Live from the Hubble Space Telescope


PART 1: Using the Internet to do astronomy

PART 2: Heidi struggles to get occultation data

PART 3: Press kit for teachers


Heidi Hammel

March 4, 1996
It's early morning on Mauna Kea. I saw some stars when I woke up, but now the clouds are back. We heard from the weather service that winds on the mountain were gusting up to 80 mph last night. The road crews have just left to see if they can clear through the snow to the summit. We will know in about two hours whether they have made it. In the meantime, I'll explain some ways that I used and am still using the Internet for this observing run. You can look at all these web sites yourself!

The most important web site for me right now is the weather page! * * I am checking this page every hour or so, watching the progression of the storms on the satellite weather photos. If you go there, the first picture to look at is the "Regional Weather Map." The Big Island of Hawaii, which is where I am, is the large island at the lower right. Another important map is the "Goes-9 Enhanced Water Vapor Image," which gives a big-picture satellite view of the clouds. Finally, there is a movie "Hawaii IR Satellite MPEG Movie" which shows the last couple of hours of weather over Hawaii, so you can see how things are changing.

If you want to see the observatories on Mauna Kea, go the observatory homepage. * * I am using the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, which is the third dome from the left in the picture. It looks small, but the telescope inside is really big. Further down the MKO Homepage is a description of the Onizuka Center, which is the new name for Hale Pohaku. Most of us astronomers still call it Hale Pohaku, or HP for short.

You can see a picture of the NASA telescope if you go to the IRTF Homepage * * Select "About the IRTF." To prepare for my run, I used the IRTF Homepage to get information about the other instrument I will be using in addition to the MIT camera. We will be using an IRTF camera called NSFCAM. About two weeks ago, I went to the IRTF Homepage, selected "IRTF Online," then "NSFCAM," then "Docs." This allowed me download the very latest manual (documentation) describing the camera (guide.rtf). I printed it at MIT, and read it on the long flight.

Lots of astronomers besides me are observing this particular event, which is the occultation by Jupiter of a star called "nu 2 Sagittarius," or "nu2sgr" (new 2 saj) for short. Doug, a scientist at Harvard, wrote a program that allows him to calculate exactly how the path of Jupiter will cross in front of the star, as seen from many different telescopes around the world. To make our work easier, Doug makes the map as if the telescope were following Jupiter, so that the star appears to cross behind it. He generates the info, creates maps and star charts, and then puts it on the web. A few days ago, I asked Doug to generate a prediction for the IRTF. Under "Predictions for Specific Locations," you can find the IRTF map he made for me. * *

Finally, when I get lonely here in the middle of the night, I can surf to my own homepage, and call up a picture of my four cats - Peanut, who now wants to be known as King P'ut, Jessie Lu, and the troublesome twosome: Lucy and Lilah! * *

Late-breaking update:

The road crews have managed to get almost to the IRTF now. We will be able to go up after dinner, and start setting our instrument up. There is still a lot of work to be done, though, and now it's only 36 hours until Jupiter occults the star! In that time, we have to get our MIT camera installed on the telescope, get the IRTF NSFCAM up and running, focus both instruments, do a lot of calibration work, AND the telescope crew has to clear the telescope dome of snow and ice so that we can open it and move it!


Heidi Hammel

March 5, 1996:
We made it up to the summit last night. The road crews were able to clear the roads to about half the mountaintop, and fortunately it was the half with the IRTF. Everything was coated in a thick layer of ice and we had to shovel out the door to the telescope; it was blocked by a snow drift. That is hard work at 14,000 feet!

We unpacked our MIT instrument and set it all up. It worked fine except for the computer networking (so our computer talks to the other computers here and at MIT). We are up here now (in the morning) to try to get the networking going. It's been several hours now and the network is not working. Jeff is on the phone with Eric, a computer expert over in Honolulu, trying to get it fixed. Hey good news: they just fixed it. The bad news is that the IRTF camera had been turned off before the last crew abandoned the summit due to the blizzard, and the detector was warm (normally it is kept extremely cold to make it work better). One of the telescope staffers is working on the IRTF camera, to see if we can get it cold enough to work tonight. It seems grim. This is not a "show-stopper" however, because our MIT camera is working.

