Organization of the Program
The Mars Global Surveyor Radio Science Team Education Outreach Program offers
a special opportunity for students and teachers alike to participate in a high
profile NASA planetary mission. The program offers direct access to the
latest scientific data from the atmosphere of Mars. It also offers
contact with a dedicated and experienced team of planetary scientists.
Programs such as this are only now coming to pass, and are a very positive
product of the Internet age and the rising popularity of the World Wide Web.
Until now, it was not possible to distribute information such as class
lessons and martian weather data quickly, widely and cheaply. The Team
sincerely hopes that all who participate in this program get a thrill from it,
in addition to a good knowledge of atmospheres, weather and climate!
This guide details the purpose and goals of the outreach program, and describes for educators the nuts and bolts of how the program is organized. The Team has worked with a teaching consultant with decades of science teaching experience at the middle and high school levels to develop this outreach program. Nevertheless, this is new ground for us, and feedback from participating educators would be greatly appreciated. The program is a work in progress, and may certainly be modified to make it a better educational experience for the participants. Feeback should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The intent on the part of NASA and JPL is to allow young students to have direct contact with teams of dedicated and experienced scientists, and to allow them to access and to analyze the latest data from ongoing, high profile space missions. The hope, of course, is that students will be excited by this program and will develop a new interest or expand an existing interest in the sciences and mathematics. Ultimately, a generation of mathematicians, scientists and engineers may look back at programs such as this one and identify them as having kindled their desire to pursue a technical career.
Participants in this program will develop an appreciation for and an understanding of scientific methods while working hands-on with new martian meteorological data. Students will:
With basic knowledge gained from the lessons and activities, students may compare and contrast the atmospheres of Earth and Mars based on martian meteorological data which they acquire from the MGS Radio Science Team, and observations which they make of the atmosphere on Earth. The objective is to make students think critically and creatively, and provide explanations for phenomena which they have never observed before or have observed but never thought much about.
Another goal of this program is to instill an appreciation in students of the value of a computer, however small, as a scientific research and analysis tool. Students will use a computer on a weekly (or more frequent) basis to collect and record raw meteorological data. They will also use computer-based tools to graphically view a large set of meteorological data (and the conditions under which it was acquired) in any manner they deem necessary to explain why it appears as it does. It should be noted that MGS atmospheric scientists are still very uncertain about how the martian meteorological data will look! In tandem with demonstrating the value of the computer to program participants, a goal of the program is to demonstrate the value of the Internet as an educational tool for participating students, their teachers and the educational community at large.
Finally, a goal of this program is for students to develop a portfolio of this experience (in this case an outreach program binder) which will document their participation in the program and which they can use as a meteorological reference in the future. If it is not possible for each student to maintain his or her own binder (due to resource limitations), then a single binder may be maintained by each participating class. The binder should include one section for each of the following:
1. Lessons and Activities
There is a link from the outreach program home page to set of introductory meteorological lessons and activities. The purpose of these lessons and activities is to acquaint students with the fundamentals of atmospheres, weather and climate so that they will have the background required to explain and critically compare the data which they will acquire from the atmospheres of Earth and Mars. There are links within each of the lessons to the activities which are appropriate for the subject material, and there are also links to definitions of important vocabulary words.
Each lesson is organized around one central idea which is stated explicitly at the beginning of the lesson. Each lesson is also supplemented with related "astronomical tidbits" featuring images of Earth, Mars, the Sun and many other celestial objects from sources including NASA planetary spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Space Shuttle. Questions are also included in the lessons which provide the opportunity for classroom discussions or individual thought. Activities include a list of required materials and procedures to follow. They also include an estimate of the time required to complete them depending upon whether the activity is performed as a classroom demonstration or by each individual student (or small groups of students). Finally, the activities include a number of questions concerning the results of the activity which students may answer as part of a classroom discussion or individually. Some of the activities are geared specifically toward older or mathematically advanced students, and these activities are clearly identified.
The amount of time dedicated to the lessons and activities is completely up to the discretion of the educator. Present the lesson material as you see fit and include whichever activities you feel are appropriate. If your students are already quite familiar with the fundamentals of meteorology, then feel free to skip the lessons and activities completely. The material is there to make this the best learning experience possible for the students and it is likely that teachers will learn many new things too!
Sections of each student's outreach program binder should be devoted to the introductory lessons and activities. If it is possible, hard copies of each of the lessons should be included in the Lessons section of the binder. Short answers to the questions posed in the lessons may also be included in this section. Copies of the activity pages (for activities or demonstrations which are performed) and student summaries of the activities and responses to activity questions should be included in the Activities section of the binder.
