Category Archives: Dr. Andrew Howell

NASA Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars and in Texas with Austin Planetarium Party

Tomorrow night brings another great historical milestone for astronomy and for the possibility of discovering alien life.

The newest Mars rover, Curiosity, will land on the red planet at 12:30 a.m. CT, Monday morning, August 6, 2012. This rover contains the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which NASA scientists will use to investigate if life existed or still exists on Mars.

After it gets settled, the rover will bring the laboratory to Gale Crater to drill into Martian rock, collect and heat up dust, and examine the emitted gases to detect the minerals or organic molecules contained in the minerals.

When watching the animated video of the Curiosity Rover landing, “Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror”, at the top of my blog post, I noticed that it wasn’t a “bouncing” landing like the earlier rover landing as shown in the NASA animated video of the 2003 Mars rover.

The Curiosity Rover has a sky crane that will help it land slowly and safely in the rough terrain and to keep a dust cloud from damaging the instruments on the rover.

Mars Landing Party Hosted by the Austin Planetarium

Overnight, from Sunday, August 5, to Monday, August 6, the Austin Planetarium will host a free party to celebrate the landing of NASA’s Curiosity Rover at ND Studios as part of the Get curious campaign.

Here are the activities that you can look forward to:

  • 4:00 – 8:00 p.m.– Lots of family and kids activities
    • Enjoy Austin Planetarium’s Discovery Dome, their mobile planetarium, as well as their Magic Planet
    • Play Mars Bingo with the Texas Space Grant Consortium
    • View a robot replica of the Curiosity Rover
    • Get tasty snacks, including real astronaut ice cream and drinks
  • 9:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. – Adult activities and the lander live
    • Hear from science speakers
    • Watch live feeds from NASA with the latest updates from the lander
    • Listen to live music
  • 12:30 a.m. – Watch the Curiosity Rover touch down on the Mars surface!!!!

I’m really looking forward to seeing the live landing. (Actually, almost live since it takes the rover’s signal 14 minutes to reach Earth.) It’s going to be a blast!

Update: Hooray! The Mars rover, Curiosity, landed safely. How exciting to learn that Dr. John Grotzinger is a research scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory. As young Commander Ben, I met Dr. Grotzinger in 2005 at a UT Austin Environmental Science Institute Hot Science. Cool Talks. presentation.

Austin Planetarium at Hot Science – Cool Talks

Commander Ben and the Austin Planetarium team at UT Austin before Dr. Brittany Schmidt’s Hot Science – Cool Talks Presentation

I had a chance to meet the Austin Planetarium team and take part in their fun activities twice earlier this year as part of the great UT Austin Environmental Science Institute’s Hot Science – Cool Talks presentations:

You’ll find fun, interactive activities before every Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation. For example, before Dr. Schmidt’s talk, I entered the Austin Planetarium’s Discovery Dome. The speaker inside the planetarium used a computer to control a projector that led us through the night sky and zoomed in on Jupiter and its Galilean moons.

P.S. The Austin Planetarium team is working on building a world-class science and technology museum in Austin!

What about life on Europa?

Dr. Britney Schmidt and Commander Ben are excited by the possibility of life on Europa

Earlier this year, and I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Schimdt to talk about the possibility of life on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, as part of her Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation.

Dr. Schmidt thought that if there was life on Mars, it existed in the past and we would only find fossils today. Europa may have a greater chance of having life currently because this moon contains liquid water under its frozen surface.

Whether there’s life in space or not, there’s certainly life teeming in Austin for everyone who’s scientifically curious!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Alien life, Astronomy, Austin Planetarium, Curiosity Rover, Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars, Dr. Andrew Howell, Dr. Britney Schmidt, Dr. John Grotzinger, Environmental Science Institute, Europa, Extraterrestrial life, Gale Crater, Galilean moons, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jupiter, Jupiter's Icy Moon, Mars, Mars Landing, Mars Rover, Mars Science Laboratory, NASA, Texas Space Grant Consortium, University of Texas, UT Austin

Dr. Andrew Howell shines at Hot Science – Cool Talks

Last week, I had a great time at Dr. Andrew Howell’s Hot Science – Cool Talk, Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars:  The Past and Future of Our Universe.

Here I am after all the fun activities before the talk:

Let me tell you about them.

Making a Moon Lander

For my first activity, I made a moon lander at one of the stations.  I started out with cardboard, cotton balls, paper, straws, and lots of tape.  I also had two big marshmallows, which represented my astronauts.

I had to build a moon lander that would safely transport my astronauts to the ground.  My lander could not tip over, and I could not cover the top part where my astronauts were cowering.

After I built the lander, I dropped it from shoulder height.  It landed straight up and no astronauts were tossed out to their doom, so that’s was good.

Then I went to test it halfway up the nearby stairs.  At that height, I was scared that it would fall to one side, but I was very pleased that it landed straight up.  My astronauts were safe!

