Friday, August 10, 2012

Take a road trip to Mars!


Curiosity's panoramic image of its current position (sol 5). On the left of this image, part of the rover's power supply is visible. To the right of the power supply can be seen the pointy low-gain antenna and side of the paddle-shaped high-gain antenna for communications directly to Earth. The rim of Gale Crater is the lighter colored band across the horizon.  NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Curiosity’s” successful trip to and landing on Mars has inspired me to follow the cool-looking rover’s adventure and I would like to share what I learn on my Friday blog. If you are a teacher, I invite you to follow my blog and share with your students what Curiosity is doing and what she’s discovering as well as information about Mars and class activities. This would be a wonderful and exciting way to raise interest in science and engineering!

Visit other nonfiction blogs today at NONFICTION MONDAY, hosted by Nonfiction Detectives.


And what a better way to begin than following the fascinating explorations of the “never-give-up” rovers Spirit and Opportunity ? The twin rovers preceded Curiosity to Mars and their journey has been a rollercoaster, up with excitement, down with serious trouble, but above all a tribute to patience and perseverance on Earth and on Mars.

I am delighted to have Alexandra Siy today visiting my blog. (How do you pronounce 'Siy') She has outstanding, award-winning books about science for children including “Cars on Mars. Roving the RedPlanet.” 

I wanted to ask Alexandra about her own journey to Mars, so to speak, as she researched and wrote about Spirit and Opportunity.
Thank you, Alexandra, for sharing behind the scenes insights into what it took to write this fascinating book!

* When and how did you decide to write about the first two Mars rovers?

In the summer of 2003 Spirit and Opportunity were on their way to Mars. It was the perfect time for an encounter with a spacecraft from Earth because the planets were closer than they’d been in 60,000 years. I was camping on an island in the Adirondack wilderness and saw The Red Planet (and it was very red) in the night sky. I felt a strong connection to our nearest neighbor in the solar system, and wondered what it would be like be an explorer there. I realized I could explore Mars along with the rovers by writing a book about them.

* Why was it important for you to write about them?

I wanted to go along on the Mars road trip. I was a little kid when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. It was an extraordinary event, one that I remember vividly. The Mars rovers are like the Apollo Moon mission for today’s kids—but unlike going to the Moon and back, which takes about a week, going to Mars and exploring the planet takes years. There is a mountain of information and hundreds of thousands of images available from NASA. Children can experience the excitement and drama of the Mars missions in a book that has been carefully researched and designed. 

* What was the hardest thing to accomplish? (getting interviews or other sources, finding a kid-friendly angle, deciding how to organize and present the enormous amount of information, finding a publisher, other?)

My publisher accepted my proposal several years before I wrote the book. The mission was supposed to last about 90 days, but the rovers kept on going for years. I kept asking my editor for an extension because the rovers were discovering new things everyday. Finally, after three years, we decided it was time to tell the story of Spirit and Opportunity. I had just moved from Alaska to New York. My cross continental journey became inspiration for the book. I was really struggling to find a great title…and when “Cars on Mars” popped into my head, I instantly had the format for organizing the book in a kid friendly way. This was a “far-out” road trip, and road trips are fun, exciting, and really cool. I listened to road trip music while looking at the images from Mars. I felt like I was along for the ride! I ate road trip snacks, and even felt a little “carsick” after staring at Martian landscapes for hours and hours…I really felt like I was on Mars. I hope kids who read my book get that feeling of being on Mars with Spirit and Opportunity.

* Did you have the opportunity to talk to some of the people who made this possible?

I talked with Jim Bell, the scientist who creates the color panoramic images. He wrote a fabulous coffee table book called Postcards from Mars. 
 
I also talked to Steve Squyres, the principal investigator for the mission, whose book Roving Mars provided me with an inside look at the mission. Steve is quoted throughout my book. These quotes were from NASA press releases. Steve always had great quotes that fit perfectly into what I was trying to say. I also visited Honeybee Labs in NYC, which is the company that designs and builds the RAT (rock abrasion tool). I watched while one of the engineers controlled the operation of the RAT from computers in their offices.

