Leap day, Feb. 29, happens every four years because of a mismatch between the calendar year and Earth's orbit. Learn how it works, and get students engaged in leap day STEM.

You may have noticed that there's an extra day on your calendar this year. That's not a typo – it's leap day! Leap day is another name for Feb. 29, a date that typically comes around every four years, during a leap year.

Why doesn't Feb. 29 appear on the calendar every year?

The length of a year is based on how long it takes a planet to revolve around the Sun. Earth takes about 365.2422 days to make one revolution around the Sun. That's about six hours longer than the 365 days that we typically include in a calendar year. As a result, every four years, we have about 24 extra hours that we add to the calendar at the end of February in the form of leap day.

Without leap day, the dates of annual events, such as equinoxes and solstices, would slowly shift to later in the year, changing the dates of each season. After only a century without leap day, summer wouldn’t start until mid-July!

But the peculiar adjustments don't end there. If Earth revolved around the Sun in exactly 365 days and six hours, this system of adding a leap day every four years would need no exceptions. However, Earth takes a little less time than that to orbit the Sun. Rounding up and inserting a 24-hour leap day every four years adds about 45 extra minutes to every four-year leap cycle. That adds up to about three days every 400 years. To correct for that, years that are divisible by 100 don't have leap days unless they’re also divisible by 400.

If you do the math, you'll see that the year 2000 was a leap year, but 2100, 2200 and 2300 will not be.

Have students learn more about leap years with this article from NASA's Space Place, then have them do the math for themselves with this leap day problem set. You can also have students write a letter or poem to be opened on the next leap day or get them learning about orbits across the solar system.

And since we've got an extra 24 hours this year, don't forget to take a little time to relax!

#### Student Resources

TAGS: K-12 Education, Math, Leap Day, Leap Year, Events, Space, Educators, Teachers, Parents, Students, STEM, Lessons, Earth Science, Earth

Make educational connections to NASA and JPL happenings all year long with this calendar of upcoming events and links to educational resources you can use to explore STEM with us throughout the 2023-2024 school year.

### August

#### All Month – Go Back to School With Us

The start of the school year is a great time to explore all of the resources we have on offer for educators, parents, and K-12 students. These include everything from classroom activities to DIY student projects to video tutorials to expert talks to our Teachable Moments series, which offers education-focused explainers of the latest NASA news.

There's something for every day of the school year, and you can find it all in one place on our Back to School event page. You can also sign up to receive monthly updates about new and featured content as well as upcoming events in your inbox with the JPL Education newsletter.

Learning Resources

#### August 30 – See Supermoons on Parade

Skygazers will have plenty to moon over in August as the second of two supermoons this month graces the sky on August 30.

Make the event a Teachable Moment by dispelling common misconceptions about supermoons and digging into the real science behind the phenomena. Get students acting out moon phases, then have them apply what they've learned to make a Moon phases calendar and calculator. Plus, explore even more classroom activities and DIY projects all about our Moon.

Learning Resources

### September

#### September 24 – Follow Along as Asteroid Samples Arrive on Earth

Samples collected from the surface of an asteroid parachuted down to Earth on September 24, landing about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City. The samples were collected by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which gathered the material during a daring descent on asteroid Bennu in 2018. The mission, which marks the first time the U.S. has collected samples from an asteroid, will give scientists an unparalleled, up-close look at remnants from our early solar system.

Follow along with the mission by having students do some of the same math as OSIRIS-REx mission planners. Or, have them do their own asteroid-related experiments. It's also a great opportunity to make connections to another NASA sample-return mission.

Learning Resources

### October

#### October 12 – Join NASA for the Psyche Launch

Did you know we can explore asteroids and other far away objects in the solar system to learn more about the interior of our own planet? That's one of the goals of NASA's Psyche mission, which is slated to launch on October 12 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission is designed to explore an asteroid – also named Psyche – that may be the remnant of a planet's core.

The Psyche spacecraft is one of just a handful of NASA missions throughout history that have used electric propulsion rather than a chemical engine, which means it's also a great opportunity to make connections to real-world examples of motion and forces. Get a primer on all the engineering and science behind the mission from our Teachable Moments series, then explore related lessons and projects.

Learning Resources

#### October 14 – Catch the Annular Solar Eclipse

October 14 marks the start of another exciting double-feature for skygazers: an annular solar eclipse followed by a total solar eclipse just six months later. In both events, the Sun, Moon, and Earth will align, creating a spectacular sight in the sky. But during the annular solar eclipse on October 14, a ring of sunlight will remain visible around the Moon. This is due to differences in the relative distances between the Sun, Moon, and Earth during the eclipse. In any case, remember to never look directly at the Sun without proper protection, such as certified solar eclipse glasses.

Another fun way to view a solar eclipse is by making a pinhole camera. Students can even use their pinhole cameras to make solar art. Check out our Teachable Moments article for more info on where and when to watch the eclipse, plus a primer on the science of solar eclipses. And explore even more eclipse lessons and activities – including a math puzzler from our NASA Pi Day Challenge.

Learning Resources

#### Oct. 31 – Dare Mighty Pumpkins

Every Halloween, during an annual contest held at JPL, our engineers join kids and families across the country in the hallowed tradition of pumpkin carving. But these aren't your average jack-o'-lanterns. JPL pumpkins from years past have included a simulated Moon landing, Mars-themed whack-a-mole, and an exploding pumpkin supernova. The event, which takes place during employees' lunch break, gives all-new credence to the Lab's unofficial motto, "Dare Mighty Things." And it's good timing because this Halloween is also JPL's 87th birthday.

Whether history or Halloween are your thing, we've got ways to make educational connections – including a DIY project that gets students daring mighty pumpkins, themselves.

Learning Resources

### November

#### All Month – Explore STEM Careers

Take part in National Career Development Month in November by exploring STEM opportunities at NASA and JPL. Students can learn more about careers in STEM and hear directly from scientists and engineers working on NASA missions in our Teaching Space video series. Meanwhile, our news page has more about what it takes to be a NASA astronaut and what it's like to be a JPL intern. You can also explore a collection of stories about NASA people, Women at NASA, and Women at JPL to learn more about the work they do.

For students already in college and pursuing STEM degrees, it's never too soon to start exploring internship opportunities for the summer. The deadline for JPL summer internships is March 29, so refresh your resume and get your application started now. Learn how to stand out with this article on how to get an internship at JPL – which also includes advice for pre-college students.

Learning Resources

### December

#### All Month – Send Your Name to Jupiter

Here's a gift idea that doesn't cost a thing: Send a loved one's name to Jupiter with NASA's Europa Clipper mission. December is the last month to add your name to a microchip that will be flown on the spacecraft along with a poem written by the U.S. Poet Laureate, Ada Limón. The Europa Clipper mission, which is scheduled to launch in October 2024, is designed to explore Jupiter's ice-covered ocean moon Europa – the newest frontier in our search for life beyond Earth. So don't miss the boat – or, in this case, spacecraft – on this exciting opportunity.

Explore activities students can do in class or over winter break to write their own space poetry and engage in hands-on activities and experiments related to the Europa Clipper mission.

Learning Resources

#### All Month – Prepare for the Science Fair

Before you know it, it'll be science fair time. Avoid the stress of science fair prep by getting students organized and thinking about their projects before the winter recess. Start by watching our video series How to Do a Science Fair Project. A scientist and an engineer from JPL walk your students through all the steps they will need to create an original science fair project by observing the world around them and asking questions.

You can also explore our science fair starter pack of lessons and projects to get students generating ideas and thinking like scientists and engineers.

Learning Resources

### January

#### January 4 - Take a Closer Look at Jupiter's 'Pizza Moon'

Everyone's favorite pizza moon is getting another series of close-ups from NASA's Juno mission. Now that Juno has completed its primary science goals, mission planners are tweaking the spacecraft's orbit to send it past some of Jupiter's most fascinating moons. Io – notable for the more than 150 active volcanoes that splotch its surface like a bubbling cheese pizza – is next on the docket with two planned flybys this school year. Keep an eye on the mission website for updates and images from the first flyby on Dec. 30, 2023 that you can use to engage students before the second flyby on Feb. 3, 2024.

