2012 Annual Science Report

VPL at University of Washington Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

EPO Activity: Web Tool Development EPO Report

Project Progress

EPO Report: Eyes on Exoplanets 3D

Project Progress

VPL has contributed to the development of “Eyes on Exoplanets,” a 3D visualization tool for exploring all confirmed exoplanets discoveries. Based on the Unity3D game engine, this visually stunning database is searchable and continually updated and includes interactive 3D models of every exoplanetary system and host star, along with distance scales, habitable zone overlays, and tools for comparisons with our own solar system. There’s also a search engine, and the data pipeline is delivered through NASA’s own Exoplanet Archive. “Eyes on Exoplanets” is currently in final beta testing phase, and will soon be available to the public, educators and scientists through the PlanetQuest website (no plugin required!).

EPO Report: Night Sky Network ‘Life in the Universe’ Outreach Toolkit

Project Progress

The Night Sky Network is comprised of over half of all amateur astronomy clubs in the United States with a membership of more than 25,000 amateur astronomers. These clubs are committed to engaging students and the public with hands-on astronomy activities. The ‘Life in the Universe’ Outreach ToolKit was completed and shipped to 148 clubs. The kit was designed to assist amateur astronomy clubs in conducting outreach and education events related to the search for life in our galaxy. The kit contains easy-to-use activities that explain science and technology concepts related to astrobiology in engaging ways, and enriched with real-life examples from NASA astrobiology-related missions and science programs. The kit is designed to be used in a variety of settings, including the classroom, youth group meetings, and community college events, as well as outside under the stars.

From 2011 Oct 1 through 2012 Sep 30, 249 events were held using the toolkit reaching 43,000 visitors. Following are some user comments:

· “Many had never heard of the Drake Equation and the probability of life of other planets.”

· “Tonight we had Dr. Michelle Thaller as our speaker. Her talk was on “Life in the Universe” so I thought what better time then now to give a short presentation on extremeophiles from the new tool kit. It was an interesting talk and the questions were as varied as the people asking them. From “What kind of life are we talking about?”, “Do they have cars?”, “SO we’re finding ET“s farts (methane)”, etc.”

· “We set up the new “Life in the Universe” tool kit up and flipped back and forth from the life line to water worlds. We connected it with the new tool kit by talking about what if we found a planet, how would we know life if we saw it.”

· “The students were of Spanish backgrounds of Migrant parents. Their coordinator suggested a program be presented on the Solar System, Galaxies, and aliens. We received a glowing follow up letter mentioning the students had a great time and how the students were still talking about their visit the following day and hoped they could visit again.”

· “There were kids from the age of 9 to 16 plus 8 adults. We did the extremophiles cards and one of the kids suggested that maybe some type of rock bacteria came to our planet on a meteorite from somewhere else.”

· “Visitors loved the Earth Timeline activity. It led to so many more questions and discussion regarding communicating across the galaxy, space travel, and what we are looking for as “evidence of life” on planets around other stars.”

EPO Report: Extreme Planet Makeover Interactive

Project Progress

VPL has developed an immersive interactive simulation for students and the general public. The ‘Extreme Planet Makeover’ allows users to shape the appearance and habitability of their very own planet by changing factors such as distance from star, age, and size. The planets they create in the interactive can then be compared to others via an image gallery with 3d models of planets in our solar system and beyond. Users can also download and print a picture of their planet for posterity. This interactive will be distributed on the VPL and PlanetQuest websites, and will also be made available to museums and other informal education venues.

The ‘Extreme Planet Makeover’ continues to be a popular part of the PlanetQuest website, with an average of 3,000 visitors per month. The interactive has been demonstrated at conferences such as AAS and the JPL Open House (which had 38,000 visitors this year) where it was displayed on a large touch-screen monitor.