Posts Tagged ‘explore mars’

Mare Imbrium features

Mare Imbrium features, created using LOLA data in Daz3D Bryce

We’ve made it to the end of first term and are starting in to second term at Walden School. In our astrobiology class, the students have studied in detail the formation and evolution of the Moon according to best evidence as well as the history of lunar exploration and the Apollo program.

Apollo 15 landing site

Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley-Apennine

The students have drawn up storyboards of the animation we’re developing for the Center for Lunar Origin and Evolution. One of these storyboard frames is shown below. We will now pass these over to my 3D modeling class, who will soon start the process of planning and developing the models and scenes necessary to make the animations work. The multimedia students will then do the final assembly and special effects/post production work.

Southern Lunar Highlands

Southern Lunar Highlands around Apollo 16 landing site

In the meantime, I have been working on ways to get the Moon and Mars 3D elevation data to work in my favorite 3D modeling program (Daz 3D Bryce). If I can get the data into a grayscale image, then I can turn it into a 3D terrain in Bryce. I’ve discovered that the LOLA (Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter) data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the MOLA (Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter) data from Mars Global Surveyor can be imported directly into Adobe Photoshop using the Photoshop Raw format (as long as I know the exact size of the .img file). But I’ve encountered a problem: Photoshop has problems with the positive and negative altitude data, as there isn’t any such thing as a negative color. So the high areas are showing up as dark colors and the low areas as high colors, with the Lunar and Martian mean elevation (like sea level on Earth) represents the breaking point between.

Apollo 16 landing site

Apollo 16 landing site: Descartes Highlands

I’ve tried using the Exposure setting in Photoshop, with some success, but it always creates a border between the two areas that requires blurring and loss of detail no matter how careful I am. If anyone out there knows of a solution using Photoshop, such as how to automatically add a certain number to each color value in a selected area, then I’d appreciate you letting me know! I’m having one of my students, who is also in the 3D class and good at computer programming, develop a python script that can do this for us. I don’t want to use the automatic software on the data website, because it digests the data too much and won’t allow us to create our own textures and animations. Regardless, I have managed to do test animations in Bryce zooming in on the six Apollo landing sites, along with text showing the geographical surroundings. I’m including some images here.  My astrobiology class will create 3D images for Mars sections tomorrow and my 3D class will create animations flying around the Moon in the next week. I’ll be able to show these to the CLOE people as a progress report.

Storyboard on Solar System Formation

Storyboard for Solar System Formation

Now we’re beginning to study Mars and its potential as a source of life. We’re working through the Mars lesson plans I developed earlier this year for the Mars Education Challenge sponsored by Explore Mars and the National Science Teachers Association. On Monday, October 24th, I had the opportunity to share my lesson plans with other teachers through an online webinar hosted by Chris Carberry and Artemis Westenberg of Explore Mars. Howard Lineberger, the first place winner, shared his lessons this last Wednesday, and Andrew Hilt, the second place winner, shared his in September. The whole Mars Education Challenge has been a wonderful opportunity, not only to go to the NSTA conference in San Francisco this last March, but also to be a part of a larger community of educators interested in teaching Mars exploration in the classroom. I’m also not done with the opportunities this program has provided; I’ve been invited to the launch of the Mars Science Lab, but I don’t have the funds to go (and I have a large video project to finish). This coming March, we will have the chance to spend several days in the Mojave Desert with Chris McKay doing field research. Chris has confirmed the dates, and I look forward to the experience, even if it is somewhere out beyond Zzyzyx Road at the end of the Earth.

Physical model compared with terrain

Physical model compared with actual terrain

Making the clay model

Students in astrobiology making a physical model of a hidden terrain

As part of the Mars lessons, my students have used a graduated lollipop stick to measure the height of locations in a hidden terrain box (modeling clay in a pencil box with holes drilled in the lid in a grid pattern). The measurements were written down and typed into a word processing program separated by commas. This data was saved as a .txt file and imported into ImageJ, a program developed by the National Institutes of Health to analyze biological images. ImageJ can turn the numbers directly into a grayscale image. One group used the numbers to cut drinking straws to the right length and imbed them into a layer of modeling clay to make a physical model of the terrain. They did quite well. The grayscale image was imported into Daz3D Bryce and turned into a virtual model, as seen here. Now we move on to actual data of Mars instead of simulated data only.

