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DragonFlyTV: Science for Kids

With David Johnson, Chris Spoldi, and Vanessa Rodriguez
Tuesday, April 9; 11 a.m. EDT

The U.S. space shuttle Atlantis, the 109th shuttle mission, was successful in its launch yesterday afternoon. The goal of the mission is "to attach a 27,000-pound truss, an anchor point for a solar array-carrying beam, to the international space station." Read the full story "Shuttle on Haul to Space Station " (Post, April 9).

In a recent episode of DragonflyTV, kid scientists investigate the world of space. Join David Johnson of the Yale University Star Lab and kid scientist Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez to talk about the "Space" episode on Tuesday, April 9, at 11 a.m. EDT. Rick Swanson, science content director for DragonflyTV, will also be available to answer any questions about the production.

The transcript is below.

In their investigation, Spoldi and Rodriguez wanted to discover how craters form in the moon. They begin researching this cosmic question by dropping marble "meteors" from various heights into a "moon" made of common kitchen ingredients. They then analyze the characteristics of their "craters," and compare them to real craters at the Yale Observatory.

Also in the episode, native Floridians find out how coconuts would fare as a space food or tool. With the guidance of NASA representatives, the girls use a specific scientific process to prepare red, green and yellow coconut samples for a ride on the space shuttle. In the investigation They analyze the samples' weight, appearance, and other differences before and after space travel.

DragonflyTV is a new PBS children's science show, produced by Twin Cities Public Television. The series features a totally kid-centered approach to scientific discovery, exploration, learning and wonder. The program showcases "kid scientists" -- children from nine to 12 years old -- and their own science investigations into subjects like flight, animal behavior, space and weather, to name a few.

DragonflyTV airs:
Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. on Maryland Public Television
Sundays at 9:30 a.m. WHYY Wilmington
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. on WHUT Howard University
Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WHRO Norfolk

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Golden, Colo.: Thanks for having a chat about space! What do you all think the chances are of life existing on other planets? For David: is there any proof for or against this theory? Just wondering (because I love science fiction!)

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: i think its possible because we cant be the only living thing in the universe.CS

Rick Swanson: Welcome to today's chat with DragonflyTV. My name is Rick Swanson, science director for DragonflyTV. Joining us today are David Johnson from the Yale Observatory, and student astronomers Chris and Vanessa, who appeared in this past week's episode of DFTV. Chris and Vanessa investigated moon crater formation, and have built their own telescopes. DFTV also featured a group of students whose project was accepted by NASA for a space shuttle mission, similar to the mission that launched just yesterday. We all welcome your questions today.

Louisville, Ky.: To Dr. Johnson:
What got you interested in studying space? Did you like it when you were a kid? I like reading about space, and I want to know what classes I should be taking to get ready for a space program.
Thank you.

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: I got interested as a kid by reading a book on the stars and looking up at the night sky. I had a small telescope and found out that I could find some of the faint objects in the sky. The courses you should be taking in High school are Math and Physics and it would be helpful to join a local astronomy club.

Golden, Colo. : Thanks for having a chat about space! What do you all think the chances are of life existing on other planets? For David: is there any proof for or against this theory? Just wondering (because I love science fiction!)

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: I thonk that there is a good chance and as we can look farther out with better telecopes in the future we might detect signs of life. On Mars some scientist think there is bacteria evidence on the planet David Johnson

Golden Valley, Minn.: Dear Chris and Vanessa.
Are you really into studying space at your school? Do you want to be astronauts when you grow up?

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: Yes I am studying space in my school. I am not sure if I want to be an astronaut, I enjoy learning about the begining of space. I did a report on the mercury program and the mercury seven astronauts.VMR

Fargo, N.D.: Thank you for having this chat. I love learning about space. Mr. Johnson, have you ever traveled in space?

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: No I have never gone into space but I love to look up into the night sky and dream of being up there.

David Johnson


Kansas City, Kan.: The coconut girls from Florida were cool! How can i get involved in a NASA launch?