*What was your favorite part of writing Cars on Mars?
I loved writing this book. While I was writing, my imagination took me to Mars. Everyday I looked forward to going into my office to write. I felt like I was leaving Earth behind and entering an unknown place. When I was finished writing the book I still didn’t have chapter titles. They were just numbered. I had to come up with titles, but I couldn’t think of anything that sounded good. Then, I reminded myself that I had been on a road trip. (When you need help on a road trip you go on Google to “Get Directions.”) Get Directions became the heading for the table of contents page, and I wrote all the chapter titles as actual directions describing what was going on in each chapter. I loved how everything came together in the end.

5. Could you give us a hint of you current writing projects? Where will you take us next?
Currently I am finishing a book about spiders called Spiderbook. Spiders are fascinating, and so is the fact that a lot of people are afraid of them. This title will be illustrated with electron micrographs (in the same style of my recent book BUG SHOTS: TheGood the Bad, and the Bugly). 
When I’m finished with Spiderbook this fall, I plan to write about my exploration of the ancient bristlecone forests in the Great Basin. This was an extraordinary adventure of discovery. Imagine trees that are still thriving at 5,000 years old! These are the oldest living organisms on the planet and have stories to tell…I want to write these stories, I want to give the trees a voice. I’m also working on another outer space adventure featuring spaceships and awesome space photography (but I will keep that book title a secret for now). And of course, I’d love to write a book about Curiosity on Mars. I guess that sounds like a sequel!

6.  What's your message to young readers who are considering science as their field of study?

Alexandra looking for bristlecones to tell her their story.
(© A. Siy)

Well, I hope my books inspire children to want to learn about the world. That’s what science is all about. Some people say science is difficult and boring…I don’t get this! Science is endlessly exciting. There is art in science (just look at the images sent to Earth by Spirit and Opportunity, and now Curiosity). I would tell my readers to not only read, but also to become observers of the world. I would tell them to look closely at phenomena in nature and to ask questions. New discoveries are being made all the time—scientists are both critical and creative thinkers. They are also artists.
Thank you!
Thank you, Alexandra, for your inspiration, hard work and fascinating books. I wish you much success. I can’t wait to know the stories a 5,000 year old tree has to tell! WOW! This will be truly traveling back in time.
Visit Alexandra’swebsite for more information about her books, her school visits, and other projects. Did you know she’s also a wonderful photographer? 

And now, what is going on with Curiosity?
This full-resolution self-portrait shows the deck of NASA's Curiosity rover from the rover's Navigation cameras. The back of the rover can be seen at the top left of the image, and two of the rover's right side wheels can be seen on the left. See those little black dots on top? They are 1 cm  (0.4 inches) long pebbles that fell on it during landing. So far, they are not a problem. NASA/JPL-Caltech
As you are reading this post, Curiosity stays put on a desert-like Martian landscape (it’s so cool I am writing this, and it’s nonfiction!). Three hundred and so million miles away on Earth (where you are sitting) scientists and engineers have sent new software to Curiosity’s computers and are in the process of checking all instruments are go. This will take a few days. In the mean time, Curiosity is not shy with her camera keeping NASA people busy putting together hundreds of images that reveal a not so ‘alien’ landscape.

For the classroom:
If you are on Mars, a day, or the time it takes the planet to complete is full rotation or spin around its axis, is called a “sol”. One sol is about 39 minutes longer than a day on earth. Today is sol 5 of Curiosity’s mission.

Cool stuff: some of the scientists and engineers of the Mars mission wear a watch specially made to be on Mars time. Some of them wear two watches on their wrists: one on Mars time and the other on Earth time. No excuse to be late anywhere!

Visit other science blogs today at NONFICTION MONDAY. Hosted by Nonfiction Detectives.

Monday, August 6, 2012

NASA's “Curiosity” lands safely on Mars!


That´s why Curiosity is so large (right), compared to Spirit/Opportunity (left, 2004) and Sojourner (1997). It takes a car-sized rover to carry so many tools.NASA/JPL-Caltech

I watched the NASA TV channel as the car-seized rover “Curiosity” landed just as planned on the Martian surface shortly after 12:30 am (CST) on August 6th. And soon after it sent the first two photos! One showed the Martian landscape and one of the rover’s wheels on the right-hand side. The second photo included “Curiosity’s” silhouette. It’s hard to grasp that we can see almost right away images of what is millions of miles away!

