Simpson Street Free Press
May 14, 2019
Advanced Technology Is Searching the Universe for Extraterrestrial Life
by Eowyn Gomez Cruz, age 13
Astronomers are inventing new ways to detect life on planets in the universe. As of now, they have not found any habitable land outside of the Earth.
Stars near the Earth are millions of miles away, which makes it hard to detect the planets in orbit around them. Even with the use of large telescopes, it is still challenging to see planets that are close to their parent star because these stars are at least a billion times brighter.
To avoid these barriers, scientists must use indirect methods to search for planets. One method tracks irregularities in the orbit of the star that might be caused by the gravitational pull of its orbiting planets. Astronomers study the spectrum of light that is emitted by the star to look for small changes in wavelength that might be a result of the gravitational pull of orbiting planets. This method was successfully used recently to observe a crop of extrasolar planets which are planets outside the sun’s solar system.
Roger Angel and Neville Woolf of the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona have suggested a new method to search for orbiting planets: the “space interferometer”, a device that would block out light from the parent star to reveal the planets orbiting around it.
According to astrobiologists, another way to potentially identify extraterrestrial life would be to train a radio telescope on a planet to listen for TV signals. However, it could be easy to miss creatures that do not have the same technology.
Astronomers have been working tirelessly to build advanced technology to help them find signs of life on smaller planets farther from their parent stars. Ultimately, these tools will help people understand what lies in the universe and how alone human beings truly are.
[Source: Secrets of the Universe]
About the Author:
Eowyn Gomez is an eighth grader at Core Knowledge Charter School. She has been working at SSFP for six months now and is interested in writing about Space Science. Outside of school she participates in traditional Mexican dance.
February 28, 2019
Why Is Pluto Considered a Dwarf Planet?
Written by Kadjata Bah, age 14
Pluto’s status as a full-fledged planet was fleeting, lasting only a few decades. The planetary object was later classified as a dwarf planet in 2006. But only a few people know what a dwarf planet is, much less why the label played such a big role in Pluto’s fate.
Before being named the ninth planet in our solar system, Pluto was predicted by astronomers when they found that an object orbiting the sun was modifying the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. But later, scientists were finding more planetary objects that revolved around stars which led them to question what it means to be a planet.
Three criteria to determine planetary status were put into place by the International Astronomical Union. A planet must: orbit the sun, have a round shape, and clear its orbits of other objects. Pluto only fits the description of the first two.
Despite its great similarities to the others, Pluto’s cluttered orbit is what sets it apart from the rest of the planets in our solar system. It goes around the sun, it’s round, and it has moons, but the debate over our former ninth planet is yet to go full circle.
About the Author:
Kadjata Bah, is an eighth grader at O’keeffe Middle School. She has been working at SSFP for three years now. She likes writing about restorative justice and history. Outside of school she enjoys playing volleyball.
January 22, 2019
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is Slowly Dying
In a decade or two, the famous Great Red Spot (GRS) on Jupiter will not be as big as it is today.
The GRS is a superstorm on Jupiter that is larger than Earth. It has been active since the 1600’s. In comparison, the longest recorded storm here on Earth was Hurricane John, which lasted 31 days, from August 11 to September 10 of 1994.
Glenn Orton, a leading team member of the Juno Mission and a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, answered why Jupiter’s storms last so long in Business Insider.
“They don’t, at least not all of them,” he said. “Think of the GRS as a spinning wheel that keeps on spinning because it’s caught between two conveyor belts that are moving in opposite directions. The GRS is stable and long-lived because it’s ‘wedged’ between two jet streams that are moving in opposite directions,” Orton added.
Jupiter’s jet streams can move faster than 300 miles per hour, which adds a lot of force to any storm spinning opposite to the planet’s rotation. The streams feed momentum into the vortex, Orton said.
Juno will once again see the GRS in July and September of 2019, and again in December of 2020. Unfortunately, it will not fly as close to Earth as it did back in July of 2017.
“We’re not planning currently ever to come as close without changing the orbit from its current configuration,” Orton said. “This also assumes that the GRS maintains its current drift rate in Jupiter’s atmosphere,” he added.
In contrast, storms on Earth do not last for hundreds of years. This is because, contrary to Jupiter, Earth’s surface is not wrapped in tens of thousands of miles of atmosphere. Our planet’s dynamic atmosphere is instead close to oceans and land. Earth is also small and spins more slowly than Jupiter, which spins once approximately every 10 hours. All of these factors make Earth’s jet streams disrupt weather systems and vortexes before storms can get too big.
“In truth, the GRS has been shrinking for a long time,” Orton said.
In the late 1800’s, the storm was as wide as 30 degrees longitude, or more than 35,000 miles. This is four times the diameter of Earth. In 1979, when Voyager 2 flew by Jupiter, the storm had shrunk to twice the width of Earth. Now, it’s about 13 degrees wide in longitude and 1.3 times the size of Earth, Orton said.
In fact, the GRS doesn’t have much time left.
“The GRS will in a decade or two become the GRC (Great Red Circle),” Orton said. “Maybe sometime after that the GRM (Great Red Memory),” he concluded.
[Source: Business Insider]
About the Author:
Moises A. Hernandez is a Freshman at Madison West High School. He’s been working at SSFP for three years now. He likes writing about new scientific discoveries. Outside of school Moises enjoys playing the piano and the violin.
December 7, 2018
Solar Powered Lander Touches Down on Mars
It was an agonizing 6.5 seconds. The members of the InSight lander mission team and NASA officials waited with bated breaths as the $850 million lander shot through Mars’ atmosphere at 12,300 mph, entering at precisely 12 degrees. InSight’s heat shields endured temperatures of 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. Atmospheric forces managed to decelerate the lander before it parachuted down, towards the surface of the Red Planet.
The InSight lander is an extraordinary feat of engineering. It contains various precise scientific instruments that, provided everything goes smoothly, will send groundbreaking data back to Earth on the interior of Mars, which has previously been unexplored. This will, in turn, help researchers understand other rocky planets as well.
The main instruments are the seismometer, the heat probe, and communications gear. The seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, was developed by France’s National Center for Space Studies (CNES) and will be used to measure marsquakes. The seismometer is so powerful it can detect waves of vibration the size of a single atom.
The German Aerospace Center contributed the heat probe, named the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3). The probe will measure the internal temperature of Mars 16 feet in.
Both of these instruments will not be used for another six months, however. The heat probe and the seismometer will be deployed by InSight, a first for a Mars spacecraft. Previous missions have been completed with the instruments attached to the crafts. The lander’s mission team will first need to locate InSight, before recreating the Mars terrain at their NASA base. There, they will practice with a full-size model until they perfect the deployment of the two instruments.
The communication gear, RISE (Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment), will send information on the wobble of Mars, among other information. From this, astronauts will be able to deduct the physical state of Mars’ core, whether it is liquid or solid.
The data from these instruments will help researchers understand the interior of the Red Planet. “That is the goal of the InSight mission — to actually map out the inside of Mars in three dimensions, so that we understand the inside of Mars as well as we have come to understand the surface of Mars,” stated InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt.
Monday’s landing was crucial. InSight had to enter Mars’ atmosphere at exactly 12 degrees, or else risk bouncing off the atmosphere or scorching to a crisp. The location of the landing was also pivotal. A terrain with lots of rocks might damage the heat probe.
InSight landed on the Elysium Planitia at 5 mph, slightly off target, but unharmed. Despite being off target, InSight managed to avoid a rocky landing by ending up on a soil filled crater out of sheer luck. The lander has sent back several pictures of its new home. On Tuesday, InSight’s team received data that the solar panels had successfully been deployed. It could not have been a better start to a revolutionary mission.
About the Author:
Christy Zheng is a Sophomore at McFarland High School. She has been working at Simpson Street Free Press since she was in sixth grade. She enjoys writing articles about space science and environmental issues with a focus on Wisconsin.
November 5, 2018
How the Moon Influences Earth’s Ocean
Ever wonder how the tides in the sea change their levels almost everyday? The Sun and Moon both play a great part in that change.
