NASA Space Place – Exploring the Water World

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 April, 2013.

By Diane K. Fisher

2013february2_spaceplaceIn some ways, we know more about Mars, Venus and the Moon than we know about Earth. That’s because 70% of our solar system’s watery blue planet is hidden under its ocean. The ocean contains about 98% of all the water on Earth. In total volume, it makes up more than 99% of the space inhabited by living creatures on the planet.

As dominant a feature as it is, the ocean—at least below a few tens of meters deep—is an alien world most of us seldom contemplate. But perhaps we should.

The ocean stores heat like a “fly wheel” for climate. Its huge capacity as a heat and water reservoir moderates the climate of Earth. Within this Earth system, both the physical and biological processes of the ocean play a key role in the water cycle, the carbon cycle, and climate variability.

This great reservoir continuously exchanges heat, moisture, and carbon with the atmosphere, driving our weather patterns and influencing the slow, subtle changes in our climate.

The study of Earth and its ocean is a big part of NASA’s mission. Before satellites, the information we had about the ocean was pretty much “hit or miss,” with the only data collectors being ships, buoys, and instruments set adrift on the waves.

Now ocean-observing satellites measure surface topography, currents, waves, and winds. They monitor the health of phytoplankton, which live in the surface layer of the ocean and supply half the oxygen in the atmosphere. Satellites monitor the extent of Arctic sea ice so we can compare this important parameter with that of past years. Satellites also measure rainfall, the amount of sunlight reaching the sea, the temperature of the ocean’s surface, and even its salinity!

Using remote sensing data and computer models, scientists can now investigate how the oceans affect the evolution of weather, hurricanes, and climate. In just a few months, one satellite can collect more information about the ocean than all the ships and buoys in the world have collected over the past 100 years!

NASA’s Earth Science Division has launched many missions to planet Earth. These satellites and other studies all help us understand how the atmosphere, the ocean, the land and life—including humans—all interact together.
Find out more about NASA’s ocean studies at Kids will have fun exploring our planet at The Space Place,

This article was written by Diane K. Fisher and provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


Caption: This image from September 2012, shows that the Arctic sea is the smallest recorded since record keeping began in 1979. This image is from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio at Goddard Space Flight Center.

About NASA Space Place

The goal of the NASA Space Place is “to inform, inspire, and involve children in the excitement of science, technology, and space exploration.” More information is available at their website:

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique: “Powering Our Future”

Saturday, April 20, 9:30-11:00am

Milton J Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology, Syracuse NY

We will look at the adoption of energy by the human race over time, the finite resources of non-renewable energy (i.e. oil, gas, coal and nuclear), the importance of energy conservation, and the promise of renewable energy resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat to help Central New York become a net-zero energy community.

People interested in learning more about sustainability are invited to attend the free Junior Cafe presentation on Saturday, April 20, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) in Syracuse’s Armory Square. Walk-ins are welcome, but we ask that people RSVP by emailing by April 18, 2013.

Presenter: Dr. Peter Plumley is the Exhibits Project Manager at the MOST, and a Research Associate Professor at Syracuse University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He is a geologist with an extensive background in computers and technology. Dr. Plumley’s principle focus area has been northwest North America, specifically, Alaska and northern Canada, where he researched plate tectonics and application of paleomagnetic techniques to regional tectonics. His most recent and active research is focused on educational issues of secondary students related to motivation and the Science of Learning. Dr. Plumley was responsible for development and implementation of K-12 outreach for the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse University. Students impacted by his outreach programs number approximately 2,000 students from middle schools per year, and 2,100 high school students per year. Dr. Plumley teaches introduction to engineering classes for environmental engineers, with a focus on energy, and is actively designing and building a new exhibit at the MOST dedicated to energy and sustainability. Dr. Plumley was honored as the TACNY 2003 College Educator of the Year and was a recipient of the 2011 Post-Standard Achievement Award. Dr. Peter W. Plumley currently manages a small farm called Plumley Farms in LaFayette, New York, where he raises honeybees and chickens, and produces honey, eggs, beeswax candles, and maple syrup.

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique, a program for middle-school students founded in 2005, features discussions about topics in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an informal atmosphere and seeks to encourage students to consider careers in these areas. Students must be accompanied by an adult and can explore the MOST at no cost after the event.

Technology Alliance of Central New York

Founded in 1903 as the Technology Club of Syracuse, the nonprofit Technology Alliance of Central New York’s mission is to facilitate community awareness, appreciation, and education of technology; and to collaborate with like-minded organizations across Central New York.