The first photo "Curiosity" sent to earth. Notice the rover's wheel on the right corner.  First visual confirmation that the landing was a success. NASA
Dust sprinkled “Curiosity’s” camera lenses. It came from the ground the rockets stirred as they helped the almost 2,000 pound rover touchdown safely. You have to see the video of the simulation of the landing process. It was quite a different type of landing in comparison with the previous ones. Instead of dropping the rover inside a bouncing ball, a hovering crane dropped it on the ground. Check out this link to learn more about the mission. Kids would love to see this.

This milestone is nothing less than a major achievement of science and engineering and to complement the NASA link above I suggest the two books I show here. They are about the first two Mars rovers, “Spirit” and “Opportunity,” for younger (left) and older readers.
Congratulations to all involved in this amazing mission. I can’t wait to learn more about “Curiosity’s” findings. Are there (were there) any microbes on Mars? Stay tuned!
Learning about this mission could be an engaging way to introduce students to space exploration, the planet Mars, and all the physics and engineering basics that support this outstanding achievement. What a source of inspiration for young scientists everywhere! I wonder, where will they take us next?

Great review for "The Mighty Mars Rovers."

Check more nonfiction posts at Nonfiction Monday's host site "Shelf employed."

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sally Ride (1951-2012), a true inspiration for present and future generations of women.

"When I was a girl, I had a teacher who encouraged my interest in science. She challenged me to be curious, to ask questions, and to think about things for myself. She helped build my self-confidence. All of these helped me to become a scientist and an astronaut.” — Sally Ride, Ph.D. 1951-2012.

Sally Ride was a physicist and the first American woman in space and from this platform she reached toward countless girls and young women (and not so young too) to inspire them to prepare themselves for the future studying science and engineering. A future not too far ahead, since the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce projections indicate that 15 of the 20 fastest growing occupations in 2014 will require significant science or mathematics training to successfully compete for a job. Are we ready for this?

STEM education is hot. It’s a need that's not been fulfilled. Sally Ride Science festivals are tremendous mind-changing programs for young girls. And young girls love science. I know it. I have participated in the Houston festivals and the classes and events are always packed. After my talks, young scientists-in-the making approached me with questions, bursting with excitement. What an inspiration for those of us trying to inspire our young audience!

Sally Ride has left us with an tremendous example of dedication and hard work that any girl and young woman can look up to when following their dreams. I am looking forward to being part of the festival this fall and also to continue my contribution to inspire and educate young minds with my writings about science, nature and technology.

Sally Ride reached for the stars and touched them. It can be done! One day at a time. One class at a time. One book at a time. One girl at a time.

Check other STEM Friday blog posts


Sunday, April 22, 2012

EXTREME EARTH DAY APRIL 22 WITH EXTREME ANIMALS IN EXTREME ENVIRONMENTS!

CELEBRATE EARTH DAY APRIL 22 EXPLORING EXTREME ANIMALS IN EXTREME ENVIRONMENTS! 


HOW DID POLAR BEARS HAPPEN?
WHAT DID PENGUIN ANCESTORS LOOK LIKE?
WHERE THE ICY WORLDS ALWAYS ICY?

The Arctic and Antarctica are two of the most extreme environments in the world.
They hold the world record for being freezing-cold, wind-blown, lip-cracking dry all the time and pitch black for half of the year.

But despite these extreme conditions, many magnificent animals call these icy worlds home.

Tag along with the brave scientists that travel the extreme cold to study these extreme animals. Their hard work has revealed incredible findings.

HOW DOES A BLIND FISH FIND ITS FOOD?
CAN A GIANT CENTIPEDE EAT A BAT FOR DINNER?

Caves are home to unique and bizarre creatures.
Cave-dwelling animals have found ways to survive despite the low food supply, the complete darkness and the toxic conditions. Some never leave the caves.

Vampire bats, giant insects, blind fish, long-legged spiders, and poison-tolerant creatures are some of the extreme animals living in extremely dark caves.

Join the scientists as they crawl through narrow corridors to uncover the mysteries of extreme cave-dwellers.

