#2427Feature: Swift Mission


Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Born to Polish parents and later becoming one of the greatest physicists in history, Marie Curie’s work would eventually cost her her life.

As a child growing up in Warsaw, Poland, young Marie Sklodowska’s main goal in life was to learn as much as she could, particularly in scientific areas, despite her family’s lack of money. By 1891, with the help of her sister Bronia, Marie arrived in Paris and began studying mathematics and physics. Shortly after her arrival, a friend introduced her to a young French scientist, Pierre Curie.

Together, the Curies began advancing the study of newly discovered technologies such as X-rays and elements like Uranium. Through their work, Marie invented new theories such as the idea of radioactivity, a word she invented. She also discovered new elements, such as Radium. Eventually, Pierre began to test the new element on his skin, which lead to the development of "Curietherapy," or using Radium to treat tumors and other diseases. In 1903, the Curies were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work with Radium and radioactivity.

In 1906, however, Pierre died, leaving Marie to carry on their work alone. She continued to develop X-ray technology and pushed for its extensive use in hospitals throughout Europe. She was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911, becoming the first person ever to receive two Nobel Prizes. Marie also fulfilled a life long dream when she became the first female professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, and helped found the Radium Institute, devoted to the study of what would become the science of nuclear physics.

By 1934, Marie Curie had become very ill and she died that summer of leukemia caused by the radiation and radioactive materials she had devoted her life to studying. Her legacy lived on, however, through the work of her daughter Irene, and the work of other scientists who used her discoveries of radioactivity as the basis for their own work.


Sixteen nations from around the world are contributing to the construction of the International Space Station, or ISS. Follow the coordinates below to find some of the countries that play major roles in the space station’s construction. Then, match the country to one of its major contributions.

1. 051n30, 0w10

A. Destiny laboratory module

2. 41n54, 12e29

B. development advice on the X-38

3. 55n40, 12e35

C. Automated Transfer Vehicle

4. 52n29, 13e21

D. robotic arm

5. 48n52, 2e20

E. general monies

6. 38n54, 77w02

F. Zarya Module

7. 45n25, 75w42

G. Modules #2 and #3

8. 15s4647, 47w5547

H. Kibo Experiment module

9. 55n45, 37e35

I. Columbus Laboratory module

10. 35n42, 139e46

J. $200 for an experiments pallet

Click here for the answers!



When scientists search deep space, they’re often looking for objects they’ll never see. Black holes, for example, give off no visible light, so scientists must instead search for objects nearby that may be affected by the black hole. 

Have one student in your class hide an every day object underneath a dark cloth. Then discuss ways you and your classmates might figure out what is under the cloth without touching or looking at the object.




In the 1700s, the British scientist William Herschel discovered that different colors had different temperatures. You can test his findings for yourself.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 4 clear 2-liter bottles.
  • 1 2-liter bottle of Pepsi, Coke, or other cola beverage.
  • 5 thermometers
  • 5 straws
  • string
  • red, blue, and yellow food coloring
  • pencil and paper
  • a sunny day

Here’s what you’ll do:

1.Fill the four empty bottles with water.

2.Add food coloring to three of the four to make one bottle each of red, yellow, and blue water. Leave the fourth bottle clear.

3.Place all four bottles, along with the bottle of cola on a sunny windowsill for about one hour.

4.Cut string into five 15 cm. pieces.

5.Tie one end of each string securely around a thermometer. Tie the other end to the middle of a straw.

6.Shake down each thermometer until they all read about the same temperature.

7.When the bottles have been on the windowsill for about an hour, lower one thermometer into each bottle. Rest the straw across the mouth of the bottle. The string should be short enough so that the thermometer will be suspended about halfway between the top and bottom of the bottle.

8.After they have been submerged for about five minutes, bring each thermometer up and record the temperature.

9.Move the bottles away from the windowsill so they’re no longer in sunlight. Keep them away from any heat source for 5 minutes.

10.Repeat steps 7 and 8.

Based on your observations, which color absorbs the most heat?

Which color reflects the most heat?

If you placed these colors on the electromagnetic spectrum, which order would they be in from least heat energy to most?

How could this information be used by building or clothing designers?


camera guyPICTURE THIS!

Using the full spectrum of wavelengths, telescopes and cameras have produced beautiful images of space. Search these sites on the web to compile a scrapbook or bulletin board of spacescapes. Be sure to note which types of electromagnetic waves were used to produce each picture.

NASA’s Origins Program

Space Telescope Science Institute

NASA’s Solar System Exploration Program

Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan.

The Messier Catalog of Space Images


See for yourself why stars twinkle.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • flashlight
  • nail
  • empty cereal box
  • electric hot plate

Here’s what you’ll do:

1.Use the nail to poke about a dozen small holes in one side of the cereal box.

2.Turn on the flashlight, and stand it upright in the cereal box.

3.Close the box flaps so that the only escaping light is through the holes or “stars.”

4.Place the hot plate on one end of a safe surface such as a table, making sure that it doesn’t touch anything flammable, and turn it on.

5.Place the box on the table about 20 centimeters from the hotplate with the starry side of the box facing the hotplate.

6.Position yourself at the other end of the table so that the hotplate is between you and the box.

7.Observe the twinkling stars!

Here’s why they twinkle:

The warm air from the stove rises with varying temperatures, causing the air to have different densities. When a beam of light travels from air of one density to another, it bends or refracts slightly.  Just as the warm air from the hotplate bends the light coming from the cereal box, the varying temperatures and densities of Earth’s atmosphere bend the light from stars. The scattering starlight makes the stars seem to twinkle. But only from Earth. In space where there is no atmosphere, stars do not twinkle.


Astro Cappella


Even as they unlock the mysteries of celestial objects, astronomers are inspired by the heavens. An upcoming mission to monitor Gamma Ray Bursts inspired a group of astrophysicists at the Goddard Space Center to write and perform a song.

Click here to download their cosmic composition. (mp3 format)


thinking manWORD TO THE WISE

It’s all Greek to us!

The third letter of the Greek alphabet and the scientific name for the highest energy waves on the electromagnetic spectrum. The influence of the ancient Greeks on modern science and literature is reflected in other Greek letters that have become part of the English vocabulary. Here are some examples:

The first letter of the Greek alphabet, alpha may refer to anything that is first. For example, the chief or brightest star in any constellation has the first name, Alpha.

The second brightest star in a constellation goes by the first name Beta, because beta is the second letter in the Greek alphabet. In fact, the word alphabet is Greek for A-B.

The fourth letter of the Greek alphabet is shaped like a triangle. The silty deposit at the mouth of a river is called a delta because it flows into a triangular shape. Some airplanes have triangular, swept-back wings called delta wings.

The ninth letter of the Greek alphabet is also a word meaning a very tiny amount.

The last letter of the Greek alphabet may refer to anything that is last in a series. Used together, Alpha and Omega can mean the beginning and the end, or it can refer to the primary portion of something.


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