For more information about TACNY, visit

CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 5 April 2013


Bob Piekiel’s monthly session at Baltimore Woods featured crystal clear skies, increasingly cold conditions (a recurring theme this year for all of the previous sessions), and one large scope.

This Baltimore Woods session was the last scheduled event before our Winter constellations all-but disappear from our nighttime skies. To this pressing deadline was added the last reasonable observation of Comet panSTARRS (C/2011 L4) from the same location, as the return of the foliage through May will all-but obscure the parts of the North/NorthWest horizon that are not already obscured by naked branches. The event itself was scheduled from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., ending an hour before any first observation of Saturn for the evening. The ever-dropping temperature that evening found us ending the session promptly to the sound of running (with heat on full-blast) cars and depleted propane.


Bob Piekiel and the author post-assembly.

With a confirmed heavy lifter attending (me), Bob opted to bring out a 16” Meade SCT on a homemade tripod that is (minus the scope) transported in the open – the whole considerable contraption hitches to the back of the car. After a bit of heavy lifting and careful coordination to get the scope up to the mount, the completed assembly was ready for the first signs of bright stars (in this case, Sirius and Capella) to perform the alignment. The time waiting for bright star arrivals was passed with the help of a pair of Zhumell 25×100’s that saw (1) clear views of Jupiter and all four of its largest moons and (2) Sirius in Canis Major to the West.


Bob Piekiel putting the finishing touches on a 16″ Meade SCT.

The height of the tripod combined with the extra 8” of wheels on the mount’s base meant that a step ladder was required for nearly all viewing throughout the night. With the 16” SCT aligned, the first official view (pre-dark sky) was of Jupiter, which was bright and clear in Bob’s 40 mm Meade eyepiece. The second object was Trapezium in the Orion Nebula (M42), which was also crisp and clear despite our observing it only minutes after sunset.

The third object observed combined low brightness with near-horizon position just past dusk. Bob managed to find Comet panSTARRS almost due North of the Andromeda Galaxy just as it was about to hit the bare tree line. The view was excellent for several minutes as everyone had a few looks at this increasingly difficult-to-observe object (comet’s center was reasonably well defined, but this was a 16” scope with a 40 mm eyepiece). And, it should be noted, the object database in Bob’s GOTO computer is not only older than the discovery of Comet pan-STARRS, but also quite a bit older (decade? maybe two?) than the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) that originally identified the comet. So, extra kudos to Bob for the timely find!

The cold set in quickly after these first three objects, meaning the last four objects for the evening were approached with haste. In a return to the objects of his last session, Bob treated attendees to excellent dark views of M65 and M66 in Leo, M108 (a faint edge-on galaxy near the Owl Nebula in Ursa Major that was as bright in the 16” as it was with Bob’s 11” scope + image enhancer), and the Owl Nebula (M97). Bob and I saw this final object as a confirmation that it hadn’t flown the coop during our last session, where the image enhancer failed to produce any particular view of this object (see the last session notes for details).


New supernova in M65. Photo by Felipe Pena.

NOTE: I wish I had known earlier that a new supernova was discovered in M65! As a general point of reference, those looking for the most complete and up-to-date information about supernovas are directed to David Bishop’s excellent Bright Supernova database and log at Details and many, many images of the new supernova in M65 can be found at:

The totality of views through the Zhumell 25×100’s were limited to Jupiter (as a sampling for the attendees before the 16″ was properly GOTO’ed), Sirius (just to the left of Orion and the brightest star in our Night Sky), the Double Cluster in Perseus (bright and densely packed), and the Pleiades (M45), the object for which I assume 25×100’s were originally designed to observe (near-perfect fit of the whole cluster in the field of view).

A few street lights and distant clouds to the East reflecting Syracuse back down provided all the illumination that the stars didn’t as we began to pack up the gear at 9:30 p.m.

And did the 3rd Quarter Moon affect the viewing? For those observing at “reasonable” hours, it is the case that the 3rd Quarter Moon doesn’t rise until midnight, meaning the week before a Full Moon, the week of a Full Moon, the few days before a 1st Quarter are excellent for getting outside to observe deep sky objects at “reasonable” hours (reasonable being relative, of course).


Not a lunar landing scene. Mid-way through the 9:30 pack-up.

Next session is scheduled for May 4 (Saturday) – 5 (Sunday), 8-10 p.m. and will feature Jupiter, Saturn, and hopefully a few shooting stars from the Eta Aquariids meteor shower. For details and registration, see the details on this CNYO page.