Live from the Hubble Space Telescope
UPDATE # 8
PART 1: Challenge Questions
PART 2: Behind the scenes at LHST
PART 3: Neptune programs, Hawaii, talking to kids, scientists and cats
PART 4: Twists and turns in scheduling a look at Pluto
PART 5: A crazy trip to Hawaii
Announcing a NEW weekly activity: Challenge Questions
Our Hubble scientists and researchers would like to challenge students to SOLVE our weekly PUZZLER, a "Challenge Question" relating to the science behind the Hubble Space Telescope, our featured planets, Neptune and Pluto, and other related Live From the Hubble Space Telescope (LHST) project curiosities.
Our Challenge Question will be announced each week via the Monday updates-hst email. Answers will be announced the following week. During the week of live broadcasts, we will announce the Challenge Question of the week and share answers for the previous week on the air.
We hope that your classroom will use these questions to research, debate, and suggest possible answers and even think of your own "Student Stumpers" that can be shared on-line. (see Update #7)
The first Challenge Question for this week submitted by Neptune Planet Advocate, Heidi Hammel:
Earth is often called "The Blue Planet." Neptune is sometimes called "The Other Blue Planet." Why is Earth blue? Why is Neptune blue?
The answer will be given Monday, March 11th!
Here are some suggestions from Passport teacher, Pat Haddon of Summit Middle School, Summit, NJ on how you might make the Challenge Questions a *special feature* of LHST experience:
1) Have a Library Scavenger Hunt to search for info necessary to answer the question.
2) Make a CHALLENGE QUESTION bulletin board with an oversized printout of the Challenge Question. Have students place their written answer in sealed envelope and tack to bulletin board. All envelopes are opened and evaluated when answers are announced on-line or on air. Pictures of each week's winners might be posted on the bulletin board along with a copy of the answer.
3) Divide class into small groups (SCIENCE RESEARCH ASSOCIATES or SCIENCE DETECTIVE AGENCY) and have each group work cooperatively to research info, discuss possible answers and produce a consensus answer. Each group should also keep an OFFICIAL TOP SECRET RESEARCH FILE relating to the CQ. [ My kids LOVE to assign themselves a company name...] Each Agency then shares their consensus answer with the class, explaining their research strategy and the science facts that led them to their answer.
Project Director Geoff Haines-Stiles
March 4, 1996
If you felt some vibes (good, we hope!) around midnight Eastern Sunday March 3rd, that could either be another earthquake bouncing Heidi Hammel in Hawaii (see below) or... HST making our Pluto observation!
You may recall that with one orbit to assign to Pluto, Marc Buie had to choose very carefully exactly which side of the planet to image, in order to compare it with his previous maps and so have a chance of figuring out if there have been "climate" changes. Given the complexity of HST's orbit and the geometry of Pluto's orbit and rotation, Marc and Tony Roman (check out the Web page for background on all our collaborators!) came up with 05:00-07:00 Universal Time on March 4, 1996 for the Pluto observation. So, by the time you read this... fingers crossed, we should have taken data.
Similarly, Heidi's two orbits are slotted in for March 8, 01:17:46- 02:12:54 U.T., and 09:20:19-10:15:27 U.T. (leaving enough time between the two LHST observations for Neptune to rotate and so give us almost a full 360 degree image.)
Perhaps if your time zone permits -- and we'll leave you to figure out your corresponding local times -- you might wake up, or otherwise pay attention, and "feel" YOUR observations being undertaken, RIGHT THEN, somewhere up above your head, by Earth's most sophisticated orbital telescope! Perhaps it will be our Japanese, or Croatian, or Siberian colleagues who'll be able to do this most easily: be sure to let us know if you do!
Though we hope these observations have gone off, and will go off, successfully, be assured that NO-ONE here on Earth will be reviewing the pictures BEFORE all of us, together, during the first live telecast, March 14, 1996. The folks from STScI will make sure everything has operated properly from a technical point of view, but the plan is for all of us -- Planet Advocates, NASA and STScI staff, and students across America and around the world -- to get our first real look, live, during the program entitled "Making YOUR Observations."