2. Data Transfer and Visualization
There is a link from the outreach program home page to a suite of data transfer and visualization tools. These tools may be used by program participants to transfer meteorological data to and from the Web server at Stanford University. The tools may also be used to generate graphs of the data on-the-fly in response to student requests. It takes a few moments for the desired data to be retrieved and for graphs to be generated so it is hoped that you and your students will have patience while waiting for requests to be serviced.
The tools to transfer and display martian meteorlogical data are freely accessible to the general public. School ID's and passwords are required, however, for classes which would like to upload their own local atmospheric measurements for comparison with the data from Mars. ID's and passwords may be obtained by "registration" for the outreach program. You will receive an ID and password for each registered class. This will allow individual classes to participate independently and to maintain independent databases of local atmospheric observations. The ID and password are both case-sensitive, so you must enter the ID and password exactly as you receive them (e.g. NY1234 and koP7x3). You should disclose the ID and password to your students so that they may use the tools in class and out (if they have outside access to Web). The Team would be pleased, for example, if students would demonstrate some of the features of the outreach program to their parents!
2.1 Retrieve Martian Atmospheric Data
A simple form has been developed which allows participants to retrieve martian atmospheric data, one week at a time, from the Web server at Stanford. The MGS Radio Science Team has been acquiring data since the end of January, 1998. Dates for which data are available will be posted on the form. The form, as do all of the others, includes instructions for proper usage. When your class begins to participate in the outreach program, you may catch up with as much of the old martian data as you desire. After that, you may transfer new data as it becomes available.
The martian atmospheric data may be displayed as either HTML tables or plain-text files. The HTML tables are very nice looking, and this option is the default. The plain-text option is for participants who would like to import the data into a spreadsheet and manipulate it in their own way. Participants who choose to import the file into a spreadsheet must first trim the header and trailer with a word processing program.
Two tables are returned each time the form is submitted. One table contains the data acquired when the MGS spacecraft entered occultation behind Mars while orbiting the red planet, and the other table contains the data acquired when the spacecraft exited occultation from behind Mars. Generally, there is one entry and one exit occultation for each MGS orbit, but some times there are not any. We will not have data from those orbits! Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we will not have data for all of the occultations which do occur. Each of the tables consists of ten columns, and the content of each column is described below the two tables. The column headings are:
2.2 Plot Martian Atmospheric Data
A second form has been created which allows participants to plot martian atmospheric data. This form may be used to generate and view graphs of the martian atmospheric data and the experimental conditions on Mars when the data were acquired. Students must select the type of graph that they would like to generate. Students may view all of the available data, or may select their own start and stop dates. It is possible to select a small plot size if the standard plot is too large for the monitor on which the graph is displayed.
Graphs provide an excellent means to visualize the relationships between variables and the trends or periodicities in a data set. This outreach program will offer much opportunity for students to enhance their graph reading and interpretation skills! The martian atmospheric data will be complicated by the fact that the local times and latitudes of the measurements will be changing over the course of the mission, as will the martian season! Students will have to be quite resourceful and strategic in their graph generation and interpretation to explain the changes they observe in the martian weather. Hard copies of the graphs may be printed from the Web browser. Periodically, students should include the plots that they generate in the Martian Atmospheric Data section of their outreach program binder.
2.3 Record Local Atmospheric Observations and Conditions
Once each day, participating classes should make a few simple atmospheric observations at their own schools. These observations include temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity (if possible) and sky conditions. It would be ideal if a simple weather station is already available or can be set up with inexpensive instruments, light colored and off of the ground with instruments shaded from direct sunlight. If a weather station is not available at school and one cannot be easily constructed, the daily information may be obtained from a local newpaper or from a Web site such as that operated by the National Weather Service. It is not a problem if observations are not made on week-ends and holidays.
It will be most beneficial if the observations are made at the same approximate time each day. This will allow seasonal trends to be easily isolated from variations which occur over the course of a day. If observations are obtained from a local paper or a Web site, they must be measurements recorded at a specific time of day and at the same time each day, not simply daily highs or lows.
A third form has been created which allows participating classes to record their local atmospheric observations and conditions in a database set up specifically for each class at Stanford University. The form is organized so that it is easy to upload observations for an entire week at a time, but it is not necessary to do so. For instance, each daily observation may be recorded on that day or the next if classes desire to do it that way. Fields in the form should be left blank if there are no measurements of a particular type or on a particular date to report. Once the form is submitted, a table containing the observations is displayed in the participant's Web browser to confirm that the new information has been recorded in the database.
