Free Sample!

“Rocket science is tough, and rockets have a way of falling,” Sally Ride.


Space Shuttles, Rockets, & Telescopes

More than two dozen kids showed up for the MM kids’ classes in August! The topic was the new James Webb telescope. That telescope was launched on Christmas Day of last year.

The class began with images being shown from that new telescope. Students were amazed by what they saw. There were plenty of oohs and ahhs across the classroom!

The first image sent from the James Webb telescope.

The predecessor to the Webb telescope is the Hubble telescope, which has been in operation since 1990, far longer than operation was expected to last for that scope.

Unlike the Hubble, which mainly analyzes visible light in the universe, the Webb telescope mainly analyzes infrared light, allowing it to see even deeper into the universe. In addition, the telescope can also detect elements on the objects it sees and tell us if there’s water vapor, helium, and other elements present on those bodies. So, while many of us simply enjoy the beautiful pictures it sends us, scientists enjoy the plethora of research possibilities.

The Hubble is the only telescope designed to be worked on by astronauts. It orbits the Earth in low-Earth orbit and has been visited several times by astronauts for maintenance and upgrades, especially when the space shuttle program was operational. The James Webb orbits the sun at a million miles away, making such maintenance impossible. 

Both telescopes work by gathering light with mirrors and then focusing that light into smaller mirrors. That re-focused and clearer image is then sent to Earth. 

The mirrors work even more efficiently for the Webb by being coated in gold. That gold is very thin and covers 18 mirrors with the gold equivalent to that which would make about five men’s wedding bands. 

The telescope is named after a former director of NASA. Mr. Webb also created the Apollo program that took Americans to the Moon. 

The telescope can also be moved with just 48 hours’ notice. So, if a star explodes, called a supernova, the scope can move around and capture that event.

After learning about the James Webb telescope, the kids then began work building their own space shuttle. In last month’s class the kids built rockets. The James Webb was put into space by a rocket. This month, the kids built a space shuttle to better understand how the Hubble got into space, which was taken into space by the Discovery space shuttle.

Discover space shuttle launch

The kids took four craft rolls and created the main fuselage, side rocket boosters, and the shuttle itself. All of these were attached by Velcro, allowing the kids to separate all four, just as they would in real flight. They used markers, stickers, and colored rubber bands to design their ideal spacecraft. Their imaginations were free to run wild!

September’s classes will stay space-themed and focus on the Artemis mission. The first rocket of that space program is scheduled to launch on Saturday, September 3rd. Artemis is the mission that will take man back to the Moon by 2025. 

MM Space Fact

Astronomer Lyman Spitzer, considered the father of the Hubble Space Telescope, first posited the idea of space-based observing seriously in a 1946 RAND Corporation study. By leaving Earth’s atmosphere, he argued, astronomers could point telescopes at and follow nearly anything in the sky, from comets to galaxy clusters, and measure light in a broader range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Talking With Farmers

I had the great pleasure of being invited to speak at the 78th Annual Convention of the Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts at the Crown Plaza hotel in downtown Knoxville on August 9th. There were representatives from that organization present from across the state, including the Upper Cumberland Region. 

I was invited to speak about the weather. The audience was largely made up of farmers, which is a group who always has a keen interest in that subject! 

I began by talking a bit about my own experience of growing up on a farm and all the weather I witnessed in my youth while working outside. I’ll always believe that being outside so much as a kid helped foster my love for meteorology. 

The connection between farmers and the weather is quite historic for meteorology. The first photograph of a tornado was taken in 1884 by a Kansas farmer. Farmer Adams just so happened to have his box camera ready and captured an image of the twister while being just 14 miles away from it. 

The first photo of a tornado. Image courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society.

Yet another farmer in Kansas is one of the only people to ever stare into the heart of a tornado. Mr. Keller and his family were in their storm shelter when he decided to open the door to see outside. He ended up staring right up into the funnel! He saw lightning strikes riding the walls of the cyclone and was almost overwhelmed by the smell of sulfur. He even observed the furniture from his farmhouse flying around inside the twister. In the 94 years since his experience, his story is largely unmatched by any other tornado survivor.

The talk began with me explaining that weather is what we expect from day to day. Climate, on the other hand, is the weather you would expect over an extended time period. “Weather is what you get, climate is what you expect,” is a slogan often used to discern between those two terms.

We talked about the drought conditions being experienced across so much of the country these days and how we’re so fortunate to be getting the rain we’re getting this summer. Drought conditions across Texas are especially rough, with long-term indicators showing the drought worsening as we move deeper into summer and into the fall. Hopefully, something tropical can develop in the Gulf and give those folks some relief. 

I also spoke of how the corn belt region of Iowa and Illinois has some of the highest humidity levels recorded in the country in the summer. Corn loses a lot of moisture each day to evaporation. In fact, one acre of corn often loses at least 4,000 gallons of water a day to evaporation! That leads to very high humidity levels that are often higher than humidity levels felt on the Gulf Coast. That heat and humidity can power severe storms there in the summer, leading to damage to those crops. 

Devastating damage to Iowa cornfields after severe storms in 2020. This wind event is called a derecho. Photo Courtesy Stuart Johnson, 95.5 Regional Radio KAAN in Bethany, MO; Alphamedia USA Affiliate

I spoke of lightning and how we need to be so very careful out on the farms during thunderstorms. If you are close enough to hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. There were 194 million lightning events recorded in the U.S. in 2021!

My talk ended with reminding everyone to be sure and share their farm experiences on social media. That is especially true for pictures of the sky, clouds, and such. Some people hardly ever get outside and miss a whole world of beauty that is around them. Sharing our outside experiences on social media might just remind folks to always look up.

MM Weather Fact 

A derecho (pronounced similar to “deh-REY-cho”) is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. Although a derecho can produce destruction similar to the strength of tornadoes, the damage typically is directed in one direction along a relatively straight swath. As a result, the term “straight-line wind damage” sometimes is used to describe derecho damage. By definition, if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length, then the event may be classified as a derecho.

A composite of radar images of a derecho crossing Iowa in 2020. Courtesy NWS Chicago.

On This Day in History

The first sci-fi film was released on this day in 1902. A Trip to the Moon is about a group of astronomers who travel to the Moon in a cannon-propelled capsule, explore the Moon’s surface, escape from an underground group of lunar inhabitants (called Selenites), and return to Earth with a captive Selenite.

Thank you for subscribing and supporting education outreach in our area!

Let me know if there’s anything you would like to see added to the newsletter!