The bulge created in the ocean is due to the gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon. The tidal effect of the Moon is two times stronger than the Sun’s, though the Sun’s gravitational pull is 178 times more powerful than the Moon’s. This is because the Moon is closer to the Earth than the Sun. The gravitational force of the Sun and Moon pull the water toward them, making the ocean rise. This creates high tides on the side of Earth that faces the Moon and the opposite side. On the other unoccupied sides, the ocean’s water drains away to fill in the bulges, which creates low tides. Since the Moon goes around the Earth about once a day, that causes high tides and low tides to occur twice a day.
A solar day is when Earth spins around its own axis and returns again. This lasts for 24 hours. It takes Earth to reach the same position in relation to the Moon around 24 hours and 50 minutes. This is called a lunar day. The tides follow the lunar day, not the solar day.
Astronomical forces that create the tides are often predicted correctly. Sea levels could be affected by distinct weather conditions, and could cause lower and higher tides than normal. Storm tides are caused by both storm surges and tidal movements, that increase the seawater levels. Onshore winds cause water to collect on the shoreline, while powerful offshore winds move water away from the shores.
The Sun and Moon not only influence the tidal seas and oceans but the daily lives of living things as well. Next time you’re in a large body of water, you have the Sun and the Moon to thank for the waves.
About the Author:
Valeria Moreno Lopez is a seventh grader at Sennett Middle School. She writes and publishes articles for both Simpson Street Free Press and our multilingual publication, La Prensa Libre de Simpson Street.
August 30, 2018
Soon We May Be Able to Garden In Space
The Martian, a movie that came out in 2015, tells a story of a group of astronauts that are visiting Mars and had to leave in a hurry. One crew member was isolated after his crew thought he was dead. He returned to base and he made sustainable air, recycled water, and regrew his potato portions, all while trying to contact NASA to bring him home.
Parts of The Martian are quickly going from science fiction to science fact. Not only are companies like SpaceX making reusable rockets, but other companies are making ways to grow vegetables that can be eaten raw – like potatoes, radishes, peppers, and lettuce – in space.
Sierra Nevada Corp’s and Orbitec’s Madison operation are helping with NASA’s Next Space Technology’s for Exploration Partnership program or NextS.T.E.P., to make an ‘Astro Garden’, and find ways to recycle water and regenerate oxygen for astronomical exploration. This made headlines in 2015 when astronauts ate the lettuce they grew in space. Eventually, the Madison employees will build a room-sized prototype and hopefully send it to validation flights in a couple of years, though the full model won’t be ready until the 2020’s.
While vegetables provide nourishment, they may also have a psychological benefit. Some scientists hope they will have a calming effect on the astronauts. The vegetables may be a metaphorical ‘tie’ to earth, no matter how far away they are. Plus, tending plants gives them something to do, to keep their minds off the fact of how far away they are from home.
Someday there may be a self-sufficient way to go to other planets, and companies like Sierra Nevada and Orbitec are trying to make that day come as soon as possible.
[Source: Wisconsin State Journal]
About the Author:
Levi Burris is an eighth-grade student at James C. Wright Middle School. He has worked as a student reporter at Wright Free Press for two years. He enjoys learning about space science and reading science fiction books.
July 16, 2018
The Astronomer who Defied the Church
Galileo Galilei was known for his discoveries and experiments in mathematics, force, and motion. Those experiments helped Galilei discover that the Earth moved around the Sun and not the other way around.
Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa, Italy on February 15, 1564. Galilei was going to school until the age of 14 because his father thought he would “take up the life of a poor man of the cloth”. After a few years with a tutor, Galilei’s father returned him to Pisa where he would study medicine at Pisa University.
Galilei is known for his work and his discoveries. At 21, he began to teach mathematics at Pisa University. But soon after, his father died, so Galilei decided to start teaching at Padua University where he taught for 18 years. While he was teaching at Padua University, Galilei started to work on his well-known experiment with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He would soon prove Aristotle’s theory that heavier things fall faster wrong. Galilei dropped two cannonballs of different masses off of the tower overhang and proved that two items of different masses would land at the same time. That experiment paved the way for the science of force and motion.
After countless experiments, Galilei’s discoveries proved that the Earth is not the center of the universe, but the Sun is. And that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Rival academics still believed that the Sun, the planets, and the stars revolved around the Earth, as those ideas fit well with the Bible. Galilei’s beliefs seemed heretical. Those times were dangerous for heretics as seen by the astronomer Giovanni Bruno who was burned at the stake for heretical thinking. After Galilei’s second time of presenting his theory, the Pope Urban VIII dragged him back to Rome where he was put under house arrest for the rest of his life.
Even under house arrest, Galilei continued to do scientific research until he went completely blind in 1637. He soon later died on January 8, 1642. Supposedly the same year Issac Newton was born. Meanwhile, it took the church 350 years to admit that “errors have been made”. Galileo Galilei has impacted science in a way that will change our understanding of the universe.
[Source: The Great Scientists]
About the Author:
Mariama Bah is in 5th grade at Glendale Elementary. She has worked as a student reporter at Simpson Street Free Press for two and a half years.
April 5, 2018
Ice Giant of the Outer Solar System
by Destany Jackson, age 13
The ice giant, better known as Neptune, was the first planet located through mathematical predictions rather than from observing the sky.
The predicted existence of Neptune was first introduced by the French mathematician, Urbain Joseph Le Verrier. After being ignored by French astronomers he sent his theory to Johann Gottfried Galle, who later found Neptune, as predicted, in 1846.
Neptune is located nearly 4.5 billion kilometers from the sun, allowing it to orbit the sun once every 165 Earth years. Because Neptune is so far from the Earth, it is invisible to the naked eye.
Although the orbits of Pluto and Neptune intersect, they can never crash into each other because of the difference between their laps. Neptune takes three laps around the sun, while Pluto takes two. Neptune’s main axis is tipped about 47 degrees from vertical.
Neptune’s blue color is from the methane gas in its atmosphere. Methane is also responsible for the blue-green color of Uranus.
Neptune has 13 moons. Triton was the first to be discovered in 1846. Six more moons were discovered by the Voyager space probe missions. A 14th moon orbiting Neptune has been observed and is waiting to be officially recognized.
Because Neptune is the furthest planet from the sun, the temperatures on its surface are a very cold. Negative 235 degrees Celsius is not uncommon. Scientists have observed Neptune getting warmer, but they do not know why. Future missions will provide explanations.
[Sources: NASA; Associated Press]
About the Author:
Destany Jackson is a seventh-grade student at Sennett Middle School. She began writing for Sennett Free Press in 2016. Now, Destany writes and publishes articles for both Sennett Free Press and Simpson Street Free Press. She especially enjoys covering cool places and species throughout the world.
February 28, 2018
New Horizon Spacecraft Captures Record-Breaking Photos
by Virginia Quach, age 16
Earlier this month, NASA released the farthest photos ever taken from space.
New Horizons, a spacecraft launched in 2006, recently captured an image of a star cluster. The photo was taken while the spacecraft was 3.79 billion miles away from Earth. Previously, a spacecraft called Voyager 1 held the record when it took the famous picture named the “Pale Blue Dot,” a photo of Earth from 3.75 billion miles away. It was one of the 60 photos taken by the Voyager in 1990.
In December of 2017, New Horizons took pictures of two objects in a twilight zone near the edge of the solar system. This area is also known as the Kuiper Belt. Now, the spacecraft continues to explore of the Kuiper Belt, examining dwarf planets, unstable orbits, and other objects.
In addition to taking images, New Horizons is almost constantly measuring atmospheric conditions in space. Using this data, mission scientists can analyze characteristics of objects in the solar system.
On January 1, 2019, scientists expect New Horizons to come closer to another Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69, which is located one billion miles past Pluto.
Alan Stern, lead scientists at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said of all this activity, “New Horizons just couldn’t be better…we’re bearing down on our flyby target.”
For now, the spacecraft is hibernating. Flight controllers at John Hopkins University Lab will activate in June to prepare for its exciting flyby.
[Sources: abcnews.go.com; nasa.gov]
About the Author:
Virginia Quach is a junior at Madison West High School. She has worked as a student reporter at Simpson Street Free Press for five years. Virginia also helps edit the work of younger students at our south side and Capital Newspapers locations.
