SwRI-led NASA mission announces new outreach program

SwRI-led NASA mission announces new outreach program

Press Release From: Southwest Research Institute
Posted: Monday August 9 2021

NASA funded a five-year awareness program in association with the Polarimeter to UNify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH), a solar mission led by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). The PUNCH outreach program, also led by SwRI, works with five planetariums and science centers in four states, as well as other multicultural partners in the Southwestern United States.

For national impact, the outreach team forges strong links with educational programs sponsored by NASA and with other solar missions, most notably Parker Solar Probe (PSP). Together with scientists at PUNCH and PSP, the team will develop a suite of sustainable products and events using a theme of “Ancient and Modern Sun Observation”.

“There is global evidence that all humans have grown from sun-observing cultures,” says PUNCH Outreach director Dr Cherilynn Morrow, who consults for SwRI. “Our theme describes NASA’s exploration of the Sun as a natural extension of humanity’s long-standing dedication to observing the rhythms and mysteries of the Sun. In this way, we can reveal how NASA science is relevant to the cultural history of various peoples. “

PUNCH will launch in 2023 and will improve understanding of the solar corona, the outer atmosphere that becomes visible during total solar eclipses. The mission will study how the corona transforms into a “solar wind” with charged particles and magnetic fields exiting the Sun, filling our solar system and interacting with the planets.

“PUNCH cameras are particularly capable of imaging the solar wind continuously from the moment it leaves the Sun until it engulfs our world, affecting spacecraft, astronauts and causing auroral lights,” said Principal Investigator Dr Craig DeForest of the Division of Space Science and Engineering at SwRI. “This Sun-Earth connection offers avenues for sharing our science more widely. I am very pleased with the ability of our outreach team and the inclusiveness of our outreach program.

The motto of the program is “to shed a new light on various views of the Sun”, whether they are scientific, artistic, intercultural, historical or the result of first-person observations. The team will also use the solar eclipses visible from the United States in 2023 and 2024 to help motivate audience engagement in multicultural and arts-integrated opportunities to learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related to NASA.

PUNCH Outreach is particularly inspired by Chaco Canyon, an intercultural site in the high desert of New Mexico where a total solar eclipse in 1097 may have been recorded as rock art and where examples of centuries-old sun-gazing practices are abundant. The Chaco includes thousand-year-old remains of monumental architecture built by ancestral Puebloan peoples and oriented according to their knowledge of the movements of the Sun and the Moon. The history of the Chaco is also intertwined with that of the Navajo people as well as the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America.

“This project’s focus on ancestral connections to Chaco Canyon may provide a valuable way for our young people from Acoma and Laguna Pueblos to experience NASA science and envision a future career in science without losing touch with their culture, ”said Joe Aragon, PUNCH Outreach Partner, retired STEM educator and Acoma Pueblo Tribal Elder in New Mexico.

PUNCH Outreach emphasizes working with various partners to engage populations currently under-represented in STEM fields. The program intends to benefit and learn from Native American and Hispanic youth and their families, Girl Scouts pursuing STEM-related patches and badges, and blind or visually impaired learners.

“Our science team is really excited to help with the outreach effort,” said Sarah Gibson, Project PUNCH Scientist, Boulder High Altitude Observatory. “We have a high percentage of female scientists compared to other NASA missions and that makes us a great source of role models to support our STEM collaborations with Girl Scout Councils. “

In addition to developing live interacting planetarium shows with musical, kinesthetic and social learning dimensions, PUNCH Outreach consults with Jeff Killebrew, science teacher at the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, to translate solar events. dramatic in meaningful tactile experiences. .

To implement the PUNCH outreach program, SwRI collaborates with the Fiske Planetarium at the University of Colorado in Boulder, the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, and the Cultural Center Hispanic National Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Space History Museum in Alamogordo and the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

NASA’s Small Explorers program offers frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations such as PUNCH. SwRI is building and will operate the spacecraft. PUNCH instruments are built by SwRI, the US Naval Research Laboratory and RAL Space in England.

For more information visit https://www.swri.org/heliophysics or https://punch.space.swri.edu/punch_outreach_overview.php.

About SwRI:

SwRI is an independent, not-for-profit applied research and development organization based in San Antonio, Texas with approximately 3,000 employees and an annual research volume of nearly $ 696 million. Southwest Research Institute and SwRI are registered trademarks with the US Patent and Trademark Office. For more information, please visit www.swri.org.

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