The Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. (part of the annual Rose Bowl) is a tradition of the New Year. This year, NASA’s emeritus space shuttle Endeavour will be the leading feature on a flower-shielded float as part of the 125th Rose Parade. The float is made-up of iconic Los Angeles Landmarks, with the Endeavour leading the way. The retired space shuttle is housed at the California Science Center and within its first year on public display, it drew more than 2.7 million visitors.

Along with the Endeavor, parade viewers will also see golden stars from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Universal Studios’ Globe Fountain and many more iconic symbols. The theme for this year’s parade is “Dreams Come True” which encompasses the celebration of innovation, imagination and creativity. The Endeavor, although impressive, may not be the only space themed float spotted in the parade. In the past there have been several space themed floats including South Pasadena’s “Intergalactic Vacation,” and Ronald McDonald House’s orbiter among others. It isn’t difficult to see that science has an important role in this year’s parade theme.

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If you come across a reindeer in the summer, you may notice its eyes are golden, however, if you meet the same reindeer in the winter you would notice its eyes changed to a winter blue. Why?

Neuroscientist Glen Jeffery investigated a collection of reindeer eyes from the Arctic and what he found was an astonishing discovery. The retina, located on the back of reindeer eyes, contains light-sensitive cells. The light that is reflected from reindeer eyes is related to the spacing of collagen fibers in the reflective layer so in the winter the pressure inside the eye increases allowing the collagen to compress the fibers together to allow the reindeer to capture more light during the dark winter months in the Arctic. The reduction of space between the fibers causes the retina to reflect bluer light. In the summer, since the Arctic has continual sunlight, reindeer are able to reflect more light from their retina, making the retina appear gold.

So far, Arctic reindeer are the only mammals discovered to have changes to their retina due to seasonal changes of light. Scientists are now researching whether or not the changes to their retina has an effect on their ability to see ultraviolet light.

Learn more about animals and their winter climates at Arizona Science Center’s Snow Week, now through January 1!

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It’s not every day your favorite song helps scientists protect planet earth. Now cutting-edge technology is listening to tunes and talk radio with a telescope to help clear catastrophic collisions in space.

Read more…

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Although it may seem like winter started back in November, the first day of winter is actually December 21!

The arrival of winter (and all seasons) is a result of Earth tilting 23.5 degrees on its spin axis together with the 365 day orbit around the sun. When the North Pole is tilted towards the sun, this is summer for the North Pole and when the North Pole is tilted away from the sun, this is winter for the North Pole.

December 21 is also the winter solstice. On this day, daylight is at its shortest for the year in the Northern Hemisphere. This is why ancient civilizations built calendars around sunlight, so that they could determine when to harvest.

Learn more about winter at Arizona Science Center’s Snow Week, December 26-January 1.

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The Dorrance Planetarium first opened its doors in April of 1997.  Since those first days, nearly 2 million people have learned about the laws of nature that govern the cosmos and witnessed the beauty of the universe under our planetarium dome.

From the beginning, the Dorrance Planetarium has been on the cutting edge of planetarium projection technology.  In 1997, our stars were created by the Digistar II star system- a system that used computer graphics to reproduce the Universe.  Today, the Dorrance Planetarium is powered by the Digistar 5 system.  Digistar 5 allows us to travel from the inside of protons to witness the interaction of quarks out to the farthest reaches of the Universe.  In order to display our stunning visuals, we have two Sony SXRD projectors that, combined, put over sixteen million pixels on the dome.  The dome itself is sixty feet in diameter and engineered in such a way that the seams for the panels are invisible which allows us to maintain a fully immersive illusion created by the Digistar system.  Our dome was the first of its kind installed in the world at a science center or museum.

By programming our Digistar 5 system and creating original imagery with other computer software packages, we have the ability to produce our own planetarium shows.  In the past year, our team has created Treehouse Adventures, Dateline Mars, Journey to the Edge of the Universe, and Attack of the Killer Space Rocks.  In August, we won a Best of Show award at an international planetarium conference for our original content.  Currently, we have started work on our newest production, Planet Hunters, which will open in August 2014.

Having upgraded technology is important. However, the most important piece of the planetarium is the show presenter.  Our philosophy is to have a presenter interact with guests in each show in order to answer questions and present the latest astronomical news.  We are fortunate enough to have some of the best presenters in the planetarium field.  The Dorrance Planetarium presenter makes every show a personal experience for our guests.

