Chicagoland Boy Scouts and Explorers to send research projects to the ISS

An announcement from  Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages R&D on the Int. Space Station, and the Boy Scouts of America and Exploring programs:

New Partnership Enables Chicagoland Boy Scouts and Explorers
to Send Research Projects to International Space Station

(Chicago, IL) March 26, 2015 Chicagoland Boy Scouts and Explorers will soon design and build research projects for a chance to have their experiment flown to the International Space Station.

This incredible opportunity is the result of a newly formed partnership between the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the U.S. National Laboratory on the International Space Station (ISS); and local Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and Exploring programs.

CASIS and the BSA Pathways to Adventure Council will launch the Space Station National Design Challenge student research competition in Chicago this spring in an effort to spark interest and innovation in young men and women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

While the partnership is new, the BSA has a historic connection to the space program. In fact, 11 of the 12 astronauts who walked on the moon were Scouts. Additionally, former astronaut and CASIS President and Executive Director Gregory H. Johnson is a proud Eagle Scout.

“The Boy Scouts of America has created leaders for more than 100 years and our youth must now take the lead in STEM,” said Nancy Elder, Director for Strategic and Corporate Alliances for Pathway to Adventure Council. “Scouting has long embraced STEM by providing young people with real-world hands-on learning experiences ranging from cleaning habitats in national parks to programming robots. The partnership with CASIS will engage our youth and volunteers in a unique and cutting-edge experience by adding their research projects to the final frontier: space.”

The U.S. National Lab’s microgravity environment offers researchers the exclusive opportunity to conduct experiments in a setting free from the effects of gravity present on Earth. Since systems act differently in this microgravity environment, researchers are able to gather valuable insight that can help advance their work on Earth.

Space Station National Design Challenge participants will work in teams of 10-20 young men and women to conceptualize and execute their experiments, which must fit into miniature labs about half the size of a shoebox. Along with aspiring engineers and scientists, teams will include members with interests in graphic arts, drafting, moviemaking, programming and many other fields. CASIS and its industry partners will facilitate technical workshops and provide support to each team.

CASIS will then select three winning experiments to be flown to the International Space Station in the summer of 2016.

“Inspiring the next generation of explorers is at the heart of the CASIS mission,” said CASIS Director of Operations and Education Ken Shields. “This partnership exemplifies a concerted effort by both organizations to engage and energize students about STEM through an authentic learning experience that leverages the International Space Station.”

To learn more about the contest, including upcoming information sessions and how to submit a proposal, please visit:

‘Story Time From Space’ – Stories and science demos in space on videos for kids

The Story Time From Space program was born when NASA astronaut Alvin Drew read the story “Max Goes to the Moon” by Jeffery Bennett on the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011.  The goal of the organization is to create a collection of videos of stories read from space plus science demonstrations and combine them all with free educational materials. The first set of five Max stories have been sent to the ISS.

The organization has opened a crowd-funding campaign for the project at Science & Stories on the Space Station – Indiegogo

At Story Time From Space, our goal is to use the magic and wonder of space to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and literacy learning in K-12 education programs all over the world. We are raising $55,000 to fund science demonstration equipment that will be sent to the International Space Station early this summer. We will use the hardware to produce nine fun videos showcasing the role of gravity in basic science principles. Once edited these demonstrations will join the story book readings read on orbit and then integrated with accompanying curriculum. All these videos the story book readings and science demonstrations will be available at little or no cost to schools, science centers and families everywhere. 

With real astronauts performing this accurate science in an orbiting laboratory 240 miles above Earth, the Story Time From Space team hopes to bring compelling, meaningful lessons in STEM to students and educators everywhere. Together, we can turn the space station into the world’s coolest classroom to improve STEM learning and inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, inventors and explorers! 

