1995-1996 A Year to Explore Space and Cyberspace

The Live from the Stratosphere Teacher's Guide refers to this school year as an opportunity to "Explore Space and Cyberspace." We hope you enjoy Live from the Stratosphere, and find your students more knowledgeable about astronomy and contemporary scientific research. We also hope you find them more interested in and confident about using on-line resources for classwork and independent study as a result of the project.

Following completion of LFS, Fall 1995 provides an exciting opportunity to prepare for a unique Passport to Knowledge activity, Live from the Hubble Space Telescope--culminating in Spring 1996.

Live from the Hubble Space Telescope:

Announcement of Opportunity for Student Participation

Through a special relationship with the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the HST for NASA and the European Space Agency, Passport to Knowledge has been assigned 3 orbits of the HST for original observations to be researched, planned, executed and published as part of the Live from the Hubble Space Telescope project. Observing time on the HST is extremely valuable, so this is an exceptional commitment by STScI to support education. A half-hour hour program, The Great Planet Debate, will air November 9, 1995 at 11:00-11:30 Eastern, and provide an introduction to the activity, which will then use the Internet as its principal medium for information, discussion and collaboration.

The original HST observations are targeted for March 1996. At that time, 4 planets--Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto--are available targets for study. Distant, fainter galaxies and other objects require many more orbits to secure data that's likely to be scientifically significant. Planets are also more familiar to students--and Jupiter and Uranus will have been introduced during the Kuiper activities.

The introductory video will ask 4 astronomers and educators associated with STScI to lay out the case for observing one or other of the candidate planets, and provide documentary reports on what's already known, and what could be discovered. (Through comments appearing on the next page, HST staff astronomer Alex Storrs gives a preview of some of the arguments for and against the various observations.)

Simultaneously, NASA's K-12 Internet Initiative will activate special on-line resources to support Live from the Hubble Space Telescope. Students will find a great deal of information on the planets, HST and STScI. There'll be pointers to the extensive astronomical materials STScI and others already provide on-line. But most importantly, there'll be information about how students can actively participate in one of four student discussion groups to brainstorm, research, develop and deliver suggestions about which planet to observe with the three Live from the Hubble Space Telescope orbits.

Individual students and classes will be able to collaborate from sites all across America. We also anticipate involvement from Europe, since the European Space Agency contributes 20% of STScI support and participates fully in all HST activities. Students will engage in activities from the relatively trivial (does one group want to be known as the "Pluto-crats", another the "By Jovians"?) to the more significant. The discussion groups will be (lightly) moderated by astronomer-mentors and educators with experience in facilitating on-line collaboration. Access to expert scientific support will be brokered by Passport to Knowledge so that student input conforms to guidelines for professional research on the HST: a focus on significant scientific questions; be achievable within the number of orbits and time assigned; and not duplicate existing research.

By December, we need to arrive at a consensus about which planet(s) to observe, and what research to suggest. A final determination will be made by a group consisting of educators working with Passport to Knowledge, astronomers from STScI and student representatives communicating via the Internet.

January and February 1996 will see the consensus plan transformed into the practical logistics it takes to fly an experiment on the Hubble. Students will be able to go on-line and monitor the progress of "their" observations through the planning pipeline. On-line Field Journals from computer programmers and planners will allow students to look behind the scenes to see how their suggestions become precise instructions radioed up to the HST.

The actual Live from... observations will take place in early March 1996, and be broadcast in a live, one-hour program which will also feature videotaped reports on the preparatory activities that took place at the STScI and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (from where the HST is controlled) in the previous months. The raw data comprising the observations will be downlinked from the HST during the program, but STScI astronomers warn that it will take several weeks to process information and assess just how successful the observations have been.

In late April, in the week after National Astronomy Day (April 20, 1996) , during NSF's National Science and Technology Week, the final Live from the Hubble Space Telescope program will report the results of the student-suggested observations, and invite interaction by video, phone, fax and e-mail between the youngsters who have shaped the experiments and the astronomers who will help interpret the data.