Gusev terrain virtual model

A virtual model of the Gusev Crater clay terrain


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My last post had me still in San Francisco at the NSTA national conference. That was March. Now it’s May, and I don’t quite know what happened to April. Let me try to catch up on myself and this project.

Me and Explore Mars

Chris Carberry, Myself, and Artemis Westenberg of Explore Mars

Back in San Francisco, I had just been awarded 3rd Place in the Mars Education Challenge by Bill Nye (yeah, that guy) and by the Explore Mars Foundation. That was on Thursday, March 10. On Friday, March 11 I attended a number of excellent presentations including one on an online student science project from Mt. Pisgah Observatory to classify stars based on their absorption spectra. Thousands of photographic plates with the stars’ light refracted into spectra have been digitized and made searchable. A spectrum from a star can be compared against standard spectra for major stellar classes and subclasses. I will incorporate this activity into my astronomy classes.

My second session was to be over in the Moscone Center on how to use the iPad in science education, a subject I’ve talked about here before, but when I got there the room was packed and people were standing in the aisles and flowing into the hall. This isn’t too surprising – as I saw later that day at the nearby Apple Store, the lines were very long (all the way around the block) and Apple employees were handing out fruit (apples, of course, and oranges) and granola bars just so people wouldn’t pass out from lack of food for waiting so long. The reason: the iPad 2 came out that day.

Apple lines

Lining up for the iPad 2 at the Apple Store in San Francisco

Instead of the iPad session, I went next door to a good session on project-based learning in the classroom, where a junior high in Lincoln Parish in Louisiana has created a program that is completely project based, yet covers all core curriculum. I found out more about it from the presenters afterward.

I had planned on going to more sessions, but since I was in the Moscone Center it seemed a good time to check out the dealers exhibit. The exhibit hall is a huge, cavernous space with the big name companies jockeying for prime spaces by the main entrance and smaller companies along the aisles in the back corners. I was ostensibly looking for the Explore Mars booth, but I systematically covered the floor and visited anything that caught my eye, picking up a lot more materials to take home than I really wanted to. I was glad I left some space in my suitcase. I finally found the Explore Mars booth on the NSTA aisle (the competition was sponsored by NSTA) and I reported in to Artemis and Chris, who said that the first place winner had arrived and that we would have another small presentation later that afternoon.

I went to lunch, finding a place about a block away called Mel’s Diner. As I sat down at a stool at the counter, the person sitting next to me turned to me and said, “Well, Dave, how are you?” It was Eric Brunsell, who now teaches at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. I first got to know Eric through the NASA/JPL Solar System Educators Program (SSEP), the same group I had dinner with the night before. Eric was with Space Explorers, the group that managed the training sessions for SSEP. We had a good talk about what he’s been doing and on the problems currently being faced by teachers in Wisconsin, where the governor is trying to destroy the teachers union and cut teacher benefits and retirement.

Down to the Bay

Looking down to San Francisco Bay from the top of Nob Hill

Back at the Moscone Center, I reported in at the booth and met Howard Lineberger, the first place winner. Andrew Hilt (2nd place) and Howard and I stood with Artemis and Chris and officials from NSTA for more photo ops, and were interviewed by Chris on camera on our feelings about Mars exploration. Chris and Artemis had to go to another reception, so they asked us to man the booth until the end of the day. Andrew and I talked to anyone who was interested about the competition and showed them our lesson plans.


Chinatown in San Francisco

Afterward, we decided to walk up to Chinatown for supper. We headed to my hotel to drop off my stuff, then to Andrew’s hotel, then we walked up Nob Hill. We wound up going too high (it is quite a steep hill and we got a good leg stretching) and had to wander back down to the east into Chinatown. I found a really good Chinese bakery, where we sampled the yedz (coconut rolls) and I later bought a koushu binggan (kind of a graham cracker cookie). We found a promising SzeChwan restaurant and had supper. I found out the Andrew and Eric Brunsell are friends and have worked on common projects together. Small world! We also compared notes on our astronomy classes. We walked back down to where our hotels were, and I said goodbye (Andrew is heading home tomorrow). I found a good souvenir cable car ornament for my wife, then headed back to my hotel.

