made their partnership successful.

Project ASTRO: Evolving to Remain Relevant

by Rommel J. Miranda and Will van der Veen

For at least the next decade, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will likely affect all aspects of science teaching and learning, including astronomy. The NGSS presents a new vision for science education and is based on A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.

To remain relevant in our nation’s dynamic educational environment, the ASP’s Project ASTRO will have to adapt to support teachers with the implementation of the NGSS. The NGSS presents a number of challenges as well as opportunities.

Gravity Measurements Confirm Subsurface Ocean on Enceladus

California Institute of Technology

In 2005, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sent pictures back to Earth depicting an icy Saturnian moon spewing water vapor and ice from fractures known as “tiger stripes” in its frozen surface. It was big news that tiny Enceladus — a mere 500 kilometers in diameter — was such an active place. Since then, scientists have hypothesized that a large reservoir of water lies beneath that icy surface, possibly fueling the plumes. Now, using gravity measurements collected by Cassini, scientists have confirmed that Enceladus does in fact harbor a large subsurface ocean near its south pole, beneath those tiger stripes.

“For the first time, we have used a geophysical method to determine the internal structure of Enceladus, and the data suggest that indeed there is a large, possibly regional ocean about 50 kilometers below the surface of the south pole,” says David Stevenson, the Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Planetary Science at Caltech and an expert in studies of the interior of planetary bodies. “This then provides one possible story to explain why water is gushing out of these fractures we see at the south pole.”

During three flybys of Enceladus, between April 2010 and May 2012, the scientists collected extremely precise measurements of Cassini’s trajectory by tracking the spacecraft’s microwave carrier signal with NASA’s Deep Space Network. The gravitational tug of a planetary body, such as Enceladus, alters a spacecraft’s flight path ever so slightly. By measuring the effect of such deflections on the frequency of Cassini’s signal as the orbiter traveled past Enceladus, the scientists were able to learn about the moon’s gravitational field. This, in turn, revealed details about the distribution of mass within the moon. “This is really the only way to learn about internal structure from remote sensing,” Stevenson says.

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