Speaking of which, both Heidi Hammel and Marc Buie are *extremely* busy on non-LHST activities. (See Heidi's Hawaii Journal below for a sense of how snow in Hawaii can jeopardize astronomy done from the surface of the Earth -- one rationale for the HST and it's above-the- weather eye.) Marc is equally hard at work, on another observing run and also finalizing material for a NASA-STScI press conference in Washington, D.C., this coming Thursday, March 7, at which he and his collaborators will announce new results from observations of Pluto they made a few years back. We're hoping the LHST observation will build on and extend those findings. But since the press will be there, he's having to think about how to present his findings, rehearsing what he'll say, preparing visuals -- in short, doing before a national audience just what students do in class or before a Science Expo. Figuring out the best way to express yourself sure doesn't stop when you leave school!
Speaking of which, producer Richard Dowling spent the last two days -- yes, a weekend -- editing videotape in Los Angeles, preparing the sequences which will be rolled into the first program. He's about half finished, and you can expect scripts for ALL the sequences, and a rundown for the TV show, to be published online later this week. This will help teachers build an "Anticipatory Set" for students. Richard is so busy that we'll be sending producer Deane Rink (who spent 3 1/2 months in Antarctica for our first PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE module, and is also researching LIVE FROM THE AMAZON RAINFOREST -- for Fall 1997) from LA to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to shoot "WHAT RETA SAW". This sequence is intended to show how Reta Beebe's Jupiter data gets turned from a raw image into a fully processed picture. In fact, Reta won't be there -- she'll be in LA for a meeting of a NASA science group (these astronomers sure get around!) -- but her graduate student Amy Simon and colleague Lyle Huber will show our crew how they turn digital data into instructive pictures. This relates, of course, to Activities 2E and 3A in the Teacher's Guide, and to an online image processing lesson to be posted next week. (See below: our hope is that many students can adapt what they see Amy and Lyle do with Jupiter to the LIVE FROM images of Neptune and Pluto -- replicating in their classrooms or at home what professional astronomers do in their labs.)
Meanwhile the East Coast TV team is also hard at work. Executive Producer Erna Akuginow and I are working on final press release text, asking our collaborators for lists of people to thank in the end credits, reviewing VHS "rough cuts" from Richard, sending and receiving tons of e-mail, coordinating participation from Washington State, Germany, Japan and Brazil, iterating with Pittsburgh and LA over show 3, worrying about going over budget (eugh!) and how the various government furloughs affect our cash flow, and "telecon-ing" with the PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE development team about the content of the program and how to include information on-air about the online, so that all appreciate the many dimensions of this integrated multimedia project. For example, Outreach Coordinator Jan Wee is planning how sheUll manage the email we hope will come in during the television program!
Also behind the scenes, Production Manager George Beneman (who's been a key part of our earlier LIVE FROM ANTARCTICA and LIVE FROM THE STRATOSPHERE telecasts) is finalizing arrangements for all the satellites we need to bring the signals in from Washington State, making lists of phone numbers, etc., and arranging for the production truck which will be at STScI as our main control room and video switching site. We hope to take still photos of the setup to give you a picture of what it's like behind the scenes at a PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE telecast.
Check out the very interesting Biographies and Field Journals already on-line: you can use the WHO'S WHO Activity suggested by Jan Wee as a kind of biographical scavenger hunt.
If you want to know when your local PBS station might air LHST, check out the chart posted on-line by Webmaster Alan Federman, based upon incredible hard-work by Clearance Coordinator Lisa Lehman Trager -- whose task has been to call *every* PBS station or state network in the nation to find out their plans. We'll update this resource frequently.
Remember PTK Advisor Pat Haddon's comment that she's always found the "LIVE FROM... " shows work well on tape? If your PBS station is choosing to record the live program and feed it later, we thank them greatly anyway, and hope you find it works for you and your students. *Perhaps* your local PBS station might host you and a few students to see the live feed, even if they're not broadcasting it live, over the air, to your community. Give their Education and Outreach staff a call. After all, as the slogan goes, "If PBS doesn't do it, Who Will?" And if they do cooperate, be sure to let your local legislators know of PBS's unique role in innovative educational telecommunications.
But since NASA-TV (absent a major emergency) will carry us live, it might also be worth checking to see if you can get the program direct (if your school has a dish), or via your local cable company.
