Writing about Space in Poetry and Prose

To help out families and educators while schools are closed or experiencing dwindling attendance, the Stimola Literary Studio is providing free virtual presentations by children’s book authors. So, if you missed it before, my Night Wonders book presentation is back, new and improved. It is available on the Stimola Live YouTube channel.  Special thanks to Kevin Luecke and Katie Gray for their generous contribution of expert technical assistance and quality control.




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Sunset Valley Stars!

I had a very interesting conversation with the first and second graders over at Sunset Valley Elementary School yesterday. After taking a virtual trip around the universe, a student named Ella brought up the subject of stars. She wondered if red stars were dying. Then Matthew pointed out that blue stars were the hottest. These students raised very important points, because it turns out that a star’s color tells us a lot about them, including their temperature, age, and size.

Photograph courtesy NASA

So Ella, the answer to your question is yes — and no. Some stars are red because they are small and don’t get very hot. They burn coolly and much more slowly than the bigger, faster burning yellow, white, and blue stars. These red stars are not dying (at least not for a very long time). However, bigger (more massive) stars sometimes turn into ‘red giants’ near the end of their lives. In fact, that may be exactly what happens to our sun about 5 billion years from now. To see how that might happen watch this NASA/ESA video on the The Death of Stars.

But stars were not all that the Sunset Valley students were talking about. They know about the Milky Way, supernovae, the planets in our solar system, and most of them can tell the difference between the near side and the far side of the moon! Amazing, right? I’d say the night sky isn’t the only place to find ‘luminous bodies’ in Austin, Texas. The first and second grade classes over at Sunset Valley are brimming with bright young stars!

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“Great Ball of Fire” Space Rock 2013

Talk about rocking the house! A 10,000 ton rock from space roused about 1000 houses when it exploded over the Russian town of Chelyabinsk early in the morning of February 15th. It may have arrived on planet Earth a few hours late for Valentines Day, but not because it wasn’t trying. Travelling at over 30,000 miles per hour, that rock was definitely in a hurry to get here!

Credit: AP

Instead of spreading hearts and roses, this express delivery exploded into a brilliant fireball, not so romantically called a ‘bolide’. It blazed across the sky for 30 seconds or so, and then showered its remains across the Siberian plain for children to find in the snow.

By ANDREW E. KRAMER Published: February 18, 2013 The New York Times

Lucky this meteor was made of rock not iron.  Instead of exploding high above the surface and scattering relatively harmless pebbles, a meteor composed of iron or other metals might have held together and crashed into whatever lay in its path.  Fifty thousand years ago that’s just what happened.  A nickel-iron meteor, roughly the same size as last week’s fireball, survived the fall through the atmosphere and gouged a mile wide divot in the Earth’s crust still visible today.

Credit: USGS, D. Roddy

Posted in Earth, Meteors | 3 Comments

Barton Hills Whiz Kids!

Hey Space Bloggers!

There are some budding  space scientists over at Barton Hills Elementary School in Austin, Texas.  I was totally  impressed by the 2nd and 3rd graders I met there last week!  You see, we were talking about how you always see the same side of the moon from the Earth. That’s right, even though the moon spins on its axis while it orbits the Earth, this face is always looking down on us.

When you think about it, that’s pretty strange, right? I mean, how come we never see the other side?  It’s a puzzler. But the kids over at Barton Hills figured it out right away!

What’s that? You want to know why.  Well, it’s not easy to explain, but–Hey, I have an idea. Maybe the kids at Barton Hills will help me out!  I’ll just ask!

What about it Barton Hills whiz kids – want to give it a try???   Just click on leave a comment below, chose your space blog nickname (no real names allowed), and help me explain why the same side of the moon always faces Earth.  I would really appreciate your help!  And I know you can do it, because….

credit: Barton Hills Elementary School website

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Eyes on the Moon!

Hey Space Bloggers!

Put our old friend THE MOON on your agenda for 2012.  That’s right, we’re back. GRAIL A arrived at the moon last year (also known as yesterday – December 31st, 2011) and GRAIL B will enter lunar orbit today, January 1, 2012.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In case you’re wondering (like I was), GRAIL = ‘G’ for Gravity, ‘R’ for Recovery,  ‘A’ for And, ‘I’ for Interior, and ‘L’ for Laboratory.  If you think GRAIL A and B are lame names, you’re not alone. NASA has asked kids for some help (duh) and will announce new names any day now.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

But GRAIL A and B, by any name, are pretty sweet. Together they will open a window to the inside of the moon. NOT by blasting a hole through it. (Scientists are much trickier, and smarter, than that!)  GRAIL A and B will work together like two eyes, but instead of seeing ‘light’, they see ‘gravity’. By focusing in on the changes and variations of the moon’s gravitational field, they will be able to look deep beneath the moon’s cratered surface.

