Astronomy Archives - Page 2 of 3 - Eva Varga

September 2, 20141

I can vividly recall watching the tragedies of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster unfold on the television. Though I wasn’t particularly interested in astronomy or space exploration, Christa McAuliffe had captured the hearts and minds of school children across the country.

Today marks Christa’s 66th birthday and in her honor, I wanted to celebrate the accomplishments of women in space.  I’ve chosen to focus particularly on McAuliffe and her colleague, Barbara Morgan for these women touched my life personally.


Women in Space

Hundreds of people have flown in space, yet the number of women that have made the journey is still relatively small. Although the first woman flew into space in 1963, it would not be until almost 20 years later that another flew.
The first woman in space was a Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova launched with the Vostok 6 mission on June 16, 1963. The United States did not have a woman in space until 1983, when astronaut Sally Ride launched with the seventh Space Shuttle mission.

In the 1980s, female astronauts/cosmonauts went on to become commonplace. Since then, more than 40 American women have entered space. Most served on the various Space Shuttle flights from 1983 to 2010. Six American women have also served on Soyuz flights.

55 different women total including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and foreign nationals have flown in space.

  • 6 different female cosmonauts have flown on the Soviet/Russian program
  • 1 female astronaut or taikonaut has flown in the Chinese program
  • 48 different women have flown with NASA. 43 of these were Americans

As of July 2014, while 24 men have journeyed to the moon, no woman has travelled beyond low earth orbit.


McAuliffeMorganSharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe was born on September 2, 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts to Edward Christopher Corrigan and Grace Mary Corrigan. She was the eldest of five children and became a teacher in 1970.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project and McAuliffe learned about NASA’s efforts to find the first civilian, a gifted teacher who could communicate with students to fly into space. McAuliffe became one of more than 11,000 applicants. On July 1, 1985, she was announced as one of the 10 finalists, and on July 7 she traveled to  Johnson Space Center for a week of thorough medical examinations and briefings about space flight.

As a member of mission STS-51-L, she was planning to conduct experiments and teach two lessons from the Space Shuttle. On January 28, 1986, She was one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Barbara Radding Morgan was born on November 28, 1951 to Dr. and Mrs. Jerry Radding and raised in Fresno, California. After high school, she attended Stanford University, graduating with distinction in 1973 and her teaching credential a year later.

Morgan was selected as the backup candidate for the NASA Teacher in Space project on July 19, 1985. From September 1985 to January 1986, Morgan trained with Christa McAuliffe and the Space Shuttle Challenger crew at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.

Following McAuliffe’s death, Morgan assumed the duties of Teacher in Space Designee and resumed her teaching duties at McCall-Donnelly Elementary. Her duties with NASA included public speaking, educational consulting, and curriculum design.

In January 1998, Morgan was selected by NASA as a Mission Specialist and reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1998, making her a full-time astronaut. While training, she continued to present at science conferences across the country and in 2001, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet her at a CESI Luncheon (NSTA Convention 2001) where she was the keynote speaker and I was presented with an award along with Bill Nye.

She flew on STS-118 in August 2007. Three weeks after Morgan’s mission ended, she conducted her first space education assignment at Walt Disney World in Florida, telling those in attendance to “Reach for your dreams … the sky is no limit.” 

Morgan’s words were etched into a plaque on a wall of Mission: Space. The “Wall of Honor” contains quotes from notable people, such as Neil Armstrong, John F. Kennedy, Charles Lindbergy, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Galileo, and Christa McAuliffe. Morgan’s plaque is placed beside McAuliffe’s, which says: “Space is for everybody … That’s our new frontier out there.”

Bring it Home

Explore some of the activities and lessons provided by NASA:

Read one of the many wonderful biographies of pioneering women in space: 

Science Milestones Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Explore additional September Birthday lessons and unit studies with iHomeschool Network bloggers.

July 11, 20141

Have you ever looked at the night sky and been amazed by all the stars? Have you ever seen bats darting above your head when your sitting by the campfire roasting marshmallows?

The warmer evenings are the perfect time to get outdoors and observe nature after the sun has set. There are tremendous opportunities for night science activities throughout the summer months.


National Moth Week

National Moth Week offers everyone, everywhere a unique opportunity to become a Citizen Scientist and contribute scientific data about moths. Through partnerships with major online biological data depositories, National Moth Week participants can help map moth distribution and provide needed information on other life history aspects around the globe.

Mothing can be done anywhere- at parks, nature centers, backyards and even in towns and cities. Events are taking place around the world – join up or host an event of your own. Learn more at National Moth Week.


Super Moons

The summer of 2014 also provides wonderful opportunities to learn more about our nearest celestial neighbor.  The earth will be bathed in moonlight as three perigee “supermoons” occur in consecutive months: July 12, August 10, and September 9. The scientific term for the phenomenon is Perigee Moon, the point in the Moon’s elliptical orbit closest to Earth. 

Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side (“perigee”) about 50,000 km closer than the other (“apogee”).  Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon’s orbit seem extra big and bright.

On July 12th and Sept 9th the Moon becomes full on the same day as perigee.  On August 10th it becomes full during the same hour as perigee—arguably making it an extra-super Moon.”

Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid meteor shower, one of the brighter meteor showers of the year, occur every August, peaking around August 9-13. The 2014 Perseid meteor shower will peak between August 10 and August 13. However, a waning Gibbous Moon (the Moon’s phase after a full moon) may make it harder for observers to see the shower.

Consisting of tiny space debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are named after the constellation, Perseus. This is because, their radiant or the direction of which the shower seems to come from lies in the same direction as Perseus. The constellation lies in the north-eastern part of the sky.

Radiant of the Perseid metoer shower. Illustration credit: NASA
Radiant of the Perseid metoer shower. Illustration credit: NASA

Check with local astronomy clubs and park centers in your local area to learn more about public astronomy events.

Just for Fun

Some activities you might also want to consider are:

  • Join up with a park ranger for a guided moonlight kayak tour.
  • Lay on beach or lake shore and enjoy gazing at the stars. How many constellations can you name?
  • Go for a nature walk on the night of a full moon. Can you find bats or other nocturnal animals?
  • Observe the moon each night for a month and record your observations in a moon journal. Get creative and include art and poetry as you feel inspired.

October 19, 20134

It has been a great week!  We have managed to squeeze in so much learning that it’s hard to believe we have also had quality time with friends and family.  Our endeavors and opportunities this week provided us with a greater understanding of the moon’s phases as we began a year-long moon journal project.  In addition, we explored chemical changes and solubility with ultraviolet light.

sun prints

Sun Prints

My girlfriend brought over a package of large sun print paper so we took advantage of the beautiful day to sneak in a little science.  Sun Prints were originally developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science in 1975 and have been popular in art and science classrooms ever since.  The magic behind this classic activity involves a little chemistry – specifically chemical changes and water solubility.

In the presence of ultra-violet light, two molecules embedded in the paper interact to form a new molecule. Their interaction is initiated by the specific wavelengths of ultra-violet light. The new molecule is colorless so that as the blue molecules are converted, the white of the paper base begins to show through. As the chemical reaction takes place, the areas of the paper exposed to the sun will fade from blue to white.

Areas of the paper covered by objects still contain the original blue molecule, so they remain blue.  According to package directions, when you see most of the color disappear from the paper,  the print has been fully exposed and you are to put the paper into water. This does two things …

First, the original blue compound is water soluble, thus when you immerse it in the water, the blue compound is carried away, leaving only the white paper base. Second, the new colorless compound is not water soluble, and therefore does not wash away. However, water stimulates another chemical change … an oxidation reaction that turns the colorless compound into the deep blue of a finished sun print.

The result is a cool piece of art.  I love that Sweetie did organic items (leaves, seeds, shells, a bird skull, etc.) whereas Buddy used his new Boeing 747 model.

moon jounals

Moon Journals

As we got underway with the World MOON Project earlier this month, the kids have been joyfully pointing the moon out every night. To be honest, it took us a few weeks to get into the habit, but now they delightedly point it out.

Presently, they are recording their observations on a simple sheet I printed out from the curriculum, but as we sat down this week for the first descriptive writing assignment (an essay requirement for the project), they both stated they’d like a special nature journal for the moon. “I’d like to put a poem I wrote about the moon in it and do some special art projects about the moon,” Sweetie exclaimed.

I have been wanting to start year-long moon journals for a long time.  They didn’t have to twist my arm. We will be purchasing a new journal this weekend.  In fact, I have the perfect art project already in mind. You can see some of my moon journal ideas pinned on my Nature Study & Journaling board.


  • We prepared three of our favorite meals this week – it was all about comfort food: corned beef and cabbage, meatloaf, and meat biscuits.
  • I made homemade vegetable broth with the left over veggie scraps.
  • The kids performed well as their fall recital.
  • Even better, my mom (Grandma R) was able to drive down to see the recital.
  • Mom taught me how to can tuna!!
Homegrown Learners

October 6, 20133

World MOON ProjectI am excited to share with you a citizen science project that my kiddos and I have been recently taking part … the World MOON Project.  The acronym draws attention to the mission of getting students to observe the world first hand and stands for More Observation Of Nature.

This is a great project for homeschool families, including co-ops and after school programs.  With the World MOON Project, students from around the world learn how the Moon works from both their own local point of view and also a global perspective. The project is divided into two phases.

The first phase:
During the first, students learn from their observations and class discussions how the Moon changes location and shape (phase) in a regularly-repeating cyclical pattern from the point of view of your community. Students observe the Moon each day, record their observations and discuss their findings in order to learn, through personal inquiry, patterns in the Moon’s behavior in their own community.

The second phase:
The second phase is organized into three three-week parts. In each three-week part, the teacher sets aside one day for her/his students in grades 4-8 to write an essay to share globally with other project participants. By sharing what they’ve learned about the Moon in their community and comparing what they’ve found with the observations and findings of the other students from around the world, they develop a greater understanding of astronomy.

The World MOON Project is flexible; participants can choose specific curriculum goals or address all areas (lunar phases, inquiry skills, nature of science, etc). Each teacher can adjust their participation to his/her needs. Free handbooks guide teachers and students through the project.  Visit the website to find out more about the World MOON Project. Click Teacher Handbook or Student Handbook to learn in detail how the project works.