Soon to come on-line -- a Virtual Tour of the HST and its support network, an image processing lesson, developed by California teacher Scott Coletti, Challenge Questions, and the protocols for a collaborative weather-watching activity, being developed by Guide author Bill Gutsch. By participating in this Activity, using only simple, easily accessible measuring devices, students will look up speed, and then share their data with other LHST Weather Observers to create a time-lapse cloud map of the USA. Our plan is that we can then compare these findings with what we see -- looking down with the HST from high "above" and far away -- on Neptune. Again, this relates to Activities 3B, 3C and 3D and will help us all prepare for Program 3, "Announcing YOUR Results."
Thanks to Linda Conrad, Marc Siegel and Alan Federman for all their hard work readying the online resources. We hope to hear feedback came in from one teacher who suggested using a computer to create a digital version of the grid printed in the Teacher's Guide for Activity 2E, "Pictures from Space". He suggested using a paint program to drop in the 4 different shades of gray, and says it works well, perhaps for the class computer genius, or as an independent project. He was worried about 8th graders, gozillions (sic) of paper squares, and glue! Some may find his high-tech approach equally impractical, others will love it -- and that's just what we hope for. There's no "one right way" to use any LIVE FROM module, and we welcome your feedback about what works and what does not.
Well, that's enough for now. Back to work on the Press Release, which has to be finalized today, go to the printers this afternoon, and be in the mail by Wednesday! Nope, getting your "homework" done, and setting priorities when there's too much to do in too little time, sure doesn't stop when you graduate from high school. But then learning doesn't stop either, and all of us on the PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE project feel privileged to have the opportunity to learn by doing, to interact with world-class researchers such as Marc and Heidi, Reta Beebe and Carolyn Porco, and with the folks at NASA and STScI and ESO, and then to share what we hope you agree is a cutting-edge science experience with all of you, on-line, on-air, and in print. It may sound hectic, and it is, but it's also incredible fun.
Phew... gotta go. Onwards and Upwards. Stay cool and connected!
Heidi B. Hammel
March 1, 1996:
Scientifically, there is one big action item left. We will want to take the images of Neptune and measure things like the latitude and longitude of clouds. To do that, I need to prepare some programs that do "navigation." The programs take the time of the observation, and figure out (1) the precise position of Neptune in the Solar System, (2) the precise position of the Earth in the Solar System, and (3) the precise position of the Hubble Space Telescope around the Earth. The programs then do all the calculations so that when I point to a cloud on Neptune in the picture, the programs tell me automatically the latitude and longitude of the cloud. I already have the parts that do #1 (Neptune) and #2 (Earth) ready, since that is well determined long in advance. But part #3, where the Hubble is in its orbit at the precise time of the observation, is NOT easy to do. To make things even more interesting, the procedure I used to use has been "updated," which is a euphemism for "doesn't work any more." During the next few weeks, I will figuring out how to do this the new way.
I made plane reservations to come to Baltimore for the press conference on 14 March (remember, I live and work up in the Boston area of Massachusetts). I also have to look into getting a cat-sitter for my four cats, since we just found out that my fiance Tim also has a business trip to California right at the same time as the LHST press conference! Their favorite sitter has retired, so we have to find someone new.
My other big science project.........
Most of my time recently has been spent preparing for an observing run. On 6 March 1996, the planet Jupiter is going to cross in front of a very bright star. I have been given time on the NASA Infrared Telescope in Hawaii to watch the starlight fade out as the star is "occulted" by Jupiter. By watching how long the starlight takes to fade as the star disappears behind Jupiter, we can measure the pressure, temperature, and composition of the atmosphere.
Preparing for this event is a lot of work. Another MIT scientist and a graduate student are helping me, but I am the PI (Principal Investigator), which means I have the ultimate responsibility for making the observations happen successfully! We are taking our own instrument out, and it needed some redesign work. I also had to calculate exposure times for the pictures we will be taking. I had to make plane reservations, and fill out forms, and just generally do all kinds of logistical planning. We leave tomorrow! And then the *real* work begins.
Life goes on...........
