Date: March 18, 2011

Title: Sun-Earth Day 2011: Ancient Mysteries – Future Discoveries


Podcasters: Troy Cline (Host), Sten Odenwald (Interview), Bryan Stephenson (Audio)

Organization: NASA’s Sun-Earth Day Program – &

Description: Sun-Earth Day is a series of programs and events that occur throughout the year culminating with a celebration on or near the Spring Equinox. Each year we wrap a fresh new thematic approach around Sun-Earth science while highlighting Sun-Earth Connection scientists, their missions, and research. This year’s theme, ‘Ancient Mysteries-Future Discoveries’, opens the door to a much deeper understanding of our Sun and its impact across the ages. In this podcast you’ll hear from Dr. Sten Odenwald , the chief editor of the ‘Technology Through Time’ series. He will explain how ancient mysteries connect to future discoveries!

The Sun Earth Day team in partnership with NASA EDGE will produce this year’s live webcast and tweet up on Sun Earth Day (March 19, 2011) from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Join us as we explore both Ancient Mysteries and Future Discoveries.

Bios: Troy Cline is currently the Education and Public Outreach Mission Lead for the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. He also works as a co-lead for the Sun-Earth Day program. Troy has an extensive background in educational technology, cross-cultural classroom instruction and project management. His additional experience includes social networking, podcast development, graphic design, product development, workshop coordination, and public speaking.

Sten Odenwald is an astronomer who runs the website Astronomy Cafe, and is a researcher studying the cosmic infrared background and space weather. Since receiving his Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University in 1982, he has been an astronomer in the Washington, D.C. area. He is the founder and chief content creator for NASA Goddard’s “Space Math” program, which provides math problems for students and teachers related to astronomy and space science. He is also the co-Editor of the Encyclopedia of the Universe for Wikipedia.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of 365 Days of Astronomy is sponsored anonymously and dedicated to the memory of Annie Cameron, at the time of NASA EPOXI flyby of Comet 103P/Hartley 0.0.155 AU above Tryphena, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand, located between Betelgeuse and Procyon on the edge of Canis Minor 4 November 2010.


Sun-Earth Day 2011: Ancient Mysteries-Future Discoveries!

[Troy Cline]
My name is Troy Cline with NASA’s Sun-Earth Day program. I must start by staying that Sun-Earth Day has grown to be much more than a one day event. It’s actually a combination of events and programs that occur throughout the year ending with a grand Sun-Earth Day celebration on or near the Spring Equinox in March. The main goal of this program is to encourage students of all ages to explore, discover and understand the dynamic connection between our Sun, Earth and other planets.

Each year the Sun-Earth Day team wraps a fresh new thematic approach around Sun-Earth Connection science. So this year we’re excited to announce that the theme for 2011 is “Ancient Mysteries: Future Discoveries”.

Together we’ll take a look at early civilizations that created structures containing solstice and equinox alignments. We’ll also explore how humankind continues to observe the Sun and it’s mysteries from the ground and from space. Although our technologies have changed over time, our goal to understand the Sun…remains the same.

Here with me today to explain this year’s theme is NASA Astronomer, Dr. Sten Odenwald. Sten has authored several articles about ancient solar viewing sites and how we view the sun today. I asked Sten to tell us a bit more about those articles and why he wrote them.

[Sten Odenwald]
I wrote the articles because I have always been fascinated by how we changed in the way we look as the sun how we measure it how we experience the sun. Over the entire span of human history very early on the best thing they could do was run a stick into the ground and measure the shadow from that stick and you noticed that every moment came back to roughly the same place. For ancient people that was their first contact with the idea that there was something about the shadow cast by a stick and the sun, which gives them a handy way of measuring time throughout the day. Once they connected that with the growing seasons, planting and harvesting seasons, they realized that there was another thing going on with the sun on an even longer term that helped them to anticipate when to plant when to harvest and things like that. So very early on with our experiences with the sun and the way that we measure it we got the first taste of being able to predict things about the future, being able to predict what time it was going to be tomorrow for some event they wanted to do based on time they were measuring using a stick and its shadow and they codified these things in their monuments, which are basically calculators of when the next planting season is going to be and when it is going to be noon tomorrow and things like that. What we are experiencing today in the way we experience the sun measure it is analogize to what they were doing way back when. They were trying to predict something about the future based on the position of the sun in the sky. Today we have more sophisticated technology but we are still trying to do the same thing. We are trying to figure out what the sun is going to do tomorrow as a stormy star. Why do we have a sun in the first place, what is it doing in terms of its activity, and how does it affect us. Those are all predictions about things we are trying to predict about tomorrow so that we can make the right decisions today.

[Troy Cline]
So as we move further into space with exploration not only with human exploration but with satellites and robotics we have to understand how we connect with our star because if we cannot do that effectively we could be in real trouble.

[Sten Odenwald]
That is absolutely correct. The thing that I find so cool about that is that we develop the satellite technology and robotics today and then we go into space and realize that they are subject to radiation fields and magnetic fields and things like that so what do you do with that? Well, independently of robotics we have spent the last 200 years learning about the sunspot cycle, solar storms, about radiation belts, all of that intellectual curiosity has led to the present day where we can enhance the robotic experience by making it safer, more efficient and all of that. It’s not like we’ve discovered and developed our sunspot cycle so we can safeguard our robots 200 years in the future. These were independent intellectual exercises that now very nicely come together with what we might do next in space. We have been seeing sunspots on the sun for more than 2000 years. The ancient Chinese astrologers when the sun was near the horizon could occasionally see spots on the sun.

[Troy Cline]
For people who are listening I think they might be very interested in visiting some of the Sun-Earth Day websites that we have. All the way back to 2003 we have them available. One in particular was in 2005; the theme for that year was Ancient Observatories- Timeless Knowledge, there were several articles you started that year called Technology Through Time. Would you tell us a little about that?

[Sten Odenwald]
Technology Through Time is a series of articles, still writing them, that try to connect ancient knowledge with the progress of knowledge to the present time in a variety of different settings. Where there is technology, going from stone monuments that codified the solstices to sophisticated satellites that measure radiation from the sun. I’m fascinated by the developments and evolution of technology over time and how it has radically changed the way we experience the sun. The neat thing about it is that these technologies of earlier times are still things that you and I have access to as individuals. We can take the stick out into the backyard and stick it in the ground and measure the sun’s shadow and build our own little sun box. Doing the alignments to figure out the solstices, that takes a little more skill but it is still something you and I can do. The big step up is having to learn physics and math to do all the other hard things we do today. But that is the neat thing about ancient knowledge it is still accessible to us today.

[Troy Cline]
I’d like to thank Dr. Odenwald for his time today. I’d also like to close by saying that on March 19, 2011, our team will work with the award winning NASA EDGE team to produce video and webcast programming that will highlight several ‘solar related’ sites. Many of these sites present unique opportunities to develop authentic cultural connections to a variety of indigenous populations. We’ll also involve scientists who will fill you in on some of the latest heliophysics discoveries and what we hope to discover in the future.

I hope you enjoyed this Sun-Earth Day Highlights podcast. If you’re interested in participating or learning more, just join us on Facebook or on the Sun-Earth Day website at

Thanks for listening!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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