CAN YOU SURVIVE WITHOUT DRINKING WATER FOR MONTHS?
HAS THE SAHARA ALWAYS BEEN A DESERT?
HOW DOES THE KANGAROO RAT SURVIVE ON SALT-COVERED SALTBUSH LEAVES?

Exploring the desert is an unforgettable experience. It's the hottest place on the planet.
Most days there is not a cloud to shade the blazing sun. Within minutes, exposed skin shows signs of sunburn. It's very hard to find water and food is sometimes poisonous. Nevertheless, deserts burst with life.

Slap sunblock, throw a hat on your head and follow the sun-tanned scientists in the quest for rattlesnakes, gray foxes, roadrunners, scorpions, javelinas and other extreme animals of the hottest deserts.

WHY THE WATER PRESSURE DOES NOT CRUSH DEEP-SEA ANIMALS?
HOW DEEP IS THE DEEPEST PLACE?
IS THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA EMPTY OF LIFE?

The deepest oceans pose unique challenges to animal survival. When light and warmth totally disappear, when pressure can crush most bodies, and when food is extremely rare, how do deep-sea animals cope?

Wear your warmest jacket and gloves and hop inside an imaginary submarine for an expedition to discover the extreme deep-sea animals.

Enslow Publishers, 2012 

                                AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK AND LIBRARY BINDING 


I had a wonderful experience, made numerous new contacts, and met authors I only knew via Facebook and other media in the Texas Library Association Annual Conference in Houston last week. This photo is of my book signing at Enslow Publishers booth.


It's NONFICTION MONDAY, today hosted by  Books4Learning.

PS. I just remodeled my website. I invite you to check it out (It looks best with Firefox)

Friday, April 13, 2012

ANIMALS LIVE IN THE MOST EXTREME PLACES IN THE WORLD. HOW DO THEY SURVIVE?




Welcome to STEM FRIDAY hosted today by Shirley Duke at Simply Science.   
I am delighted to participate and show you my new book releases; EXTREME ANIMALS LIVING IN EXTREME ENVIRONMENTS series (middle grade and up, color photos, hands-on activities, further reading and more!)
Thank you for visiting!

CELEBRATE EARTH DAY APRIL 22 EXPLORING EXTREME ANIMALS IN EXTREME ENVIRONMENTS!

AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK AND LIBRARY BINDING

HOW DID POLAR BEARS HAPPEN?
WHAT DID PENGUIN ANCESTORS LOOK LIKE?
WHERE THE ICY WORLDS ALWAYS ICY?

The Arctic and Antarctica are two of the most extreme environments in the world.
They hold the world record for being freezing-cold, wind-blown, lip-cracking dry all the time and pitch black for half of the year.

But despite these extreme conditions, many magnificent animals call these icy worlds home.

Tag along with the brave scientists that travel the extreme cold to study these extreme animals. Their hard work has revealed incredible findings.

HOW DOES A BLIND FISH FIND ITS FOOD?
CAN A GIANT CENTIPEDE EAT A BAT FOR DINNER?

Caves are home to unique and bizarre creatures.
Cave-dwelling animals have found ways to survive despite the low food supply, the complete darkness and the toxic conditions. Some never leave the caves.

Vampire bats, giant insects, blind fish, long-legged spiders, and poison-tolerant creatures are some of the extreme animals living in extremely dark caves.

Join the scientists as they crawl through narrow corridors to uncover the mysteries of extreme cave-dwellers.

CAN YOU SURVIVE WITHOUT DRINKING WATER FOR MONTHS?
HAS THE SAHARA ALWAYS BEEN A DESERT?
HOW DOES THE KANGAROO RAT SURVIVE ON SALT-COVERED SALTBUSH LEAVES?

Exploring the desert is an unforgettable experience. It's the hottest place on the planet.
Most days there is not a cloud to shade the blazing sun. Within minutes, exposed skin shows signs of sunburn. It's very hard to find water and food is sometimes poisonous. Nevertheless, deserts burst with life.

Slap sunblock, throw a hat on your head and follow the sun-tanned scientists in the quest for rattlesnakes, gray foxes, roadrunners, scorpions, javelinas and other extreme animals of the hottest deserts.