I also did a lot of traveling during the past few weeks. I gave a talk to a high school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and also made a scientific presentation at a meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. I gave a public lecture in Salem, Massachusetts, and ran a astronomy workshop for girls in Syracuse, New York. I spent several days in Irvine, California, at a meeting about the future exploration of the Solar System. I was supposed to go to New York City last week, but (fortunately) that was postponed until next month.
Sometimes I need a break from science, even stuff as fun as using the HST. When I am not at work, I am playing with and caring for the cats (Jessie, Peanut, Lilah, and Lucy). Last night I had to take all four cats to the vet. My fiance was in Texas, so I had to do it by myself. Somehow, once I got the first cat in his carrier, the other three figured out that something funny was going on, and they all disappeared. I found them under the bed in the spare room. It was quite a work-out to capture them one by one and get them into their travel boxes! They were all fine, except Jessie needs a bath, Peanut is too fat, Lilah needs to get her teeth brushed, and Lucy had a baaaaad attitude (she's happier now).
In the evenings, I have to do my homework (I am taking German classes several nights a week just for fun). I also like to read magazines and books (mostly romance novels and science fiction books), and I read the newspaper everyday. When the weather is nice, Tim and I go for hikes in the woods, and when Spring really gets here, we will get our bikes out.
Good Neptune News.................
Remember during the Great Planet Debate I mentioned how my last set of observations had failed due to loss of lock of the Space Telescope? Well, I just got a letter today saying that my "HOPR" (Hubble Observation Problem Report") was approved - in other words, they will redo the observations! That's great news! I still don't know exactly when the new data will be retaken, but hopefully it will be sometime soon. The closer to the LHST ones, the better! If we discover any new clouds in the LHST images, we will be able to track them in the new data and get a better idea of their rotation periods.
Last but not least..............
My Neptune collaborator, Dr. Wes Lockwood from Lowell Observatory in Arizona, will be coming out to MIT to work with me on the LHST data analysis. He will probably be here for the week after the press conference, so that is when most of the work will be done. We will be trying to write a real scientific paper using the LHST results along with the earlier Neptune data from HST. We will post daily summaries of our work during that week, so you can see how we work and what we work on.
The next journal will come from the summit of Mauna Kea - a 14,000-ft mountain on the Big Island of Hawaii!
late January, 1996
If you remember my description of the observing plan, I figured out the times when Pluto would present the same hemisphere as seen during the previous set of observations. I also computed how long the window of opportunity was for each time. Then, I prioritized them according to which hemisphere I thought would be most interesting. This is a sound plan and would have worked just fine but for one minor flaw. The window of opportunity I gave was about 2 hours long. In 2 hours, Pluto rotates about 5 degrees of longitude. I figured this was long enough a window to permit scheduling the observation while minimizing the amount of rotation possible between the new and old pictures. It turns out that this duration is just a little too short. You may remember, an orbit of HST takes about 94 minutes during which Pluto can be seen during about 45 minutes. Here's a crude graph that should illustrate the problem:
|-------- orbit ------------|-----------orbit-----------| oooooooooooooo | oooooooooooooo <- Pluto visible ---------------------------------- <- my window
Remember that the observation must fit in one orbit of HST. Each orbit has a time where the object can be seen (o's above). That must then fit within my window. An orbit lasts 94 minutes and a viewing window lasts 47 minutes. That puts a minimum length of 141 minutes on a window to make sure it will fit. My 120 minute window in this case starts too late for the first orbit and finishes too early for the second orbit in the worst case. You can see that if the window slides to the right or left then there can be instances where this will work, but it won't always work.
This sort of oversight is easy to make and normally I would get feedback from STScI that I goofed. At this point, the processing of this observation began to depart from normal operating procedures. Instead of getting a message that I goofed, window #2 on my list (March 4) was chosen for HST even though it didn't fit. Why #2? Well, it took quite a few e-mail messages back and forth with Tony Roman and Alex Storrs to get to the bottom of the problem. I thought that #2 was picked because #1 didn't work. As it turns out, #1 didn't work but neither did #2. They should have continued down the list until they found one that would work.