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I haven’t posted anything in several weeks because I’ve been very busy preparing entries for two major teacher contests, neither of which are related specifically to this blog. The first contest is for Curriculum Support Materials for the Explore Mars program, with teachers creating lessons and other materials about Mars exploration that can be incorporated into other classes and curricula, such as Earth science or astronomy or geology. I had been meaning to update and improve some lessons I’d put together several years ago for the NASA Explorer Schools program workshops I helped plan at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Alluvial Fan-Notch Peak

Alluvial fans at Notch Peak, Utah

North Rim of Holden Crater

North Rim of Holden Crater on Mars

These lessons included a Site Selection activity, where teams of students use Mars maps to find suitable landing sites for Mars rovers (such as the upcoming Mars Science Lab [Curiosity] rover).

The second lesson was a new one, using Google Earth to compare and contrast landforms on Earth and Mars, such as alluvial fans in Holden Crater with alluvial fans west of Notch Peak in the House Range in western Utah. I located terrains in the Great Basin and used them as analogs for Martian terrains, with exact longitude and latitude, that could be looked up and viewed in 3D on Google Earth. I’m going to try this out in my geology class tomorrow. Here’s a .PDF of it.

(Teacher instructions): Mars_on_Earth-teacher

(Student version): Mars_on_Earth_Student

Monument Valley

Monument Valley, Arizona

Deuteronilus Mensae

Deuteronilus Mensae on Mars

The third lesson is an update of one I’ve used in my 3D classes and astronomy classes: to take a mystery box terrain and use a grid of holes in the box’s lid and a lollipop stick with measurements on the side to calculate the altitude of the hidden terrain at each grid location. This is an old activity, but my spin on it was to have the students take the data, type it into a word processing program as a .txt file, then use ImageJ software from NIH to translate the numbers into a grayscale image, which was cleaned up in GIMP and translated into a 3D model in Daz3D Bryce. It sounds complex, but converting data between various multimedia software packages is something I do all the time. In fact, this process can be used to visualize many types of scientific data sets in 3D. Here’s a .PDF of the activity  (teacher version): Mars_to_Model

I started uploading this lesson two minutes before the deadline (10:00 p.m. my time, Jan. 31) along with a Powerpoint (PDF version included here: Mars_Lessons_Overview ). But my e-mail suddenly bogged down (the Powerpoint was too large) and I finally had to submit the files in two e-mails. But then I got a bounceback saying the Explore Mars e-mail was full. After a few minutes of panic, I sent the files via an alternate route as an attachment to the e-mail address of the President of the organization, whom I had communicated with a few times before.

The next contest was the Apple Distinguished Educator program, and in addition to a long written application I needed a two-minute video showing how great I am at using Apple products. I’d spent weeks working on it, but the deadline was at 1:00 a.m. Feb. 1 (just three hours after the Explore Mars deadline) and by 12:30 I only had the final edit of the video done half way. So I never submitted the application. And I think I had a good chance. It’s just too hard to try to do two major contests at the same time. So I’ll have to wait another year and submit my application then, with any changes. I’ll keep chipping away at the video over the next two weeks and get it ready for next year, then all I’ll need to do is make a few changes and send it off. One good thing to come out of all the work was that I dug into my computer files and discs and found some things I thought were lost, including a working Mac version of the “Unveiling the Red Planet” interface my students designed back in 2004 as part of the Mars Exploration Student Data Team program they were chosen for. Much of the work for that project was lost because a hard drive I had saved the files onto was stolen out of my classroom. But I had apparently saved a few things elsewhere, which I was able to find. Here’s what the interface looked like:

Mars project interface

Mars project interface, 2004

This is always my greatest fear: that there will be a wonderful opportunity that I will either fail to find out about until it’s over, or I won’t be able to get the application done on time. But I’m also patient. For many of the best things I’ve had the chance to do, such as the NASA Educator Workshop program or being a NASA Explorer Schools educator facilitator, I had to apply multiple times over the course of several years. I kept trying, and each year as I applied I got better at it until these opportunities finally came true. I really wasn’t looking forward to spending a week in Phoenix in July for the training, anyway (yes, I know that’s “sour grapes” rationalization on my part).

But now back to the world of the chemical elements. I’ll have a new post soon. I received word two days ago that we’ve been selected by the Air Force Foundation to receive a $250 grant for use in our Elementary Science Demonstration program. This will certainly help to defray costs. Thank you, Air Force!

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