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Collaborative Weather Activity

For a week classrooms (69 in all listed and mapped online) worked as a great team, observing and recording the weather in their areas creating a composite picture of the weather across the whole US. The results are HERE!
    Introductory letter explaining the project as it related to Live from the Hubble Space Telescope

    T.H.E. Journal Special Supplement on The Internet in Education featuring the HST collaborative weather project, as well as other educational opportunities on the internet.


      Engage: was designed to capture students' attention and prepare them for the project
      Explore: helped students construct ideas from first-hand observation and experience using hands-on activities
      Expand reviewed and reinforced concepts.

    Dear Educators,

    One of the strengths of being a participant in online projects is the opportunity for your students to collaborate with other students around the nation through interactive data collection activities. As we have said in Activity 3B "Watching the Weather Move," the Hubble Space Telescope can be thought of as "an interplanetary weather satellite," capturing images of weather on other worlds. Heidi Hammel and Marc Buie, our Planetary Advocates for Neptune and Pluto, were looking for "seasonal" and shorter term changes in their planet's weather as they analyzed their HST images. Here on earth, we can also be "weather watchers" and predict changes, only we must do this from our own view--the ground up!

    Students were invited to participate in our online Weather Watcher Activity by collecting data daily for a period of one week, April 15-19th,1996 and reporting that data DAILY. The more DATA POINTS (Schools/Homeschoolers) involved, the more reliable our results were. This data was then in transformed into a series of weather maps which students were able to analyze and Activities," and the cloud cover maps were featured during the April 23 program, "Announcing Your Results."

    The activity is fully outlined below, using basic and fairly simple techniques and weather instruments. This was purposefully planned to encourage a wider number of participants.


    The more the reporting stations, the better the map.

    Post your Weather on the Web

    Students collaborated with other students across North America, via the Internet, to collect cloud and other weather data to compare and contrast the scale and structure of storms on Earth to those on Neptune.

    Students collaborated with other students across North America, via the Internet, to collect temperature and other data, to compare and contrast weather on Earth to that on Pluto and Neptune.

    Through this exercise, students better understood the role of weather stations and spacecraft imagery in assembling the "Big Picture" of weather across North America, as seen in newspapers and tv weathercasts.

    Asked students to describe how the weather images they see in the newspaper, or on tv, are created. (Activities 3B, 3C and 3D in the Teacher's Guide provide related hands-on projects and other background.) Explain that weather satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sit in geosynchronous orbit above certain regions of the Earth, and take pictures, at different wavelengths, which provide snapshots of different aspects of the weather. The moving pictures of cloud systems which can be seen on television are the result of animating multiple still pictures put together in timelapse sequences to show how clouds and fronts travel across the country over time.

    Students had the chance to function as "weather stations", looking UP at clouds from the surface of the Earth, not DOWN from above as do satellites. They reported their results for observations made during the week of April 15-19 via the Internet. During the April 23 LHST program, "Announcing YOUR Results", they had the chance to see their data incorporated with that of other students across America and set in motion through video animation.

    Their data allowed LIVE FROM THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE to track a week of storms moving across North America, and to compare and contrast the size and structure of the cloud patterns with those observed on Neptune during the PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE observations first glimpsed during the March 14 program.

    On-line, each data point related to the school (or home- schooled student) which or who reported it, putting their names, literally, on the map. Students realized the comparative advantages of weather satellites in recording weather "top-down", and see the virtues and limitations of "ground truth" observations.

    A second on-line activity allowed schools to collect and report temperature, one of the factors which drives cloud systems.

    The LIVE FROM THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE Teacher's Guide points out that the Earth and many of the other planets of our solar system are actually great "weather machines". This means that the Hubble functions as a kind of "interplanetary weather satellite" when observing our neighboring worlds.

    Weather is created when heat from the sun or the deep interior of a planet wells up through the planet's atmosphere. These rising currents combine with a planet's spin (rotation) to drive winds and create storm systems that swirl in complex patterns across the planet. A few of the Activities in the Teacher's Guide give your students the opportunity to compare satellite images of the weather on Earth with spacecraft images of the weather on other worlds.

    In this on-line Activity, students were called upon to observe the Earth's weather from the surface of our planet every day for a week. In the process, they came to better understand:

    • what properties of the atmosphere it's important to measure
    • how their observations could be combined with those of other students across the country to create both Cloud Cover Charts and Surface Weather Maps, and
    • how data from a succession of days could combined to analyze changing weather patterns and help create weather forecasts

    Depending on the weather instruments schools had, or were able to borrow (middle schools could check with their local high schools, for example, or take a real field trip to a local airport, or might even be able to adapt data broadcast by a local tv station), students made as many of the following observations each day as possible.

    It's important to have students make their weather observations carefully, using the >same< procedures and at approximately the same time each day. This was done at 13:00 hours Eastern, 12 noon Central, 11:00 hours Mountain and 10:00 hours Pacific, in other words, all data was collected at the same exact time, as defined by Universal Time..

