Posts Tagged ‘mars education challenge’

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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