Image Credit: NASA, JPL, Galileo Project


With a clear picture of the whole moon, inside and out, scientist’s hope to understand what makes the moon, well ‘the moon’. And they might also figure out just how the Earth and moon formed and got locked together almost 5 billion years ago.



P.S. SpaceBlog is taking a short break.  There will be no new posts for a while, but if you have questions or comments, write in – I will always respond. And I’ll be back soon, hopefully with new news from THE MOON!

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Space Game! Where in the Solar System is Destination Twelve? The long awaited conclusion…

Hey Space Bloggers!

Welcome back for the merry (I hope) conclusion to the D12’s tale of woe, The Very Lonely Planet. When we left D12 he was thinking rather unpleasant thoughts about the intrepid space explores (actually, he called them ‘parasites’) from his little sibling Earth.  (That would be us.) He called us ‘impertinent’ just because we visited some of his siblings, being, you know, intrepid space explorers. And he tried his best to ignore us.

credit: NASA

D12 turned his back as Earthlings first visited their own moon.  Who cares, what goes on between a planet and its moon, D12 thought as he continued on his great circular journey.  Except he had to admit it was shocking. Remarkable, really. Parasites from one planet jumping off and flying to another celestial body. It had never happened before in all the 5 billion years D12 had been watching.   But still, it has nothing to do with me, D12 told himself.

credit: NASA

He tried not to notice as the ‘parasites’ got more daring.  10, 15, 20, 50 times they blasted off his little blue and white brother, most often heading toward its moon, to be sure, but starting to swoop on past, out to the other rocky planets near the sun. First, they visited his little sister Venus. Well, that was no surprise. She and Earth had always been close.

credit: NASA

Then of course, that brassy, upstart Mars. All rock and no air, thought D12 disdainfully. I’m much more interesting than that. But still, he didn’t much care about his small, rocky siblings always in the Mother’s bright light. But when those ‘parasites’ left the inner planets behind and flew straight through the asteroid belt to Jupiter—Well, that could not be ignored.

credit: NASA

Jupiter is one of US, he thought. A BIG one. In fact the biggest. Was that it, he wondered. Was that why they went to all that trouble? And it really must be a lot of trouble, he had to admit, for those tiny, minuscule, insignificant creatures from Earth to overcome the tremendous force of gravity; And then to navigate huge distances, many times bigger than their own orbit, through the cold vastness of space. What must it be like to be visited by creatures who cared that much? D12 wanted to know.

So he watched. And he waited. And with every spin on his axis he checked to see what they would do next. He was watching when they traveled from Jupiter, to Saturn.

Ahh, yes, he thought. Of course they would want to see Saturn up close, with those rings. He had rings too.  All the BIG ones did. But Saturn had R I N G S ! He had to admit that Saturn’s rings were truly spectacular. After seeing them, he worried, would they bother to come visit me?  And for the first time in the eons since his birth, he questioned himself. Am I big enough, he wondered, or bright enough, or blue enough maybe, to interest the Earthlings (yes, he stopped calling them parasites).

He wondered, and again he waited.  And finally, after many spins on his axis, he saw them leave Saturn. But where were they going? He wasn’t sure.

credit: NASA

He had watched many rocks move through space and learned to judge their paths, but these Earthlings were different. They would fall through space like any other object, and then suddenly, with a burst of fire, veer off unexpectedly.  Maybe, just maybe, this time… No. They went to Uranus. And his hopes fell. You see, they were nearly the same, D12 and his almost twin. After visiting him why would they want to go all the way on to D12? He was so much father out. Almost to the edge of the great black, emptiness. Almost beyond the reach of even the great Mother Sun.

But still he watched.  He turned on his axis 1000 times, 1500 times, 1700 times. And then, finally, they came.  They didn’t stop.  Well, they couldn’t.  But they took pictures.  Lots of them.  In fact, D12 realized to his utter amazement, they took 10,000 pictures of him and his moons.  But what did they see.  What did they think of him?  He had to know.  He listened ever so carefully.  He sensed the electromagnetic waves that pulsed slowly and softly from the tiny ship.  And then, for the first time in 5 billions years, he saw himself through the eye of another.

Credit: NASA

And Neptune glowed.

Posted in Destination Twelve, Neptune, Planets, Solar System, Space, Space Exploration, Space Game, Voyager 2 | 2 Comments

Space Game! Where in the Solar System is Destination Twelve? (day 3)

Hey Space Bloggers!