Here is a video from TMRO about the Story Time from Space project:

And here is the video on the Story Time From Space Indiegogo site:

Here is Al Drew reading Max Goes to the Moon from the Shuttle Discovery in space in 2011:

And here is astronaut Mike Hopkins on the Int Space Station reading Max Goes to the International Space Station:

Dust cloud survives fly-by of monster black hole at Milky Way center

The latest report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

Best View Yet of Dusty Cloud Passing
Galactic Centre Black Hole

The best observations so far of the dusty gas cloud G2 confirm that it made its closest approach to the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way in May 2014 and has survived the experience. The new result from ESO’s Very Large Telescope shows that the object appears not to have been significantly stretched and that it is very compact. It is most likely to be a young star with a massive core that is still accreting material. The black hole itself has not yet shown any increase in activity.


This composite image shows the motion of the dusty cloud G2 as it closes in on, and then passes, the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

These new observations with ESO’s VLT have shown that the cloud appears to have survived its close encounter with the black hole and remains a compact object that is not significantly extended.

The blobs have been colourised to show the motion of the cloud, red indicated that the object is receding and blue approaching. The cross marks the position of the supermassive black hole.

Credit: ESO/A. Eckart

A supermassive black hole with a mass four million times that of the Sun lies at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy. It is orbited by a small group of bright stars and, in addition, an enigmatic dusty cloud, known as G2, has been tracked on its fall towards the black hole over the last few years. Closest approach, known as peribothron, was predicted to be in May 2014.

The great tidal forces in this region of very strong gravity were expected to tear the cloud apart and disperse it along its orbit. Some of this material would feed the black hole and lead to sudden flaring and other evidence of the monster enjoying a rare meal. To study these unique events, the region at the galactic centre has been very carefully observed over the last few years by many teams using large telescopes around the world.

A team led by Andreas Eckart (University of Cologne, Germany) has observed the region using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) [1] over many years, including new observations during the critical period from February to September 2014, just before and after the peribothron event in May 2014. These new observations are consistent with earlier ones made using the Keck Telescope on Hawaii [2].

The images of infrared light coming from glowing hydrogen show that the cloud was compact both before and after its closest approach, as it swung around the black hole.

As well as providing very sharp images, the SINFONI instrument on the VLT also splits the light into its component infrared colours and hence allows the velocity of the cloud to be estimated [3]. Before closest approach, the cloud was found to be travelling away from the Earth at about ten million kilometres/hour and, after swinging around the black hole, it was measured to be approaching the Earth at about twelve million kilometres/hour.

Florian Peissker, a PhD student at the University of Cologne in Germany, who did much of the observing, says: “Being at the telescope and seeing the data arriving in real time was a fascinating experience,” and Monica Valencia-S., a post-doctoral researcher also at the University of Cologne, who then worked on the challenging data processing adds: “It was amazing to see that the glow from the dusty cloud stayed compact before and after the close approach to the black hole.”

Although earlier observations had suggested that the G2 object was being stretched, the new observations did not show evidence that the cloud had become significantly smeared out, either by becoming visibly extended, or by showing a larger spread of velocities.

In addition to the observations with the SINFONI instrument the team has also made a long series of measurements of the polarisation of the light coming from the supermassive black hole region using the NACO instrument on the VLT. These, the best such observations so far, reveal that the behaviour of the material being accreted onto the black hole is very stable, and — so far — has not been disrupted by the arrival of material from the G2 cloud.

The resilience of the dusty cloud to the extreme gravitational tidal effects so close to the black hole strongly suggest that it surrounds a dense object with a massive core, rather than being a free-floating cloud. This is also supported by the lack, so far, of evidence that the central monster is being fed with material, which would lead to flaring and increased activity.

Andreas Eckart sums up the new results: “We looked at all the recent data and in particular the period in 2014 when the closest approach to the black hole took place. We cannot confirm any significant stretching of the source. It certainly does not behave like a coreless dust cloud. We think it must be a dust-shrouded young star.”

National Geographic marks Hubble’s 25th year in space with a great image collection

The Hubble Space Telescope was placed into orbit by the Space Shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. To celebrate this 25th anniversary, the National Geographic

features “Hubble’s Greatest Hits” in the new April issue. Hubble’s imaging team lead Zolt Levay has curated his top 10 celestial views of all time for the feature. The  also shares the fascinating photo coloration process that help Levay and his team create Hubble’s stunning images. And writer Timothy Ferris shares background on the program in the related article.

Find more amazing images in this gallery as well.