We are taking part in the fall 2013 project but it will be offered again in the spring.  I encourage you to take time to familiarize yourself with the project and consider it for your own curriculum.

To coordinate with our study, we’ve also explored the moon’s influence on the Earth’s tides.  In July, we observed the tidal changes along the Oregon coast while staying at my Dad’s.  We also created a tide graph of the month’s tidal heights – see my post, The Secret of the Tides, for more information.

August 12, 20122

This year promises to be an exciting year for astronomers, both amateur and professionals alike.  Local astronomy clubs, science museums, and national parks are teaming up to provide the public with an array of informal astronomy activities. These opportunities provide children of all ages to learn about our night skies and further explore our natural world.

We have taken advantage of these opportunities whenever we could. The kids always walk away more interested, proving once again that learning is a natural process and that children learn best when we allow that natural process to unfold, unfettered by the meddling of others.

comet activity box

Solar Eclipse

In May, we joined other letterboxers for the Annular Solar Eclipse.   This month, we spent the morning at Turtle Bay Exploration Park for Science Saturday.  We expected to find numerous hands-on activities and engaging speakers on the topic of astronomy but were disappointed.  They kids actually said, “Mom, you could have done better than that.”  Indeed I probably could have.

As it were, there was one activity we did enjoy – a set of four mystery boxes in which common household items were concealed (a bowl of ice, a rock, a bowl of sand and gravel, and a fourth item I don’t recall).   Visitors were asked to insert our hand into each box to identify what part of a comet the item represented. We enjoyed this activity and the kids were really engaged. They continued to ask many questions throughout the day as they reflected on the experience.

comet activity boxes

Perseid Meteor Shower

In the evening, we drove out to Whiskeytown for a star party and the Perseid Meteor Shower.  “Shooting stars” and “falling stars” are both names that describe meteors. Essentially streaks of light across the night sky caused by small bits of interplanetary rock and debris called meteoroids vaporizing high in Earth’s upper atmosphere.  Traveling at tens of thousands of miles an hour, meteoroids quickly ignite from the friction with the atmosphere, 30 to 80 miles above the ground.  Most are destroyed in this process, the rare few that survive and hit the ground are known as meteorites.

A meteor shower is a higher than average number of “shooting stars” that streak through the night sky. Most meteor showers are spawned by comets.  As a comet orbits the Sun, an icy, dusty debris stream appears along its orbit.  If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower.  Although meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, if you trace their paths, the meteors in each appear to “rain” in the sky from the same region.  They are named for the constellation that coincides with this region in the sky, a spot known as the radiant.  A meteor shower that radiates from the constellation Leo is called the Leonid meteor shower.  The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall or originate from a point in the constellation Perseus.

Perseids meteor shower

Star Party

We had a great time at the star party! We first met with a park ranger who led the kids through a couple of activities. This was quite the challenge in the dark, I might add.  Thereafter, we walked about to look through the telescopes that the astronomers had set up for the occasion, allowing us glimpses of M13 (a globular cluster in the …. ), Saturn, and Venus.  We were also able to hold numerous meteorites of varying sizes in our hand.  Finally, we laid down on the beach and spent an hour or so gazing at the milky way with our heads directed towards Perseus.  Sure enough, in no time we started seeing numerous small “shooting stars” dart across the sky – wondering if these were indeed meteors.  We heard exclamations of aww and surprise on numerous occasions. Though we may have missed some, we did see at least two significant ones that elicited exclamations from us as well.

We headed home when the kids said they were getting sleepy.  We journaled about the experience the following day, but their notes and faint pencil sketches didn’t come through well in the photograph – sadly, I don’t yet have a scanner.  A week later, we returned to Whiskeytown with the activity booklet the ranger had distributed completed and the kids were given a “Junior Ranger Night Explorer” badge.

May 21, 20122

Yesterday, an annular eclipse of the sun was visible to the United States and a narrow path across the northern Hemisphere. We were delighted to have the opportunity to observe the eclipse – and even better – we did so with an awesome group of Letterboxers.

Featherhead with Green Tortuga as he gives a mini astronomy lesson

We met at Hog Plateau – an area inundated with letterboxes.  However, due to the heat (it was nearly 100 degrees), we opted to save the quest for another time.  Instead, we spent the evening exchanging signature stamps with our new Letterboxing friends, catching up with friends whom we had met previously, and seeking out the special event boxes – some hidden in plain site, others (travelers) required little sleuthing.

Featherhead with Lady Marmalade
A few of us observing the eclipse
Team Academia Celestia – Maersk, Makita, & Featherhead

Solar eclipses happen all over the globe all the time, but this was the first in the continental U.S. in more than 18 years.  An annular eclipse is a “ring of fire” solar eclipse. A total eclipse is when the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun and makes it dark during the day. This eclipse will cover about 85% of the sun leaving a visible ring.

Our dynamic host, Green Tortuga, captured this image of the eclipse through his telescope. Thanks again for putting this together for us.  It was a fabulous evening!