January 11, 2018
The Solar System’s Hottest Planet Continues to Fascinate Scientists
by Virginia Quach, age 16
Venus, a planet named after the ancient Roman goddess of love and beauty, is our solar systems’ hottest planet. Although it is only the second planet from the sun and relatively the same size as Earth, the climate and conditions on Venus are drastically different compared to most planets in our solar system.
Located 67 million miles from the sun, Venus is one of the two planets that has a “backwards rotation”, the other being Uranus. With a backwards rotation, Venus rotates a direction opposite to its orbit around the sun. In this case, Venus spins from east to west. Due to this unique rotation, one year on Venus is equivalent to 225 Earth days and one day for Venus is 243 Earth days. This means Venus has the longest day in our solar system.
Compared to most planets in the solar system that orbit in an elliptical shape, Venus has a mostly circular orbit around the sun. In fact, its orbit is nearly a perfect circle. Unlike Earth’s seasons, which are caused by an axis tilt of 23.5 degrees, Venus’ axis tilt is only three degrees. As a result, the planet is left with a lack of seasons and experiences year-round hot weather.
However, it is not the axis tilt which directly causes Venus’ extreme heat. Venus’ atmosphere is mainly composed of carbon dioxide and clouds that carry sulfuric acid droplets. Due to this abundance of greenhouse gases, a thick atmosphere traps heat inside the planet. Surface heat on Venus can reach extraordinary temperatures up to 880 degrees Fahrenheit.
When it comes to Venus’ structure, landforms mostly include mountains and volcanoes. Hot churning rocks, which make up the planet’s mantle and crust, are constantly moving due to the planet’s high interior temperatures. As a result, volcanoes and mountains are created and form a dusty landscape. Venus’ highest mountain, Maxwell Montes, stands 20,000 feet tall, about the same elevation as Mount Everest. Along with this mountain, Venus has two main highland areas: Ishtar Terra located in the North Polar Region, and Aphrodite Terra located near the equator. Ishtar Terra is approximately the size of Australia while Aphrodite Terra is around the same size as South America and extends for nearly 6,000 miles.
In addition to the mountains and volcanoes on Venus’ surface, hundreds of craters cover the planet’s landscape. These craters are usually caused by large meteoroids of .9 to 1.2 miles, because small ones burn up in Venus’ thick dense atmosphere and never come in contact with the land.
Whether or not life previously existed on Venus is unknown. Scientists to this day still observe the unique features and surface pattern of Venus. From its scalding temperatures to its awesome volcanoes, Venus will remain as an area of study for astronomers.
[Sources: nasa.org; Discover Magazine]
About the Author:
Virginia Quach is a junior at Madison West High School. She has worked as a student reporter at Simpson Street Free Press for five years. Virginia also helps edit the work of younger students at our south side and Capital Newspapers locations.
November 16, 2017
Did You Ever Wonder why Barns Are Red? The Answer Lies in the Hearts of Dying Stars
By Sharon Ruiz, age 14
In rural Wisconsin, there are barns everywhere—or nearly everywhere, it seems. Most of them are red. This is no coincidence.
The changing of seasons causes the paint on the barns weather. This means farm owners must re-paint their barns frequently. Red is often the go-to color because it’s the cheapest option. Its ingredients, iron and oxygen, are plentiful. And it is iron that is the key to red barns.
Stars create iron, and they also get their power from fusing matter. Protons and neutrons, the building blocks of matter, are the key to understanding stellar energy. A star begins by fusing three hydrogen atoms, each which has one proton, to make a helium atom, which in turn made up of one proton. Eventually, the star starts fusing helium atoms together, thus creating heavier elements with more protons and neutrons. At the end of this cycle, the star begins producing elements with 56 protons and neutrons. When this happens, the star can’t get any more energy by fusing elements. And when a star can’t produce any more energy, it explodes—spewing matter all over the cosmos.
Fifty-six protons and neutrons make various elements, but most are unstable because they break down into other smaller elements. Iron is the only stable element and has 26 protons and 30 neutrons, totaling 56. Iron sticks together while all the other elements break apart, so a great amount of it exists in the universe.
And there’s the connection. Because so much iron is found in the universe, and it comprises red paint, red paint is especially cheap. This is why most barns are red. So, in short, barns are red because stars explode.
[Source: The Smithsonian]
About the Author:
This article was written by staff writer Sharon Ruiz, who first worked as a student reporter for Sennett Free Press. Now, Sharon is now a freshman at La Follette High School, a summer intern with Dane County’s Land and Water Resources Department, and a Teen Editor. In this role, she works with younger Spanish-speaking students on translation exercises and Spanish and English stories.
November 10, 2017
Scientists Continue Taking Steps Toward Colonizing Mars
By Sophia Palacios Corona, age 13
Mars has intrigued and fascinated scientists and space enthusiasts since the advent of the telescope. Despite many obstacles, sustaining life on the “Red Planet” may soon become possible with recent advancements in technology.
The availability of water is one of the biggest concerns that needs to be addressed before humans can live on Mars. The atmospheric pressure on this planet is only 0.6 percent of Earth’s, thus making it difficult for large bodies of water to stay in place. One way to get water from Mars is to extract it from the atmosphere. Another solution some scientists posit is to get water from the planet’s soil, which contains a lot of frozen water. Hidden glaciers underground could be the third potential water source on Mars.
To establish a human colony on Mars, scientists wouldn’t just need water—they would need plentiful water, most of which would go to farming. Hoping to determine is specific plants would last in Mars’ environment, ecologists recently created soil simulants that model the planet’s soil. Martian soil contains all the nutrients plants need to grow, and promising results from tests of crops here suggested that after 50 days, more plants would be alive in a Martian greenhouse than in a greenhouse on Earth. But if the results of this study are to be replicated on Mars, the planet’s soil would first need to be engineered to be more water-efficient and nitrogen-rich.
Everybody breathes—it’s the most effortless thing to do. But how would people breathe on Mars? This is another concern that must be addressed before humans can hope to live on Mars. Scientists would theoretically use the Martian atmosphere, collect carbon dioxide from it, compress it, and then use electricity to reduce it down to usable oxygen. This would create carbon monoxide molecules as a byproduct and, as such, serve as one possible method that scientists could utilize to manufacture breathable air on Mars.
Colonizing Mars is a feat many people hope to accomplish in the near future. Although there has been quite a bit of critical thinking around the possibility already, more work needs to be done before inhabiting Mars is an actualizable possibility.
[Source: National Geographic]
About the Author:
Sophia Palacios Corona is an incoming eighth grade student at Wright Middle School. Sophia began working at Wright Free Press in the sixth grade. She enjoys learning about space science and environmental issues.
July 17, 2017
Katherine Johnson of Hidden Figure Fame Helped Send a Man to the Moon
By Zella Milfred, age 14
At the 2017 Oscars, 98-year-old Katherine Johnson took the stage. It is not customary for a mathematician to be honored at this awards show; however, with the release of Hidden Figures, Johnson’s life story—in all of its success and difficulty—quickly became a national conversation. As depicted in the film, Johnson pushed through the struggles of being an African-American woman in a white-male dominated field and accomplished amazing things.
Johnson was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. With an innate gift for numbers, she finished the eighth grade by age 10. Since her town didn’t offer high school classes for African-Americans, Johnson’s family moved 120 miles in order to make sure she earned a higher education.
After completing high school and enrolling at Virginia State College, one of Johnson’s professors, Dr. William W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African-American to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics, was intent on preparing Johnson to become a research mathematician. At age 18, Johnson graduated with degrees in Mathematics and French. The next year, she became one of three students to desegregate West Virginia University’s graduate school in Morgantown. Because of the hostile environment here, Johnson never finished her program. Instead, she taught math and French elsewhere for some time.
In 1939, Johnson married James Francis Goble. They had three daughters together named Joylette, Katherine, and Constance. In 1952, after some time spent focused on family life, Johnson heard that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was hiring African-American women to work as “computers”—the nickname given to people who checked calculations for technological developments. She applied to this program and was accepted the following year.