An edited program will summarize the entire activity, and document how the multimedia combination of Internet and interactive television created a truly unique opportunity for students to engage in real-world research.

Alex Storrs, STScI staff astronomer, and specialist on planets, described the pro's and con's of observing the candidate planets:

I admit that Jupiter at first seems the hands-on favorite. It's the biggest and most dynamic planet in our solar system. Through the Hubble telescope, Jupiter "fills the screen". Jupiter can be analyzed even from the raw data, pretty much as it comes in, in real-time, which makes it unique. It also only takes one orbit around Jupiter to gain interesting new information on it. All other planets require a fair amount of analysis to figure out just what you're seeing. Even though we've looked at Jupiter quite a lot already, it's worthwhile to go back later to see how cloud patterns have changed from the last time it was observed.

But for Jupiter, the big deal is Galileo. The Galileo spacecraft is arriving at Jupiter at the end of 1995 and is starting its long tour of the Jovian system. Galileo will still be on its tour in March, and perhaps we'll simultaneously be able to image some of the satellites with the HST. Jupiter's moon, Io, also has a few active volcanoes and we could observe the effects of those depending on how we arrange the imaging. It will be of great interest to see what's happening through the Hubble right when Galileo is there.

Uranus has not been quite so heavily observed. The planet itself is, perhaps, a little bland and boring: however, there are those rings (editor's note: first discovered from the Kuiper!) Uranus has rings much like Saturn only thinner. But we don't exactly know their colors and composition. A worthwhile project would be to use the HST spectrometer to figure some things out, for the first time. Look at the rings, look at the sky beyond the rings, and compare them. It would take only one orbit to do this, and it would produce relatively quick but significant results, and likely help us determine what the rings are made of.

Neptune's a hot topic. Neptune is ever-changing and dynamic like Jupiter. So it would probably be beneficial to do the same sorts of observations and procedures with Neptune that have been done with Jupiter. We can see how the cloud patterns have changed and shifted. Unfortunately, Neptune is not very big. It might not be that impressive but it would still be pretty useful to get 3 orbits worth of images of Neptune.

Pluto is also interesting but not nearly as dynamic as the other outer planets. Visible changes, if any, only emerge over a broader scale of time. There was supposed to be a "Pluto Express" spacecraft, but funding problems mean NASA may not be able to start any new missions, any time soon. So probably all the new information that we're going to get about Pluto in my professional lifetime will have to come from the Hubble. And this would sure be a chance to do something worthwhile on a lttle known planet

Galileo encounters Jupiter

As Alex Storrs notes, this December sees the arrival of NASA's Galileo spacecraft at the Jovian system. For the first-time ever, a probe will be released into Jupiter's clouds, sampling the atmospheric gases before colossal pressures silence it. The data will be radioed back to Galileo, carefully positioned to receive, record and later relay the precious information back to Earth. Then Galileo will continue its in-depth survey of Jupiter and its moons.

Students may have read about Galileo's problems with its main antenna, which seems to have stuck half-open. But remarkable advances in custom software by the Galileo project team back here on Earth now seem to make it probable that valuable data will be returned, albeit more slowly than originally planned. Galileo has had a long journey to Jupiter. It had to fly by Venus and Earth, picking up extra energy from the planets' gravity, to sling-shot out to Jupiter. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (which built the main spacecraft) and NASA's Ames Research Center (which designed and built the probe) have provided an extensive public education and outreach resource on-line. If you teach Middle or High School students, and they've gone on-line successfully during Live from the Stratosphere you may want to suggest some independent study activities involving Galileo.

(See Resources for details about accessing Galileo information on-line.)

Feedback please! Staging two thematically-related Live from... projects in one school year is not something we've tried before. We would be interested in whether this seems a useful synergy, or asks too much time and attention from you as a teacher, and/or your students. But we do hope that some number of you "take off" with Kuiper, and fly--independently--with Galileo or with Passport to Knowledge and the Hubble in the months ahead.

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