2011 Annual Science Report

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Reporting  |  SEP 2010 – AUG 2011

EPO Activity: EPO - GCA Activities at Explore@NASA Goddard Day

Project Progress

The Explore@NASA Goddard Day on May 14th, 2011 had over 15,000 visitors on Center. GCA planned and supported five activities:

i. Build Your Own Spectroscope (Fig. 1) – Participants built spectroscopes using mailing tubes and grating slides, then viewed spectra produced by mercury, xenon and helium gas discharge lamps set up in a dark room. Over 100 copies of lesson plans were handed out to parents and teachers on how to make their own spectroscope and to explain spectroscopic techniques.

ii. Seeing in Reflected Lights of Near Infrared (NIR) – Images were shown to demonstrate NIR photography using digital cameras and inexpensive NIR filters and to explain how scientists acquire information about the Solar system using reflected NIR radiation.

iii. Methane on Mars and Earth Display – The display explained how methane was detected on Mars using high-resolution spectroscopy with ground-based telescopes and its significance in the search for life. A comparison map was shown comparing the distribution of methane on Earth and on Mars. Google Mars was set up on a computer to show the locations of methane releases on Mars.

iv. 1000 Gum Drops for Organic Chiral molecules (Fig. 2) – Participants built chiral molecules from gum drops and toothpicks, while staff explained chirality in organic molecules and its relevance in the search for the origin of life and the recent detection of chiral molecules in meteorites.

v. Walk Through Solar System Times – Over 25 posters were displayed in the long hallway of the Space Science Building, which was calibrated in time and transformed into a gallery to illustrate events in the past 4.6 billion years of Solar System history, with focus on conditions that contributed to the emergence of life and the related GCA research. Docents were on hand to answer questions from visitors. Astrobiology comic books and other hands-on activities were placed along the hallway to attract younger visitors.

In addition, video vignettes of GCA scientists and animations used in GCA press releases were shown in between demonstrations to illustrate the astrobiology scientific activities related to the search for the origin of life.

Visitors looking through spectroscopes built using mailing tubes and grating slides in the “Build Your Own Spectroscope” activity at the Explore@NASA Goddard Day.

Parent and children building chiral molecules with gum drops and toothpicks.