Johnson’s curiosity and assertiveness made her stand out among her NACA cohort. After only two weeks she was transferred to Langley’s flight research division, in which she talked her way into meetings and earned other responsibilities.
In 1956, Johnson’s husband tragically died of a brain tumor. She was remarried in 1959 to decorated Navy and Army officer James A. Johnson.
NACA was rebranded the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration” (NASA) in 1958. Johnson achieved many feats as she continued to work there. For example, Johnson and NASA laid the groundwork for Alan Shepard’s 1962 space launch. NASA’s next challenge was to send a man in orbit around Earth. In hopes of accomplishing this goal, space scientists started using electronic computers to figure out complicated calculations. Ultimately, astronaut John Glenn was not launched into space until Johnson had checked the calculations and work of the machines.
Throughout the years, Johnson remained valuable for her incredible accuracy and work ethic. Before retiring in 1986, she helped develop both the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite for NASA.
For her innovative work, Johnson has been honored with many awards including the 1967 NASA Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft and Operations team award and the 1997 National Technical Association Mathematician of the Year. She has also earned degrees from four different colleges. And in 2015, Johnson was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Former President Barack Obama. In 2016, the story of Johnson and her peers was portrayed in the now-acclaimed film Hidden Figures.
Johnson continues to be a great inspiration and role model for women, African-Americans, and anyone else who also believes that “everything is physics and math”—a tenet she herself voiced and lived by.
About the Author:
Zella Milfred is an incoming 8th grade student at Sennett Middle School. She has been a Sennett Free Press reporter for one year and will serve as an intern at La Follette High School’s “The Lance” for the 17-18 academic year. Interested in all facets of journalism, Zella especially enjoys covering STEM issues.
June 7, 2017
Saturn’s Rings Make it a Unique “Gas Giant”
By Jaidyn Medford, age 12
Saturn, “the gas planet,” is composed of 96 percent hydrogen and four percent helium. But it’s 100 percent my favorite planet!
Galileo Galilei first discovered Saturn in 1610. He described its rings as “handles.” Conveniently, Dutch mathematician Christiaan Huygens also reported seeing Saturn, which he once described as having “a thin flat ring which nowhere touches the body.”
Though all gaseous planets have rings, Saturn’s are by far the most recognizable. Unlike the other ‘gas giants,’ Saturn is visible from Earth’s surface. This large planet is nine times the size of Earth.
Saturn’s rings consist of ice chunks, countless molecules, rock chunks, and space dust. They are brighter than the rings of other planets because they are tipped toward Earth.
Saturn is located between Jupiter and Neptune, and the planet’s diameter is 120,000 kilometers. It has a density of 0.69 grams cubic altimeters, which is less than water. Saturn’s surface is -178 degrees Celsius and its orbital distance from Earth is 1.3 billion kilometers.
Saturn is made up of three main layers: the outer mantle, core, and inner mantle. Each layer is composed of hydrogen-rich compounds, like ammonia ice, ammonium hydrosulfide ice, and water ice. Saturn’s outer layer is composed of hydrogen gas that has been pressured into liquid hydrogen. Its core is made of solid ice and is 11,700 degrees Celcius. Saturn’s inner mantle is primarily made of metallic hydrogen, which cannot be found on Earth because it forms in space due to high pressure. To wrap it all up, the outer shell of Saturn is made of a thick layer of ice.
Saturn is an awesome planet for many reasons, especially because of its history and how unique it is in comparison to other planets.
[Sources: Atlas of the Universe; NASA]
About the Author:
Jaidyn Medford is a seventh-grade student at Badger Rock Middle School. She joined Simpson street Free Press this spring semester and has since enjoyed writing about a multitude of topics. Jaidyn is especially interested in writing about the psychology of human brain and the motivation behind certain human behaviors.
April 28th, 2017
The Woman Who Put a Man on the Moon: Margaret Hamilton
By Virginia Quach, age 15
People all over the world took notice when Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the moon in 1969. However, a far smaller population knows of Margaret Hamilton’s contribution to the Apollo 11 mission and moon landing. Recent national interest in understanding the historic role of women in science has generated new enthusiasm for Hamilton’s work.
At 33, a young Hamilton led a team of engineers from MIT to build the Apollo flight software used by NASA. The software helped prioritize computer processes for the computers on-board space shuttles. Hamilton said the software she helped develop “got rid of the lesser priority jobs and kept the high priority jobs, which included the landing functions.”
Overall, this software gave NASA the confidence to continue the building processes that eventually prompted the successful launch of Apollo 11. But still, nothing guaranteed this software would work in space. In fact, just before the 1969 moon landing, the software malfunctioned and falsely indicated, due to lack of computer space, that landing software would not work properly. But much to everyone’s relief, especially Hamilton’s, Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon on July 20, 1969.
“I was so happy,” said Hamilton in a 2015 interview with TIME Magazine. “But I was more happy about [the software] working than about the fact that we landed,” she continued.
Throughout her career, Hamilton worked diligently and with a strong attention to detail. In 1986, Hamilton Founded Hamilton Technologies Inc. Here, she continued her work with Universal Systems Language. Hamilton maintained a focus on rigorous testing in a simulator to study relationships between the software and hardware. This, along with her thorough examination of the software’s errors regarding timing and priority, made her successful and earned her credit for inventing the term “software engineering.”
NASA ultimately recognized Hamilton and awarded her the Exceptional Space Act Award for her work on the Apollo 11 mission. In addition, in 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Hamilton’s work proved instrumental in our nation’s monumental goal to put a man on the moon. Today, and for years to come, we will remember her critical contributions.
About the Author:
Virginia Quach is a sophomore at Madison West High School. She has worked as a student reporter at Simpson Street Free Press for four years, at both our Capital Newspapers and South Towne newsrooms. Virginia has written and published a number of important space science features, energy and the environment pieces, and book reviews. She especially enjoys learning about different peoples and cultures around the world.
March 31, 2017
Mysterious Dummy Provides Insight Into NASA’s Past
By Yoanna “Yoyo” Hoskins, sixth-grade
When rumors started to swirl and travel about the mysterious dummy, Mike Slowik, a businessman in Chicago, contacted Paul Ceruzzi, the curator of NASM’s Paul E. Garbers storage facility. Slowik told Ceruzzi that his late father had originally made the astronaut dummy to test spacesuits. The mystery was solved!
In the early 1960’s, Joe Slowik, an engineer and Mike Slowik’s father, created the astronaut dummy for NASA at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He created it because NASA needed a way to evaluate different spacesuit designs. His dummy weighed 230 pounds, and its height was adjustable from five feet and six inches to six feet and two inches. It could raise its legs and arms, run in place, and even move its hips like Elvis Presley. But there was one huge problem—the dummy leaked.
“One of the great technical challenges had been that hydraulic valves small enough to use in the dummy couldn’t be made sufficiently strong enough to handle the fluid pressure required to move the joints of a pressurized spacesuit,” Andrew Chaikin, author of a piece about the space suit in the Smithsonian, stated. To contain the leaking oil, workers at NASA put the dummy in a scuba diver’s suit.
Unfortunately, this quick fix didn’t completely solve the problem and the dummy never got to do its job. Still, Joe Slowik was “very proud of it,” said his son Mike Slowik. And rightfully so—the design of Slowik’s dummy paved the way for the models currently used by NASA today.
About the Author:
Yoanna “Yoyo” Hoskins is a sixth-grade student at Sennett Middle School. She writes in Spanish and English for both Sennett Free Press and Simpson Street Free Press. Outside of work and school, Yoyo enjoys creating fun power point presentations and spending time with friends.
February 22, 2017
Interactions Between the Sun and Moon Influence Earth
By Christian Trejo, age 12
Although the Sun and Moon may appear to be similar from a distance, the two are actually very different.
The Sun is a large ball of gas that is full of energy and heat. Seventy-three percent of the Sun is made of hydrogen, while 25 percent of it is helium. The remaining two percent is made up of traces of approximately 60 other elements.
