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We have two space science-related events next weekend, August 11-12, 2018.

1. Parker Solar Probe Launch

First up, on Saturday August 11, 2018 NASA is going to launch the Parker Solar Probe. The probe will travel close to the sun and gather data about it, including information about the sun's corona. Scientists are curious about the corona because temperatures measured there are hotter than at the surface of the sun and they want to know why.

Photograph of the sun's corona during a solar eclipse (NASA)

This probe is special because it has to withstand super hot temperatures. Scientists and engineers came up with a specially-designed heat shield and used water in a device like a car's radiator to keep the equipment on board from frying.

You can see more details in this video from NASA:

Hear more about it in the Why Is The Sun’s Corona Hotter Than Its Surface? podcast at Science Friday.

Related activity:

Capture the sun's energy using a solar oven (WikiHow or HomeScienceTools).

2. Perseid Meteor Shower

What is a meteor shower or "shooting star?"

Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a "cloud" of bits of rocks or dust left over from a passing comet or asteroid. If a particle enters the atmosphere, it creates a streak of light as it burns up. The debris cloud for the Perseid shower comes from the Comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids are named because they appear to originate in the constellation named Perseus.

The Perseids are the best meteor showers for viewing with children for a number of reasons. First of all, they occur in summer so temperatures at night is usually at more comfortable than for the fall or winter showers. Most children are out of school, so there are no worries about staying up on a school night. Also, the Perseids are some of the most reliable showers and last over at least two nights. This year is going to be especially good viewing because light from the moon is not going to interfere.

If you have never watched a meteor shower, it is fantastic! When the meteors are active it can be better than fireworks. Find a nice dark place to observe the sky, and if possible, spread out on a lawn chair, the ground or the back of a pick-up truck with some blankets or sleeping bags. No need for binoculars or telescope, because the meteors move too quickly to follow.

Because this is a natural event, there are no guarantees the meteors will be frequent. Prime your children to be patient or do the Constellation Detective activity (PDF link) at the same time.

Related posts:

Three astronomy activities

Want more? See our growing list of children's books about planets and the solar system.

We've been focused on storms here on Earth lately, but there's been activity on the sun, too. On Wednesday last week (September 6, 2017), the sun produced an unusually large solar flare. This flare results in an increased likelihood of auroras lighting up the night sky here on Earth. To learn more about how this works, let's look at the timely middle grade book Stories of the Aurora: The Myths and Facts of the Northern Lights by Joan Marie Galat and illustrated by Lorna Bennett.


As the title suggests, Stories of the Aurora is a combination of science and folklore. On the folklore side are legends from Inuit, Norse, Greek, and other cultures. On the science side, readers learn about the Earth's magnetic field, how the auroras form, how they behave, and the environmental effects of auroras.

It's a surprisingly informative mix. For example, on page 18 we learn that the Sami (also called Laplanders) call the aurora "The Light You Can Hear." This might not make sense until the sidebar on page 30, when we learn people for centuries have reported hearing crackling and hissing sounds during bright auroras. In 2012 scientists were able to verify the sounds and lights were related and began to piece together how they are created.

In this video you can hear some recordings of the sounds (towards the middle of the lecture, about 1:30).

Sometimes they sound like clapping. Isn't that amazing?

Auroras making sounds is just one of the cool things readers will discover in Stories of the Aurora. This award-winning title will surely light up the faces of youngsters interested in finding out more about their world.

Science of Auroras

The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) occur when waves of charged particles traveling as solar winds from the sun strike the gases in the upper atmosphere of the earth and make the gases glow. The Northern Lights typically occur around the Arctic Circle, but large flares can cause a glow that can be seen throughout Canada and into the northern United States. Here is a photograph of an aurora taken in Wisconsin.