While on the topic of Juno, which holds the title of the most distant solar-powered spacecraft, it's a great opportunity to segue into math lessons involving pi, exponents, and the inverse square law. Or, highlight another record-holder: Rosaly Lopes, the JPL scientist who discovered 71 active volcanoes on Io, for which she was given the 2006 Guiness World Record for her discovery of the most active volcanoes anywhere.

Learning Resources

### February

#### February 18 – Learn What's Next for Mars Exploration

February 18 marks three years since NASA's Perseverance rover touched down on Mars, sticking the landing on one of the riskiest Red Planet descents to date. While the rover is coring away on Mars, collecting a diverse array of scientifically intriguing samples, mission teams here are busy designing, developing, and testing various devices to bring those samples to Earth. While we've collected samples from other objects in the solar system before (see October's asteroid sample return), this would be the first time we've retrieved samples from another planet. It requires an ambitious plan executed by multiple teams that need to achieve a number of other firsts – including the first launch from another planet.

Get students following along with classroom activities, projects, and challenges that have them apply their coding and collaboration skills to designing their own Mars sample return missions.

Learning Resources

### March

#### March 7-15 – Take the NASA Pi Day Challenge

There's more than pie to look forward to on March 14 as we'll be releasing an all-new set of Pi Day Challenge math problems involving NASA missions and science. Look for the latest problem set along with links to more resources and ways to celebrate Pi Day with us starting on March 7. You can get a sneak peek with the resources below, which work all year long, even without the slice of pie – although, we wouldn't blame you if you had one anyway.

Learning Resources

### April

#### April 8 – Watch the Total Solar Eclipse

Time to get some solar eclipse glasses and dig out your pinhole cameras once again – this time for the headliner, a total solar eclipse on April 8. The eclipse will start in the South Pacific Ocean before passing over Mexico and following a diagonal path northeast over the U.S. and Canada. NASA is holding community events across the country where you can hear from speakers and participate in activities. Learn more on the agency's web page for all things solar eclipse.

Whether you're covering eclipse topics for the first time this school year or expanding on learning from October, this solar eclipse is a good time to get students exploring more about the science of eclipses. Start by looking at the five science experiments NASA has funded for the 2024 solar eclipse, then have students investigate solar eclipse science for themselves.

Learning Resources

#### April 22 - Celebrate Earth Day With NASA

You may not immediately think of Earth science when you think of NASA, but it's a big part of what we do. Earth Day on April 22 is a great time to learn more about our Earth and climate science projects and missions, especially with the much anticipated NISAR mission taking to the skies in 2024 to track minute changes in the planet's surface, including those from natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides.

Whether you want to focus on Earth’s surface and geology, climate change, extreme weather, or the water budget, we have an abundance of lessons, student projects and Teachable Moments to guide your way.

Learning Resources

### May

#### May 6-10 – Give Thanks to Teachers and Black Holes

It may not seem like there's much to be gained from the dual programming of Black Hole Week and Teacher Appreciation Week on May 6-10, but sending students off to learn more about everyone's favorite spacely phenomenon might just give teachers the breather they deserve after a busy school year.

Have students dig into the science of black holes or even try out an experiment to learn how a black hole collision helped prove the existence of gravitational waves. Meanwhile, teachers can learn about all the ways their work has inspired us.

Learning Resources

#### All Month – Launch Into Summer

Speaking of black holes, don't let students' learning fall into one as the summer gets into full swing. Send them off with links to these DIY summer projects. There's even more for parents and families on our Learning Space With NASA at Home page, which also has information to help direct students' learning during out-of-school time.

Learning Resources

TAGS: Teachers, Classroom, Lessons, Educators, K-12, Parents, Students, Resources

Explore how NASA's Psyche mission aims to help scientists answer questions about Earth and the formation of our solar system. Then, make connections to STEM learning in the classroom.

NASA is launching a spacecraft in October 2023 to visit the asteroid Psyche, a metal-rich asteroid. The mission with the same name, Psyche, will study the asteroid, which is located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, to learn more about our solar system, including the core of our own planet.

Read more to find out what we will learn from the Psyche mission. Get to know the science behind the mission and follow along in the classroom using STEM teaching and learning resources from NASA.

### Why It's Important

This illustration depicts the 140-mile-wide (226-kilometer-wide) asteroid Psyche, which lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU | + Expand image

Asteroids are thought to be rocky remnants that were left over from the early formation of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. Of the more than 1.3 million known asteroids in our solar system, Psyche’s metallic composition makes it unique to study. Ground-based observations indicate that Psyche is a giant metal-rich asteroid about one-sixteenth the diameter of Earth’s Moon and shaped like a potato. Scientists believe it might be the partial nickel-iron core of a shattered planetesimal – a small world the size of a city that is the first building block of a planet. Asteroid Psyche could offer scientists a close look at the deep interiors of planets like Earth, Mercury, Venus, and Mars, which are hidden beneath layers of mantle and crust.

We can’t see or measure Earth’s core directly – it is more than 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers) below the surface and we have only been able to drill about 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) deep with current technology. The pressure at Earth’s core measures about three million times the pressure of the atmosphere at the surface, and the temperature of Earth’s core is about 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,000 degrees Celsius), so even if we could get science instruments there, the hostile conditions would make operations practically impossible. The Psyche asteroid may provide information that will allow us to better understand Earth’s core, including its composition and how it was created. The asteroid is the only known place in our solar system where scientists might be able to examine the metal from the core of a planetesimal.

The Psyche mission's science goals are to understand a previously unexplored building block of planet formation (iron cores); to explore a new type of world; and to look inside terrestrial planets, including Earth, by directly examining the interior of one of these planetary building blocks, which otherwise could not be seen. The science objectives that will help scientists meet these goals include determining if asteroid Psyche is actually leftover core material, measuring its composition, and understanding the relative age of Psyche's surface regions. The mission will also study whether small metal-rich bodies include the same light elements that are hypothesized to exist in Earth's core, determine if Psyche was formed under similar or different conditions than Earth's core, and characterize Psyche's surface features.

### How It Will Work

The Psyche mission will launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Psyche’s solar arrays are designed to work in low-light conditions because the spacecraft will be operating hundreds of millions of miles from the Sun. The twin plus-sign shaped arrays will deploy and latch into place about an hour after launch from Earth in a process that will take seven minutes for each wing. With the arrays fully deployed, the spacecraft will be about the size of a singles tennis court. The spacecraft’s distance from the Sun will determine the amount of power it can generate. At Earth, the arrays will be able to generate 21 kilowatts, which is enough electricity to power three average U.S. homes. While at asteroid Psyche, the arrays will produce about two kilowatts, which is a little more than what is needed to power a hair dryer.

An illustration of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft and its vast solar arrays. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU | + Expand image

At left, xenon plasma emits a blue glow from an electric Hall thruster identical to those that will propel NASA's Psyche spacecraft to the main asteroid belt. On the right is a similar non-operating thruster. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + View image and details

The spacecraft will rely on the launch vehicle’s large chemical rocket engines to blast off the launchpad and escape Earth’s gravity, but once in space, the Psyche spacecraft will travel using solar-electric propulsion. Solar-electric propulsion uses electricity from the solar arrays to power the spacecraft’s journey to asteroid Psyche. For fuel, Psyche will carry tanks full of xenon, the same neutral gas used in car headlights and plasma TVs. The spacecraft’s four thrusters – only one of which will be on at any time – will use electromagnetic fields to accelerate and expel charged atoms, or ions, of that xenon. As those ions are expelled, they will create thrust that gently propels Psyche through space, emitting blue beams of ionized xenon. The thrust will be so gentle that it will exert about the same amount of pressure you’d feel holding three quarters in your hand, but it’s enough to accelerate Psyche through deep space. You can read more about ion propulsion in this Teachable Moment.

The spacecraft, which will travel 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers) over nearly 6 years to reach its destination, will also use the gravity of Mars to increase its speed and to set its trajectory, or path, to intersect with asteroid Psyche’s orbit around the Sun. It will do this by entering and leaving the gravitational field of Mars, stealing just a little bit of kinetic energy from Mars’ orbital motion and adding it to its own. This slingshot move will save propellant, time, and expense by providing a trajectory change and speed boost without using any of the spacecraft’s onboard fuel.

