Five Far-Out Tips to Take Space Study to the Next Level

By Kim Moldofsky

The world is abuzz with news and images from NASA’s New Horizons mission. The spacecraft blasted off in January of 2006, just months before Pluto’s status was downgraded from planet to dwarf planet. It took more than 9 years to reach Pluto. This means that some of your students were mere babes in arms at the time. While all eyes are still on the sky, here are five tips for extending that interest a bit further.

Make Pluto a Planet

Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. Decades later, there was an uproar among the general population, as well as a few scientists, when its status was downgraded by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the body responsible for naming planetary bodies and their satellites. What do your students think about Pluto’s current status, especially in light of all the new information streaming in about it? If they feel strongly about restoring its full-fledged planet status, they can lobby the IAU. However, remind them that the group is swayed by science, not opinions, so they’ll need to do a bit research before writing their persuasive letters.

Picture This

NASA and the New Horizons mission have released hundreds of JPEG images for personal and educational enjoyment. Taken by LORRI, the LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager, NASA notes that this camera is the highest-resolution imager on New Horizons and that its images are some of the best ever in any planetary mission. NASA 

Planetary Exploration for All

One of every four members of the New Horizons mission team is female. That number may not sound encouraging, but women and people of color are generally underrepresented in many STEM fields, especially physics and planetary science. It’s worth noting that Charles Bolden, an African American, is the administrator of NASA and is committed to encouraging diversity in STEM. Bolden may be the one who runs NASA, but as a teacher, you have more influence over your students than he does. Make it a priority to let all students see themselves in STEM careers.

Start Now

With just a couple of clicks, you and your students can join citizen science projects that make measurable contributions to our understanding of outer space. You can aid the search for black holes and explore the surface of Mars from the comfort of your classroom or couch. These large projects rely on volunteers to interpret project data, although professional scientists take note of and interpret the results. It’s expected to take at least 16 months for scientists to sort data from the New Horizons’ close-up of Pluto, so let’s hope that means more exciting citizen science projects down the line.

Get Social

Are you social-media-loving space fan? Apply to be part of a NASA Social event. You may be selected to attend an in-person event like a behind-the scenes tour, meet and greet with NASA engineers or perhaps an opportunity to witness a launch.