WHY THE WATER PRESSURE DOES NOT CRUSH DEEP-SEA ANIMALS?
HOW DEEP IS THE DEEPEST PLACE?
IS THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA EMPTY OF LIFE?

The deepest oceans pose unique challenges to animal survival. When light and warmth totally disappear, when pressure can crush most bodies, and when food is extremely rare, how do deep-sea animals cope?

Wear your warmest jacket and gloves and hop inside an imaginary submarine for an expedition to discover the extreme deep-sea animals.


PS. I just remodeled my website. I invite you to check it out (It looks best with Firefox)

Monday, April 9, 2012

A BLACK HOLE IS NOT A HOLE. THEN WHAT IS IT?


Welcome to NONFICTION MONDAY! Join me today for a treat of nonfiction books that have captured the interest of nonfiction writers dedicated to bring you the best in the field.

Bloggers; list your blog in the comments.

Readers, please, read on.

I am delighted to comment today on "A Black Hole is Not a Hole", a Junior Library Guild Selection, which I didn’t know it was a selection until after I read the book. The accolade is displayed on the back cover and I had not flipped the book till I had reached the end. No surprise in the accolade!

I wrote this post and then I noticed that my colleague Laura Salas had gotten ahead of me and posted about this amazing book on March 5th. (Yes, my bad. I had not checked the posts that week).

I was not surprised Laura and I had reached the same conclusions and enjoyed the book as well. I decided to post my comments. I don’t think the authors would object. So here I go.

Never fear again to attempt to understand the topic of black holes. I am sure there are readers out there, pre-teens, teens and adults (include me), who would love to get a “plain English” understanding of this amazing phenomenon. But understanding seems to be as out of reach as the black holes themselves.

Author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano and illustrator Michael Carroll have solved this problem. After reading their book, black holes are still thousands of light years away, but not over my head any more.

“A Black Hole Is Not a Hole. Then what is it?” sucks you in like a black hole. Well, not quite since you will be able to break its grip once you finish the book. You wouldn’t in the case of black holes. Ms. DeCristofano brings the topic down to earth. The science is accurate and crystal clear. The analogies rise “I got it now!” moments. The illustrations spur “Wow!” and “Cool!” comments. And I love the humor! (See page 19, the first baby picture of a black hole) One of the best things in the world, at least for science-loving people, is to finally understand a fascinating topic and enjoying the process. “A Black Hole Is Not a Hole” gives you that feeling.

After reading this book you will be compelled to find out more about black holes. You will clarify some basic principles of physics that are part of everyday life. You will tell your friends about your newly acquired wisdom. And be prepared to answer their questions! It happened to me. I mentioned it to a couple of friends and they shot me a round of questions in return. It seemed they had come prepared to interrogate me. I did not disappoint them.

Adding this book to a class discussion about gravity, space, and how scientists study far-away objects would engage readers, even reluctant ones. They will understand one of nature's most intriguing wonders and will have a blast reading about it and doing 'thought experiments'.

I invite you to leave a comment and visit the other blogs listed below.

Ana's Events in April, Houston:


On another note, if you live in Houston, I invite you to visit the Houston Indie Book Festival on April 14 (11am -5 pm). I’ll be there at noon reading for children about one of my new books “Extreme Animals in Extreme Environments: Darkest Caves.” Visit my table to chat and check my books.




I will also attend the Texas Library Association (TLA) Conference, Houston, April 17-20, 2012.

Book signings at TLA:

Enslow Publishers booth # 2514: Tuesday April 17, 7-8 pm (Opening night)
Giving away limited signed copies of Extreme Animals in Extreme Environments! Visit the booth, I’ll sign your copy. Teachers and librarians who post a review may request a 40% discount in one of my school visits.For more information contact me.

Pelican Publishing Co. booth #1719: Wednesday April 18, 1-3 pm. I invite you to visit with my co-author Choon-Ok Harmon and me at Pelican’s booth and chat about the memoir “The Iron Butterfly.” (for teens and up)
Hope to meet you there!




PS. I just remodeled my website. I invite you to check it out (It looks best with Firefox)


Visit these Nonfiction blogs and enjoy more outstanding true stories :

1.  "The Camping Trip That Changed America"; Hope is the word blog.