Upon arrival at Psyche, the spacecraft will spend 26 months making observations and collecting data as it orbits the asteroid at different altitudes. Unlike many objects in the solar system that rotate like a spinning top, the asteroid Psyche rotates on its side, like a wheel. Mission planning teams had to take this unique characteristic into account in planning the spacecraft's orbits. The different orbits will provide scientists with ideal lighting for the spacecraft's cameras and they will enable the mission to observe the asteroid using different scientific instruments onboard.

The spacecraft will map and study Psyche using a multispectral imager, a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, a magnetometer, and a radio instrument (for gravity measurement). During its cruise to the asteroid, the spacecraft will also test a new laser communication technology called Deep Space Optical Communication, which encodes data in photons at near-infrared wavelengths instead of radio waves. Using light instead of radio allows the spacecraft to send more data back and forth at a faster rate.

Psyche is scheduled to launch no sooner than October 5, 2023 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Tune in to watch the launch on NASA TV.

### Teach It

The Psyche mission is a great opportunity to engage students with hands-on learning opportunities. Explore these lessons and resources to get students excited about the STEM involved in the mission

### Explore More

#### Resources for Kids

Check out these related resources for kids from NASA Space Place:

#### Printouts

TAGS: Teachers, Classroom, Lessons, Educators, K-12, Parents, Students, Resources, Asteroid TM, Psyche

Learn about a new mission seeking to understand some of the greatest mysteries of our universe, and explore hands-on teaching resources that bring it all down to Earth.

Scientists may soon uncover new insights about some of the most mysterious phenomena in our universe with the help of the newly launched Euclid mission. Built and managed by the European Space Agency, Euclid will use a suite of instruments developed, in part, by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to explore the curious nature of dark energy and dark matter along with their role in the expansion and acceleration of our universe.

Read on to learn how the Euclid mission will probe these cosmological mysteries. Then, find out how to use demonstrations and models to help learners grasp these big ideas.

### Why It’s Important

No greater question in our universe promotes wonder in scientists and non-scientists alike than that of the origin of our universe. The Euclid mission will allow scientists to study the nearly imperceptible cosmic components that may hold exciting answers to this question.

Edwin Hubble's observations of the expanding universe in the 1920s marked the beginnings of what's now known as the big-bang theory. We've since made monumental strides in determining when and how the big bang would have taken place by looking at what's known as cosmic background radiation using instruments such as COBE and WMAP in 1989 and 2001, respectively. However, there's one piece of Hubble's discovery that still has scientists stumped: our universe is not only expanding, but as scientists discovered in 1998, that expansion is also accelerating.

This side by side comparison shows a constant rate of expansion of the universe, represented by the expanding sphere on the left, and an accelerating rate of expansion of the universe, represented by the expanding sphere on the right. Each dot on the spheres represents a galaxy and shows how galaxies move apart from each other faster in the universe that has an accelerating rate of expansion. | Watch on YouTube

How can this be? It makes intuitive sense that, regardless of the immense force of the big bang that launched all matter across the known universe 13.8 billion years ago, that matter would eventually come to a rest and possibly even start to collapse. Instead, it's as if we've dropped a glass onto the ground and discovered that the shards are flying away from us faster and faster into perpetuity.

An illustrated timeline of the universe. Credit: WMAP | + Expand image

Scientists believe that answers may lie in two yet-to-be-understood factors of our universe: dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter is unlike the known matter we experience here on Earth, such as what's found on the periodic table. We can't actually see dark matter; we can only infer its presence. It has mass and therefore gravity, making it an attractive force capable of pulling things together. Amazingly, dark matter makes up roughly 27% of the known universe compared with the much more modest 5% of "normal matter" that we experience day to day. However, dark matter is extremely dilute throughout the universe with concentrations of 105 particles per cubic meter.

This animated pie chart shows rounded values for the three known components of the universe: visible matter (5%), dark matter (27%), and dark energy (68%). Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | › Full video and caption

In opposition to the attractive force of dark matter, we have dark energy. Dark energy is a repulsive force and makes up roughly 68% of energy in the known universe. Scientists believe that the existence of dark energy and the amount of repulsion it displays compared with dark matter is what's causing our universe to not only expand, but also to expand faster and faster.

Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, a senior project scientist with the Hubble Space Telescope mission, explains how the mission has been helping scientists learn more about dark energy. Credit: NASA Goddard | Watch on YouTube

But to truly understand this mysterious force and how it interacts with both dark matter and normal matter, scientists will have to map barely detectable distortions of light traversing the universe, carefully measuring how that light changes over time and distance in every direction. As JPL Astrophysicist Jason Rhodes explains, “Dark energy has such a subtle effect that we need to survey billions of galaxies to adequately map it.”

And that's where Euclid comes in.

### How It Works

The European Space Agency and NASA each contributed to the development of the Euclid mission, which launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 1. The spacecraft consists of a 1.2-meter (48-inch) space telescope and two science instruments: an optical camera and a near-infrared camera that also serves as a spectrometer. These instruments will provide a treasure trove of data for scientists of numerous disciplines, ranging from exoplanet hunters to cosmologists.

Light waves get stretched as the universe expands similar to how this ink mark stretches out as the elastic is pulled. Get students modeling and exploring this effect with this standards-aligned math lesson. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

This graphic illustrates how cosmological redshift works and how it offers information about the universe’s evolution. Credit: NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak (STScI) | › Full image and caption

As Gisella de Rosa at the Space Telescope Science Institute explains, “The ancillary science topics we will be able to study with Euclid range from the evolution of the objects we see in the sky today to detecting populations of galaxies and creating catalogs for astronomers. The data will serve the entire space community.”

The cameras aboard Euclid will operate at 530-920 nanometers (optical light) and at 920-2020 nanometers (near infrared) with each boasting more than 576 million and 65 million pixels, respectively. These cameras are capable of measuring the subtle changes to the light collected from celestial objects and can determine the distances to billions of galaxies across a survey of 15,000 square degrees – one-third of the entire sky.

Meanwhile, Euclid's spectrometer will collect even more detailed measurements of the distance to tens of millions of galaxies by looking at redshift. Redshift describes how wavelengths of light change ever so slightly as objects move away from us. It is a critical phenomenon for measuring the speed at which our universe is expanding. Similar to the way sound waves change as a result of the Doppler effect, wavelengths of light are compressed to shorter wavelengths (bluer) as something approaches you and extended to longer wavelengths (redder) as it moves away from you. As determined by a Nobel Prize winning team of astronomers, our universe isn’t just red-shifting over time, distant objects are becoming redder faster.

Euclid will measure these incredibly minuscule changes in wavelength for objects near and far, providing an accurate measurement of how the light has changed as a factor of time and distance and giving us a rate of acceleration of the universe. Furthermore, Euclid will be able to map the relative densities of dark matter and normal matter as they interact with dark energy, creating unevenly distributed pockets of more attractive forces. This will allow scientists to identify minute differences in where the universe is expanding by looking at the way that light is altered or "lensed."

The multi-dimensional maps created by Euclid – which will include depth and time in addition to the height and width of the sky – will inform a complementary mission already in development by NASA, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. Launching in 2026, this space telescope will look back in time with even greater detail, targeting areas of interest provided by Euclid. The telescope will use instruments with higher sensitivity and spatial resolution to peer deeper into redshifted and faint galaxies, building on the work of Euclid to look farther into the accelerating universe. As Caltech’s Gordon Squires describes it: “We’re trying to understand 90% of our entire universe. Both of these telescopes will provide essential data that will help us start to uncover these colossal mysteries.”

### Teach It

The abstract concepts of the scope and origin of our universe and the unimaginable scale of cosmology can be difficult to communicate to learners. However, simple models and simulations can help make these topics more tangible. See below to find out how, plus explore more resources about our expanding universe.

### Explore More

NASA's Universe of Learning materials are based upon work supported by NASA under award number NNX16AC65A to the Space Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

TAGS: K-12 Education, Teaching, Teachers, Educators, Resources, Universe, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Euclid, Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, Universe of Learning

Four pre-service teachers at Cal Poly Pomona are developing their skills in lesson design and delivery as they study Earth science concepts and prepare for graduation.