    As many of the following observations as possible were made:

    1. percentage of sky covered by cloud (10%, 20%, 30%, etc.)
    2. type of cloud
    3. wind speed
    4. wind direction
    5. temperature

    In making these observations, we recommend the following procedures and advice.

    1. Cloud cover observations should be made by estimating the percent of the sky that is presently covered by clouds in increments of 10%. Thus 0% means completely clear and 100% means completely cloudy.

    2. Cloud types and description: for this exercise, we are limiting our categories to Cirrus, Stratus or Cumulus, pictures of which we assume you should be able to find in easily-accessible texts. Data will be reported as "CI", "ST", or "CU".

    3. Wind speed is measured with an instrument called an anemometer. Professional quality anemometers are quite expensive but there are reasonably inexpensive alternatives including a "Hand Held Wind Meter" (catalog #IN-4001) available from Wind & Weather , P.O. Box 2320, Mendocino, CA 95460-2320, USA. (800) 922-9463 for $15.00 +1.00 shipping and handling.

    One PTK teacher recommends checking books to be found in school or local libraries to see how a simple anemometer can be made from ping-pong balls. You or your colleagues may already have similar ingenious ideas. If so, please share them, via discuss-hst, so we may all benefit!

    It's important to measure wind speed in an open area, as nearby buildings and narrow alleys can significantly change the speed of the wind -- Bernoulli's Principle at work. If winds are gusty, an average of several readings taken over the course of a few minutes should be made. (If taking such data is beyond your technical capacity, adapt local media reports, averaging as necessary.)

    4. Wind direction is measured with a wind vane. If one is not available atop your school, or a local church or city building, determine the wind direction by tying a lightweight streamer to the end of a long pole. Use a compass to note North, South, East and West, and intermediate degrees. Hold the pole up in the air, in the center of the "compass rose". The direction of the wind is opposite to the direction in which the tail of the streamer is pointing. As with wind speed, measurements of wind direction should be made in an open area away from nearby tall obstacles which can greatly influence the local direction of the wind.


    5. Be sure to measure the current temperature in a shaded, well- ventilated area about 4 or 5 feet above a dirt or grassy area. If you are bringing the thermometer from inside a building, allow time for its temperature to adjust to the outside temperature.

    Note: For schools on a very tight budget, "Wind & Weather" also sells a device called a "Five Way Weather Watch" (catalog #IN-5WW) which contains simple devices to monitor wind speed, wind direction, rainfall and temperature. This sells for $7.50 + $1.00 s & h.

    Each day students made as many of these observations as possible at the assigned time. Then sent us results daily. The Finished Maps appeared about 24 hours after the data was submitted.
    Sample Maps.

    During the April 23 LHST program, students saw some of the results of their collaborative endeavors. All the results are posted on- line, together with school names.

    Students gained new insights on "highs", "lows", and fronts -- as evidenced by cloud cover and motion -- graphing, plotting, geography, computer networking and collaboration!

    Students were also able to compare these maps and charts with weather maps and satellite images seen in local newspapers or on tv weather reports. As suggested in the Teacher's Guide, you could invite a local weathercaster to visit to speak about his or her career, and maybe even do a news report on YOUR junior weathercasters, sharing the results of your hands-on activities with your local community.

    Other guests might be amateur weather enthusiasts who have been collecting and reporting data to the National Weather Service for many years, as an informal but very useful network of amateur reporters. Explain to students that there was, of course, a time before weather satellites and computers, when all weather data came from ground stations, or ships at sea. Perhaps have students research the difference in warning time, preceding a hurricane, possible today in comparison to 50 years ago.

    Discuss with your students the differences between their collaborative Weather Maps and those in newspapers or on tv, and especially the corresponding day's satellite images seen in newspapers or on tv. Ask them why they think satellites do a better job of recording overall cloud cover than observations from the ground.

    Since the 4/23 program, and now that the results have been posted on- line, ask students to describe how weather moves across North America, and point out instances where the weather in one part of the country became the weather in another part of the country on the succeeding day. (Again, for background, see Activity 3B) Once they see patterns begin to emerge, challenge them to predict, retroactively, the next day's weather in various parts of the country. Then have them apply these insights to "tomorrow's weather" using that day's data. Explain to them that they are actually doing basic weather forecasting rather as professional meteorologists do. Have them keep a record of the accuracy of their forecasts.

    Explain that actual weather forecasting employs round-the-clock observations like the ones they made, but derived from thousands of locations across the country and around the world, and adding radar and satellite images and data from instrumented weather balloons launched into the upper atmosphere twice a day. Ask them to think about how many "data points" all those observations represent (in comparison to the numbers of schools which report) and ask them to explain why high-speed supercomputers must be used for modern weather analysis and forecasting.

    Students should also check out the wealth of excellent weather resources to be found on-line, such as:

Credits and Contacts

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