The REALLY bad news, though, is that the entire dome is encased in thick ice - at some points over a foot thick! This is very bad because you cannot open the dome - big chunks of ice might fall in and damage the telescope. You also cannot rotate the dome, since the ice is sealing it shut. The crew is outside assessing the situation, but they think it is unlikely we will be able to get the dome open tonight. I can hear them banging on the dome right now, even as I am typing. They are trying to break loose some of the ice. Last week, some crew members from another telescope were injured trying to remove ice from a dome, so everyone here is very cautious. The winds are blowing over 60 mph, and the temperature here is hovering at 30 degrees - so the ice may not melt in the sunshine. This ice could be the show-stopper.

The skies are absolutely crystal clear - a gorgeous deep blue, with not a cloud in sight. It is now 17 hours until the occultation.


This file presents you with the basics of preparing media releases for the purpose of acquiring press coverage of your Live From the Hubble Space Telescope special events, as well as provides a *sample* Press Release.

We hope you agree that your students and you are involved in an unparalleled experience in educational technology and science reform. Connecting students for the first time with Hubble scientists and researchers as they serve as "co- investigators" in an unprecedented learning adventure surely is worthy of press coverage.

We also feel it is important that you share your efforts with the administration, school board members, and community. Making the public aware of the extra efforts dedicated to quality science teaching and learning is an important part of your outreach efforts. Sharing the Passport project also helps "spread the word" and promote broader local/regional involvement.

This kit will provide you with valuable hints to consider as you prepare your own special Press Releases. You will no doubt want to alter the sample release to fit your own unique situation.

Don't forget to send a copy of any newspaper coverage or a tape of the video clips from television coverage received to:

Geoff Haines-Stiles, Project Director
Passport to Knowledge
P.O. Box 1502
Summit, New Jersey 07902-1502


The Passport to Knowledge Team



PRESS KIT : Live From the Hubble Space Telescope Project


1. Your press release should always contain the five W's: WHO? WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? WHY? (see example Press Releases )

2. Be sure to include the name, position, phone and fax numbers of the person from your institution that the media should contact to arrange interviews, get additional information, clarify a point, etc.

3. All the important information about the event and why the media should attend (what makes the event unique, special, relevant, significant to many people) should be detailed in the release.

4. The Press Release should be brief-- never more than two double-spaced typewritten pages (probably one) in general, use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs. Never use a word in a Press Release that you wouldn't use in everyday language.

If your release is more than one page, type -MORE- at the bottom of the first page.

Note: Different media people may prefer press releases of different lengths, but it is more common that more information is appreciated rather than less.

5. Use school/office stationery. Never use carbon copies, although Xerox copies are fine, and always keep a copy of every release you send out.

6. Press releases should be double-spaced, on one side of the page. Make sure that full names are used, not one initial and the surname. Double check spelling of all names. Make sure all names, dates, etc. are correct. Include proper affiliations for those who are mentioned in your press release. Double check the date and the day of the week in your release.

7. If you must ask for a specific publication date, it should read: EMBARGOED UNTIL (DATE AND TIME). Avoid "hold releases" whenever possible. Always start copy 1/4 to 1/3 of the way down the page so the editor will have space to write a headline for the story and give other instructions.

8. All press releases should be distributed to the editor at small papers, the city or assignment editor at large papers, the campus media, the assignment or news manager at radio and television stations, and specific department editors and beat reporters who cover issues relevant to the story's content.

9. Press releases notifying the press about an event should reach the media in a timely fashion.... three-fours days before the scheduled event and never less than a twenty-four hour notice. All editors, should be called the day preceding the event and reminded of the event.

The best time to hold a press event is between late morning and early afternoon, while the best days are Monday through Friday, since there are fewer reporters, camera crews, and editors assigned to weekends.

10. Use of quotes (also called "sound bites" in TV) : Make available the best spokesperson (in this case one of your more eloquent students may be desirable) who is both personable and enthusiastic. Encourage them to "be themselves."

Most "sound bites" are typically a maximum of fifteen seconds in length and it is often helpful to practice answering anticipated questions in such tight time frames.