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Break out the hot chocolate and winter scarves, it’s meteor watching season! The Geminids Meteor shower officially started out with a bang when a bolide crashed through the skies of Tucson late Tuesday night, and while that event may not be related (science takes time, people!) the Geminids have started flying through the skies. Meteor showers usually occur when planet Earth passes through a debris field left over by a passing comet’s tail. But the Geminids aren’t caused by a comet; they are asteroids shooting off rocky debris like a cosmic Pez dispenser!

Peaking on the 13th and 14th this December, the Geminids typically produce around 130 Meteors per hour, painting yellow streaks among the stars as they fall. This year, however, the Moon will be 91% full, so much of the show will be washed out by our Moon’s glare.

The culprit for this shower is 3200 Phaethon (pronounced Fay-a-thon) and this rock’s a tick over three miles wide. An Apollo-type asteroid, Phaethon dips in closer to the Sun than Mercury (reaching more than a thousand degrees Fahrenheit!) and then pops back at around 2.4 Astronomical Units, or 223 million miles from the Sun, spewing out space rocks called Meteoroids along its journey.

Long, cold (and hot!) years can pass while these Meteoroids wander through space seemingly alone until one day the great blue Earth happens to cross their orbit. The space rocks, called Meteors once in Earth’s atmosphere, crash through the atmosphere at around 22 miles per second – speeds so fast the gasses that comprise the atmosphere compress so rapidly that the air around the Meteor heats up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, often completely vaporizing the rock in our skies.

These streaks of light, sometimes called shooting stars, hit the Earth all the time! In fact, roughly 100 tons of space debris hit the Earth every single day! Depending on the composition of the rock, Meteors can streak in brilliant yellows, blues, greens, or reds – festive and just in time for the holiday season, or as we call it in the Dorrance Planetarium: Killer Space Rock season!

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Measurements from Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) show radiation levels on the surface of Mars aren’t as intense as originally thought, meaning extended human visits on Mars just became more feasible!

According to Space.com, a round trip journey of 380 days, coupled with a 500 day stay on the red planet, would result in an exposure of 1.01 Sieverts (a measurement of the absorption of radiation) from Galactic Cosmic Rays and Solar Energetic Particles.

Humans on the surface of the Earth are typically exposed to just a few thousandths of a Sievert every year, so that 880 day trip to Mars would produce about a 5% increase in risk of cancer over a lifetime.

However, 1.01 Sieverts may be low due to the Sun’s 11-year peak scattering the Galactic Cosmic Rays and resulting in less exposure. Since NASA intends to send humans to Mars in the mid-2030’s, and the Sun will once again peak in 2035, that may line up perfectly.

 

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With only a cloud of debris barely burning bright, comet ISON struggles to maintain composure after its treacherous trip around the Sun. As the comet continues to dim with no solid nucleus remaining, researchers continue to watch in hopes of gathering as much information as possible before it fizzles out forever. The once proclaimed comet of the century will still go down in history. ISON has been travelling from the Oort cloud or long term comet region, of the solar system for about the past one million years to its destination.

Read more…

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On November, 6 ASU released the news that they would be partnering with seven research universities to establish a new Science and Technology Center.

The center will be funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF awarded three grants for Science and Technology Centers in 2013, the other two went to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The new center will be based at the University of Buffalo and is expected to advance drug development. The focus of the new center will be a new bio-imaging technique that would allow scientists to analyze molecules that weren’t possible to analyze before.

Being able to analyze these molecules will give scientists insight into what is actually happening with diseases and help them to determine what could alter these activities.

The grant for this center is a huge accomplishment for Arizona State University. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the professionals at ASU. Through the development of this new imaging technique, ASU, and the other research institutes involved will be able to make important advancements in drug development.

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Today, millions of Americans will be tuning in to watch the Annual New York City Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a tradition for many families. Did you know that science helped to make it possible for many of the beloved characters such as Snoopy and the Energizer Bunny to fly in the parade?

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1927 and introduced the giant balloons for the first time; however, they were filled with air. It wasn’t until 1928 that they began to inflate the balloons using helium, a colorless, tasteless, odorless and non-toxic gas. In 1928, when they began using helium, they also decided to release the balloons into the air at the end of the parade which yielded poor results as helium expands at higher altitudes ending in the balloons popping. In 1929, they were able to develop a valve on the balloons that allowed the helium to escape slowly as the balloons flew higher; however, the balloons are no longer released into the air at the end of the parades due to interest of public safety.

Today, the balloons are designed with a sequence of compartments to hold the characters form which is then filled with 10,000-16,000 square feet of helium and requiring nearly 50 people to help hold the balloon and guide it along the parade route.

So today, as you watch the parade with your families, give thanks to science for helping take part in the creation of this cherished holiday tradition.

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