It was not so with some of the other astronauts.  Some landers flipped over and astronauts flew out…to their doom.  Some astronauts made it to the ground, but then they were eaten!  I decided to let my astronauts live.

Other Fun Activities

Our other fun activities included making and flying paper airplanes and drawing constellations.  There was also a trivia table where we could get stars for answering questions like:

  • How many protons are in hydrogen?
  • What gas is the most abundant in our atmosphere?
  • What gas does our sun burn on?

I’m learning about chemistry in my science class this semester, so these questions were a lot of fun.

Austin Planetarium

There were a lot of groups helping out with fun activities before Dr. Howell’s talk, including the Austin Planetarium.  (They’re hoping to build one soon!)

Here I am near their solar system exhibit:

Student Activity Center Auditorium

Dr. Howell’s talk was held in a different location than the other Hot Science presentations.  This talk was in the Student Activity Center Auditorium.  It’s a more modern building with fancier equipment, which was neat, but I still like the Welch Hall Auditorium.  Welch has a huge periodic table of the elements on its walls!

Here’s a picture of the Student Activity Center Auditorium before Dr. Howell’s talk:

There was also a Central Texas Model United Nations 2012 assembly going on in the building with high schoolers from across the state.  I met some students who were representing China as their nation, and from the UN program guide, I saw that St. Michael’s Academy and Westwood High School from Austin were also participating.  Cool!

And Now on to Dark Energy and Beyond!

Dr. Howell’s talk was awesome, and it was standing room only!  He showed a lot of cool clips from his National Geographic Channel TV series, “Known Universe”, including simulated explosions of a supernova using a large, gas filled balloon in an open area.  Dr. Howell set it off nearby with a trigger, and he said that even he was startled by how powerful it was.

It was amazing to learn about how when there are two stars nearby and one of the stars collapses into a white dwarf, it can pull energy from its neighboring star.  The collapsed star gets so much energy that it can’t handle it, and it explodes.  Dr. Howell and his astronomy team saw such an explosion from his Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network.

Watch a video replay of Dr. Howell’s amazing talk

Dr. Howell had a really long week, working and presenting with the other scientists during the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Austin, but he was great staying long after his talk ended to answer questions from a long, long line of kids.

Thanks, Dr. Howell, Dr. Banner, and Dr. Tafuro!!!!

P.S. If you love learning about the universe, there’s another great Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation later this spring on Friday, April 13, 2012 asking if there’s “Life on Europa?”  I can’t wait to find out!

Learn more about past Hot Science – Cool Talks

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Filed under American Astronomical Society, Austin Astronomical Society, Central Texas Model United Nations, Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars, Dr. Andrew Howell, Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jay Banner, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, National Geographic Channel, University of Texas

Intercepted Transmission to Dr. Andrew Howell for Hot Science – Cool Talks

Although pursued by an invasive species of unknown origin, Commander Ben sends an urgent transmission to Dr. Andrew Howell to get important news and a preview of his upcoming Hot Science – Cool Talk, “Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars:  The Past and Future of Our Universe”.

Don’t miss his presentation on Friday, January 13, 2012, 7 pm CT at The University of Texas at Austin in the Student Activity Center Auditorium. Be sure to get there early and join in the fun pre-lecture activities beginning at 5:45.

Dr. Howell is a staff scientist with the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network and host of the third season of the National Geographic Channel series “Known Universe.” His talk is part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the UT Austin – Environmental Science Institute.

Learn more about the Hot Science – Cool Talks series, including four great video interviews with Dr. Chris Kirk’s on his presentation, “Your Eye, My Eye, and the Eye of the Aye-Aye”.

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Filed under American Astronomical Society, Austin Astronomical Society, Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars, Dr. Andrew Howell, Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Known Universe, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, My Eye Your Eye and the Eye of the Aye-Aye, National Geographic Channel, University of Texas

Awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks presentations coming up in 2012

Happy New Year! And what a great way to start off the year by making plans to learn more about science by attend the upcoming 2012 Hot Science – Cool Talks presentations, hosted by the Environmental Science Institute at UT Austin.

The next one, Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars: The Past and Future of our Universe, on Friday, January 13, 2012, looks great! I always wanted to know about dark energy and supernovas.

The speaker is Dr. Andrew Howell, and he’s from the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. He’s also the host of National Geographic Channel’s third season of Known Universe, and this YouTube video shows a trailer of his program.

Learn more about Hot Science – Cool Talks, and watch my video interviews with Dr. Christopher Kirk on his fantastic December 2011 presentation, “Your Eye, My Eye, and the Eye of the Aye-Aye”.


The January 2012 presentation looks really cool. I hope to see you on January 13th (less than two weeks away!), and be sure to get there early. (It’s in the SAC Auditorium instead Welch Hall.) There are lots of fun activities for kids before the talk, so I hope to see you there!

Commander Ben signing off…

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Filed under Dr. Andrew Howell, Dr. Chris Kirk, Dr. Christopher Kirk, Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks