Super Moon 2019!
by Leslie Lowes, STEM Education Specialist for NASA JPL.
“Go further than you planned. Ask for the moon: you will be surprised how often you get it.”
These words of Paulo Coelho are certainly what we want our kids to hear and feel – to reach beyond and become the best person they can be. And we want to be there to help give them opportunities to reach their full potential.
The Moon serves as a source of inspiration – influencing aspiring poets, writers, musicians, artists, scientists, explorers, traditional knowledge-keepers in cultures such as Native Americans, and common-folk alike!
In 2019 there are wonderful opportunities to connect to and learn about our enduring Moon, and to help kids develop their science skills of observing and asking questions.
On Sunday January 20, 2019, a “Supermoon” lunar eclipse will grace the night skies throughout North and South America. In contrast to 2017’s solar eclipse, the lunar eclipse happens when the Moon passes through Earth’s shadow. Happening in the evening hours, the eclipse full-phase (Moon totally in shadow) lasts for about an hour (8:41-9:43 pm Pacific Time), and for more than 3 hours including the partial phase when only part of the Moon is in shadow (7:33-10:50 pm). During the full phase, the bright, silvery light of the full moon turns ruddy as Earth’s atmosphere scatters the blue part of the light from the Sun, but bends the red light into the Earth’s shadow. (Remember, the Moon has no light of its own – it’s a reflection of light from the Sun.)
Not all lunar eclipses are alike - they can vary in color and brightness, even throughout a single eclipse. Put your kids’ observing skills to work by having them rate the Moon’s appearance at several times during the eclipse, and bring the results back the next day to compare with each other using this activity (https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/teach/activity/evaluating-a-lunar-eclipse/). Reflect together after the eclipse on: What in particular did they notice about the Moon during the eclipse? Why did students’ pick one color description over the others? How much did the students’ answers vary?
And it’s no “ordinary” eclipse – it’s a Supermoon eclipse (sound the trumpets ;-) ), meaning that the Moon will appear larger (14%) during this eclipse. Moon’s orbit around earth is not a perfect circle, but instead an ellipse that brings it closer to the Earth at times than at others. When the full moon happens around the same time that the Moon is closest to Earth, people unofficially call it a Supermoon.
You can convey the idea by laying a nickel on top of a quarter – it’s a good model for the relative size the Moon appears to have when it is closer (the quarter) versus farthest away (the nickel).
NASA and JPL have a variety of activities to help you, your kids, and their families experience and understand this wonderful natural event – it can be seen from their backyard or a south-facing window.
All that’s required is enthusiasm, being observant, willingness to learn something, finding a few simple off-the-shelf materials, and having an eye for safety.
So remember, 2019 is a super year for observing the moon and engaging kids with NASA moon-related STEM activities. Also coming this summer is a celebration of a big historical moment, when on July 20, 1969 - 50 years ago - humans first set foot on the Moon. It’s also a chance to dream about what the next 50 years will bring us, and a chance to vision a greater future.
As Norman Vincent Peale said,
“Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars!”
More about that, and how to gear kids and families up to experience a piece of history and have fun while envisioning the future, in my next blog. If you are at BOOST 2019, come by my 2-hour workshop on May 1 at 2:45 p.m. http://www.boostconference.org/workshops