Clockwise from upper left: Amie Gallardo, Sofia Vallejo, Afiya Kindle, Jacquelin Galvez-Coyt. Image courtesy: Brandon Rodriguez | + Expand image

During the fall semester of 2022, I had the privilege of working with the Education Department at California Polytechnic University in Pomona, specifically with pre-service teachers taking coursework in Earth science. During our collaboration, the curriculum had the students split time in class between learning about geology and Earth’s history and then designing and engaging in classroom activities related to the technical content that they could take to their own classes in the future. This combination had Cal Poly students learning science and education hand-in-hand each week and led to some amazing classroom lessons and lab activities.

One group of young women in the program stood out as exceptionally passionate about their future careers. This team consisted of four seniors: Jacquelin Galvez-Coyt, hoping to someday teach kindergarten; Amie Gallardo, who is planning to teach fourth grade; Afiya Kindle, who is interested in teaching elementary or middle school; and Sofia Vallejo, who is interested in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Despite their interest in working with young students and collaborating to design lessons for those students, each of these pre-service teachers allowed their individuality to shape how they navigated lesson design and implementation. I recently sat down with them to ask about their instructional style and aspirations for classrooms of their own.

Now that we’re back to in-person classes, how is the transition going?

Sofia: Returning from remote instruction felt eerie at first, but it’s so nice to return to communicate with people and build connections in a non-digital way. In-person classes prepare you to communicate with colleagues in real life, build social skills, and read body language. All of these skills are critical for a teacher in order to understand and better help students to succeed.

Amie: Returning from remote instruction has been amazing. While it had its perks, I believe, as students, we learn a lot more while working hands-on with our projects than is possible in distance learning. If we’re trying to develop and assess activities we can do with kids, that really requires being face-to-face.

Amie Gallardo provides an Earth science demonstration to a class of education students at Cal Poly Pomona. Image courtesy: Brandon Rodriguez | + Expand image

What are you most excited about when it comes to having your own classroom, and how will you get your kids excited about STEM?

Afiya: I am most confident about creating a genuine safe space for kids. I’ll be able to communicate how much I care about them and about our shared future, and I think there could never be enough genuinely kind and caring teachers in this world.

Jacquelin: I think my kids will be excited about STEM because of how easy it's become to incorporate activities. There are many resources out there for teachers to use for teaching math and science that don't rely solely on a textbook. Activities that use inexpensive materials or that require a little DIY skills go a long way for students.

Afiya: Exactly! I know I developed my love for science from being hands-on and actually somewhat “in charge” of an experiment on my own. Winning a science fair competition in seventh grade for a greenhouse I built really boosted my confidence and helped reassure me of my scholastic abilities as a kid.

You led a really cool lesson with your classmates where you had them use Oreos to model tectonic boundaries. How do you feel that lesson went?

Jacqueline: I was really proud of our group. After giving a lecture to the students about tectonic plate boundaries, we dispersed Oreos to everyone. We were set up around the classroom demonstrating the activity and giving verbal instructions for everyone to follow. My favorite part was when I saw two students by me go, “Oohhhh,” and smile once they got their Oreos to demonstrate the plate boundaries correctly.

Amie: I thought it went really well! All the students in our classroom enjoyed it. Although we, as adults, may know about plate tectonics, having our hands on the Oreos to understand it made it more enjoyable.

Afiya: Plus, who doesn’t love Oreos? They’re even vegan!

An Oreo cookie is used to demonstrate rock fault movement. Image courtesy: Brandon Rodriguez | + Expand image

Which of the NASA-JPL lessons that you’ve implemented did you enjoy, and why?

Jacqueline: My favorite JPL activity we did was the Moon Phases activity. Having one team member to the side to give the instructions allows another student to view the different Moon phases. Then you switch so both students get to see that perspective. My second favorite activity was creating layers with different colored Play-Doh and demonstrating them as different plate boundaries and folds.

Amie: The NASA lesson that I enjoyed the most was the one we did on lunar eclipses. Much like myself, many students often have an early fascination with the Moon. Learning more about the Moon and lunar eclipses made me excited about the semester.

Sofia Vallejo uses a foam ball and lamp to demonstrate how solar eclipses occur. Image courtesy: Brandon Rodriguez | + Expand image

What’s next for you after you finish at Cal Poly Pomona?

Jacqueline: After I graduate at Cal Poly, I plan to attend UC Riverside to complete my credential program. While I am there, I would love to get my student teaching experience. Once I complete my credential program, I plan to apply to work at schools in the Inland Empire [in Southern California]. I want to be able to give back to the communities that influenced who I am today.

Sofia: My plans after Cal Poly are to take some time off to gain experience in the field as a substitute teacher. I also am looking to gain more volunteer experience, skills, and exposure. In the future, I want to enroll in UC Riverside to earn my teaching credential and master's degree.

Looking for ways to bring NASA STEM into your classroom or already have a great idea? The Education Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory serves educators in the greater Los Angeles area. Contact us at education@jpl.nasa.gov.

### Explore More

TAGS: Teachers, School, Remote School, Classroom, Instruction, K-12, STEAM, Science, Math, resources, lessons

As NASA retires its InSight Mars lander, here's a look at some of the biggest discoveries from the first mission designed to study the Red Planet's interior – plus, how to make connections to what students are learning now.

After more than four years listening to the “heartbeat” of Mars, NASA is saying goodbye to the InSight lander as the mission on the Red Planet comes to an end. On Dec. 21, 2022 scientists wrapped up the first-of-its-kind mission to study the interior of Mars as dust in the Martian atmosphere and on the spacecraft’s solar panels prevented the lander from generating enough power to continue.

Read on to learn how the mission worked, what it discovered, and how to bring the science and engineering of the mission into the classroom.

### How It Worked

The locations of InSight's three main science tools, SEIS, HP3, and RISE are labeled in this illustration of the lander on Mars. | + Expand image | › Full image and caption

The InSight lander was designed to reveal the processes that led to the formation of Mars – as well as Earth, the Moon, and all rocky worlds. This meant meeting two main science goals.

First, scientists wanted to understand how Mars formed and evolved. To do that, they needed to investigate the size and make-up of Mars’ core, the thickness and structure of its crust, the structure of the mantle layer, the warmth of the planet's interior, and the amount of heat flowing through the planet.

Second, to study tectonic activity on Mars, scientists needed to determine the power, frequency, and location of “marsquakes” as well as measure how often meteoroids impacted the Red Planet, creating seismic waves.

Engineers equipped InSight with three main science tools that would allow researchers to answer these questions about Mars.

SEIS, a seismometer like the ones used on Earth to record earthquakes, measured the seismic waves on Mars. These waves, which travel through the Red Planet, can tell scientists a lot about the areas they pass through. They even carry clues about whether it was a marsquake or meteorite impact that created the waves.

InSight captured these images of clouds drifting in the distance, visible just beyond the dome-like top of the SEIS instrument. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image | › Full image and caption

InSight's Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, was an instrument designed to burrow 16 feet (five meters) into Mars to measure the temperature at different depths and monitor how heat flowed out toward the surface. However, the self-hammering probe, informally called the "mole," struggled to dig itself in due to the unexpected consistency of the top few inches of Mars regolith at the landing site. Using full-size models of the lander and probe, engineers recreated InSight’s environment here on Earth to see if they could find a solution to the issue. They tested solutions that would allow the probe to penetrate the surface, including pressing the scoop attached to InSight’s robotic arm against the probe. While the effort serves as a great real-world example of how engineers work through problems with distant spacecraft, ultimately, none of the solutions allowed the probe to dig past the surface when attempted on Mars.

In 2019, InSight mission scientist/engineer Troy Hudson shared the game plan for getting the mission's heat probe digging again on Mars. Ultimately, the team wasn't able to to get the "mole" working, but the effort is a great real-world example of how engineers work through problems with distant spacecraft. | Watch on YouTube

InSight’s third experiment, called RISE, used the spacecraft’s radio antennas to precisely measure the lander's position on the surface of Mars. The interior structure of Mars affects the planet’s motion, causing it to wobble. Measuring InSight’s position as the planet wobbled helped scientists gain a better understanding of the core and other layered structures that exist within the interior of Mars.

### What We Discovered

Using its seismometer, InSight gained a deeper understanding of the interior layers of Mars, as detailed in this graphic. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image | › Full image and caption

InSight’s instruments enabled the mission science team to gain an understanding of not only the depth of Mars’ crust, mantle, and core, but also the composition of those features. They also learned just how active Mars really is.

