Mar 062005
 
Authors: Daniel Linn

CSU scientists are encouraging kindergarten through 12th grade students to keep their heads in the clouds.

The university's NASA CloudSat mission, a partnership between CSU, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Canadian Space Agency, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Department of Energy, signed an international memorandum of understanding with the Thailand Research Fund last week that will allow scientists to work with Thai students to collect weather data. The project aims to compare the data with CloudSat readings from a new radar satellite observing cloud particles.

The mission's primary focus, according to CloudSat, is to provide a model of the internal structure of clouds through the use of multiple specialized satellites traveling in relatively close proximity to each other. Several satellites are already in place in what scientists dubbed the "A-Train" after the current NASA satellites, Aqua and Aura, and the famous jazz tune. According to CloudSat, the new satellite is scheduled for deployment in June 2005.

CloudSat Outreach Coordinator Debra Krumm, who works out of CSU's Atmospheric Science Department, said a few of the applications for the data collected by students and the "A-Train" include weather prediction, hurricane observation, and military applications.

"The Air Force is very anxious," Krumm said.

The comparison of weather from the ground, observed by students with CloudSat data, should allow scientists to determine the viability of the new technology.

"It's a prototype," Krumm said. "We need to get it up there and show that it works."

The satellite will use a new technology called Cloud Profiling Radar (CPR) that uses microwaves to map the interior of clouds. Krumm said software designed to automatically detect cloud types was also in development but that it was controversial among some scientists.

Dr. Graeme Stephens, CloudSat principal investigator and professor at CSU, came up with the idea to fly multiple specialized satellites that work together toward one task.

"It was a proposal that I wrote for the Jet Propulsion Lab in the early '90s," Stephens said.

Stephens said NASA accepted the proposal in 1999. Shortly thereafter, a number of domestic and international entities began working on the CloudSat satellite.

Stephens said the satellite will orbit a location on the earth at the same time every 16 days, which is where the students come in.

"The idea is that students would make observations in the school that scientists would use to make their observations," Stephens said.

The program is intended to help students as much as they will be helping the scientists. The CloudSat mission is a part of "Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment," or GLOBE, a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based education and science program. In return for the readings, students learn how to take valid scientific information and are able to communicate with CloudSat scientists. CloudSat looks to involve 100 schools from around the world.

Current GLOBE students take readings in fields of atmosphere, hydrology, soils and land cover/phenology. Students who are also involved in the CloudSat program would take extra readings the day and time the CloudSat satellite passes over their geographic location.

"I think it's very exiting to work with K-12 students and see their excitement about science and the environment," Stephens said.

Elizabeth Beenken,a seventh-grade teacher at the newly built Kinard Junior High School, is initiating a new GLOBE program for her students.

"It has a lot to do with awareness of the world around us," Beenken said.

Her students are working with GLOBE by sending in weather measurements every day.

"It's an incredible program," Beenken said. "Kids can be amateur scientists."

In addition to emailing scientific information to GLOBE, Beenken's students communicate with other cultures.

"We write back and forth between other seventh-graders around the world," Beenken said.

Beenken's class writes to students in countries such as Switzerland, Croatia and Hungary.

GLOBE allows CloudSat scientists to retrieve readings from many of these schools around the world.

"It's a nice sort of synergy," Stephens said.

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