11. Use of Props: If you have props (i.e.: student produced projects, classroom models of the Hubble Space Telescope, models of the planets, background posters, etc.) be sure to use them as backdrops or within the interview for demonstration.

12. Additional hints:

For Newspaper coverage......

*Attach printed background material along with your Press Release and give the reporter at least a few days to become familiar with the materials.

*Provide quotes (the equivalent of sound bites for newspapers) and identify each person being quoted. (If you are writing the materials, feel free to quote yourself.) You may also wish to identify others in the field (along with phone numbers) whom the reporter can contact for additional quotes.

Note your student's comments that relay a sense of excitement and motivation!

*SELL the story to the newspaper reporter or editor. Tell them in writing why you feel this is an important event to cover. Share your excitement about the event!

*A picture, especially a color picture, helps to make a newspaper story interesting. Check with the local newspapers as to whether they prefer color or black and white prints or if they can use slides.

Capture your students doing hands-on activities, actively engaged in a demonstration, working with a model of the Hubble, planetary system, amateur astronomer, etc.

Local Television....

*Local TV coverage is a very effective medium for sharing your special events. Contact your local TV stations at least a week-two weeks in advance of the event. Be prepared to share what will be unique about your event and how it appeals to the viewing audience.

*Try an unusual angle..... for example, rather than a feature news story, perhaps offer a connection between the Hubble Space Telescope and the nightly weather report. The HST, as the world's largest planetary weather satellite, might motivate the Weatherman to include a special segment focusing on your student's "Weather Report on the Planets" as part of his nightly weather program.

*Make video clips available of related events that might be included in the report. Be sure to use high quality tapes with clear sound recording.

*Remember the use of "sound bites" (see item 10)--quotes that are both concise and effectively stated.


Sample Press Release:

Live From the Hubble Space Telescope Project

For use by participating schools
Remember: Use letterhead stationery!



For more information, contact:

Insert headline here:

ex. "West Salem Middle School Students Make the Hubble Space Telescope their own "Backyard Observatory!"

West Salem, Wisconsin, March 6, 1996

More than 125 sixth grade students will gather together in the West Salem Middle School auditorium for a historic live telecast entitled "Making YOUR Observations," to be broadcast on March 14, 1996 by the Passport to Knowledge education project via NASA-TV and PBS stations around the country.

This event marks the first time ever that students will serve as "co-investigators" in Hubble Space Telescope observations. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), Baltimore, Maryland dedicated three of the Hubble orbits to this project enabling students to assist in the planning and executing of planetary observations. Scientists must compete rigorously for Hubble orbits through a rigorous application proposal procedure, making student-based observations a truly unique event.

"Making YOUR Observations" is one of two live broadcasts associated with the Passport to Knowledge education project, Live From the Hubble Space Telescope. The Passport projects incorporate live TV, on-line networks, print, and hands-on materials to bring "real science, real scientists, real time, real locations" into the classroom.

Previous Passport projects include Live From Antarctica (Dec.1994-Jan.1995) and Live From the Stratosphere (Oct.-Nov., 1995) Students from West Salem Middle school also participated in these electronic field trips and as one student stated during the Live From the Stratosphere project, "I felt like I was flying on the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, even though I was on the ground here in our classroom!"

The West Salem students contributed to an on-line discussion that determined which planets students would observe with the three Hubble orbits given to them. After much debate, the students felt that Pluto deserved their support. Consensus on-line determined that both Pluto and Neptune would be the "winning planets."

Planetary scientists, Marc Buie and Heidi Hammel, along with other Hubble Space Telescope team members and students from various uplink sites will view the new data from the Hubble observations live during the broadcast. Uplink sites include Seattle, Spokane, Munich, Germany; Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI-- Baltimore); and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

On-line access will be available during the programs with student monitors from Mr. Jensen's class will be coordinating the sending of questions via email.

Following the programs, the students will be sharing the special group research projects with students in fourth grade classes. Models of the HST, planetary weather reports, and space science demonstrations will be shared in small groups.

This is a unique opportunity to share how our school is integrating leading edge technology into the science curriculum.

Please plan to join us for this extraordinary event.