Science Starts with density and distance

A rousing game of “Will it Float?” occasionally played on The Late Show with David Letterman was really just an impressively popular density guessing game. In our recently added Science Start Outreach Program, Discovering Density, we play a similar game, predicting and testing to see what happens when you toss things into a tank of water. The Science Start program is for grades K-2 and travels to schools, daycares, scout groups, and more to educate students with hands-on learning experiences. 


Sahil tests the hypothesis that a tiny metal car is denser than water and will sink.

The most fun results are the ones that surprise the young students, like a whiffle ball that will not sink even though it is full of holes, a Lego brick (you’ll have to test that one out for yourself), or liquids that can float on or sink through other liquids in a density column.


Carolyn points out to a class at Passmore Elementary that an object that is floating must be touching the surface of the water in a presentation of the new Discovering Density program.

Making the distinction that density isn’t just about weight or mass or size but instead the comparison between the two can be a tricky concept at first. Similarly, very small and very large numbers, distances, and time scales can be difficult to grasp, so to make it a little easier, you could try holding a planet like Jupiter or maybe Neptune, if you prefer, as we model the vast distances of our solar system and think about scale in Space: Going the Distance.


Carolyn points out the different types of liquids forming four distinct layers in the density column that she made during the presentation. The density column was given to the group’s teacher after the show so that students could watch it change over time.

Volunteers spread out with their planets to see the relative spaces between their orbits and explore what a model is, why it’s helpful, and what about the model isn’t quite as it is in real life. For our model to be to scale for both the sizes of the planets and for the distances between them is tricky—in a classroom-sized solar system, it’s going to be almost impossible to see most of the planets from most seats, and even the sun seems petite!


Carolyn holds up a three-foot board that models the planet Jupiter. If Jupiter was just three feet across, the Sun would have to have a diameter of 23 feet!

Book Science Start for your school or scout group today by contacting Greta Brannan at (713) 639-4758 or For more information on HMNS outreach programs, click here.

Who is Yuri and why are we celebrating Yuri’s Night at Mixers & Elixirs?

Yuri’s Night is upon us, and we’re hosting Mixers & Elixirs: Yuri’s Night on Friday night to celebrate the past, present and future of space exploration.

But wait a second. Who’s Yuri and what’s he got to do with space exploration?

Yuri Gagarin was the first person to be launched into space and orbit the Earth on April 12, 1961. The Russian cosmonaut has since become a symbol of human space exploration and how we can conquer the obstacles that stand between us and the rest of the cosmos. Trapped on our little blue marble in space, for eons we sought to find the truth behind our place in the universe. Now, with technology and an ever-growing catalog of information about the universe, we are starting to venture into our cosmic neighborhood.

Just think of all that’s happened in a little over 50 years — and what 50 more years could bring. We’re peering deeper into space, living in space, and it won’t be long before we (read: everyday people like you and me) can see the darkness of space for ourselves on private space flights.

Yup, there’s certainly a lot to celebrate on Yuri’s Night. So join us tomorrow night and raise a glass to space exploration and explorers everywhere! We’ll have space-themed treats and even “Commander Quest” from Space Center Houston.

Want to get even more excited and inspired? (Of course you do.) Check out the video below from astronaut Chris Hadfield aboard the International Space Station and pictures from cosmic journeys and observations so far!

The Hubble Telescope

Every light in this image from the Hubble Telescope is an entire galaxy.

The Sombrero Galaxy.

The Voyager Spacecraft, which has now traveled into interstellar space — the furthest a spacecraft has ever gone.

Detail of Jupiter from Voyager.

Saturn, as seen from Voyager.


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.

It’s Family Space Day at the George on Saturday: Take your family to the Moon!

Challenger Learning Center Want to go to space? We can take you. Say hello to the Challenger Learning Center and Family Space Day.

The Challenger Learning Center opened at HMNS in 1988 after the tragic last flight of the space shuttle Challenger. A living, teaching memorial to the crew, the Challenger Center continues to teach children about space and space flight and perpetuate all the things the crew loved.

Originally designed for schools and groups, the Challenger takes up to 40 participants to “space” as they experience real astronaut training during their missions to the Moon or Mars. Groups perform real world problem-solving as they train to become astronauts aboard the Space Station Observer. Children and adults are inspired and experience what it feels like to be an astronaut.

At Family Space Days at the George Observatory Challenger Center, individual family members are able to enjoy this memorable experience, too. Special dates are reserved for families to come down to the George Observatory and feel the adventure of space flight. Space Day missions are run by trained NASA volunteers who add to the authenticity of the event.

And guess what? One of those special dates reserved for you and your family to travel into space is this Sat., May 19!

Families are placed on a team and work together toward accomplishing mission goals. Those goals could include assembling a communication satellite, operating on-board robots, monitoring the life support systems, acting as the doctor on-board or navigating through space in order to land gently on the surface of the Moon. But the sky’s the limit.

Each position is vital to the success of the overall mission. And, of course, every good astronaut training session involves having to solve some problems. One never knows when the Sun will erupt with deadly radiation headed toward the craft or when equipment might fail or there could be random asteroid damage.

“Houston, we have a problem” continues to be the familiar report when things go wrong. Family Space Days make the solutions available to everyone.

Interested? We thought you would be. Tickets for Family Space Day are available online until Friday at 5:00 p.m. for $10 per person.


But there’s more! When families come to Family Space Day, we also have the innovative and immersive “Discovery Dome” — a portable planetarium! — showing We Choose Space. Tickets are available at the gift shop for $3 per person. Telescope tickets are also available for $5 per person at 5:00 p.m. for viewing when it gets dark.

What’s better than a day of discovery with the family? For more information or to purchase tickets, click here!