The galaxy just got bigger: Calling all future space explorers to Family Space Day!

ATTENTION FUTURE SPACE EXPLORERS: NASA has just discovered 715 new planets for you to study and learn.

But let’s back up a second.

Launched in 2009, the Kepler space observatory has been scanning the heavens for earth-like exoplanets — planets existing outside our solar system. The observatory has been able to detect strong possibilities of planets, but they needed confirmation. Mountains of data have been sent to scientists on the ground to confirm the existence of these exoplanets.

While this process has been grueling and slow going, it resulted in several hundred confirmations. However, yesterday NASA announced the discovery of 715 new planets orbiting 305 stars — boosting the number of verified exoplanets by 70%.

Kepler has collected this data by detecting the transit of planets across their stars. When planets transit (i.e., cross in front of) a star, the star’s brightness appears to dim by a small amount. The amount of dimming depends on the size of the star and object revolving around it. This process can give false-positives, however, which has necessitated that the data be confirmed by scientists on the ground.

So what’s changed?

The way scientists were sifting through the data has changed. You see, it’s much easier to confirm the existence of planets when they are part of a multi-planet system. Readings that indicate multi-planet systems exist are difficult to explain as anything other than a multi-planet system — as opposed to single planet systems that could be explained by other phenomena. Therefore, by focusing on the data from what appeared to be multi-planet systems, scientists have been able to sift through and confirm the data at a much more rapid pace.

So what’s out there?

Ninety-four percent of the planets discovered are smaller than Neptune (that is, they’re four times larger than Earth or smaller). The number of planets with 2R (double the Earth’s radius) or less has increased 1,000 percent. Our total count of exoplanets now stands at 1,700 — which NASA planetary scientist Jack Lissaur has described as a “veritable bonanza of new worlds.”

So if you’ve got a future space explorer in your family, there’s never been a better time to get excited about space adventures — just in time for our Family Space Day at the George Observatory this Saturday.

Experience what it’s really like to be an astronaut-in-training with a simulated mission. Volunteers from NASA will guide you and your family on your mission — ensuring safe travels — as you transform into astronauts, scientists and engineers flying through space.

A perfect activity for the whole family, the flight simulation is open to adults and children 7 years and older (children ages 7 to 9 must be accompanied by a chaperone), and a minimum of 10 participants per mission is required.

Don’t miss this chance to participate in real astronaut training at the George Observatory! Click here or call (281) 242-3055 for details.

Extended hours at the George this weekend make for optimum Milky Way consumption

The galaxy, not the candy, of course!

Pleiades Rising
photo by DerekSteen

This Friday night, the George Observatory will offer one of the first summer viewings of the Milky Way — with extended hours from 5 to 11 p.m. And as with the George’s usual Saturday night viewings, research telescopes will also be available to stargazers along with the planetarium.

Stay starstruck the following day, when Rocket Day launches with virtual missions to the Moon in our Challenger Center on Saturday morning, and Family Space Day takes you to the Moon with NASA on Saturday afternoon.

In short: Join us for a family-friendly day of fun!

For more information and directions to the George Observatory, click here.

 

Give your family some space — outer space! — at Family Space Day this Saturday

You probably spent a lot of time with your family over the Thanksgiving holiday, and we know just what you need: SPACE!

A couple hours (or days) to yourself aren’t gonna cut it. We’re thinking this year you need some major space. Like, we’re talking outer space.

And we’ve got just the ticket.

Join HMNS at the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park this Saturday, Dec. 1 for a day of family fun aboard the Challenger Learning Center, where families and individuals have exclusive access to participate in real-life astronaut training that’s usually reserved for groups and field trips.

Challenger Learning Center - CommunicationsAs astronauts for the day, child and adult participants are assigned jobs aboard the Space Station Observer. They will learn about teamwork and crisis management as they work together to solve problems on simulated space missions.

Tickets must be purchased before 5 p.m. Friday, so click here to reserve yours and see a schedule of mission times. You can also call 281-242-3055 on Saturday morning to learn about walk-in availability.

Missions are open to kids age 7 or older, and children age 7 to 9 must have an adult chaperone.

Bring the whole family and explore the George Observatory exhibits, then stay after your mission for stargazing on the George’s observation deck! Tickets to view the night sky through the George Observatory research telescopes are $5 and go on sale at 5 p.m.

Family Space Day is Sept. 15 — one of only two left in 2012!

Got big plans this weekend? We’re here to help as always. Now that we’ve got your Friday night covered, we think you should head south on Saturday toward Brazos Bend for a day of family fun at the George ObservatoryFamily Space Day!

For the duration of Family Space Day, the Challenger Learning Center will be open for individual children and adults to learn the importance of teamwork in a simulated mission to space.

Challenger Learning Center

In 1988, the Houston Museum of Natural Science was the first organization in the nation to establish a learning center in memory of the astronauts who died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Since then we’ve taught more than 100,000 student astronauts the value of working as a team to accomplish a shared goal.

Be an astronaut for a day as you and your child are assigned jobs aboard the Space Station Observer and work in tandem to solve real-world problems. NASA volunteers will be running the missions and interacting with participants as they experience real astronaut training.

The Challenger Learning Center is usually only open to groups, so don’t miss this rare chance to complete a mission as an individual or as a family.

Missions will run this Saturday, Sept. 15 at 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Please note that missions are suited for children 7 years of age and older. Kids 7-9 must have a paid adult chaperone participate, and a minimum of 10 participants is required for each mission. (Refunds will be issued if the minimum is not met.)

Stay after your mission and see space from the other side during stargazing on the observation deck. Tickets to access the George Observatory telescopes go on sale at 5 p.m. for $5, weather permitting.

For more information on Family Space Day and the George Observatory, including mission times and rules, click here!

Watch a video of all the fun at Family Space day below!