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

 


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Posted by: Seymour Simon

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