Field Trip: National Air and Space Museum

November 15, 2009

The Human inquisitiveness and endless endeavor to ascertain the wonders of the heaven has contributed to the creation of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This testament to the education and the study of air and space holds the purpose to preserve knowledge and ensure the advancement of the study through our posterity. Students attended this field trip with the intention of obtaining a grade, as well as in the interest of learning. Students engaged in this academic journey, visited exhibits including “Looking at Earth”, “Explore the Universe”, and “Exploring the Planets” to expand their outlook on science and how it is implemented in global, extraterrestrial, and intergalactic explorations.

Scientists have sought for omniscience throughout the course of history, and the conquest of the skies has granted the knowledge though perspective. From early on, the concept that warm air rises provided hot air balloons for wartime espionage that assisted the Union in the American Civil War. Balloon operators surveyed the topography and enemy positions with telescopic sights from their altitude. Surveillance methods progressed with the technological advancements of the 20th century, allowing stealth planes and photographic imaging to supply information on oversea continents. The cameras utilized the visible light spectrum to capture images of enemy facilities. The Lockheed U-2 plane was the recon aircraft that took the famous pictures---with its U-2 B cameras---of the soviet missile silos in Cuba. The pictures provided the U.S. military with the activities and whereabouts of the rival Soviet Union to plan proper defensive maneuvers against the missiles. These Lockheed U-2 planes were very effective as they dodged enemy detection with the stealth technology and obtained clear photographic evidence for analysis.

Now in the time of peace, and with further aeronautic advancements, satellites orbiting in the earth’s exosphere grant a bird’s eye view on the entire globe, scouting out likely positions for archaeological ruins, assisting meteorologists in weather predictions, and facilitating geologists in determining topography. The LandSat satellites are equipped with Multi-Spectral Scanners (MSS) that cover over billions of square kilometers of Earth’s surface. The MSS uses oscillating mirror to scan visible light and infrared light reflect from the earth’s surface to produce an image. The satellite is also equipped with radar to permit vision through clouds. For scientists on the ground, there are two ways to obtain the images captured by the satellite: take the satellite out of orbit or beam the files down electronically. The LandSat satellites were multipurpose, and they were used to obtain information on land topography, vegetation or farming patterns, temperature and properties of land surfaces, as well as aid in archaeology. The LandSat was able to map out possible locations of Mayan ruins by providing archaeologists locations of disturbed vegetations; the temple excavation was a success.

The “Exploring the Planets” exhibit displayed the solar system with individual panels of each constituent in the neighborhood. Mars is the red neighbor of Earth and Jupiter has the title of being the gas giant. Being the closest and most approachable planet, there is a copious amount of research and studies conducted on Mars as well as a vast amount of data regarding this planet. Mars has a diameter of 6790 kilometers, a length of year spanning 687 earth days, a 24 hour 37 minute day-night rotational cycle, and an average distance of 227,000,000 kilometers from the Sun. Numerous research on this planet implies numerous probes on or around the planet. The Viking Orbiter 1 is one of the probes that flew to Mars to observe dust storms and chart out the canyon systems of the Martian surface. These features required close-up observations, and no mundane land telescope could have gathered light to examine the details Mars.

The second point of interest in the planetary exhibit is Jupiter, also known as the gas giant or the failed star. Jupiter, being the biggest planet in the system, has a diameter of 142,800 kilometers, which is almost 11 times the size of Earth’s diameter. Jupiter has an average distance of 778,300,000 kilometers away from the sun, and thus it has a longer length of year of approximately 11.9 Earth years. Another trait that portrays the enormity of this planet is the eleven satellites that revolve around it. The composition of this great planet provides yet another unique feature not possessed by any other---static noise and the title of being the noisiest planet in the solar system. To study this electrostatic phenomenon, scientists launched the space probe Pioneer 10 in March of 1972. The instruments dug into the source of the sound through mapping the magnetic fields, its magnetic field’s strength, and the radiation emitted from Jupiter. The exhibit also provided the audience with a recording of the sound made by Jupiter. Sound is a compression wave that requires a medium to travel through, and people on earth would never have the chance to listen to this musical aspect of planet Jupiter.

The forefront of the exploration of the universe consists of basic instrumentation invented in both pre-modern and modern era. Astronomer Galileo was the first person to build and use the optic tube, also known as the telescope. However, the credit for the invention goes to a person named Hans Lippershey. The device depends on visible light to operate and produce a focused image through the scope. With this invention, Galileo was able to observe extraterrestrial objects including planets, stars and moons, and make discoveries including sunspots, the rings of Saturn, and other stars too dim to be seen by the naked eye. Through individual discoveries of the motion of extraterrestrial objects and phases of planet Venus, Galileo found support evidence to prove the theory of Heliocentrism.

A more modern sophisticated telescope is the Hubble Space Telescope. Normal ground telescope suffers from being blinded by atmospheric blockage and distortion, but Hubble is uninhibited by any of these blemishes. Hubble’s history carries back into middle of the 1900s. The corroboration between NASA and the European Space Agency together built the telescope and launched it into orbit in 1990. The space telescope carried multiple sensory devices that collected visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light. Altogether, the optical instruments gazed at the far and near galaxies in the attempt to test the big bang theory. The theory states that the universe is rapidly expanding, and thus the outer galaxies are younger. From the images of Hubble and ground telescopes, astronomers affirmed the validity of this aspect of the theory.

In terms of improving the exhibit, this modern age demands the use of more electronic and computerized displays. Incorporating interactive LCD screens in front of each display provides a fuller and more engaging experience that draws the audience into the learning. A computerized display would also facilitate upkeep of information as computers are easily programmable and changeable as well as less financially demanding than plastic display boards. This investment is easily approachable with a small amount of payment for computer screens and systems. This would also provide new information technology jobs for programmers to manage this system. Computers also allow more flexibility, and workers can update the information at whenever new discoveries pop up. The necessity of more workers, especially IT workers, may dissuade a museum director since it adds another burden to the budget. A new system involving computers may also seem intimidating to some people unfamiliar with modern technology. Overlooking the negative aspects, this would be a perfect addition to displays of this exhibit.

Saturn's Massive Massive Newfound Ring

There is a newly discovered ring around the planet Saturn. In comparison to the previously known rings around Saturn, this new ring is Much bigger in size and diameter, circles in the opposite direction, and has a 27 degree tilt. This article ties into the "exploring the planet" exhibit of the Air and Space museum, informing its audience of new discoveries of our neighbor planets and describing the features of these planets; Saturn is well known for its majestic rings.

Laden, Greg. 08 October 2009. "Saturn's Massive Newfound Ring". Surprising Science. 23 Novermber, 2009.

Satellite tracking of sea turtles: Where have we been and where do we go next?

Artificial Satellites orbit in around the earth in the exosphere to provide a bird's eye view on the things going on the Earth's surface. Like the landsat satellite, researchers utilize this tool in a similar way by tracking turtles. The satellite enabled researchers to observe behavior in migration patterns and analysis of habitats. The overhead perspective provided by Satellites has advanced research and allow people to have a better understanding of the planet we live on.

B. J. Godley, J. M. Blumenthal, A. C. Broderick. 2007. "Satellite tracking of sea turtles: Where have we been and where do we go next?". Endangered Species Research 3: 1-20. doi: 10.3354/esr00060.

Last modified: 24 November 2009