Rick Swanson: The Coconaut girls submitted their project to NASA's Small Shuttle Payload Project - Space Experiment Module. The web address is
http://www.wff.nasa.gov/~sspp/sem/sem.html. If you contact them at this address, you can learn the rules for submission of projects for future shuttle launches.

Olivia, Minn.: Is there a space program or club at Chris and Vanessa's school? If so, how do I start one at mine?

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: Yes there is, its called Cosmic Cultures its really neat. We get to do lots of cool activities like we get to go to museums, build telescopes, visit the observatory at night, and go to planitariums. If you want to start your own club you have to get some teachers who are interested in space and don't mind spending their free time with children. CS

New York, N.Y.: David:
Can you describe the typical day in the life of an astronaut?

Thank you.
Ms. Kosmecki's Kids

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez:
Daily Life on the International Space Station

Here is a nice site to visit.
David Johnson

New Richmond, Wis.: Two questions for David Johnson:
How do stars get names?
What's the oldest star?

Thank you.

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: Stars have gotten names from a variety of different sources. Ancient peoples named those stars that they could see at night, resulting in the brightest stars having names such as "Betelgeuse".

More recently, scientists have tried to use a more systematic approach, naming those stars without names by a combination of the constellation of which the star is a member and the greek letter assoicated to the stars brightness. For instance, the brighest star in the constellation Centari is alpha centari, and the second brightest star is beta centari.

Now days, astronomers name stars based upon their brightness and the catalog that they are recorded in, as well as their position in the sky. This results in names such as HD209548, which sound pretty much like jibberish.

It is hard to get accurate ages of individual stars. However, it is much easier to get the approximate age of a cluster of stars, by noting the relation between the stars. Using these methods, astronomers have determined that the oldest stars are in the range of 14-15 billion years old.
However, the oldest stars in the universe have already burned out.

David Johnson

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: Stars get their names by the people who find them.Also, they are named by the shapes that the stars make.The ancient cultures named them from heroes and their gods, like Hercules.VMR

Virginia: David,
What part of the episode and investigations did you administer? What projects did you facilitate for the kids?

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: I helped with the manufacture of Chris and Vanessa's telescope. I am the manager of the Bethany Observing Station so I had to help take the pictures of the moon craters that you saw on the program I also helped the kids find the craters in the telecope.

David Johnson

washingtonpost.com: Chris and Vanessa,
Can you tell us about your investigation and how you came up with the idea? What were the conclusions of your investigation?

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: We came up with this idea after we had a school project on craters and how they were formed. We wanted to prove that DR.Eugene shoemaker was right with his lunar impact theory(it was also fun to throw flour at each other).Our conclusion was correct, craters were formed by impact not volcanoes.We found that the higher the drop the bigger the crater.We would like to experiment with speed and mass next time.CS

Rick Swanson: The segment featuring Chris and Vanessa's crater investigation didn't really feature the fact that they also constructed their own telescopes (you may have noticed them setting up their homomade telescope in the opening moments of the segment). Chris and Vanessa, can you tell readers a little bit about how you made your telescopes?

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: Making the telescopes was so fun. Only a selected group of Cosmic students, whos names were pulled out of a hat, were able to go.In the morning,we would go to the school's wood tech. class where we would be handeling large peices of wood.We started our project by staining every peice of our wood.Then, once they were dry, we started to screw the legs on the tripod.We hade to fill a coffee can with cement to act as the counter balence.We used a salad bowl as our mount. The hardest thing to do was to measure and install the mirrors.If we weere to touch the morrors, then the mirrors would be useless.It took three days. VMR

Rick Swanson: David, can you tell readers how they might get started if they want to do amateur stargazing themselves? Maybe you have suggestions for readers about what to choose for a starter telescope, or how to find a local club of amateur astronomers.