The Sun’s energy comes from the nuclear reaction of elements in its core, which makes the core warm. In fact, the temperature of the core can reach up to 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, the Sun’s surface is filled with sun spots and boiling bubbles of gas that sometimes erupt into prominences, which shoot hot gas into space.
Every once in a while, the Sun and Moon interact. For example, a solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun; this lasts for about two hours on average. In contrast, a partial eclipse happens when part of the Sun is covered, and a total eclipse occurs when the Sun is covered completely.
The sun’s energy and heat reach the Earth and provide all living beings here with warmth and light. That’s why it’s important to learn about the Sun and Moon—because even from afar, they influence us in many ways.
[Source: Google Encyclopedia]
About the Author:
Christian Trejo is a sixth grade student at Savannah Oaks Middle School. He has worked as a student reporter for Simpson Street Free Press for one year. Outside of school and the Free Press, Christian enjoys playing soccer with his friends and watching soccer on TV. After high school, he wants to attend college in Wisconsin.
January 16, 2017
Trailblazing Astrophysicist Vera Rubin Broke Through Ceilings And Into Open Skies
By Cristian Avila-Velazquez, age 13
In a year that claimed many lives, famous and otherwise, the world has lost a great scientific mind. While she has never been a household name, Vera Rubin was a groundbreaking scientist. Rubin’s work led to the confirmation of dark matter’s existence and blazed a trail for other female scientists.
From a young age, Rubin was fascinated by the science of the universe. This interest propelled her through a degree at Vassar College, where in 1948, she graduated as the sole astronomy major. Rubin next studied at Cornell University after Princeton would not accept a woman into its astronomy program. She finished her Ph.D. in 1954 at Georgetown University, where she remained a professor for the next decade.
Starting in 1965, Rubin worked with colleague Kent Ford at Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, studying galactic centers and stars’ orbits around them. During this time, Rubin became the first woman to observe the sky at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, although she was initially told that she could not use their facilities because they did not have a ladies’ room.
Her major discovery came during the 1970’s, when Rubin and Kent observed that gas and stars travel at the same speed, whether they are near or far from the galactic center. The duo found that the stars were being moved by an invisible mass; in fact, each spiral galaxy has a halo of this invisible mass, or dark matter. Previously, scientists had found clues to support the existence of dark matter, but Rubin’s work finally confirmed it.
Rubin won several awards. In 1981, she was elected to the National Academy of Scientists. Then, in 1993, she received the National Medal of Science, the country’s highest prize. Lastly, in 1996, she was the first women in over 50 years to receive the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal. Surprisingly, Rubin never received a Nobel Prize despite having made one of the most important discoveries within the field of physics.
Because she was a woman, Rubin faced greater barriers to success in her field than her male colleagues. At every turn, she faced gender discrimination that threatened her access to schools, clubs, and facilities. Her success in overcoming these barriers opened doors for young female scientists. She relentlessly created opportunities for women in science where they hadn’t before existed. Thanks to Vera Rubin’s pioneering research we know more about dark matter, and women in science have an ingenious role model.
About the Author:
Cristian Avila Velazquez is an eighth grade student at Sennet Middle School. He works as a student reporter for both Simpson Street Free Press and Sennett Free Press, and he produces articles in Spanish and English. Cristian’s favorite topic to write about is anything space science related. He looks forward to becoming a teen editor at SSFP once he enters high school next fall!
December 15, 2016
A Star is Born…Millions of Years Later
By Dija Manly, age 14
Evolutionary Science suggests that humans have existed for nearly 2.5 million years. Stars, however, usually take tens of millions of years simply to be born. While this may seem like a long time to us, it is actually relatively short in astronomical terms.
The two main ingredients in star formation are interstellar molecular clouds and gravity. Interstellar molecular clouds are dense interstellar regions filled with hydrogen, helium, and other elements. These ingredients go through the four complex phases to create a star.
The first phase of star formation is the protostar phase. In this phase, molecular clouds are converted into protostars. Molecular clouds contain knots or cores that are dense and have a strong gravitational pull. After approximately one million years, these knots will have sucked in surrounding material with weaker gravitational pulls, thus creating a big, stellar cluster known as a globule. Globules are thick, dark, roughly spherical, and measure 60,000 astronomical units (AU) across. To put this in context, one astronomical unit is equivalent to the distance between the earth and the sun. In the center of the globule, a warm mass the size of the solar system emits strong infrared radiation. This mass, known as a protostar is the main basis for the young star.
The next phase of star formation produces a proplyd. As more and more material is drawn into the center of the globule, it begins to flatten out. One could compare it to a ball of pizza dough; when it is tossed and spun in the air, it becomes flat and is used for crust. The flattened globule, now called a protoplanetary disk, or proplyd is 100 AU across, with the protostar—1 AU in diameter—in the center.
After approximately one million years, the protostar shrinks and becomes what is known as a T Tauri star. When a T Tauri star is formed, it begins to spin and its magnetic properties attract nearby gases and suck them in along magnetic field lines. This intense magnetic activity causes massive flares and large spots to form on the star’s surface, which scientists can then use to identify the stars as T Tauri ones.
In the last phase of star formation, known as the bipolar molecular outflow phase, the T Tauri star absorbs material along its magnetic field lines and expels other material. The expelled material forms two particle beam jets on opposite sides of the star; this phenomenon is known as bipolar molecular outflow. This stage lasts for 10,000 years, but it takes another few tens of millions of years before the T Tauri star is able to initiate hydrogen fusion in its core. After reaching the hydrogen fusion stage, what began as a cloud of molecules is now a newborn star.
Star formation can also be the source of other important astronomical objects. Proplyds, the flattened molecular clouds surrounding protostars, are thought to be infant planetary systems. Scientists also indicate that the dust and gas in the proplyds eventually becomes planets that will orbit the new star. Also, during the star’s bipolar molecular outflow stage, the beams from the forming star can hit surrounding interstellar gases, which in turn light up, forming gorgeous nebulae known as Herbig-Haro objects.
The entire process of star formation is magnificent and beautiful. Unfortunately, because the entire process lasts far longer than any human life, we are only able to see snippets of a star’s creation.
[Source: The Illustrated Atlas of the Universe]
About the Author:
Dija Manly is a sophomore at La Follette High School. She has worked at Simpson Street Free Press for two and a half years, first as a student reporter and now as a teen editor. She is also a part of Simpson Street Free Press’ Emerging Leaders group, through which she helps teach students in the latest (and second bilingual) publication, Sennett Free Press.
November 11, 2016
What Happened When NASA Piloted Jet Packs
By Sergio Perez, age 16
More than thirty years ago, two lucky astronauts, Bruce McCandless and Bob Stewart took the ride of their lives.
In 1984, McCandless and Stewart were the first to travel untethered, 300 feet away from their space shuttle and tested out the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), a jet-powered backpack.
“I knew the laws of physics hadn’t been repealed recently,” said McCandless, who was confident in the MMU despite the uncertainty of the test drive.
“I decided that this was the easiest thing I had ever flown,” Steward added. “The only way it could’ve been easier was to directly connect it to the brain.”
McCandless, along with Charles “Ed” Whitsett, had an important role in the development of the MMU. Whitsett began researching the idea for the maneuvering unit in 1960, and eventually produced a test version of it with the help of McCandless in the late 1960s. This prototype was tested out in 1973 at the Skylab space station. In 1974, improvements to the design were later made using the test results when Whitsett arrived at NASA.
The final version of MMU was produced by Martin Marietta Aerospace. This version contained 24 small compressed nitrogen powered thrusters; it was less of a backpack and more like a refrigerator, weighing 300 pounds. Designed to be operable even with very little training, the MMU was never flown faster than a crawl, due to safety and fuel concerns.
In April 1984, a couple of months after the MMU’s first drive, astronauts put it to work and mounted it on a rescue mission to repair a malfunction on the satellite, Solar Max. George “Pinky” Nelson was the astronaut assigned to snare Solar Max. He trained in a simulator to catch and tether the satellite and his crewmembers would use the shuttle’s robotic arm to place the satellite in the cargo bay and later repair it.
