Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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24-Mar-2014

Contact: Susan Hendrix
Susan.m.hendrix@nasa.gov
301-286-7745
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA education event highlights mission to study magnetic reconnection

Despite chilly temperatures and grey skies, 108 local elementary and middle school students and their families gathered March 16 at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Visitor Center in Greenbelt, Md., for an educational event called The Sunday Experiment. Attendees were immersed in hands-on activities and were given presentations about a new NASA heliophysics mission called Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, that will study magnetic reconnection.

NASA scientist Glyn Collinson addressed the crowd with short presentations on magnetic reconnection using a room sized, global display system called Science on a Sphere, which uses computers and video projectors to display solar and planetary science visuals on a six-foot diameter sphere. Collinson then spent time answering questions from the students in attendance.

"Since we had such a young audience, I talked about things they can see," Collinson said. "Using the Science on a Sphere, I showed them the Northern Lights and solar flares. Their eyes popped out of their heads when they saw how big a solar flare is compared to the size of the Earth. I told them that a process called magnetic reconnection is behind all of this."

Defining Magnetic Reconnection

Carol Coryea, who teaches at Paw Paw High School in Paw Paw, West Virginia, worked with Goddard MMS project scientist Tom Moore, providing students with a mission overview and showing them how to construct paper MMS spacecraft models.

Goddard education and public outreach specialists Martha Wawro, Wendy Van Norten and Elaine Lewis, with assistance from Kristen Weaver from NASA's Global Precipitation Measuring Mission, led other student activities.

During its two-year science mission, MMS will measure reconnection directly with four identical spacecraft flying through known magnetic reconnection regions. By studying how reconnection occurs near Earth, this three-dimensional view will vastly improve our understanding of how this fundamental process works elsewhere in the universe. Understanding how magnetic reconnection works is crucial if we're to protect our modern technology such as communications networks, GPS navigation and electric power grids.

The Sunday Experiment usually held the third Sunday of each month from September through May spotlights Goddard's world-renowned science and engineering research and technological developments.

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For more, detailed information about NASA's MMS mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mms

For more information about future The Sunday Experiment events, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/visitor/events/sunday_experiment.html