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: I think that the best way to get started is to find an open field in a dark location and look up. Get a copy of Sky and Telescope or Astronomy magazine and they will tell you what is up in the sky momth to month. Also they list star party that happen across the US. that are put on by local astronomy clubs.These are people that would be happy to show you the night sky and direct you in the best telescope to buy. I would say that start with one with a 6" mirror

David Johnson

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: I make telesopes in my advanced intrumentation lab and the design that we use is a 6" f8 dobsonian design. We grind the mirror using aluminum oxide and cerium oxide until they are the perfect parabolic shape. The surface has to be within plus or minus one and a half millions of an inch, and we do it all by hand, no machines!

After we finish the optics we make the scope out of wood, metal and cardboard tubes. We all then go to the observatory to see things in the night sky.

David Johnson

Potomac, Md.: If there are so many craters on the moon, why aren't there more on the Earth?

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: There aren't more craters on Earth because the Earth has an outer atmosphere that protects it from meteors and meteorites.Only very small meteorite particles can pass through the Earth's strong atmospere.The moon has no atmosphere so the meteors can hit it at any time.That is why the moon has mich more craters than the Earth.VMR

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: Craters are not found on the Earth in numbers like the Moon because we have an atmosphere that prevents a lot of objects getting through. The ones that do get through are usually very large and do leave craters but wind and rain wash them away in time. One impact site that you can visit is meteore crater in Arizona.
David Johnson

Arlington, Va.: Chris and Vanessa,
What future project on speed and mass will you work on? Have you gotten positive feedback on your investigation?

Do you think you will study space science in college and have you both been to space camp?

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: We would like to get a radar gun to calculate the speed of the objects that we'll drop in to our flour mixture. We would also like to see if objects of different mass formed different size craters.Yes we got positive feedback on our investigation , we had some friends ask us if they could join us next time. I'm not sure if i'll study space science in college, but Vanessa thinks she might. No we haven't been to space camp but our cosmic cultures club would REALLY REALLY like to go.It is just too expensive. CS AND VMR

washingtonpost.com: David,
What do you think about the new space mission of yesterday's launch? Atlantis is supposed to add a $600 million truss to the international space station that will "extend the length of a football field" -- Shuttle on Haul to Space Station (Post, April 9).

Can we see the space station with a telescope and do you receive any data from the station? What do you do at Yale University's Star Lab?

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: Yale university Astronomy dept. does not do any research with the space station. We do use the space telescope as well we use a number of observatories around the world to try to find the age of the universe as well as finding new objects. Some other departments might use the station for research like the medical school.

The space station can be seen with the naked eye you just have to know where to look. The times that it is visable can be found at heavensabove.com You do not need a telescope because it is moving very fast. Binocculars are good though.

David Johnson

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: Thank you for having me on today and I hope on the next dark night you will look up into the sky and wonder what is out there. You do not need a lot of stuff to view the heavens, start withyour eyes, then binocculars, then get a telescope of about 6" in diameter. Join a local astronomy club and you will be rewarded with a hobby you can use anywhere in the world.

David Johnson

David Johnson, Chris Spoldi and Vanessa Rodriguez: OH MY GOODNESS!!! Taping for Dragonfly was the most awesome experience I ever had. We had such a blast doing the experiment, and we got to throw flour at each other just for fun. But, we had a great deal of fun learning about lunar craters and sharing it with Dragonfly.
Thank you for letting us be part of the char today. We hope to be part of an experience like this again. Thanks. CS and VMR

Rick Swanson: Thanks David, Vanessa, and Chris (and Mrs. Edmonds, Chris and Vanessa's teacher behind the scenes!) for a great chat. I hope you inspired others to enjoy the night sky, also. Next week on DragonflyTV, you'll see kids investigating Martial Arts, while others investigate their sense of taste. I hope you'll join us for another chat. DragonflyTV is a production of Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) in St Paul, MN, generously sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Best Buy Corporation. Check out DragonflyTV on the Web at http://pbskids.org/dragonflytv.

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