That was the plan, anyway. It proved unsuccessful because the capture device would not grab on. In the end, the mission did succeed but without need of the MMU. Instead, the satellite was slowed down enough by ground controllers then grabbed by the shuttle’s robotic arm. Despite this mission, Nelson still only has praise for the MMU.
Although the MMU didn’t prove itself as a satellite rescue tool on its first mission, in November 1985 it was used to retrieve a pair of errant communications satellites by astronauts Joe Allen and Dale Gardner. Eventually NASA re-evaluated the space shuttle missions and deemed the MMU unnecessary in 1986 and thus becoming, as Nelson explained, “a really cool piece of technology that didn’t quite have a purpose.”
[Sources: Smithsonian; NASA]
About the Author:
Sergio Perez is a senior at La Follette High School. He has worked as a student reporter for both Simpson Street Free Press and La Prensa Libre de Simpson Street for over one year. After graduating high school this coming spring, Sergio plans to attend college in Wisconsin.
October 5, 2016
Galileo’s Initially Controversial Theories are Still Significant
By Cristian Avila Velazquez, age 13
We’ve all heard of Galileo Galilei, but how did he become a famous inventor in the first place?
Galileo was born in Pisa, Italy on February 15, 1564. At the age of 10, he was sent to school at the Monastery of Vallombrosa. His father, Vincenzo, took him out of school at the age of 14, because he worried that his son would become a poor man. Vincenzo then sent Galileo to Florence to spend a few years with tutors.
After his time in Florence, Galileo returned to his hometown to study medicine. At Pisa University, he challenged his teachers and questioned the works of Aristotle, who later discovered mathematics, and Euclid, the Greek geometer. At Pisa, Galileo was also tutored in mathematics by the Florentine Court mathematician, Ostilio Ricci. He outsmarted his entire class; for example, in class he created a wide lamp swing, and ultimately developed this device into a timing device called the pulsilogium, the pendulum clock.
At the age of 21, Galileo began to teach mathematics. First he tutored privately, and later he was picked to be a teacher in Pisa. When his father died in 1591, Galileo took a job that paid better at Padua, where he stayed for 18 years. Afterward, he got married to a woman named Marina Gamba, and they had three children.
In the summer of 1609, Galileo traveled to Venice, Italy, where he was intrigued by a novelty called perspicillium. He familiarized himself with how it worked and made one for himself; however, he made its lens 10 times stronger. This invention became Galileo’s first telescope - the very device that brought him much fame.
Using his telescope Galileo discovered that the Earth isn’t in the center of the universe. Instead, it moves around the Sun—a theory that contradicted popular belief at the time. In 1616, Galileo went to Rome to talk to other scientists about his theory. It was not received well. Galileo was sent back to Florence with a warning not to share his ideas that challenged the norms at the time. Yet, in 1624, Galileo went to Rome to present his case again.
Although he was not supposed to continue his work, Galileo, now over 60-years-old, started writing his book The Dialogue. The book’s characters were named Sagredo, Simplicio, and Salviate. Sagredo believed in the old theory, called Copernicism, Simplicio believed in Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s theories, and Salciate was neutral but seemed to agreed with Sagredo. The book was a success in Europe until the Jesuits pointed out that Simplicio’s character was based on Pope Urban VIII. Galileo was then dragged back to Rome and threatened with death. He was ultimately imprisoned in his own house instead. On January 8, 1642, Galileo died here.
To this day, Galileo is very famous for his theories and inventions, including thermometers, the trajectory of missiles, astronomical telescopes, and pendulum clocks. Many of these inventions are still useful today!
[Source: The Great Scientists]
About the Author:
Cristian Avila Velazquez is a seventh grade student at Sennet Middle School. He works as a student reporter for both Simpson Street Free Press and Sennett Free Press, and he produces articles in Spanish and English. Cristian loves writing five days a week, and he’s looking forward to becoming a teen editor at SSFP once he enters high school!
August 22, 2016
Meteors: Diamonds in the Sky
By Valeria Moreno Lopez, age 10
Do you ever wonder what causes shooting stars? These space rocks also called meteors cause us to see shooting stars.
Small pieces of space debris, and sometimes even larger ones, enter Earth’s atmosphere. These rocks travel more than eight miles per second, which causes them to rub against the air and burn. This shows a streak of light called a meteor, or shooting star. When debris is in space, it is a meteoroid, but when it hits Earth, it is called a meteorite.
Some meteoroids come from asteroids—the rocks that circle between Mars and Jupiter—that journey in large elliptical orbits around the Universe. Meteoroids form when asteroids crash with each other and pieces of rocks come off. They also form when the sun boils comet’s ice and leaves a trail of dust. This debris turns out to be small meteoroids that could possibly enter Earth’s atmosphere.
All sizes of meteorites can be dangerous. Even though some meteorites are small enough to hold in your fist, if meteorites are large, they can create craters on Earth and cause serious damage.
Small or big, meteors are a lot of trouble, but they’re also very interesting. They work in such big ways for being such small rocks.
[Source: Children’s Atlas Of The Universe]
About the Author:
Valeria Moreno Lopez will be a 5th grade student at Frank Allis Elementary School this fall. She writes and publishes articles for both Simpson Street Free Press and our multilingual publication, La Prensa Libre de Simpson Street. This piece is one Valeria produced for SSFP’s annual Summer Writing Workshop program, which aims to challenge ‘summer slide’ by providing rigorous academic instruction during summer hours for elementary-aged students. See other pieces produced in this year’s Summer Writing Workshop here: http://simpsonstreetfreepress.org/media/SummerWritingWorkshops.html
July 19, 2016
Beta Pictoris b: Un Planeta Rapidísimo
Por Amy González, 13 años
Aun cuando hay muchos planetas en el universo, Beta Pictoris b es el más veloz de todos.
Beta Pictoris b es uno de los primeros exoplanetas de los que se obtuvo una imagen directa. Un exoplaneta es un planeta que no gira alrededor de nuestro sol. El planeta fue descubierto en 2008. Un día en Beta Pictoris b sólo dura ocho horas. Este planeta gira sobre su eje a mucha velocidad, más que cualquier otro planeta en nuestro sistema solar. Este planeta está a más de 60 años luz de la Tierra. Para saber la rotación de Beta Pictoris b, los astrónomos usaron una técnica que divide las diferentes longitudes de onda presentes en el espectro de luz. Se mueve en torno a su estrella Beta Pictoris, a una distancia que es ocho veces mayor a la que separa la Tierra y el Sol.
Nuestra Tierra se mueve a 1.700 km por hora, pero Beta Pictoris b se mueve a 100.000 km por hora. Aunque sea veloz, también es unas 16 veces más grande que la Tierra. Los astrónomos creen que es el planeta más veloz de todos los conocidos. También dicen que Beta Pictoris b se va a enfriar y se va a encojer lo cual hará que gire más rápidamente.
El Beta Pictoris b con un día de ocho horas y una velocidad de 100.000 km la hora, gira 800.000 km en un día. Ya que conoces a Beta Pictoris b, te daras cuenta de que este exoplaneta siempre será más grande que nuestra tierra, y de que girará con mucha velocidad.
[Fuente: BBC Mundo]
Beta Pictoris b: A Very Fast Planet
By: Amy Gonzalez, age 13
Although there are many planets in the universe, Beta Pictoris b is the fastest one of them all.
Beta Pictoris b is one of the very first exoplanets of which scientists were able to obtain a direct image. An exoplanet is a planet that does not revolve around our sun. The planet was first discovered in 2008.
Beta Pictoris b is unique because its days only last for eight hours. Also, this planet rotates on its axis at a high speed, faster than any other planet in our solar system. Beta Pictoris b is more than 60 lightyears away from Earth. To find the rotation of Beta Pictoris b, astronomers used a technique that divides the different wavelengths that are present in the light spectrum. When traveling around its star, Beta Pectoris, the planet travels a distance that is eight times greater than the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
Our Earth moves at a speed of 1.700 km per hour, but Beta Pictoris b moves at 100.000 km per hour. Although it is fast, it is 16 times bigger than Earth. Scientists say that Beta Pictoris b will eventually become cold, which will make the planet smaller and able to rotate faster.