When observations are submitted for a given day, the data values are written over any entries for that day which were previously stored in the database. This form should therefore only be submitted once for a given day by any participating class, unless it is desired to correct erroneous data. If the form is being re-submitted to correct erroneous information, then all fields for that day should be specified and not just the values which were incorrect.
Atmospheric temperature should be recorded in degrees Fahrenheit. Atmospheric pressures must be recorded in units of millibars and not in inches of Mercury or some other unit. The average surface pressure on Earth is just over 1000 millibars (remember that 1000 millibars equals 1 bar); the average surface pressure on Mars is more than 100 times less than that. The units must be consistent if students are to be able to compare the atmospheres of the two planets, and the martian pressures are reported in millibars. If it is necessary to convert from inches of Mercury, note that 1 inch of Mercury equals 33.87 millibars. The pressure in millibars may therefore be obtained by multiplying the pressure in inches of Mercury by 33.87 (and rounding off to the nearest integer). Make sure to report the actual surface pressure at your location, and not the atmospheric pressure estimated at or corrected to sea level. Relative humidity should be recorded in percent, that is the number 43 should be entered if the recorded humidity was 43%.
The software which records the local atmospheric observations attempts to ensure that the observations are meaningful and not clearly erroneous. For example, it is not possible to record a temperature of 1000 degrees, a pressure of 100 millibars or a relative humidity of -20%. If you receive a message that your observations cannot be recorded, please check to make sure that the actual data values all make sense.
2.4 Retrieve Local Atmospheric Observations and Conditions
A fourth form should be used by participating classes once each week to retrieve the local atmospheric observations and conditions which the class has recorded in the outreach program database for the previous week. If any errors are found in the data, then the observations for that date may be re-submitted. As with the martian meteorological data, the local atmospheric observations may be displayed either as HTML tables or as plain-text files. The default format is HTML tables. The plain-text files may be edited with a word processor to trim the header and trailer, and then imported into a spreadsheet for further manipulation if any participants desire to do so.
The table for each week contains seven columns, and the content of each column is described below the table. The column headings are:
2.5 Plot Local Atmospheric Observations
A fifth form has been created which allows participating students to plot the local atmospheric observations which any of the registered classes have recorded in the outreach program database at Stanford. Students must select the school whose observations they wish to view, and the type of plot that they would like to generate. Students may generate graphs from all of the available data, or may select their own start and stop dates. As with the graphs of martian atmospheric data, it is possible to select a small plot size if the standard plot is too large for the monitor on which the graph is displayed.
Hard copies of the graphs may be printed from the Web browser. Periodically, it would be desirable for students to include graphs of the atmospheric observations recorded by their own class in the Local Atmospheric Data section of their outreach program binder. The graphs will help students to visualize and explain the changes that they observe in the weather at their own location. Motivated students may also use the graphs to compare their own weather with that reported by other participating classes. MGS Radio Science Team members at Stanford are participating as well. Our school ID is CA0001. Local meteorologists are well aware, however, that the San Francisco Bay Area is not a difficult place to explain or forecast the weather. Our typical forecast is "Same tomorrow as it was today. Morning fog and low clouds clearing to the coast by afternoon!"
3. Comparison of Atmospheric Data from Earth and Mars
Finally, participants in the outreach program must explain the character of the observations of the atmospheres and weather of Earth and Mars, and must highlight the similarities and differences between them. After martian meteorological data become available, an Atmospheric Comparisons department will be added to the outreach program home page with questions about the observations for the participants to attempt to answer. As discussed earlier, it will be extremely important for participants to utilize the graphic display tools to aid in their understanding of the atmospheric data and to support their claims.
The questions will not be complicated at first because there will not be much data yet to explain! As the MGS mission proceeds and the outreach program continues, the questions will become increasingly difficult as there are more and more phenomena to be explained. MGS atmospheric scientists will likely be attempting to explain the same phenomena! Students may be asked to forecast future atmospheric conditions on both Earth and Mars and to monitor the accuracy of their forecasts. They will make forecasts based on their analysis of the trends in the atmospheric measurements from both planets and their knowledge about the upcoming experimental conditions. Students may also be asked to compare Mars with the region on Earth (Antarctica) whose weather is most similar.
The questions may be answered in classroom discussion or individually by students, but answers to the questions along with supporting data should be included in the Atmospheric Comparisons section of their outreach program binders.