#### The Structure of Mars

Working our way from the surface to the center of the planet, scientists found Mars’ crust was thinner than expected. Seismic waves detected by SEIS indicate that the crust is made up of three sub-layers, similar to Earth’s crust. The top-most layer of the crust is about six miles (10 kilometers) deep, while the denser layers of the crust, which contain more felsic, or iron-rich, material extend downward to about 25 miles (40 kilometers) below the surface. As seismic waves from a marsquake or a meteorite impact spread across the surface and through the interior of the planet, they can reflect off of underground layers, giving scientists views into the unseen materials below. Measuring how the waves change as a result of these reflections is how scientists unveiled the underground structure of Mars.

Like Earth, Mars has a lithosphere, a rigid layer made up of the crust and upper mantle. The Martian lithosphere extends about 310 miles (500 kilometers) below the surface before it transitions into the remaining mantle layer, which is relatively cool compared with Earth’s mantle. Mars’ mantle extends to 969 miles (1,560 kilometers) below the surface where it meets the planet’s core.

In this lesson from the "Pi in the Sky" math challenge, students use measurements from InSight along with pi to calculate the density of Mars' core. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image | › Go to the lesson

Scientists measured the core of Mars and found it to be larger than expected, with a radius of 1,137 miles (1,830 kilometers). With this information, scientists were able to estimate the density of Mars' core, which turned out to be less dense than anticipated, meaning it contains lighter elements mixed in with iron. Scientists also confirmed that the planet contains a liquid core. While we know that Earth has a liquid outer core and solid inner core, scientists will need to further study the data returned from InSight to know if there is also a solid inner core on Mars.

As scientists continue to study the data returned from InSight, we could learn even more about how Mars formed, how its magnetic field developed, and what materials make up the core, which could ultimately help us better understand how Earth and other planets formed.

#### Marsquakes

InSight discovered that Mars is a very active planet. A total of 1,319 marsquakes were detected after the SEIS instrument was placed on the surface. The largest, which was estimated to be a magnitude 5, was detected in May of 2022.

Unlike Earth, where the crust is broken into large pieces called plates that continually shift around causing earthquakes, Mars’ crust is made up of one solid plate, somewhat like a shell. However, as the planet cools, the crust shrinks, creating breaks called faults. This breaking action is what causes marsquakes, and the seismic waves generated by the quakes are what help scientists figure out when and where the quakes occurred and how powerful they were.

In this math problem from the "Pi in the Sky" series, students use pi to identify the timing and location of a hypothetical marsquake recorded by InSight. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image | › Go to the lesson

Nearly all of the strongest marsquakes detected by InSight came from a region known as Cerberus Fossae, a volcanic region that may have had lava flows within the past few million years. Volcanic activity, even without lava flowing on the surface, can be another way marsquakes occur. Images from orbiting spacecraft show boulders that have fallen from cliffs in this region, perhaps shaken loose by large marsquakes.

This seismogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet. Estimated at magnitude 5, this quake was discovered by InSight on May 4, 2022. Listen to a sonification of this seismogram. | + Expand image | › Full image and caption

Conversely, InSight didn't detect any quakes in the volcanic region known as Tharsis, the home of three of Mars’ largest volcanos that sit approximately one-third of the way around the planet from InSight. This doesn’t necessarily mean the area is not seismically active. Scientists think there may be quakes occurring, but the size of Mars’ liquid core creates what’s known as a shadow zone – an area into which seismic waves don’t pass – at InSight's location.

#### Meteorite Impacts

On Sept. 5, 2021, InSight detected the impacts of a meteoroid that entered the Martian atmosphere. The meteoroid exploded into at least three pieces that reached the surface and left behind craters. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passed over the impact sites to capture images of the three new craters and confirm their locations.

This image, captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows the craters (in blue) formed by a meteroid impact on Mars on Sept. 5, 2021. The impact was the first to be detected by InSight. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona | + Expand image | › Full image and caption

“After three years of waiting for an impact, those craters looked beautiful,” said Ingrid Daubar of Brown University, a Mars impacts specialist.

Mars’ thin atmosphere, which is less than 1% as dense as Earth’s, means meteoroids have a better chance of not disintegrating in the heat and pressure that builds up as they pass through the atmosphere to the planet’s surface. Despite this fact and Mars' proximity to the asteroid belt, the planet proved to be a challenging location to detect meteorite impacts because of "noise" in the data created by winds blowing on SEIS and seasonal changes in the atmosphere.

With the confirmation of the September 2021 impacts, scientists were able to identify a telltale seismic signature to these meteorite impacts. With this information in hand, they looked back through InSight's data and found three more impacts – one in 2020 and two in 2021. Scientists anticipate finding even more impacts in the existing data that might have been hidden by the noise in the data.

This collage shows three other meteoroid impacts on Mars that were detected by the seismometer on InSight and captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona | + Expand image | › Full image and caption

Meteorite impacts are an invaluable piece of understanding the planet’s surface. On a planet like Earth, wind, rain, snow and ice wear down surface features in a process known as weathering. Plate tectonics and active volcanism refresh Earth’s surface regularly. Mars’ surface is older and doesn't go through those same processes, so a record of past geologic events like meteorite impacts is more apparent on the planet's surface. By counting impact craters visible on Mars today, scientists can update their models and better estimate the number of impacts that occurred in the early solar system. This gives them an improved approximation of the age of the planet’s surface.

Learn how InSight detected the first seismic waves from a meteoroid on Mars and how the lander captured the sound of the space rock striking the surface. | Watch on YouTube

### Why It's Important

Before InSight touched down, all Mars missions – landers, rovers, orbiters and flyby spacecraft – studied the surface and atmosphere of the planet. InSight was the first mission to study the deep interior of Mars.

Even with the InSight mission drawing to a close, the science and engineering of the mission will continue to inform our understanding of the Red Planet and our solar system for years as researchers further examine the data returned to Earth. Keep up to date with the latest findings from InSight scientists and engineers on the mission website.

### Teach It

Explore these lessons in geology, physics, math, coding and engineering to connect student learning to the InSight mission and the real-world STEM that happens at NASA.

### Explore More

TAGS: K-12 Education, Classrooms, Teaching, Teachers, Resources, Teachable Moments, Mars, InSight, Missions, Spacecraft, Marsquakes

Explore how and why the SWOT mission will take stock of Earth's water budget, what it could mean for assessing climate change, and how to bring it all to students.

Update: Dec. 15, 2022 – NASA, the French space agency, and SpaceX are now targeting 3:46 a.m. PST (6:46 a.m. EST) on Friday, Dec.16, for the launch of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite. Visit NASA's SWOT launch blog for the latest updates.

NASA is launching an Earth-orbiting mission that will map the planet’s surface water resources better than ever before. Scheduled to launch on Dec. 16 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, the Surface Water and Ocean Topography, or SWOT mission is the latest international collaboration designed to monitor and report on our home planet. By providing us with a highly detailed 3D view of rivers, lakes, and oceans, SWOT promises to improve our understanding of Earth’s water cycle and the role oceans play in climate change, as well as help us better respond to drought and flooding.

Read on to find out why we're hoping to learn more about Earth's surface water, get to know the science behind SWOT's unique design, and follow along with STEM teaching and learning resources.

### Why It's Important

Observing Earth from space provides scientists with a global view that is important for understanding the whole climate system. In the case of SWOT, we will be able to monitor Earth’s surface water with unprecedented detail and accuracy. SWOT will provide scientists with measurements of water volume change and movement that will inform our understanding of fresh water availability, flood hazards, and the mechanisms of climate change.

Scientists and engineers provide an overview of the SWOT mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | Watch on YouTube

#### Water Flow

Scientists use a variety of methods to track Earth’s water. These include stream and lake gauges and even measurements from space such as sea surface altimetry and gravitational measurements of aquifer volumes. Monitoring of river flow and lake volume is important because it can tell us how much freshwater is readily available and at what locations. River flow monitoring can also help us make inferences about the downstream environmental impact. But monitoring Earth’s surface water in great detail with enough frequency to track water movement has proven challenging. Until now, most monitoring of river flow and lake levels has relied on water-flow and water-level gauges placed across Earth, which requires that they be accessible and maintained. Not all streams and lakes have gauges and previous space-based altimetry and gravitational measurements, though useful for large bodies of water, have not been able to adequately track the constant movement of water through smaller rivers or lakes.