Photo from NASA Images

Activity Suggestions:

  1. Predicting when an aurora will occur is difficult, and at best happens only two or three days after an observed solar flare. Often scientists can only give about 30 minutes notice. Check the NOAA Aurora website to learn about current predictions.
  2. Visit the author's website for a list of links to cool aurora and general astronomy sites to visit.
  3. Collect images of auroras. Make a poster, lapbook, or slide presentation explaining how they form and facts about them. For example, find out why are some auroras green, some red and some a mix of colors. Share your results. NASA has a free .pdf aurora poster and lesson to get you started.
  4. Try an art project with colorful auroras as a backdrop to arctic animals. Oil pastels on black paper can give a lovely effect. Add some black silhouettes of trees or land forms to the bottom for contrast.

The book is the 2017 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner for the Canada region and 2017 Skipping Stones Honor Award winner.

Age Range: 11 - 13 years
Series: Dot to Dot in the Sky
Publisher:  Whitecap Books; 1 edition (September 6, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1770502106
ISBN-13: 978-1770502109

Disclosure: Book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title or cover links and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.

You've probably heard that there's going to be a solar eclipse which will be visible from much of the United States on August 21, 2017.  Beginning about 9:00am Pacific time off the coast of Oregon, the Moon will begin eclipsing the Sun and it will pass across the continental U.S. Depending on what state you live in, you may see a full or partial eclipse. NASA has information about where and when to observe the eclipse.

Definition of a Solar Eclipse:

A solar eclipse occurs when moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, causing a shadow to fall on the the surface of the Earth (blocking the Sun's light).

solar eclipse(Photograph of a solar eclipse for 2008 from NASA)

Solar Eclipse Science

Why are scientists so interested in a total eclipse? First of all it is an opportunity to study the area of plasma flowing around the sun called the solar corona. Normally it is difficult to see the solar corona because it is obscured by the bright light of the sun itself. During a total eclipse, however, that light is blocked and the corona is visible, which allows people to observe and study it.

It is also an opportunity to examine the effects of limiting solar radiation on a smaller scale than occurs when the sun goes down at night.

Why doesn't everyone in the path see a total eclipse? It turns out that when light hits an object, the shadow is not uniform.

The dark center shadow, called the umbra, gets narrower further from the object blocking the light. Only areas in the path of the Moon's umbral shadow will see a total eclipse.

The lighter penumbra shadow gets wider behind an object. Areas in the path of the Moon's penumbral shadow will see a partial eclipse.

Are you going to miss the 2017 eclipse? Don't worry, the next total solar eclipse will be April 8, 2024, passing over the eastern half of the U.S.

Eclipse-Related Science Activities

This summer take advantage of some of the great science activities relating to the solar eclipse. If it passing over your area, visit events hosted by local planetariums and astronomy groups. You can also participate in citizen science projects.

  1. The Sanford Solar Center has tips for observing the sun safely and suggested activities.
  2. California Academy of Sciences has a citizen science project observing behavior of animals during the eclipse (uses the iNaturalist App).
  3. The GLOBE Program has research looking at the impact of Sun's radiation on the Earth's surface. Citizen scientists record air and surface temperatures before, during, and after the eclipse (uses the GLOBE Observer App). Includes instructions for building a wind monitoring device.
  4. NASA has a list of related Citizen Science projects
  5. Take NASA's lunar challenge
  6. Share It Science has instructions for making a pinhole viewer
  7. Read a children's book about eclipses such as :

The beginning reader level book, Eclipses (Amazing Sights of the Sky) by Martha E. H. Rustad

These books feature short sentences and carefully-controlled vocabulary.

See a preview at Google Books.

For older kids, you might want to try this middle grade title, Go See The Eclipse: And Take a Kid with You by Chap Percival


Go See the Eclipse explains what an eclipse is, and gives specific advice on where to go, what to take, and how to prepare. Also contains personal anecdotes about the thrill of viewing a total eclipse.

Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: Bee Ridge Press; 1a edition (April 24, 2015)
ISBN-10: 0986197521
ISBN-13: 978-0986197529

Interested in reading more? Check out our growing list of books about eclipses at Science Books for Kids.