Tag Archives: science

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!

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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. Michael Webber Hot Science – Cool Talks on the Longhorn Network

Commander Ben and Dr. Michael Webber at the KLRU television studios at UT Austin

Last month, I had a chance to attend Dr. Michael Webber’s Hot Science – Cool Talks lecture, “From Fracking to the 40 Acres: Energy Challenges for UT, Texas and the World”, in person at the KLRU television studios on the UT Austin campus.

Dr. Webber is the Co-Director of the Clean Energy Incubator at the Austin Technology Incubator, and he is also an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UT Austin. KLRU is our Austin, Texas, PBS station where I’ve seen many Nova and Nature television programs.

I missed Dr. Webber’s presentation earlier this year when he gave it as part of the Spring 2012 lecture series, since I was in Washington D.C. getting the Invasive Hunter Academy ready for Kids’ Day during National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW). So I was glad that I got this second chance to see his presentation in person.

The KLRU studio is cool, mostly painted black for the TV background. Someone said that they used to film Austin City Limits, a music program, here.

We could sit in the raised seats or on seats set up on the floor. I wanted to sit in the floor area, as close as I could to the front, so I could see his presentation clearly.

During his presentation he talked about natural gas, wind, and solar as being clean energies for the future. He also talked about biofuels, such as corn. The downside is that corn used for fuel can’t be used for food, and that may drive food prices up.

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing

Dr. Webber also talked about fracking where companies drill far down and then sideways. They blast the shale rock and force a sand and liquid solution down to help release the natural gas out of the cracked rocks. They make a protective covering around the tube to try to keep fluids from leaching out into the surrounding land or aquifers. Fracking helps us get natural gas from areas where we could not before, and Texas is a great producer of natural gas for clean energy.

Learn more about future energies from Dr. Webber’s presentation

You can see Dr. Webber’s presentation on the Longhorn Network on Monday, July 9, at 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. CT.

If you don’t have the Longhorn Network, watch a replay of his From Fracking to the 40 Acres webcast and Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation.

Fall 2012 Hot Science – Cool Talks presentations

I can’t wait to attend the Fall 2012 Hot Science – Cool Talks in person. They’ll be in the new Student Activity Center.

I liked them in Welch Hall because it felt very scientific, and I really liked the periodic tables on the wall, but having them in the center is hip too. That’s where
Dr. Andrew Howell gave his Hot Science – Cool Talks lecture in January.

Hope to see you there!

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Filed under Austin Technology Incubator, Biofuel, Clean energy, Clean Energy Incubator, Dr. Michael Webber, Fracking, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Hydraulic fracturing, KLRU, Longhorn Network, Natural gas, University of Texas, UT Austin

The Amazing Invasive Hunter Man

An accidental encounter with a plant grafting experiment transforms a geeky biology student into the Invasive Hunter, a hero to the ecosystem’s native species.

The Invasive Hunter returns to battle King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem), an invasive species overrunning roadsides and fields and stealing lunch money. His powers, however, do not go unnoticed by his cranky professor.

This video is part of Commander Ben’s “Battles with Invasive Species” video series.

Learn more about the plants talked about in this video:

And don’t miss seeing your friendly neighborhood spider-man at the movies too!

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Filed under Battles with Invasive Species, Giant Reed, Grafting, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Species, King Ranch Bluestem, KR Bluestem, Spider-man, Texas Bluebonnets, Texas Live Oak, Texas Mountain Laurel

Jessica Strickland talks at the Invasive Species Workshop for Citizen Scientists

Ms. Jessica Strickland talks about her background with invasive species during the Invasive Species Workshop for Citizen Scientists in June 2012.  Ms. Strickland is the Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

Before she joined the Wildflower Center in February 2012, she worked with American Rivers on watershed protection, fish habitat, and water conservation.

She studied the invasive species Armored Catfish (Loricariidae) during snorkeling surveys.  Watch the video to find out which invasive plant species she finds the most threatening to our Texas waterways.

This video is part of my “Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed” series of interviews with scientists that I first started at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

Learn how to become a citizen scientist

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Filed under American Rivers, Armored Catfish, Citizen Scientist, Giant Reed, Giant Salvinia, Hydrilla, Invaders of Texas, Invaders of Texas Citizen Science Program, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Workshop, Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Wildflower center

USDA Celebrates Commander Ben and His Invasive Hunter Academy

Thanks, Ms. Kelsey Branch, APHIS Biologist, for the fantastic blog post, “Meet USDA’s Youngest Ally in the Fight against Invasive Species: Ben Shrader, Invasive Hunter”

I had a great time with Ms. Branch in Washington D.C. during National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) from February 26 to March 2, 2012, and during NISAW Kids’ day at the U.S. Botanic Garden, I enjoyed teaching kids about invasive species as part of my Invasive Hunter Academy.

It’ll take more than a day or week to take down these invasive species, so the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has declared April as Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month.

Learn more about invasive species:


Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, Hungry Pests, Invasive Hunter Academy, Ms. Kelsey Branch, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, NISAW, Texas Invasives, U.S. Botanic Garden, United States Department of Agriculture, USDA