Label: Space

September 20, 2011

Today’s Cool Photo of the Week is a detailed image of Saturn’s rings, captured by the Hubble Telescope, using ultraviolet light. The rings are made up of many small particles of ice, with some dust and small bits of rock, that have formed into clumps and orbit around Saturn. Some of the particles are as small as your fingernail; others are bigger than a car! Seen from afar, they blend together and appear to be rings around the giant planet. 

Saturn is the second biggest planet in our solar system, after Jupiter. How big is Saturn? About 75 Earths could fit inside of Saturn. Although it is not the only planet with rings (Uranus and Neptune have rings, too), Saturn’s rings are the largest and most visible.  

This image of Saturn was taken when the planet’s rings were at their maximum tilt of 27 degrees toward us. Saturn experiences seasonal tilts away from and toward the sun, much the same way Earth does, over the course of its 29.5-year orbit. That means that every 30 years, we Earth observers can catch our best glimpse of Saturn’s south pole and the southern side of the planet’s rings. 

Isn’t this a magnificent image of Saturn?


Photo: NASA and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)

Look for a digital version of my book SATURN, coming out as a Read and Listen™ eBook later this year.




Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: space, Cool Photo, space books, planets   •  Permalink (link to this article)

September 13, 2011

Since soccer season is starting, we decided that today’s Cool Photo of the Week should be of a soccer ball in space! NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope captured this image of Kronberger 61, known as the "Soccer Ball" Nebula.

A nebula is a cloud of gas and dust in outer space. They occur when a star starts to die because it has run out of fuel. The outer layers of the star explode, giving off layers of gas that form a planetary nebula around the dying star. It gives off a fluorescent glow because of the intensity of the radiation from the star.

The Soccer Ball Nebula was discovered by an amateur astronomer over the summer, and scientists plan to watch it in hope of learning more about how planetary nebulas are formed.

Photo: Gemini Observatory / AURA

P.S. Do they call this the "Football Nebula" outside the United States? British, Canadian, Australian readers - someone comment and let me know! 


READERS: Are you wondering how to add your own "comment" to this blog? Click here for exact directions on how to add a comment so you can become one of our Seymour Science writers! We also want you to be safe and not share too much information when you write on this blog, so please take a minute to read about how to stay safe on the Internet. We love to hear from you, so give "comments" a try! 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(3) Comments  •   Labels: science news, space, Cool Photo   •  Permalink (link to this article)

September 12, 2011

Just after school started, I received a question from a fifth grade study group asking me: "Is the moon just a big rock?" Of course, that is exactly what the moon is, but being a former teacher, I never give a simple answer like that. Instead, I asked them if they would please do some research and write back to me with interesting information that they learned about the moon.

Well, they did a great job! I received this email from Angela, Diana, Martin and Andres, who are a science study group in Mrs. Williamson’s Fifth Grade class at Wolf Canyon Elementary School, in California.

Dear Seymour Simon:

Our science group found two great, interesting facts about the moon.

1)    The moon is the fifth largest satellite in the solar system.

2)     It is thought to be formed some 4.5 million years ago.

Thank you for your great science books!

Good work by Mrs. Williamson’s science group! They did their homework and found some very interesting facts about the moon.


Soon, we are going to learn all sorts of new information about the moon. On Saturday, NASA launched a new moon research mission called GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory). We are not sending human beings this time - there won’t be any new footprints on the moon - but we are using advanced photography techniques to learn much more about how the moon was formed. And in particular, we are going to get a much clearer look at the "dark side of the moon," which faces away from our planet Earth.


GRAIL consists of two satellites, which will separate from the rocket that is carrying them into space and become lunar orbiters (satellites that orbit around the moon). They will photograph the surface of the moon as they pass over it, and scientists will be able to accurately measure various formations and moonscapes based on how far apart the satellites are. The project will study how the moon was formed, what its interior consists of, and why the side seen from Earth looks so different from the lighter-colored "far side." We know that the far side is covered with hardened rock from lava flows, but there is much more we can learn.

Most exciting to me is that for the first time, NASA has put a camera onboard that is strictly for classroom use. Called the MoonKAM, teachers can register their classes and middle-school students can request photography of lunar targets for classroom study. Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, is heaing up the project. Imagine, allowing students to take their own pictures, so that they can study the surface of the moon. I wish that opportunity had happened when I was a middle school science teacher!

 Photos: NASA


Families & Educators: Please feel free to write to me any time if you have questions, concerns or suggestions about Safe Internet Practices for children or our Privacy Policy. Our goal at is to increase Internet fluency, build research skills, and empower students with knowledge of the world around them, as well as a love of science. Many children will need your help as they try these things for the first time, and we thank you for your support.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, space, Kids Write, space books, moon, Exploration   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 10, 2011

The best video of the week has to be the massive solar flare that erupted from the sun on Tuesday morning. Our friends at wrote that "this recording of the blast by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory ranks as one of its most beautiful and dramatic movies (ever)." Click here to see the video.

"It looks like someone kicked a clod of dirt in the air," said solar physicist C. Alex Young of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in a YouTube video interview. "I’ve never seen material released in this way before - an amazing, amazing event."

People who live in the northern latitudes may see particularly beautiful auroras (northern lights) this week, as the CME (coronal mass ejection - a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields released into space) makes its way toward Earth.

Video: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, space, Video   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 27, 2011

Did you ever get soap in your eye? It stings like crazy, and all you want to do is rub your eye and wash it out with clear water as quickly as you can.

So what happens if you are in the middle of a spacewalk, wearing a helmet that you cannot take off, and you get soap in your eye? Astronaut Andrew Feustel, a mission specialist on the Endeavour crew working at the International Space Station, ran into just that problem yesterday. "My right eye is stinging like crazy now," he radioed. "It’s watering a lot." It turned out that the soap-like anti-fogging solution that they spray onto inside of the astronauts’ helmets had gotten into his eye. Ouch. No way to reach up and rub your eye if you are floating in deep space!

For a few minutes, they thought that they would have to cut the spacewalk short and let him come back inside. Finally, he managed to rub his eye against a foam block in his helmet - normally used for clearing ears - and said that helped. He also noted that tears in space "don’t fall off of your eye ... they kind of stay there."

Kids (and adults) often wonder about how astronauts take care of simple things like having a drink when liquids float away. Same problem with brushing your teeth, or going to the bathroom. NASA had to figure out how astronauts would accomplish all of these things before we were ever able to send men and women into space. Yesterday’s incident was just one more example of things that we handle so easily here on Earth, but can become a real pain (in the eye) in space!

Photo: NASA 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, space, Space Travel   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 27, 2011

If you were in the Atlanta, Georgia area last Friday night around 10:45 pm, you might have seen an object brighter than a full moon streak across the sky. People watching reported seeing bright blue-green flashes, luminous sparkles, and distinct fireball-shadows. If you thought you saw a UFO (Unidentified Flying Object), you did…. but it’s not "unidentified" any more.


According to Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, it was a disintegrating piece of comet. "This icy, fragile object was about 6 feet (2 meters) wide, hit the atmosphere at a speed of 86,000 mph (38.5 kilometer per second), and completely disintegrated about 75 miles (60 km) above the ground." The comet was recorded by a NASA fireball camera at the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, GA, which is how he was able to tell us what it was. Bill Cooke says that "It was the brightest event we’ve seen in the three year history of our meteor network."

Here is the video. It is very short, but very bright, and comes to us courtesy of our Seymour Science favorite website.


Click here to see video from Seymour Science.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, space, Sky Watching   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 20, 2011

When the space shuttle Endeavour blasted off this week, it was carrying an unusual cargo: baby Bobtail Squid (Euprymna scolopes). Squid are cephalopods, a group of relatively intelligent animals that also includes octopuses. These baby squid are the first celaphods to travel into space. 

NASA hopes the squid will help us understand how "good" bacteria behave in the microgravity of space. As Jamie Foster of the University of Florida in Gainesville, who is running the experiment, puts it: "Do good bacteria go bad?"

We already know that disease microbes ("bad" bacteria) grow faster and become more dangerous if they are sent into space. Salmonella bacteria were sent up on a space shuttle in 2006, and when they returned to Earth they were almost three times as likely to kill mice as normal.

So far, we have only studied harmful bacteria in space. This time, the astronauts are going to run experiments that will enable us to look at good bacteria.

The reason Foster chose these animals for his experiment is pretty interesting. Bobtail shrimp carry a whole colony of bacteria, called Vibrio fischeri in their bodies, stored in their "light organs." The squid use the bacteria to create light, which they shine out of their bodies and onto the ocean floor below. That way, they don’t have a shadow, which makes it harder for predators to see them. Isn’t that an interesting camouflage tactic?

The experiment is simple. Newly hatched squid that don’t yet have the bacteria in their light organs were placed in test tubes filled with seawater and sent up on the shuttle. Yesterday, an astronaut added the bacteria to their seawater. When they come back to earth, Dr. Foster and his research partners will study the squid and see if the bacteria grew normally, if they grew faster in a good way, or if there were problems.

People often think that the space program is only about exploration. Of course, that is an important part of why we travel to space. But an equally important aspect of space travel is the opportunity to do experiments that we cannot do here on Earth. Science that we learn in space has many spin-offs back on our home planet. We have learned all kinds of new technologies. We have learned things that have helped us to learn about diseases, to better understand the functioning of the human body (including what causes "malfunctions"), and to develop new vaccines. These little squid will take us one step further in our understanding of the nature of life, and the interaction between different species. 


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, space, Oceans, Space Travel   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 3, 2011


Today’s Cool Photo of the Week, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is of two spiral galaxies bumping up against each other. The bigger galaxy (NGC 2207, on the left) has such a strong gravitational pull that it is pulling the smaller galaxy (IC 2163, on the right) in toward it.  Look at the long, white streak that looks like streamers, or a tail, on the right-hand side of the photograph. These are stars and gases, being pulled so strongly that they seem to stretch out across the light years.

NASA astronomers have calculated that the last time the two galaxies came this close was about 40 million years ago. However, IC 2163 does not have enough energy to escape the bigger galaxy’s gravitational pull, so they will continue to elbow each other as they travel through space, and billions of years from now they will probably merge into one big galaxy. It is believed that our own Milky Way galaxy was formed in just this way.

Don’t you love these Hubble photographs? The opportunity to see not only out into the universe but also back in time is still amazing to me. I never tire of looking at these magnificent images.


Photo: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI)

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: space, Cool Photo   •  Permalink (link to this article)

« First  <  2 3 4