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Living and Working in Space: Energy

The Solar Cycle and Space Weather!
Participants compare sunspots on two images of the Sun taken at different wavelegths The first of two Web Seminars on the topic of Living and Working in Space: Energy was held on Thursday, December 14, 2006, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. The presenter was Dr. Terry Kucera, Solar Physicist, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The seminar focused on the solar cycle and space weather.

Thirty-three (33) participants were present in addition to the presenter and the NSTA staff. Participating educators represented the states of California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Some of the participants attended the symposium on the same topic at the Area Conference in Baltimore.

In this presentation educators had the opportunity to learn about the solar cycle and space weather. Dr. Kucera started the presentation sharing a few facts about the Sun. For example, the Sun is so big that you could fit 109 Earths across the disk. The solar cycle, she explained, is 11 years long. During this time, the Sun changes from solar maximum to solar minimum. The amount of solar activity increases during the solar maximum period. Solar scientists monitor the number of sunspots on the surface of the Sun to learn about solar activity and for forecasting purposes. Teachers stamp their choices for images of the Sun at solar maximum and solar minimum

Solar physicists use ground-based telescopes and instruments aboard spacecraft pointed at the Sun to learn about space weather. Coronal mass ejections, solar flares, and the solar wind can affect life on Earth and those living and working in space. Solar activity can affect life on Earth by disrupting the operation of Earth satellites and power systems on the ground. In space, astronauts living on the Space Station watch closely the space weather forecasts and avoid EVAs during solar storms. Another effect of solar activity on Earth is the aurorae. During past solar maximum periods, aurorae have been seen as far south as Arizona. At the end of the seminar all participants received a copy of NSTA's SciGuide about the Solar System, grades 5-8.

Here are some comments provided by the participants at the end of the Web Seminar:
  • "I'll be teaching about this in the spring and this information was
    beyond what the students will get from the book."
  • "I teach astronomy as part of my 8th grade Earth Science. The topic was
    very relevant to what I do for part of the school year."
  • "I do outreach programs on astronomy for a science center. Children are
    always asking questions about the sun. Lots of good material in this
  • "I am in the process of writing a NASA Grant to become a NASA [Explorer}
    school. The topic we are pursuing is energy. I wanted to see how a NASA
    web seminar would relate to what is being taught in the classroom. I am
    very impressed."

Thanks to the participants and the presenter for the learning opportunity, the interactions, and a job well done!


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