NASA Space Place August 2017
This article is provided by NASA Space Place.
With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology.
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The 2017 Solar Eclipse Across America
By Teagan Wall

On August 21st, the sky will darken, the temperature will drop and all fifty United States will be able to see the Moon pass—at least partially—in front of the Sun. It’s a solar eclipse!

A solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, casting its shadow on Earth. Sometimes the Moon only covers up part of the Sun. That is called a partial solar eclipse. When the Moon covers up the Sun completely, it’s called a total solar eclipse. As our planet rotates, the Moon’s shadow moves across Earth’s surface. The path of the inner part of this shadow, where the Moon totally covers the Sun, is called the path of totality.

The path of totality on August 21 stretches from Oregon to South Carolina. If you happen to be in that path, you will be able to experience a total solar eclipse! If you’re in any of the 50 United States during this time, you can see a partial solar eclipse.

No matter where you’ll be for the eclipse, remember that SAFETY is very important. Never look at the Sun when any part of it is exposed, like during a partial eclipse! It can hurt your eyes very badly. If you want to view the eclipse, you can buy special eclipse glasses. Go the NASA 2017 Eclipse Safety website to learn more about what glasses to buy.

If you are in the path of the total eclipse, you may look directly at the eclipse only when the Moon has completely covered the Sun. This is called totality, and it lasts a very short time. You must be sure to put your eclipse glasses back on before the Sun peeks out from behind the Moon.

You won’t be the only one watching this event! NASA scientists will use this eclipse to study our Sun. During a total solar eclipse, we can see the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. Usually the Sun is so bright that we can’t see the corona. However, when the Moon blocks out most of the Sun’s light, we can get a glimpse of the corona.

The surface of the Sun is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but the corona is much hotter. It’s about 2 million degrees Fahrenheit! The eclipse gives NASA researchers the chance to learn more about why the corona is so hot. In fact, while the eclipse will only last about two to three minutes in one place, scientists have found a way to have more time to study it.

NASA will use two research jets to chase the eclipse as it crosses the country. The jets will fly very high, and spend seven minutes in the shadow of the Moon. Researchers are using jets to help look for small explosions on the Sun, called nanoflares. These nanoflares may help to explain the corona’s extreme heat.

Whether you’re watching with eclipse glasses from the ground, or in a NASA jet from the sky, the 2017 eclipse should be quite a show! It’s a fun reminder of our place in the solar system, and how much we still have to learn.

To learn about what eclipse glasses to buy and other eclipse safety guidelines, visit: **link**

To learn more about solar eclipses, check out this NASA Space Place video: **link**

Caption: A map of the United States showing the path of totality for the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. Image credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

NASA Space Place July 2017
This article is provided by NASA Space Place.
With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology.
Visit to explore space and Earth science!

Twenty Years Ago on Mars…
By Linda Hermans-Killiam

On July 4, 1997, NASA's Mars Pathfinder landed on the surface of Mars. It landed in an ancient flood plain that is now dry and covered with rocks. Pathfinder’s mission was to study the Martian climate, atmosphere and geology. At the same time, the mission was also testing lots of new technologies.

For example, the Pathfinder mission tried a brand-new way of landing on Mars. After speeding into the Martian atmosphere, Pathfinder used a parachute to slow down and drift toward the surface of the Red Planet. Before landing, Pathfinder inflated huge airbags around itself. The spacecraft released its parachute and dropped to the ground, bouncing on its airbags about 15 times. After Pathfinder came to a stop, the airbags deflated.

Before Pathfinder, spacecraft had to use lots of fuel to slow down for a safe landing on another planet. Pathfinder’s airbags allowed engineers to use and store less fuel for the landing. This made the mission less expensive. After seeing the successful Pathfinder landing, future missions used this airbag technique, too!

Pathfinder had two parts: a lander that stayed in one place, and a wheeled rover that could move around. The Pathfinder lander had special instruments to study Martian weather. These instruments measured air temperature, pressure and winds. The measurements helped us better understand the climate of Mars.

The lander also had a camera for taking images of the Martian landscape. The lander sent back more than 16,000 pictures of Mars. Its last signal was sent to Earth on Sept. 27, 1997. The Pathfinder lander was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station. Carl Sagan was a well-known astronomer and science educator.

