Monday, March 21, 2011

Mercurial Monday

I promised to give an overview of my trip to the Applied Physics Lab (APL) at Johns Hopkins University on Saturday, so here we go.

The reason I went to the APL was for the Thrill of Discovery Workshop. Five hours of professional development in space science and engineering supported by NASA's Discovery Program. Though, it ended up being 6 hours as we got there half an hour early and it ran over by half an hour. There was approximately 3 hours in a classroom with hands on learning experiences and other educational tools. Then there was approximately 2 hours of lecture in an auditorium, with Q&A after each speaker. The rest of the time was filled with delays and stuff, I didn't really mind.

So this workshop was happening at 4 different locations across the United States, the Jet Propulsion Lab in California, Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, the Jackson Middle School Observatory in Minnesota, and of course APL.

Each location having their own team from a different mission under the Discovery Program. At APL, we had mostly members of the MESSENGER mission team, mostly those involved involved in public outreach, and the mission's Principal Investigator, Dr. Sean Solomon. Needless to say, I learned mostly about Mercury from our location, but there was some stuff from other missions. I think it was a worthwhile experience though.

At JPL, they had presenters from Dawn (a satellite mission to Vesta and Ceres) and GRAIL (a soon-to-launch Moon study mission). JSC had members from Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES). And the JMSO had public outreach and education coordinators as well as someone involved in Dawn, EPOXI/Stardust-NExT (a comet research mission).

In our classroom portion of the workshop, we got a huge, packed full resource guide. They also had breakfast for us, always important. There were about 20-30 people there, ranging from educators to librarians to outreach astronomers, I was the only one not on the presenting side with an astronomy degree. But even so, I found it informative and fun. We got to a variety of activities that helped us learn about how mission planning and space science work, and could be applied in classrooms or to informal outreach education, such as through a library or astronomy club. Pretty much I was there for the astronomy club portion.

Some of the fun activities we got to do included making a poster for a solar system body we would like to explore (my group did Titan, two groups did Pluto, and others included Venus and Europa). We then also designed a mission using worksheets to determine cost and risk factors, unfortunately we were given targets rather then having a free choice, but luckily my group got the asteroid belt (we named out mission ESEA, Extended Survey and Exploration of Asteroids) which the presenters thought our result was interesting and most plausible.

We then learned more about Mercury, including putting together at large mosaic puzzle of postcard-sized pictures. We also learned that Google is right now in the process of making a Google Earth overlay of Mercury, similar to Mars and the Moon that are already on there. After that, we broke for lunch before the lectures began.

The lectures were done for us in an auditorium, broadcast on a large screen. All the locations were linked into some live video/conference system so that they were all connected in real time during the lectures. Overall, I was impressed by the APL setup.

The speaker at our location was Dr. Solomon, who spoke about the MESSENGER mission and some of the science behind it. Then every location got to ask him two questions, excitingly enough, I got the ask the first question. What was the most surprising or impressive thing they had learned about Mercury so far from the mission? Turns out there is evidence for volcanism in Mercury's history. This was specifically surprising to me because just a few years ago when I was learning about Mercury in college, we learned it was likely a geologically dead place.

The other speakers included Dr. Ravit Helled, Gravity Team Member in Juno, a mission to map Jupiter's gravitational field that will launch in the next year, and a humorous presentation from Dr. Marc Rayman, the Chief Engineer of Dawn.

I do wish I had learned a bit more about Dawn, as Vesta is my favorite asteroid and the satellite is supposed to reach there later this year. (They began turning it on and testing its instruments today). But I did learn a few things, but I am tempted to wait to talk about those for when I do my asteroid post. (BTW, the poll for this week is over, looks like Cosmic Dust won. New poll up tomorrow.) 

I do kind of wish I had pictures, I couldn't take any, but there should be some on a NASA page soon, and I'll make sure to link to them. I also got a bunch of NASA swag, and am considering a contest. Perhaps in mid-April. I need to figure out how to run it, what I want to do, how to choose winners, if I will mail international, etc.

Among the swag are various NASA mission stickers, informational handouts, a MESSENGER button, and a couple pocket telescopes. Pretty good for free stuff, not sure how much interest there is in this, or how to divide up prizes. Dunno if it would be worth it to mail someone a sticker. Let me know what you guys think.


25 comments:

Necroticism said...

Even when Mercury is not my favourite planet, I'd love to go on a trip to JSC

kgp318 said...

This APL experience sounds awesome...I have to admit that I'm a little jealous of your sweet resources...I could use them in the classroom (my 3rd graders study the solar system)

KB said...

Man you're so lucky! The best "field trip" I've ever made was as a junior and senior in high school to NYU as a national finalist both years in their cyber forensics challenge. Trips like these are really fun, since you get to meet such awesome professionals in whatever field you're in :)

glivin said...

Sounds very cool :)

Christophe said...

Sounds like a lot of cool stuff going on! Must have been exciting. :)

Lost.in.Idaho said...

Google Mercury blew my mind.

How do they get that little car over there to do the 'street view?'

Google... fooking miracles...

Jason said...

that sounds like quite a unique experience. keep up the posts!

Astronomy Pirate said...

It was an exciting trip. It is always good to meet other professionals.

Idaho, your comment made my laugh. Of course Google got there first with their secret, private space program.

obi said...

this is very cool thanks for sharing.

Venus said...

sound like you had a lot of fun. cool.

Jay.CA said...

wow! sounds like you had a full day!:)

skinned sheep said...

hey good for you man! have a good night!

Robert Fünf said...

Sounds like you had a lot of fun. Can't wait to see some of the photos!

Buckaroopopcorn said...

Tell NASA I want my flying car!

Josh said...

I bet that was a blast

Patti D. said...

sounds awesome, you didn't take any pictures?

mac-and-me said...

great post

Alphabeta said...

Can't wait for the day Google Mercury has street view! ; ]

Devon Davidson said...

Seriously? Volcanoes on Mercury?

I'll believe it when Google shows me. :P

Merlyy said...

Sounds very exciting.

PenDRaGoN said...

Exciting!
you know what would be more exciting? pictures of it, where are those?

elexerdelex said...

wow your post is so serious, I lol'd hard at the comments :D

Anyhow interesting read, I follow you!

AnthropoSeptic said...

Very interesting about Mercury being more active than once thought and it's always exciting to hear it from a person actually helping to discover such things.

Zakk said...

Sounds like you had fun.

Poetry of the Day said...

this post was really neat!

poetry

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