Solar Flare

May 7, 2011

Today Second Life took us all the way to London to learn about how the Sun affects the Earth. We talked to Dr. Joanna Haigh, a scientist who studies how changes in the sun may affect Earth’s climate. The Sun even appeared in the auditorium during the talk!

The Sun takes part in Dr. Joanna Haigh’s talk in Second Life

The Sun takes part in Dr. Joanna Haigh’s talk in Second Life

Not only did we learn about the Sun today, we found a way to view it safely through a telescope on the Museum’s rooftop Weintraub Observatory. We could clearly see sunspots on the surface – these are “cool” regions of the Sun because they’re “only” 3000°C. (I guess that’s cool compared to the surrounding 6000°C temperatures!) Solar flares, which occur around sunspots, are solar storms that can actually disrupt communications here on Earth. It’s incredible that something 93 million miles away affects us!

Rooftop solar observations

After using the telescopes, we made our own camera out of a potato chip can (and got to eat the chips too). We cut the can into two sections, and put it back together with the lid in between – this would be the screen for the camera. We poked a tiny hole in the bottom of the can, and when we looked through it, everything was upside down and backwards! Can you figure out why?

Homemade Pinhole Cameras

Climatology Career Day

April 30, 2011

You always hear people say that we need to have our next generation be strong in science, technology, engineering, and math. We are the next generation, but it’s hard to know sometimes how we get there. What do you really do as a climatologist, an atmospheric scientist, or a meteorologist? And what should you study in school to get there? Today the Museum held a Climatology Career Day for students in the Museum’s Youth EXPO, Digital WAVE, and Upward Bound programs to answer these questions.

Dr. Clement makes a cloud in a jar

Dr. Clement makes a cloud in a jar

We’ve all learned about climate change, but now we get to hear more about how we can really be a part of it. We talked with a Robert Molleda, Warning Coordination Meteorologist from the National Weather Service; Maria Beotegui, Education Coordinator from Biscayne National Park; David Bernard, CBS4 Chief Meteorologist; Dr. Arturo Rodriguez, Professor of Chemistry and Meteorology from Miami Dade College; Erik Salna, Associate Director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University; Dr. Amy Clement, Professor of Meteorology and Oceanography from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science; and Dr. Kevin Helmle, Research Scientist from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Not to mention Michael Garay, Senior Physics Engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was the keynote speaker for the event and spoke with us through Second Life.

Speakers L to R: David Bernard, Robert Molleda, Erik Salna, Dr. Arturo Rodriguez, Dr. Kevin Helmle, Maria Beotegui, Dr. Amy Clement

These people were all so different, but they all seemed to have something in common – when they were younger, some kind of spark inspired them to get into science, and they worked really hard to get where they wanted to go. All we need to do now is follow our own inspiration.

 

The Great Energy Challenge

April 23, 2011

Who knew there was a missing link between soft drinks, forests, ocean acidity, wild fires, cement production, and volcanoes? Today Mike Gunson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory talked to us via Second Life about this “carbon dioxide puzzle” and about how we know from data that humans are a piece of that puzzle.

So when we say that burning fossil fuels releases about 8.5 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere per year, what does that mean? It’s hard to really understand a word like “gigaton” because it means 1 BILLION tons. To give you a comparison, if 1 Mazda Miata weighs about 1 ton, then you’d need 8.5 billion Miatas to make 8.5 billion tons. That’s enough Miatas to circle the Earth 850 times!
 

It just so happened that the Museum had a Great Energy Challenge event this day. So after we learned about how important it was to have cleaner and more efficient energy, we went through the Museum and made some clean energy ourselves!

Generating human-powered energy

Generating human-powered energy

Becoming a human yo-yo

Becoming a human yo-yo

Blast Off!

April 9, 2011

Kennedy Space Center. This is the place where Space Shuttles and rockets are launched. The place where you can re-live the history of the US Space Program, walk under rockets that took men to the Moon, and even meet astronauts. We went for a day to Kennedy Space Center, and got to do all these things. Listening to Astronaut Tom Jones talk about the day he saw 16 sunsets and 16 sunrises from the International Space Station makes you realize how lucky astronauts are.

Outside in the Rocket Garden, we walked across a walkway, just like the one that astronauts walk across to enter the Space Shuttle. But we did it in slow motion, just like in the “hero shot” in movies when the astronauts are on their way to accomplish a dangerous, but vital, mission. Everyone has a little bit of astronaut explorer blood in them!

Visiting Space Shuttle replica at Kennedy Space Center

Driving Underwater

April 2, 2011

It was the greatest video game ever: there was a control pad, and a maneuverable object. Our control pad was a computer remotely hooked up to the Marine Resources Development Foundation in Key Largo. And our maneuverable object was a real, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in waters off the Florida Keys! Working with a scientist sitting in a habitat almost 50 feet under the surface of Largo Sound, each of us took a turn maneuvering the ROV from our lab at the Museum.

ROVs can provide tons of climate information for us, by exploring where humans can’t – underwater caves, the frozen polar regions, oil rigs and shipwrecks. They can use claws to take samples, and probes to take temperature readings, and can observe habitats without disturbing the inhabitants very much. And we were able to operate one! It may be hard to tell from the picture, but it was like a real-life game. You can see our controls on the left, and the view from the ROV’s “eye” as it follows an underwater pipe. Some took to it more quickly than others – it definitely is a skill, and not as easy as it looks!

Navigating an underwater ROV from our lab in the Museum