Pathfinder also carried the very first rover to Mars. This remotely-controlled rover was about the size of a microwave oven and was called Sojourner. It was named to honor Sojourner Truth, who fought for African-American and women's rights. Two days after Pathfinder landed, Sojourner rolled onto the surface of Mars. Sojourner gathered data on Martian rocks and soil. The rover also carried cameras. In the three months that Sojourner operated on Mars, the rover took more than 550 photos!

Pathfinder helped us learn how to better design missions to Mars. It gave us valuable new information on the Martian climate and surface. Together, these things helped lay the groundwork for future missions to Mars.

Learn more about the Sojourner rover at the NASA Space Place: **link**

Caption: The Mars Pathfinder lander took this photo of its small rover, called Sojourner. Here, Sojourner is investigating a rock on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA Space Place June 2017
This article is provided by NASA Space Place.
With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology.
Visit to explore space and Earth science!

The Shape of the Solar System
By Marcus Woo

When Stamatios (Tom) Krimigis was selected for the Voyager mission in 1971, he became the team's youngest principal investigator of an instrument, responsible for the Low Energy Charged Particles (LECP) instrument. It would measure the ions coursing around and between the planets, as well as those beyond. Little did he know, though, that more than 40 years later, both Voyager 1 and 2 still would be speeding through space, continuing to literally reshape our view of the solar system.

The solar system is enclosed in a vast bubble, carved out by the solar wind blowing against the gas of the interstellar medium. For more than half a century, scientists thought that as the sun moved through the galaxy, the interstellar medium would push back on the heliosphere, elongating the bubble and giving it a pointy, comet-like tail similar to the magnetospheres—bubbles formed by magnetic fields—surrounding Earth and most of the other planets

"We in the heliophysics community have lived with this picture for 55 years," said Krimigis, of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. "And we did that because we didn't have any data. It was all theory."

But now, he and his colleagues have the data. New measurements from Voyager and the Cassini spacecraft suggest that the bubble isn't pointy after all. It's spherical.

Their analysis relies on measuring high-speed particles from the heliosphere boundary. There, the heated ions from the solar wind can strike neutral atoms coming from the interstellar medium and snatch away an electron. Those ions become neutral atoms, and ricochet back toward the sun and the planets, uninhibited by the interplanetary magnetic field.

Voyager is now at the edge of the heliosphere, where its LECP instrument can detect those solar-wind ions. The researchers found that the number of measured ions rise and fall with increased and decreased solar activity, matching the 11-year solar cycle, showing that the particles are indeed originating from the sun.

Meanwhile, Cassini, which launched 20 years after Voyager in 1997, has been measuring those neutral atoms bouncing back, using another instrument led by Krimigis, the Magnetosphere Imaging Instrument (MIMI). Between 2003 and 2014, the number of measured atoms soared and dropped in the same way as the ions, revealing that the latter begat the former. The neutral atoms must therefore come from the edge of the heliosphere.

If the heliosphere were comet-shaped, atoms from the tail would take longer to arrive at MIMI than those from the head. But the measurements from MIMI, which can detect incoming atoms from all directions, were the same everywhere. This suggests the distance to the heliosphere is the same every which way. The heliosphere, then, must be round, upending most scientists' prior assumptions.

It's a discovery more than four decades in the making. As Cassini ends its mission this year, the Voyager spacecraft will continue blazing through interstellar space, their remarkable longevity having been essential for revealing the heliosphere's shape.

"Without them," Krimigis says, "we wouldn't be able to do any of this."

To teach kids about the Voyager mission, visit the NASA Space Place: **link**

Caption: New data from NASA’s Cassini and Voyager show that the heliosphere — the bubble of the sun’s magnetic influence that surrounds the solar system — may be much more compact and rounded than previously thought. The image on the left shows a compact model of the heliosphere, supported by this latest data, while the image on the right shows an alternate model with an extended tail. The main difference is the new model’s lack of a trailing, comet-like tail on one side of the heliosphere. This tail is shown in the old model in light blue.
Image credits: Dialynas, et al. (left); NASA (right)

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