Today we’re going back to Destination 12 for a new clue – a story clue! So just sit back, relax, and listen – well actually you’re going to have to read it yourself, but you get the idea.

Once upon a time, D12 was a very lonely planet.  At least he thought he was lonely. He must be, because he never got any visitors.  For eons and eons this didn’t bother D12, because he didn’t know what visitors were. How would a planet know such a thing? None of his siblings ever had any visitors either. Then, in the last half-billion years or so, he started hearing rumors that one of the little planets (in fact, it was the tiny blue and white one that always hung around up close to mother sun) had developed a bad case of parasites – Yes!

credit: Maniac World, South Park

Creatures living in its seas! Then walking across its surface!! And recently, even flying through its atmosphere!!!  (talk about a bad hair day!) Well, at first D12 just laughed at these stories.  That, he thought smugly, is what happens when you never go off on your own.  Sure, it might be nice to bask in the warm glow of Mother Sun, but after a few billion years or so, one really should grow up and fend for oneself! Not that D12 was completely on his own.  He still felt the sun’s gentle gravitation tug, and solar winds. But he didn’t rely on her for everything like some of his siblings. He, at least, managed  to make most of his own heat. He was very satisfied with his superb icy surface gradually thinning into a lovely, slushy atmosphere. Who wanted a bunch of clumsy, unpredictable creatures messing around with such perfection?

Credit: NASA STScI

Then he heard that the parasites had started traveling.  That’s right, jumping right off the third planet and flying through interplanetary space, where only tiny particles, and occasionally, asteroids  and comets dared to roam. Outrageous!  That was what D12 thought at first.  It goes against tradition! Yes, when they were young protoplanets and liked that sort of craziness, there had been lots of rocks zipping around the neighborhood. But for several billion years at least, it had been quiet. Extremely quiet.  Now these upstarts from his little sibling had the nerve to disturb the long cold peace, to orbit some of his brothers and sisters even, and touch their tummies.

credit : NASA

Quite impertinent! The very definition of bad manners! D12 turned on his axis away from such nonsense, and continued his very long orbit, just glad that such parasites would never reach him.

Or would they?

Check back next week to hear (well, you know, read) the conclusion of The Very Lonely Planet.

Posted in Destination Twelve, Neptune, Planets, Solar System, Space, Space Game | 2 Comments

Cough, cough, sneeze, sneeze…

Many apologies Space Bloggers. Your indomitable, but apparently not invincible, blog author has the flu.  Never fear, though.  Space Blog will be back healthier than ever next week!

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***Special Report: CURIOSITY

Hey Space Bloggers! Here’s a question for you.

CURIOSITY is ___ ?

a. the wish to know

b. a science lab on wheels

c. about the size of a small car

d. on its way to Mars right now

e. all of the above

Yes, Space Bloggers, the answer is ‘e’ all of the above.  Saturday morning (11/26/2011), after years of planning, developing, testing and more testing, CURIOSITY, the latest, greatest Mars rover, blasted off Earth atop an Atlas 5 rocket and soared into space.

Want to see the lift off? Atlas V Lifts Off with MSL click launch.

Want to see how it gets to Mars? How Do You Get to Mars? click flight plan.

Want to see what CURIOSITY will do on Mars? Curiosity Rover Trailer Well, the trip takes 8 months, so it won’t get there until, let’s see . . . August 2012. But if you’re really curious, click trailer and mission plan and Mars Science Laboratory and more MSL.   Enjoy!

Then come back next week for day 3 of Space Game! Where in the Solar System is Destination Twelve?

Posted in Curiosity, Earth-Moon System, Mars Rover, Solar System, Space, Space Exploration | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Space Game! Where in the Solar System is Destination Twelve? (day 2)

Hey Space Bloggers!

Finally, something to be thankful for! Here it is, straight from the icy clouds of Destination Two, your day 2 LIMMER-IDDLE: (sorry it’s late)

Some find me divine, that is true,

And my aspect, a deep ocean blue

Which might possibly be

Why you Earthlings named me

For that god of the sea, You-Know-Who!

Thank you D10 for that uh, seaworthy clue.  I’m sure some Space Bloggers are fishing around for answers already!

Space Bloggers, be sure to keep those guesses and comments coming in. We’ve got a lot to talk about!  And check back next Tuesday for another clue to that 2 week old dilemma, Where in the Solar System is Destination Twelve???

Posted in Destination Twelve, Neptune, Planets, Space Game | Leave a comment