Category Archives: Nasa Space Place

NASA Space Place – A Close-Up View Of Mars

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in July, 2018.

By Jane Houston Jones and Jessica Stoller-Conrad

2013february2_spaceplaceIn July 2018, skywatchers can get an up close view of Mars—even without a telescope! In fact, on July 31, Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been in 15 years.

Why is that?

Like all the planets in our solar system, Earth and Mars orbit the Sun. Earth is closer to the Sun, and therefore it races along its orbit more quickly. Earth makes two trips around the Sun in about the same amount of time that Mars takes to make one trip.

Sometimes the two planets are on opposite sides of the Sun and are very far apart. Other times, Earth catches up with its neighbor and passes relatively close to it. This is called Mars’s closest approach to Earth, and it’s happening this year on July 31. The Moon will be near Mars on that night, too!

Keep in mind that even during its closest approach, Mars is still more than 35 million miles away from Earth. That’s really far. So, Mars won’t appear as big as the Moon in the sky, but it will appear bigger than it usually does.

July and August will be a great time to check out Mars. Through a telescope, you should normally be able to make out some of the light and dark features of the Red Planet—and sometimes even polar ice. However, a huge Martian dust storm is obscuring these features right now, so less planetary detail is visible.

There is another important Mars date in July: Mars opposition. Mars opposition is when Mars, Earth and the Sun all line up, with Earth directly in the middle. This event is happening on July 27 this year.

Although you may see news focusing on one of these two dates, Mars will be visible for many months. For about three weeks before and three weeks after opposition and closest approach, the planet will appear the same size to a skywatcher.

From July 7 through September 7 Mars will be the third brightest object in the sky (after the Moon and Venus), shining even brighter than Jupiter. The best time to view Mars during this time is several hours after sunset, when Mars will appear higher in the sky.

Mars will still be visible after July and August, but each month it will shrink in size as it travels farther from Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

In other sky news, there will be a partial solar eclipse on July 13, but it will only be visible from Northern Antarctica and southern Australia. On July 27 (beginning at 20:21 UTC), a total lunar eclipse will be visible in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. For those viewers, Mars will be right next to the eclipsing Moon!

If you’re wanting to look ahead to next month, prepare for August’s summer Perseid meteor shower. It’s not too early to plan a dark sky getaway for the most popular meteor shower of the year!

You can catch up on NASA’s missions to Mars and all of NASA’s missions at www.nasa.gov

Caption:In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30. Its closest approach to Earth is July 31. That is the point in Mars’ orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

NASA Space Place And SciJinks Digest For June, 2018

2013february2_spaceplace Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing.

The following three short articles are reproduced in part below with links to the complete articles.

Space Place – What Is an Earthquake?

An earthquake is an intense shaking of Earth’s surface. The shaking is caused by movements in Earth’s outermost layer.

Why Do Earthquakes Happen?

Although the Earth looks like a pretty solid place from the surface, it’s actually extremely active just below the surface. The Earth is made of four basic layers: a solid crust, a hot, nearly solid mantle, a liquid outer core and a solid inner core.

Caption: A diagram of Earth’s layers. Earthquakes are caused by shifts in the outer layers of Earth—a region called the lithosphere.

The solid crust and top, stiff layer of the mantle make up a region called the lithosphere. The lithosphere isn’t a continuous piece that wraps around the whole Earth like an eggshell. It’s actually made up of giant puzzle pieces called tectonic plates. Tectonic plates are constantly shifting as they drift around on the viscous, or slowly flowing, mantle layer below.

Read the rest at: spaceplace.nasa.gov/earthquakes/en/

Space Place – What Is a Light-Year?

Caption: An image of distant galaxies captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, RELICS; Acknowledgment: D. Coe et al.

For most space objects, we use light-years to describe their distance. A light-year is the distance light travels in one Earth year. One light-year is about 6 trillion miles (9 trillion km). That is a 6 with 12 zeros behind it!

Looking Back in Time

When we use powerful telescopes to look at distant objects in space, we are actually looking back in time. How can this be?

Light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles (or 300,000 km) per second. This seems really fast, but objects in space are so far away that it takes a lot of time for their light to reach us. The farther an object is, the farther in the past we see it.

Our Sun is the closest star to us. It is about 93 million miles away. So, the Sun’s light takes about 8.3 minutes to reach us. This means that we always see the Sun as it was about 8.3 minutes ago.

Read the rest at: spaceplace.nasa.gov/light-year/en/

NASA SciJinks – What’s A Solstice?

Astronomy has been important to people for thousands of years. The ancient construction known as Stonehenge in England may have been designed, among other purposes, to pay special honor to the solstices and equinoxes. These are the times and locations during Earth’s journey around the Sun that we humans have long used to mark our seasons.

Caption: Here is a guess at how Stonehenge might have looked about 2400 BC. At dawn on the Summer Solstice, the rays of the Sun would have shone straight through what is called the “slaughter stones” to exactly strike the “altar stone” in the center.

But what is the solstice exactly?

It has to do with some imaginary lines on our planet. These lines are important, because they help people navigate and measure time.

The equator is an imaginary line drawn right around Earth’s middle, like a belt. It divides Earth into the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

Read the rest at: scijinks.gov/solstice/

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

NASA Space Place – What Is The Asteroid Belt?

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in May, 2018.

By Linda Hermans-Killiam

2013february2_spaceplaceThere are millions of pieces of rocky material left over from the formation of our solar system. These rocky chunks are called asteroids, and they can be found orbiting our Sun. Most asteroids are found between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. They orbit the Sun in a doughnut-shaped region of space called the asteroid belt.

Asteroids come in many different sizes—from tiny rocks to giant boulders. Some can even be hundreds of miles across! Asteroids are mostly rocky, but some also have metals inside, such as iron and nickel. Almost all asteroids have irregular shapes. However, very large asteroids can have a rounder shape.

The asteroid belt is about as wide as the distance between Earth and the Sun. It’s a big space, so the objects in the asteroid belt aren’t very close together. That means there is plenty of room for spacecraft to safely pass through the belt. In fact, NASA has already sent several spacecraft through the asteroid belt!

The total mass of objects in the asteroid belt is only about 4 percent the mass of our Moon. Half of this mass is from the four largest objects in the belt. These objects are named Ceres, Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea.

The dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt. However, Ceres is still pretty small. It is only about 587 miles across—only a quarter the diameter of Earth’s moon. In 2015, NASA’s Dawn mission mapped the surface of Ceres. From Dawn, we learned that the outermost layer of Ceres—called the crust—is made up of a mixture of rock and ice.

The Dawn spacecraft also visited the asteroid Vesta. Vesta is the second largest object in the asteroid belt. It is 329 miles across, and it is the brightest asteroid in the sky. Vesta is covered with light and dark patches, and lava once flowed on its surface.

The asteroid belt is filled with objects from the dawn of our solar system. Asteroids represent the building blocks of planets and moons, and studying them helps us learn about the early solar system.

For more information about asteroids, visit: spaceplace.nasa.gov/asteroid

Caption:This image captured by the Dawn spacecraft is an enhanced color view of Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!