The Beta Pictoris b, with an eight-hour day and the speed of 100.000 km per hour, rotates 800.000 km in one day. Now that you know about Beta Pictoris b, you’ll realize that this exoplanet will always be larger than our Earth and rotates with great speed.
[Source: BBC World]
About the Author:
Amy Gonzalez, an upcoming sophomore at Monona Grove High School, has been a contributing reporter for Simpson Street Free Press for two years. Amy also writes Spanish articles for our multilingual La Prensa publication. When she’s not in school or at work, Amy enjoys spending time with family and friends. She plans to attend college after graduating high school and wants to find a career in which she can help other people.
May 31, 2016
Scientists Discover a New Planet
It’s Not Pluto
By: Je’Niya Adams, age 13
Through mathematical modeling and computer simulations, Caltech researchers have found evidence of a ninth planet—no, not Pluto—in our solar system.
“For the first time in over 150 years, there is solid evidence that the solar system’s planetary census is incomplete,” said Konstantin Batygin, one of the investigators on the project and an assistant professor of planetary science.
The so-called “Planet Nine,” though seen through modeling and simulations, has not yet been observed directly. The planet itself has a mass 10 times that of Earth and is 20 times farther from the sun than Neptune is. It takes 10,000-20,000 years for the planet to complete one full orbit around the sun.
Batygin and his co-investigator Mike Brown said Planet Nine helps explain the unusual orbits shared by several objects beyond the Kuiper Belt. What really provoked their attention was when simulations predicted that there would be Kuiper Belt objects in orbit aligned perpendicularly with other planets.
“We plotted up positions of those objects and their orbits and they matched the simulations exactly,” said Brown.
From where, exactly, did Planet Nine come? And how did it end up in our solar system? Scientists have long believed that four planetary cores clung to gases in their atmosphere to form four gaseous planets—Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn, and Neptune. Over time, collisions took them to their current locations.
“But there is no reason that there could not have been five cores, rather than four,” said Brown.
Planet Nine could have landed where it is, as far away as it is, if a fifth core got too close to one of its neighbors and was subsequently ejected into its strange orbit.
Batygin and Brown continue to study their simulations and learn more about Planet Nine’s irregular orbit and its influence on our solar system.
About the Author:
Je’Niya Adams is a seventh grade student at Spring Harbor Middle School. She has worked as a student reporter for Simpson Street Free Press for about two and a half years. Outside of work and school, Je’Niya enjoys creative writing. Her short stories are always full of humor, sass, and spunk! Following high school, Je’Niya plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
April 26, 2016
Recent Studies Show Dark Matter in Cosmos
By: Ruthanne Fiore, age 16
Humans are always asking questions and looking for answers. Important findings from a cosmic ray detector sent into space in 2011 suggest a possible answer to one of humanity’s biggest questions—what makes up the universe?
The $2 billion cosmic ray detector aboard the International Space Station discovered something that could be “dark matter,” a mysterious substance believed not only to hold our universe together but also to make up a quarter of it. Understanding dark matter means understanding more about the cosmos, including its composition. Dark matter does not give off light, nor can it absorb light, so it has never been directly observed. Therefore, scientists know very little about it.
The cosmic ray detector, or the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), weighs seven tons and has a three-foot magnetic ring at its core. The detector transmits data to the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN, which is located on the Swiss-French border in Geneva. There, a team of 600 scientists led by famous MIT physicist Samuel Ting analyzes the data.
While the data the AMS collected could be related to dark matter, scientists originally thought that it was energy coming from pulsars, the extremely dense remnants of dead stars. The data shows an excess of positrons, or positively charged subatomic particles. The theory that dark matter is responsible for the change in positrons was supported by data collected in 2014. The effect that dark matter has on positrons is unlike that of pulsars. According to the data, when affected, the positrons climbed at a steady rate without any sudden rises or dips. Had any been present, that would indicate that a pulsar or some other source was the cause of the excess positrons.
Since it was launched, the AMS has found more than 400,000 positrons that may have been emerged when particles of dark matter collided and destroyed each other. The AMS has also recorded data from 54 billion cosmic events, 41 billion of which have been analyzed by scientists.
Initially, Ting’s scientists thought that the ratio of electrons and positrons dropped when a high amount of energy was present. In 2013, however, results showed the exact opposite—the ratio of positrons to electrons climbed when energy reached a range of eight billion to 275 billion electronvolts. Further, in 2014, scientists found that the proportion of positrons started to decrease when energy reached around 275 electronvolts.
This is significant because knowing the range at which positrons and electrons are affected by dark matter allows scientists to calculate the mass of the particles. They are able to do so because of the relationship between energy and particle mass. Also, because each particle has different physical properties, determining mass will enable scientists to identify these elusive dark matter particles precisely.
Ting states that in a few years, additional statistics could offer the information that scientists still need. The AMS will continue its search for dark matter and antimatter for at least another five years, so Ting’s remaining questions could soon be answered.
[Source: Associated Press; Wisconsin State Journal; nasa.gov]
About the Author:
Ruthanne Fiore is a sophomore at Madison West High School. She has been a contributing reporter for Simpson Street Free Press for about a year. Ruthanne is also an active member of Upstart Crows Productions, a young theatre company through which she is currently directing a play. Following high school and college, Ruthanne would like to serve the community as a journalist or a science educator.
March 29, 2016
Mars Shows Potential for Life Forms
The Red Planet is More Similar to the Earth than You Might Think
By Savanah Shadof, age 13
Eons ago, ancient civilizations noticed a reddish and extremely bright star in the sky. They named this star Mars. Over the course of hundreds of years, humans learned that this star is actually a planet. Space scientists discovered that the planet’s days (called sol’s), seasons, and possible vegetation are all similar to Earth’s.
Days on Mars are like any Earth day in its routine. The sun rises, climbs into the sky, and sets on both planets. In contrast to Earth’s 24-hour day, however, Mars has a 24 hour and 37 minute day. This difference in daytime adds up fast. The Martian year is nearly double the Earth year. In fact, a whopping 687 Earth days is equal to one year on Mars.
A year on Mars contains long Martian seasons. This is due to Mars’ axis, or the way in which the planet is titled. The red planet is titled at 25 degrees while its neighbor, Earth, has an axis at 23.5 degrees. Despite this axial difference, Mars and Earth have the same seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Mars’ seasons are twice as long as Earth’s are, though, because of its longer years and axial tilt.
It’s possible that Mars might also be similar to Earth in terms of life forms. The possibility of life on Mars has been a controversial topic for ages. Early astronomers saw tints of green on the planet’s surface as the seasons changed. They theorized that this green could be vegetation, or plants found in specific habitats. Because vegetation is a life form, this led scientists to wonder if there could possibly be crops, or maybe even some sense of civilization, on this known-to-be-dry planet.
The possibility of life on Mars could ultimately prove true. Spots of green, an almost identical axis to Earth’s, and a similar amount of daytime to Earth’s could very well sustain life and maybe even civilization.
[Source: The Mystery of Mars]
About the Author:
Savanah Shadof is a seventh grade student at Sennett Middle School. She contributes to both Simpson Street Free Press and our newest publication, Sennett Free Press. Outside of work and school, Savanah also participates in Sennett’s Science Olympiad program and enjoys playing piano. After graduating college, she hopes to attend medical school and become a neurologist.
February 22, 2016
Jupiter’s Twin Moons: A Story of Sacrifice and Survival
By Antonio Thomas, age 11
Two of Jupiter’s 63 moons are thought to be “twins.” The two moons were formed at the same time and are the same shape and size, but they are far from identical.
While these two moons are very similar, Callisto and Ganymede also have their differences. Ganymede has an ice layer on top of its rock layer. Callisto’s surface has rock and ice too, but instead of forming layers, the ice and rock spread across this spotted moon in a mixture.
Scientists also believe that Ganymede is hotter than Callisto because four billion years ago, comets and asteroids entered Jupiter’s gravitational pull. Because Ganymede is closer to Jupiter, it sustained twice the impact from these comets as Callisto. Eventually, the heat of these comets changed Ganymede’s structure: its ice melted and its rocks fell to the moon’s core because of the impact. This movement of rocks from the surface to the core decreased the moon’s gravitational energy, which caused the ice to melt even more. The rocks continued to move until all of the rocks were surrounding Ganymede’s core, and the ice then refroze on the surface.
