What’s New at the NASA Space Place?

Science and technology permeate all our activities from driving a car to cooking to writing poetry. So when we study science and technology, why not incorporate some of those other activities? Why not use interests like art and music to think about and express our understanding of nature? The Space Place has lots of cross-disciplinary opportunities to help make nature unforgettable.

New at spaceplace.nasa.gov
Get the key to the treasure chest! The new “Go with the Flow” game at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/ocean-currents/en/ has you playing with salinity and heat, which have opposing effects on vertical water movement. Using heat and salt as tools, as well as horizontal currents and walls, you set up flow patterns that your little submarine can follow in order to reach the key that will open the treasure chest and get the gold.

After playing “Flow,” students are not likely to forget the roles that heat and salinity play on ocean currents. These are important principles to learn in order to understand the potential effects of climate change.

Space Place en español
¡Haz un mapa topográfico! But first, make a clay sculpture of a mountain. This hands-on arts and crafts activity shows how 3-D topography can be represented very accurately on a 2-D map. Using clay (or our recipe for modeling dough), dental floss, paper, pencil, ruler and toothpicks, students make a mountain of any shape, slice it horizontally using dental floss and outline the slices on a piece of paper. It could be an art project or a geography project. Either way, it’s lots of fun, and clearly explains the mystery of topo maps, which many people never understand. Go to http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/sp/topomap-clay.

Spotlight on Music
Music is science and technology in the service of art. At least that’s one way to look at it. See (and hear) an example at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/violins. Musical instruments are technologies. The most exquisite-sounding instruments represent technological excellence. But what makes the best instrument sound better than the second best instrument? In the case of Stradivarius violins, it’s believed to be the unique density of the wood, which grew only during a certain period of history. Why? Because of a lack of sunspots!

Another example of technology as a delivery mechanism for art is the Golden Records on each of the two Voyager spacecraft, now nearing interstellar space. These records are meant as messages from Earth in the event that intelligent alien beings someday encounter the probes. Students can see some of the photos of Earth and try to guess the identity of some of the sounds on the records at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/voyager-to-stars.

For the classroom
Drumming is a form of music, but it can also be a form of precise verbal communication.

When people figured out how to add meaning to an electromagnetic wave, which is essentially a rhythm, a universe of possibilities opened up. Speaking in Phases is a classroom activity that demonstrates the difference between amplitude modulated (AM), frequency modulated (FM) and phase modulated signals. It’s not as hard as you might think. In this case, all that’s required is something to beat on — like drums or desks — and maybe a metronome or electronic keyboard that can make a steady beat.

Students learn the basics of how information is added to a carrier signal. Then they add their own meaning to the signal and communicate with each other using only the timing of beats. It truly teaches the most basic concept underlying all electronic communication, including radio, TV, phones, satellites and spacecraft far away in deep space. See http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/classroom-activities/#phases.

For out-of-school time
Almost everyone loves to eat. Why not make it even more fun by combining snack preparation with space exploration? The Space Place has several projects you can make, and then eat.

One project is Asteroid Potatoes, spaceplace.nasa.gov/asteroid-potatoes. To cut down on mess, you can make the mashed potatoes ahead of time, and let the kids do the sculpting, baking (with supervision) and eating.

Another creative activity is making edible spacecraft or rockets. Tortillas make a wonderful base. You can even paint them (or paint small, cut-out pieces) with food coloring. Also provide colorful vegetables and fruits of many kinds, olives, cream cheese (for glue), chips and anything else you can think of that’s good to eat. Take pictures before they’re gobbled up. See some examples and recipes at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/tortilla-spacecraft.

Special Days

January is National Whale Watching Month
Some species are endangered. See how satellites can help, and play “Migration Concentration” at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/migration.

Feb. 12, 1809: Charles Darwin’s Birthday
Darwin is known for his theory of the evolution of species. Play with the “Emoticonstructor” and see one way evolution works at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/emoticonstructor.

Feb. 22: Thinking Day
Exercise your brain by going “VecàTouring” at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/vec-touring.

Feb. 25: Quiet Day
Even the most violent events in space make no sound. Make a Sound Cone to hear even very quiet sounds. See how at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/sound-cone.

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