Here's why understanding Earth’s "water budget" is an important part of understanding our planet and planning for future water needs.

SWOT will be able to capture these measurements across the globe in 3D every 21 days. The mission will monitor how much water is flowing through hundreds of thousands of rivers wider than 330 feet (100 meters) and keep a close watch on the levels of more than a million lakes larger than 15 acres (6 hectares). Data from the mission will be used to create detailed maps of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs that will enable accurate monitoring to provide a view of freshwater resources that is not reliant on physical access. Meanwhile, SWOT’s volumetric measurements of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs will help hydrologists better track drought and flooding impacts in near-real-time.

#### Coastal Sea Level Rise

SWOT will measure our oceans with unprecedented accuracy, revealing details of ocean features as small as 9 miles (15 kilometers) across. SWOT will also monitor sea levels and tides. Though we have excellent global sea level data, we do not have detailed sea level measurements near coastlines. Coastal sea levels vary across the globe as a result of ocean currents, weather patterns, land changes, and other factors. Sea levels are rising faster than ever, and higher sea levels also mean that hurricane storm surges will reach farther inland than ever before, causing substantially more damage than the same category of hurricanes in the past. SWOT will be able to monitor coastal sea level variations and fill gaps in the observations we currently have from other sources.

What is sea level rise and what does it mean for our planet? | › View Transcript

#### Ocean Heat Sinks

Further contributing to our understanding of the role Earth’s oceans play in climate change, SWOT will explore how the ocean absorbs atmospheric heat and carbon, moderating global temperatures and climate change. Scientists understand ocean circulation on a large scale and know that ocean currents are driven by temperature and salinity differences. However, scientists do not currently have a good understanding of fine-scale ocean currents, where most of the ocean's motion-related energy is stored and lost. Circulation at these fine scales is thought to be responsible for transporting half of the heat and carbon from the upper ocean to deeper layers. Such downward ocean currents have helped to mitigate the decades-long rise in global air temperatures by absorbing and storing heat and carbon away from the atmosphere. Knowing more about this process is critical for understanding the mechanisms of global climate change.

JPL scientist Josh Willis uses a water balloon to show how Earth's oceans are absorbing most of the heat being trapped on our warming world. | › Related lesson

These fine-scale ocean currents also transport nutrients to marine life and circulate pollutants such as crude oil and debris. Understanding nutrient transport helps oceanographers assess ocean health and the productivity of fisheries. And tracking pollutants aids in natural hazard assessment, prediction, and response.

### How It Works

A joint effort between NASA and the French space agency – with contributions from the Canadian and UK space agencies – SWOT will continue NASA’s decades-long record of monitoring sea surface height across the globe. But this mission will add a level of detail never before achieved.

SWOT will measure more than 90% of Earth’s surface water, scanning the planet between 78°N latitude and 78°S latitude within 1 centimeter of accuracy and retracing the same path every 21 days. Achieving this level of accuracy from a spacecraft height of 554 miles (891 kilometers) requires that the boom using radar to measure water elevation remain stable within 2 microns – or about 3% of the thickness of a human hair.

This visualization shows ocean surface currents around the world during the period from June 2005 through December 2007. With its new, high resolution wide-swath measurements, SWOT will be able to observe eddies and current features at greater resolution than previously possible. Credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio | Watch on YouTube

Prior to SWOT, spacecraft have used conventional nadir, or straight-down, altimetry to measure sea surface height. Conventional nadir altimetry sends a series of radar or laser pulses down to the surface and measures the time it takes for each signal to return to the spacecraft, thus revealing distances to surface features. To acquire more detailed information on surface water, SWOT will use an innovative instrument called the Ka-band Radar Interferometer, or KaRIn, to measure water height with exceptional accuracy. Ka-band is a portion of the microwave part of the electromagnetic spectrum. SWOT uses microwaves because they can penetrate clouds to return data about water surfaces.

SWOT will track Earth's surface water in incredible detail using an innovative instrument called the Ka-band Radar Interferometer, or KaRIn. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

The KaRIn instrument uses the principles of synthetic aperture radar combined with interferometry to measure sea surface height. A radar signal is emitted from the end of the 10-meter-wide boom on the spacecraft. The reflected signal is then received by antennas on both ends of the boom, capturing data from two 30-mile (50-kilometer) wide swaths on either side of the spacecraft. The received signals will be slightly out of sync, or phase, from one another because they will travel different distances to return to the receivers on either end of the boom. Knowing the phase difference, the distance between the antennas, and the radar wavelength allows us to calculate the distance to the surface.

Radar signals bounced off the water’s surface will be received by antennas on both ends of SWOT's 10-meter-wide boom. The received signals will be slightly out of phase because they will travel different distances as they return to the receivers. Scientists use this phase difference and the radar wavelength to calculate the distance to the surface. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

The observations acquired by the two antennas can be combined into what is known as an interferogram. An interferogram is a pattern of wave interference that can reveal more detail beyond the 1-centimeter resolution captured by the radar. To explain how it works, we'll recall a couple of concepts from high school physics. When out-of-phase waves from the two antennas are combined, constructive and destructive interference patterns result in some wave crests being higher and some wave troughs being lower than those of the original waves. The patterns that result from the combination of the waves reveal more detail with resolution better than the 1-centimeter wavelength of the original Ka-band radar waves because the interference occurs over a portion of a wavelength. An interferogram can be coupled with elevation data to reveal a 3D representation of the water’s surface.

The KaRIn instrument illuminates two parallel tracks of approximately 50 kilometres on either side of a nadir track from a traditional altimeter. The signals are received by two antennas 10 metres apart and are then processed to yield interferometry measurements. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

This highly accurate 3D view of Earth’s surface water is what makes SWOT so unique and will enable scientists to more closely monitor the dynamics of the water cycle. In addition to observing ocean currents and eddies that will inform our understanding of the ocean’s role in climate change, SWOT's use of interferometry will allow scientists to track volumetric changes in lakes and quantify river flooding, tasks that cannot yet be done on a wide scale in any other way.

This interferogram was captured by the air-based UAVSAR instrument of the magnitude 7.2 Baja California earthquake of April 4, 2010. The interferogram is overlaid atop a Google Earth image of the region. Image credit: NASA/JPL/USGS/Google | › Learn more

SWOT is scheduled to launch no earlier than Dec. 16, 2022, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Tune in to watch the launch on NASA TV.

After launch, the spacecraft will spend 6-months in a calibration and validation phase, during which it will make a full orbit of Earth every day at an altitude of 553 miles (857 kilometers). Upon completion of this phase, SWOT will increase its altitude to 554 miles (891 kilometers) and assume a 21-day repeat orbit for the remainder of its mission.

Visit the mission website to follow along as data are returned and explore the latest news, images, and updates as SWOT provides a new view on one of our planet's most important resources.

### Teach It

The SWOT mission is the perfect opportunity to engage students in studying Earth’s water budget and water cycle. Explore these lessons and resources to get students excited about the STEM involved in studying Earth’s water and climate change from space.

### Explore More

#### Podcast

TAGS: K-12 Education, Teachers, Educators, Earth Science, Earth, Climate Change, Climate, Satellites, Teachable Moments, Climate TM

Find out more about the historic first test, which could be used to defend our planet if a hazardous asteroid were discovered. Plus, explore lessons to bring the science and engineering of the mission into the classroom.

Update: Oct. 20, 2022 – The DART spacecraft successfully impacted the asteroid Dimorphos on September 26, reducing the period of the asteroid's orbit by 32 minutes. Scientists considered a change of 73 seconds to be the minimum amount for success. This article has been updated to reflect the latest data and images from the impact.

In a successful attempt to alter the orbit of an asteroid for the first time in history, NASA crashed a spacecraft into the asteroid Dimorphos on Sept. 26, 2022. The mission, known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, took place at an asteroid that posed no threat to our planet. Rather, it was an ideal target for NASA to test an important element of its planetary defense plan.

Read further to learn about DART, how it worked, and how the science and engineering behind the mission can be used to teach a variety of STEM topics.