What happened? Well, this observation is being planned specially for the Live live broadcast to experience our first look at the data. Can you imagine what would happen if for some reason the observation failed and there was no new picture of Pluto? There are lots of ways that an observation can fail and it does happen more often than you would think. The scheduling committee at STScI decided (without consulting me) that they would put the observation as early as possible so that there would be time to repeat the observation if the first try failed. The first possible day was March 4 and I happened to have a window on that day so it was chosen.
After all this had already happened and the observation was scheduled, I was contacted to see if the mismatch between my window and the Pluto observing window would harm the observation. Unfortunately, this notification happened too late to make any changes to the schedule. Anyway, I've since figured that the slight mismatch probably won't hurt our observations and I really should have made my 2 hour window just a little bit longer. In the end, we should get what we wanted but it happened in a strange way.
These experiences I've just outlined detail all of the discussions I had with STScI about the planning and scheduling of the Pluto picture. You might be wondering what else has been going on. After all, it's taken me far too long to get around to writing this stuff down. That's the subject for my next journal entry.
March 3, 1996
On the 14,000-ft summit area are many of the world's largest telescopes. We are here to use one of them, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF). We plan to observe the occultation of a bright star by Jupiter, as I mentioned in an earlier journal. Let me tell you about the trip so far.
I got up yesterday morning at 5 am, since I needed to be at the airport by 6:15 to get our equipment checked in. We are taking a camera we built at MIT, which is more complicated than your average picture-taking camera: it fills 5 crates (including computers, electronics, tools, and stuff). The plan was that I would meet Jim and Jeff at the curbside at the airport, and they would have the van with all the equipment. Well, I was there right on time. But no Jim, no Jeff, no van, no equipment. I was worried, because there were predictions for a big snowstorm to hit Boston soon, and if we didn't get out on time, we might not get out for a while!
They finally showed up after a nerve-wracking 20-minute wait - whew! We checked in our equipment crates and our suitcases. It was a long 5-hour flight to Los Angeles, where we had to change planes. The whole terminal was PACKED with people, and we had to take a bus from the terminal we landed at to another terminal, and that terminal was also PACKED with people, plus it was under construction! It was a nightmare. We finally got out of there, and had another long 5-hour flight to Honolulu, where we again had to get on a bus and transfer from one terminal to another to catch a flight from Honolulu to Hilo, which is on a different island.
We finally got to Hilo at about 7 pm Hawaii time, which is midnight in Boston. It had already been a long day. But then the real fun began.
It was pouring rain in Hilo. Absolutely buckets. I had to get from one place to another, so I was running, trying to stay dry. But I tripped and fell into a deep puddle, and tore open my jeans and also my knee. So much for staying dry, and now I was injured to boot. To make matters worse, the airlines lost my luggage! All the equipment crates and other bags came, only mine was lost. So I had no dry clothes to change into. 1-hour drive, but because of the fierce rainstorm, I had to drive very slowly: I had to drive over two hours in a pouring rain storm while soaking wet, in torn and blood-stained jeans, in pain. It was awful!
When we finally got to the mid-level, I found a note: the summit area (the telescopes) had been abandoned several hours earlier due to dangerous conditions. All the rain in Hilo and on the drive was SNOW up on the top of the mountain! We had escaped the snowstorm in Boston, only to run smack-dab into an even worse one in Hawaii. Now you know the meaning of Mauna Kea - the White Mountain!
There was nothing left to do but go to bed. I had finally gotten into my dorm room, out of the wet and bloody clothes, had treated my wounds, and crawled into bed, when the bed started shaking. It was an earthquake! Fortunately, it was a minor one, and was over before I even had time to get out of bed. But what a way to end a long, strange trip.
Today we spent the day watching weather photos on the internet, talking with the road crews about when they think they will be able to get the roads clear to the summit. They don't think they will get through the 4-foot-tall snowdrifts until tomorrow evening at the earliest. We were planning to unpack up the instrument today, with installation and check-out tomorrow, so this is a major problem! The good news - the airlines found my suitcase, and it was delivered to Hale Pohaku in the afternoon. It was good to get out of the blood-stained jeans and put on fresh clothes.
Since we were planning to do much of our set up work today and tomorrow, we are far behind in our timeline. And we cannot tell Jupiter to slow down in its orbit. It will cross in front of that star on Tuesday morning whether we are ready or not! Stay tuned ....