Since Ganymede took most of the heat from the comets, Callisto was not damaged as much as Ganymede. So it still stands as rock and ice. In this way, you might even say that Callisto was saved by its twin Ganymede.
[Source: Science Illustrated]
About the Author:
Antonio Thomas is a sixth grade student at James C. Wright Middle School. He has worked as a student reporter for Wright Free Press for two semesters. Antonio especially enjoys covering topics like science and technology, space science, and history.
January 15, 2016
The Origin of the Moon
Uncovering the Creation of Our Biggest Nightlight
By Marc Reyes, age 10
For years, many myths and mysteries have surrounded the Moon. One of the most talked about myths is how the Moon was created.
Scientific theory indicates that the Moon was created many billions of years ago because of a collision. Astronomers believe that the Earth and an object the size of Mars collided and caused chunks of Earth to break away from its surface. The chunks started to orbit, or circle, the Earth. They soon came together into what we now know as the Moon.
Made up of gray and black rocks from volcanoes, the Moon’s surface is covered with millions of craters. Humans—known as astronauts—first walked on this crater-crusted surface in 1969. Astronauts wear space suits containing oxygen so that they are able to breath while on the Moon, which has no atmosphere. The atmosphere is made up of all the gases that surround the Moon and the planets including the Earth.
Since 1969 when Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin first visited the moon in Apollo 11, space scientists have studied the rocks that astronauts bring back from the Moon’s surface. These are known as “Moon rocks.”
Even though we have learned a lot from studying Moon rocks, there is still much more to be discovered about the Moon. Who knows what knowledge we might unearth one day!
[Source: Solar System]
About the Author:
Marc Reyes, a fifth grader at Aldo Leopold Elementary School, has worked as a student reporter at Simpson Street Free Press for two years. Marc also writes for our multilingual publication, “La Prensa Libre de Simpson Street.” Additionally, Marc is an active member in our network of SSFP book clubs. After graduating both high school and college, Marc hopes to help other people as a doctor.
December 17, 2015
¿Cómo nos mantenemos con los pies en la tierra?
]por America Moreno Campa, 12 años
Hace unos 340 años algunas personas cuestionaron el porque las cosas caían por su propio peso hacia
abajo y no hacia arriba.
Isaac Newton, un científico británico, descubrió la ley de la gravedad; cuando sintió una manzana caer
en su cabeza, mientras estaba sentado en su huerto. A Newton se le ocurrió que era una fuerza invisible que había atraído a la manzana hacia la tierra, la cual llamo gravedad. Al igual que la gravedad de la tierra, atrae a la manzana hacia su centro; el sol también mantiene a la tierra y a los planetas unidos.
En los comienzos del sistema solar, existían una gran cantidad de objetos viajando alrededor del sol. Muchos de estos chocaban entre si y se destruyeron completamente. Al pasar el tiempo, el sistema solar se fue estabilizando poco a poco, hasta mostrar su aspecto normal que duró alrededor de 4.500 millones de años.
La gravedad del sol ayuda a que los planetas giren en torno a el. Ellos son atraídos por la masa del sol
y no sienten la fuerza de nuestra tierra, ya que el sol tiene una fuerza de gravedad más fuerte, la cual
hace que ellos giren en torno a él, por eso los planetas se mantienen flotando en el espacio.
About the Author:
America Moreno Campa, a seventh grader at Sennett Middle School, has worked as a student reporter at Simpson Street Free Press for two years. America also writes for our multilingual publication, “La Prensa Libre de Simpson Street”, and actively participates in a network of SSFP book clubs.
What Keeps Our Feet on the Ground?
Gravity Guides Falling Objects, Keeps Planets in Orbit
By American Moreno Campa, age 12 and translated by Sarah Useche, age 16
About 340 years ago, many people began to question why items fall toward the ground when dropped, rather than “falling up.” Using a perhaps unexpected method, brilliant scientist Issac Newton ultimately unearthed the answer.
Newton discovered the Law of Gravity while sitting in his apple orchard. When an apple fell from a tree’s branch and onto his head, Newton supposed that some sort of invisible force must have directed the apple toward the Earth. Researching this phenomenon, Newton learned that gravity not only guides falling items but also maintains the orbit of our sun and planets.
Numerous scientists in addition to Newton have observed the role of gravity within our solar system. At the beginning of time, many traveling objects surrounded the sun. Due to their close proximity, however, some of these objects crashed into one another and consequently destroyed themselves. As time passed, and with the help of gravity, the solar system slowly stabilized itself.
Today, gravity helps the planets rotate around the sun. Specifically, the planets are attracted by the mass of the sun. Because the sun has a force of gravity that is greater than any planet’s force of gravity, they remain unaffected by the gravitational pull of the Earth. Thus, the planets stay in space and rotate around the sun rather than the Earth.
Who would have thought that a piece of fruit could unlock what was, during Newton’s time, one of the world’s greatest mysteries? Next time you bite into an apple, you might just remember Newton and what keeps your feet on the ground.
[Sources: www.curriculumenlineduc.cl; www.esa.int]
About the Translator:
Sarah Useche, currently a junior at Verona High School, has worked as a student reporter and Teen Editor at Simpson Street Free Press for two years. She also serves as a contributing writer for SSFP multilingual publication, “La Prensa Libre de Simpson Street.” Outside the academic realm, Sarah enjoys singing and participating in theatre.
November 4, 2015
Can We Survive on Mars?
Mars One Plans to Send 24 Americans to the Red Planet
By Shreya Shrestha, age 15
Sending people to Mars has been America’s ambition for a long time, but imagine actually being able to go there. Recently, 100 individuals were carefully selected to make a groundbreaking, yet extremely dangerous one-way journey to the Red Planet.
Mars One, a non-profit organization, is funding the voyage to Mars. The organization plans to start a colony of people on Mars. The colony can never return to Earth. Originally, 200,000 people applied for this opportunity. Mars One narrowed it down to 100 finalists—50 men and 50 women. They plan to choose 24 of these finalists to travel to Mars starting in 2024. They will be sent four at a time every two years.One of the 24 finalists, Peter Felgentreff, a married 50-year-old entrepreneur and vice president of a start-up organization near San Francisco, is very enthusiastic about the trip. Felgentreff explains that he is very excited to go, even if it means leaving his wife forever. “I’ve always had a curiosity for all things science, especially when it comes to space exploration,” Felgentreff said.
Now, the biggest question is how the 24 are going to survive Mars’ harsh environment. Experts indicate that they will need to depend on technology to do so. A team at MIT looked at the Mars One plan; they believe that those sent to Mars could die within 68 days due to oxygen-related problems. The technology scientists have developed so far will most likely not be enough to sustain humans on Mars through their natural lifespans. However, Mars One is working to ensure that everything is safe and ready for the 2024 mission.
The need for developments in technology brings forth a large downside to the Mars One initiative: costs! Each four-person trip will cost approximately $6 billion. Mars One plans to fund this project through large donations and private investments. They hope to achieve their funding goal in 9 years.
With this initiative, humans will reach a new level of space travel. We will have the ability to go to different planets in the universe. The biggest potential risk? Death. The 24 Mars One finalists are willing to risk their lives and their familiarity with Earth to brave a completely different lifestyle. Will our curiosity take its toll? Or will it change history forever?
[Source: USA Today]
About the Author
Shreya Shrestha, currently a sophomore at Madison West High School, has worked as a student reporter at Simpson Street Free Press for six months. In addition to working at the Free Press, Shreya participates in a variety of extracurricular activities, including track, tennis, and gymnastics. Additionally, Shreya is a member of West’s student council, acapella club, and NYL (Nepali Youth Leaders).
About Simpson Street Free Press
Simpson Street Free Press gives students a real-world writing experience in an encouraging, but rigorous, after school setting. Students apply for a position on the paper. Once hired, they research and write articles about current events in core subject areas. Simpson Street Free Press teaches practical and transferable skills to the youth of Wisconsin.
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