### Why It's Important

The vast majority of asteroids and comets are not dangerous, and never will be. Asteroids and comets are considered potentially hazardous objects, or PHOs, if they are 100-165 feet (30-50 meters) in diameter or larger and their orbit around the Sun comes within five million miles (eight million kilometers) of Earth’s orbit. NASA's planetary defense strategy involves detecting and tracking these objects using telescopes on the ground and in space. In fact, NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, or CNEOS, monitors all known near-Earth objects to assess any impact risk they may pose. Any relatively close approach is reported on the Asteroid Watch dashboard.

NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office runs a variety of programs and initiatives aimed at detecting and responding to threats from potentially hazardous objects, should one be discovered. The DART mission is one component and the first mission being flown by the team. Image credit: NASA | + Expand image

While there are no known objects currently posing a threat to Earth, scientists continue scanning the skies for unknown asteroids. NASA is actively researching and planning for ways to prevent or reduce the effects of a potential impact, should one be discovered. The DART mission was the first test of such a plan – in this case, whether it was possible to divert an asteroid from its predicted course by slamming into it with a spacecraft.

Eyes on Asteroids is a real-time visualization of every known asteroid or comet that is classified as a near-Earth object, or NEO. Asteroids are represented as blue dots and comets as shown as white dots. Use your mouse to explore the interactive further and learn more about the objects and how we track them. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | Explore the full interactive

With the knowledge gained from the demonstration, similar techniques could be used in the future to deflect an asteroid or comet away from Earth if it were deemed hazardous to the planet.

### How It Worked

With a diameter of about 525 feet (160 meters) – the length of 1.5 football fields – Dimorphos is the smaller of two asteroids in a double-asteroid system. Before DART's impact, Dimorphos orbited the larger asteroid called Didymos (Greek for "twin"), every 11 hours and 55 minutes.

The sizes of the two asteroids in the Didymos system relative to objects on Earth. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL | + Expand image

Neither asteroid poses a threat to our planet, which is one reason why this asteroid system was the ideal place to test asteroid redirection techniques. At the time of DART's impact, the asteroid pair was 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) away from Earth as they traveled on their orbit around the Sun.

The DART spacecraft was designed to collide head-on with Dimorphos to alter its orbit, shortening the time it takes the small asteroid to travel around Didymos. Compared with Dimorphos, which has a mass of about 11 billion pounds (five billion kilograms), the DART spacecraft was light. It weighed just 1,210 pounds (550 kilograms) at the time of impact. So how did such a light spacecraft affect the orbit of a relatively massive asteroid?

You can use your mouse to explore this interactive view of DART's impact with Dimorphos from NASA's Eyes on the Solar System. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | Explore the full interactive

DART was designed as a kinetic impactor, meaning it transferred its momentum and kinetic energy to Dimorphos upon impact, altering the asteroid's orbit in return. Scientists were able to make predictions about some of these effects thanks to principles described in Newton's laws of motion.

Newton’s first law told us that the asteroid’s orbit would remain unchanged until something acted upon it. Using the formula for linear momentum (p = m * v), we could calculate that the spacecraft, which at the time of impact would be traveling at 3.8 miles (6.1 kilometers) per second, would have about 0.5% of the asteroid’s momentum. The momentum of the spacecraft may seem small in comparison, but calculations suggested it would be enough to make a detectable change in the speed of Dimorphos' orbit. However, mission planners felt that changing Dimorphos’ orbit by at least 73 seconds would be enough to consider the test a success.

But there was more to consider in testing whether the technique could be used in the future for planetary defense. For example, the formula for kinetic energy (KE = 0.5 * m * v2) tells us that a fast moving spacecraft possesses a lot of energy.

When DART hit the surface of the asteroid, its kinetic energy was 10 billion joules! A crater was formed and material known as ejecta was blasted out as a result of the impact. Scientists are still studying the data returned from the mission to determine the amount of material ejected out of the crater, but estimates prior to impact put the number at 10-100 times the mass of the spacecraft itself. The force needed to push this material out was then matched by an equal reaction force pushing on the asteroid in the opposite direction, as described by Newton’s third law.

This animation shows conceptually how DART's impact is predicted to change Dimorphos' orbit from a larger orbit to a slightly smaller one that's several minutes shorter than the original. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Jon Emmerich | Watch on YouTube

How much material was ejected and its recoil momentum is still unknown. A lot depends on the surface composition of the asteroid, which scientists are still investigating. Laboratory tests on Earth suggested that if the surface material was poorly conglomerated, or loosely formed, more material would be blasted out. A surface that was well conglomerated, or densely compacted, would eject less material.

After the DART impact, scientists used a technique called the transit method to see how much the impact changed Dimorphos' orbit. As observed from Earth, the Didymos pair is what’s known as an eclipsing binary, meaning Dimorphos passes in front of and behind Didymos from our view, creating what appears from Earth to be a subtle dip in the combined brightness of the pair. Scientists used ground-based telescopes to measure this change in brightness and calculate how quickly Dimorphos orbits Didymos. By comparing measurements from before and after impact, scientists determined that the orbit of Dimorphos had slowed by 32 minutes to 11 hours and 23 minutes.

The green circle shows the location of the Dimorphos asteroid, which orbits the larger asteroid, Didymos, seen here as the bright line across the middle of the images. The blue circle shows where Dimorphos would have been had its orbit not changed due to NASA’s DART mission purposefully impacting the smaller asteroid on Sept. 26, 2022. The images were obtained from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Goldstone planetary radar in California and the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/JPL/NASA JPL Goldstone Planetary Radar/National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Observatory | + Expand image | › DART image gallery

One of the biggest challenges of the DART mission was navigating a small spacecraft to a head-on collision with a small asteroid millions of miles away. To solve that problem, the spacecraft was equipped with a single instrument, the DRACO camera, which worked together with an autonomous navigation system called SMART Nav to guide the spacecraft without direct control from engineers on Earth. About four hours before impact, images captured by the camera were sent to the spacecraft's navigation system, allowing it to identify which of the two asteroids was Dimorphos and independently navigate to the target.

A composite of 243 images of Didymos and Dimorphos taken by the DART spacecraft's DRACO camera on July 27, 2022, as the spacecraft was navigating to its target. Image credit: JPL DART Navigation Team | + Expand image | › DART image gallery

DART was not just an experimental asteroid impactor. The mission also used cutting-edge technology never before flown on a planetary spacecraft and tested new technologies designed to improve how we power and communicate with spacecraft.

Learn more about the engineering behind the DART mission, including the innovative Roll Out Solar Array and NEXT-C ion propulsion system, in this video featuring experts from the mission. Credit: APL | Watch on YouTube

One such technology that was first tested on the International Space Station and was later used on the solar-powered DART spacecraft, is the Roll Out Solar Array, or ROSA, power system. As its name suggests, the power system consisted of flexible solar panel material that was rolled up for launch and unrolled in space.

The Roll Out Solar Array, shown in this animated image captured during a test on the International Space Station, is making its first planetary journey on DART. Image credit: NASA | + Expand image

Some of the power generated by the solar array was used for another innovative technology, the spacecraft's NEXT-C ion propulsion system. Rather than using traditional chemical propulsion, DART was propelled by charged particles of xenon pushed from its engine. Ion propulsion has been used on other missions to asteroids and comets including Dawn and Deep Space 1, but DART's ion thrusters had higher performance and efficiency.

In the days following the event, NASA received images of the impact from a cubesat, LICIACube, that was deployed by DART before impact. The cubesat, which was provided by the Italian Space Agency, captured images of the impact and the ejecta cloud.

This image from LICIACube shows plumes of ejecta streaming from Dimorphos after DART's impact. Each rectangle represents a different level of contrast to better see fine structure in the plumes. By studying these streams of material, scientists will be able to learn more about the asteroid and the impact process. | + Expand image | › DART image gallery

Meanwhile, the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Lucy spacecraft observed Didymos to monitor how soon reflected sunlight from the ejecta plume could be seen. Going forward, DART team members will continue observing the asteroid system to measure the change in Dimorphos’ orbit and determine what happened on its surface. And in 2024, the European Space Agency plans to launch the Hera spacecraft to conduct an in-depth post-impact study of the Didymos system.

