Category Archives: Nasa Space Place

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!

NASA Space Place – What’s It Like Inside 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 January, 2018.

By Jessica Stoller-Conrad

2013february2_spaceplaceMars is Earth’s neighbor in the solar system. NASA’s robotic explorers have visited our neighbor quite a few times. By orbiting, landing and roving on the Red Planet, we’ve learned so much about Martian canyons, volcanoes, rocks and soil. However, we still don’t know exactly what Mars is like on the inside. This information could give scientists some really important clues about how Mars and the rest of our solar system formed.

This spring, NASA is launching a new mission to study the inside of Mars. It’s called Mars InSight. InSight—short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport—is a lander. When InSight lands on Mars later this year, it won’t drive around on the surface of Mars like a rover does. Instead, InSight will land, place instruments on the ground nearby and begin collecting information.

Just like a doctor uses instruments to understand what’s going on inside your body, InSight will use three science instruments to figure out what’s going on inside Mars.

One of these instruments is called a seismometer. On Earth, scientists use seismometers to study the vibrations that happen during earthquakes. InSight’s seismometer will measure the vibrations of earthquakes on Mars—known as marsquakes. We know that on Earth, different materials vibrate in different ways. By studying the vibrations from marsquakes, scientists hope to figure out what materials are found inside Mars.

InSight will also carry a heat probe that will take the temperature on Mars. The heat probe will dig almost 16 feet below Mars’ surface. After it burrows into the ground, the heat probe will measure the heat coming from the interior of Mars. These measurements can also help us understand where Mars’ heat comes from in the first place. This information will help scientists figure out how Mars formed and if it’s made from the same stuff as Earth and the Moon.

Scientists know that the very center of Mars, called the core, is made of iron. But what else is in there? InSight has an instrument called the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, or RISE, that will hopefully help us to find out.

Although the InSight lander stays in one spot on Mars, Mars wobbles around as it orbits the Sun. RISE will keep track of InSight’s location so that scientists will have a way to measure these wobbles. This information will help determine what materials are in Mars’ core and whether the core is liquid or solid.

InSight will collect tons of information about what Mars is like under the surface. One day, these new details from InSight will help us understand more about how planets like Mars—and our home, Earth—came to be.

For more information about earthquakes and marsquakes, visit: spaceplace.nasa.gov/earthquakes

Caption: An artist’s illustration showing a possible inner structure of Mars. Image 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 Digest For March, 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. Your tax dollars help promote science!

The following four articles were sent to Space Place partners and subscribers, provided in a format that offers discussions of topics of astronomical interest. As these posts are graphics-intensive, only the intro snippet is provided here with links to the full article provided for each.

All About Exoplanets

All of the planets in our solar system orbit around the sun. Planets that orbit around other stars are called exoplanets. Exoplanets are very hard to see directly with telescopes. They are hidden by the bright glare of the stars they orbit.

An artist’s representation of Kepler-11, a small, cool star around which six planets orbit. Credit: NASA/Tim Pyle

So, astronomers use other ways to detect and study these distant planets. They search for exoplanets by looking at the effects these planets have on the stars they orbit.

Read the full article…

How Do We Weigh Planets?

In real life, we can’t pick up a planet and put it on a scale. However, scientists do have ways to figure out how much a planet weighs. They can calculate how hard the planet pulls on other things. The heavier the planet, the stronger it tugs on nearby objects—like moons or visiting spacecraft. That tug is what we call gravitational pull.

Your weight is different on other planets due to gravity. However, your mass is the same everywhere!

Read the full article…

What Is a Volcano?

A volcano is an opening on the surface of a planet or moon that allows material warmer than its surroundings to escape from its interior. When this material escapes, it causes an eruption. An eruption can be explosive, sending material high into the sky. Or it can be calmer, with gentle flows of material.

Lava fountain at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai`i. Credit: J.D Griggs, USGS

These volcanic areas usually form mountains built from the many layers of rock, ash or other material that collect around them. Volcanoes can be active, dormant, or extinct. Active volcanoes are volcanoes that have had recent eruptions or are expected to have eruptions in the near future. Dormant volcanoes no longer produce eruptions, but might again sometime in the future. Extinct volcanoes will likely never erupt again.

Read the full article…

What’s It Like Inside Jupiter?

It’s really hot inside Jupiter! No one knows exactly how hot, but scientists think it could be about 43,000°F (24,000°C) near Jupiter’s center, or core.
So, astronomers use other ways to detect and study these distant planets. They search for exoplanets by looking at the effects these planets have on the stars they orbit.

The reddish brown and white stripes of Jupiter are made up of swirling clouds. The well-known Red Spot is a huge, long-lasting storm. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Jupiter is made up almost entirely of hydrogen and helium. On the surface of Jupiter–and on Earth–those elements are gases. However inside Jupiter, hydrogen can be a liquid, or even a kind of metal.

These changes happen because of the tremendous temperatures and pressures found at the core.
Read the full article…

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!