2.  "Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World", Archimedes Notebook

3. National Geographic's nonfiction easy readers; Jean Little Library.

4.  "Just Behave, Pablo Picasso!", NC Teacher Stuff.

5. "The Flagmaker," Supratentorial.

6. Australian Explorers, A Strong Belief in Wicker.

7.  "Kamal Goes to Trinidad," The Swimmer Writer.

8. "Beautiful Warrior: The Legend of the Nun's Kung Fu", Gathering Books.

9. "World War II: On the Home Front,"The Children's War.

10. " LIFE IN THE OCEAN - The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle," True Tales & A Cherry on Top.

11. " Capybara: The World's Largest Rodent," Simply Science.

12. "Terezin: voices from the Holocaust," Jen Rothschild Blog.

13. " World War I: An Interactive History Adventure," Nonfiction Detectives.

14. "Most Fun Book Ever About Lizards," Wrapped in Foil.

15. "People," Apple with Many Seeds. 

16. " Energy Island,"Prose and Kahn.

17. " Inside Earthquakes," Books4Learning. 

18.  At Booktalking "Earth Day Every Day"  is the Picture Book of the Day and "Scheduling Smarts: How to Get Organized, Prioritize, Manage Your Time, and More" is the Chapter Book of the Day.

19. " Titanic: Voices From the Disaster," Nonfiction Book Blast.








Monday, November 21, 2011

Confused mosquitoes, revealing bandages, and scuba spiders.

It's Nonfiction Monday!Today I am posting about three magazine articles that were published in November.
In the November/December issue of YES MAG: The Science Magazine for Adventurous Minds (for ages 9-14) Dr. A. Ray tells us that he contracted malaria from mosquito bites and that when he became a scientist he decided to bite … or, fight back.(Check this video with Dr. Ray) He found a solution in natural scents that send these deadly creatures off track. Mosquitoes find their victims by following a scent track of carbon dioxide left when breathing out. Dr. Ray found out that two airborne chemicals released by ripening fruit, wine, and beer interfere with the CO2 tracking sensor, and mosquitoes cannot find their victims. The experiments are very intriguing and may spark ideas for science fair projects. Dr. Ray’s studies are very important because mosquitoes transmit several serious and deadly diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and more. Hopefully a new line of effective and less expensive natural repellents will be available soon.
The November/December issue of KNOW: The Science Magazine for Curious Kids (for ages 5-9) has the two other articles. “Color-changing bandages” is the result of the scientific mind of Dr. Louise van der Werff, a good example of a women in science, solving a problem we all face: how to care for a wound. Combining chemistry and engineering, she invented fibers that change color with temperature, and weaved them into bandages. As wounds heal problems may arise. This is important for all types of wounds, but especially for those that take a long time to heal. If the wound gets infected, its temperature will increase. If it does not get enough blood, it won’t heal well either and the wound’s temperature will decrease. Dr. Louise’s bandages can give an early warning about these problems. Check out what inspired this young woman to pursue this project. I hope we can find these color-changing bandages available in the near future.
And finally, the scuba spider (on page 3 of KNOW). In European rivers lives "Argyroneta aquatica," a small spider that spends most of its life underwater. To me, it is always fascinating how nature finds a way to survive. Argyroneta builds a breathing chamber underwater weaving its silvery net around air bubbles.
Physics of gases in water come handy as air in water diffuses into the bubble replacing the air the spider consumes. Argyroneta can spend a whole day inside the underwater chambers. Even more, Argyroneta eats, molts, and lays eggs in her diving bell. And when her babies emerge, they apply S.T.E.M. right away too! How did scientists discover how the underwater chamber works? Check it out!
I am delighted my articles have contributed to these great science magazines for kids. YES and KNOW provide an upbeat and fun way to enjoy science. And I love the color photos, cartoons, funny captions, hands-on activities and book reviews by kids. I have been contributing to YES since 1999 and fewer years to KNOW (released several years after YES). And YES has been awarded the title of “Periodical of the Year” by the Association of Educational Publishers!


Check other Nonfiction Monday blogs in Books Together And if you have a minute, visit my website