This animation, a timelapse of images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, covers the time spanning just before DART's impact at 4:14 p.m. PDT (7:14 p.m. EDT) on Septtember 26 through 5 hours post-impact. Plumes of material from a compact core appear as wisps streaming away from where the impact took place. An area of rapid, extreme brightening is also visible in the animation. Image credit: Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, Cristina Thomas (Northern Arizona University), Ian Wong (NASA-GSFC); Joseph DePasquale (STScI) | + Expand image | › DART image gallery

Continue following along with all the science from DART, including the latest images and updates on the mission website

### Teach It

The mission is a great opportunity to engage students in the real world applications of STEM topics. Start exploring these lessons and resources to get students engaging in STEM along with the mission.

#### Resources for Kids

Check out these related resources for kids from NASA Space Place:

### Explore More

TAGS: Asteroids and Comets, DART, near-Earth objects, planetary defense, Science, K-12 Education, Teachers, Educators, Parents, Teachable Moments, Asteroid TM

With 180 lessons in our online catalog, you can explore Earth and space with us all year long. We show you how with this handy NASA-JPL school year calendar.

We just added the 180th lesson to our online catalog of standards-aligned STEM lessons, which means JPL Education now has a lesson for every day of the school year. To celebrate and help you make the year ahead stellar, we've put together this monthly calendar of upcoming NASA events along with links to our related lessons, Teachable Moments articles, and student projects you can use to engage students in STEM while they explore Earth and space with us all year long.

### August

#### The Voyagers Turn 45

The twin Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 on a journey to explore the outer planets and beyond – and they're still going. Now more than 12 billion miles (19 billion kilometers) from Earth in a region known as interstellar space, they're the most distant human-made objects in space.

Get a primer on these fascinating spacecraft from Teachable Moments, then use it as a jumping off point for lessons on the scale, size, and structure of our solar system and how we communicate with distant spacecraft.

Lessons & Resources:

### September

#### Rendezvous with an Asteroid

A distant asteroid system 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth was the site of NASA's first attempt at redirecting an asteroid. On September 26, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, mission impacted the asteroid Dimorphos in an attempt to alter its speed and path around a larger asteroid known as Didymos. Dimorphos and Didymos do not pose a threat to Earth, which makes them a good proving ground for testing whether a similar technique could be used to defend Earth against potential impacts by hazardous asteroids in the future.

Get a primer on the DART mission and find related resources for the classroom in this article from our Teachable Moments series. Plus, explore our collection of standards-aligned lessons and activities all about asteroids to get students learning about different kinds of space rocks, geology, and meteoroid math.

Lessons & Resources:

#### A Closer Look at Europa

Just a few days later, on September 29, the Juno spacecraft that had been orbiting Jupiter since 2016 captured the closest views of Jupiter’s moon Europa in more than 20 years. The ice-covered moon is thought to contain a subsurface liquid-water ocean, making it an exciting new frontier in our search for life beyond Earth. NASA's Europa Clipper mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2024 is designed to study the moon in more detail. But until Europa Clipper arrives at the Jovian system in 2030, these observations from Juno are our best chance to get a closer look at this fascinating moon.

Learn more about Europa and why it is interesting to scientists in this talk from our Teaching Space With NASA series featuring a Europa Clipper mission scientist. Then, explore our Ocean Worlds Lesson Collection for ideas on making classroom connections.

Lessons & Resources:

### October

#### Celebrate Halloween Like a Space Explorer

The month of October is the perfect time to get students exploring our STEM activities with a Halloween twist. Students can learn how to carve a pumpkin like a JPL engineer, take a tour of mysterious locations throughout the solar system, and dig into the geology inside their Halloween candy.

October 31 is also JPL's 86th birthday, which makes October a great time to learn more about JPL history, including the team of female mathematicians known as "human computers" who performed some of the earliest spacecraft-tracking calculations and the Laboratory's role in launching the first U.S. space satellite.

Lessons & Resources:

### November

#### Watch a Total Lunar Eclipse

Look up in the early morning hours of November 8 to watch one of the most stunning spectacles visible from Earth: a total lunar eclipse. This one will be viewable in North and South America, as well as Asia and Australia.

Learn more about lunar eclipses and how to watch them from our Teachable Moments series. Then, get students of all ages outside and observing the Moon with lessons on moon phases and the hows and whys of eclipses. Students can even build a Moon calendar so they always know when and where to look for the next eclipse.

Lessons & Resources:

#### Artemis Takes a Giant Leap

NASA is making plans to send astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since 1972 – this time to establish a sustainable presence and prepare for future human missions to Mars. The first major step is Artemis I, which is testing three key components required to send astronauts beyond the Moon: the Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The uncrewed Artemis I mission marks the first test of all three components at once.

Get your K-12 students following along with lessons in rocketry and what it takes to live in space. Plus, register to follow along with the mission with resources and updates from NASA's Office of STEM Engagement.

Lessons & Resources:

### December

#### Satellite Launches on a Mission to Follow the Water

As crucial as water is to human life, did you know that no one has ever completed a global survey of Earth’s surface water? That is about to change with the launch of the SWOT mission. SWOT, which stands for Surface Water Ocean Topography, will use a state-of-the-art radar to measure the elevation of water in major lakes, rivers, wetlands, and reservoirs. It will also provide an unprecedented level of detail on the ocean surface. This data will help scientists track how these bodies of water are changing over time and improve weather and climate models.

Engage your students in learning about Earth’s water budget and how we monitor Earth from space with these lessons. And be sure to check out our Teachable Moments article for more about the SWOT mission and the science of our changing climate.

#### Prepare for the Science Fair

Before you know it, it'll be science fair time. Avoid the stress of science fair prep by getting students organized and thinking about their projects before the winter recess. Start by watching our video series How to Do a Science Fair Project. A scientist and an engineer from JPL walk your students through all the steps they will need to create an original science fair project by observing the world around them and asking questions. You can also explore our science fair starter pack of lessons and projects to get students generating ideas and thinking like scientists and engineers.

Lessons & Resources:

### January

#### Explore STEM Careers

January is the time when many of us set goals for the year ahead, so it's the perfect month to get students exploring their career goals and opportunities in STEM. Students can learn more about careers in STEM and hear directly from scientists and engineers working on NASA missions in our Teaching Space video series. Meanwhile, our news page has more on what it takes to be a NASA astronaut and what it's like to be a JPL intern.

For students already in college and pursuing STEM degrees, now is the time to start exploring internship opportunities for the summer. The deadline for JPL summer internships is in March, so it's a good idea to refresh your resume and get your application started now. Learn how to stand out with this article on how to get an internship at JPL – which also includes advice for pre-college students.

Resources:

### February

#### Mars Rover Celebrates 2-Year 'Landiversary'

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover celebrates its "landiversary" on February 18, which marks two years since the rover made its nail-biting descent on the Red Planet. The rover continues to explore Jezero Crater using science tools to analyze rocks and soil in search of signs of ancient microbial life. As of this writing, the rover has collected twelve rock core samples that will be sent to Earth by a future mission. Perseverance even witnessed a solar eclipse! Meanwhile, the Ingenuity Mars helicopter, which the rover deployed shortly after landing, has gone on to achieve feats of its own.

The Mission to Mars Student Challenge is a great way to get students of all ages exploring STEM and the Red Planet right along with the Perseverance rover. The challenge includes seven weeks of education content that can be customized for your classroom as well as education plans, expert talks, and resources from NASA.

Lessons & Resources:

### March

#### Take On the Pi Day Challenge

Math teachers, pie-lovers, and pun-aficionados rejoice! March 14 is Pi Day, the annual celebration of the mathematical constant used throughout the STEM world – and especially for space exploration. This year's celebration brings the 10th installment of the NASA Pi Day Challenge, featuring four new illustrated math problems involving pi along with NASA missions and science.

Explore the full collection of pi math lessons, get students learning about how we use pi at NASA, and hear from a JPL engineer on how many decimals of pi we use for space exploration at the links below.

Lessons & Resources:

### April

#### Celebrate Earth Day With NASA

You may not immediately think of Earth science when you think of NASA, but it's a big part of what we do. Earth Day on April 22 is a great time to explore Earth science with NASA, especially as new missions are taking to the skies to study the movements of dust, measure surface water across the planet, and track tiny land movements to better predict natural disasters.

Whether you want to focus on Earth’s surface and geology, climate change, extreme weather, or the water budget, we have an abundance of lessons, student projects and Teachable Moments to guide your way.

Lessons & Resources: