Date: April 27, 2012

Title: Why We Should Care About Space Weather

Podcasters: Tony Rice with Neal Middle School Space Weather Apprenticeship

Organization: Citizen Schools at Neal Middle School in Durham, NC

Description: Sixth graders show off their impressive comprehension of difficult astronomy and physics concepts.

Bio: Tony Rice is a volunteer for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Ambassador Program. He teaches an afterschool program to sixth graders to help them grasp astronomical and heliophysics topics. He is proud of how amazingly well these young pupils did at learning these difficult topics.

Sponsor: This episode of “365 days of Astronomy” is sponsored by the Lake County Astronomical Society: Celebrating 30 years of stellar service to members and the public.


My name is Tony Rice, I’m a volunteer in the NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Solar System Ambassador program. For the past 10 weeks I’ve been working with a group of 6th graders at Neil Middle School in Durham, North Carolina in an after school program called “Citizen Schools”

The program seeks to help close the achievement gap by extending the school day by 3 hours for extra help with homework as well as exposure to additional courses taught by volunteers like me. Classes ranged from robotics to story telling to investing to Tae Kwon Do. I wanted to try something different though.

Our sun has been very active this year and it’s been making news. Using materials from NASA’s Living with a Star program and the latest imagery from the Solar Dynamics Observatory as well tracking sunspots each week with a small solar telescope on the school soccer field, the students put to rest any doubts that 6th graders might not be able to grasp an introduction to heliophysics.

The students explored how sunspots form, what a coronal mass ejection is and why we care. We tracked the movement sunspots with a solar telescope each week the weather allowed.

At the end of the 10 weeks, students share what they’ve learned with their families in an evening event. Some create posters some perform skits, the space weather class created a podcast.

But enough from me, let’s hear from the students.

Student 1:

I get to learn more about planets that I never knew and about the weather that we have

Student 2:

Solar flares are a dramatic and sudden event that happens on the surface of the sun. Sunspots are dark spots that appear on the sun’s surface. Most solar flares and CMEs start were there are groups of sunspots because of their insane magnetic activity. Knowing about solar flares and sunspots is important because the more we learn about them and other solar weather patterns the more we will know about what might happen next on Earth and can warn people if these events will harm or impact them.

Student 3:

One danger is that radiation emitted by CMEs can hurt astronauts in space. SO they need to know about space weather. This is important because astronauts teach us about space and we need to make sure they are okay so they can teach us even more.

Student 4:

The magnetosphere is formed when a stream of charged particles interacts with Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetosphere is in the shape of a doughnut. We need to know about the magnetosphere because it protects our ozone layer from solar weather. The magnetosphere also keeps out dangerous radiation lowering the risk of skin cancer.

Student 5:

I learned that people that work at the power company care about solar weather. This is because things like CMEs can cause geomagnetic storms that may damage the power grids on Earth. Power companies have to know about solar weather to protect the power grid to allow people to continue to have electricity to do the things they need or enjoy to do in their everyday life.

Student 6:

I learned that a CME is a huge burst of solar wind from magnetic fields that rises above the sun’s atmosphere and is spread into space. CME’s can interfere with radio and damage satellites. They can also mess up our power grids and cause people to loose power. CMEs can also affect the health of humans if they are in space like astronauts or flying in airplanes due to the radiation emitted.

Student 7:

The beautiful natural light displays that can be seen in Arctic and Antarctic regions is actually caused by solar weather. The northern lights and aurora australias come from charged particles in the solar wind. We can predict when the aurora will happen if we are able to follow solar weather’s power.

Student 8:

The airline industry and pilots need to know about solar weather. Knowing about solar weather helps us on Earth. When we are traveling by plane, airline pilots need to know about solar weather because of things like solar flares and radiation which can impact the health of pilots and passengers.

Special thanks to Captain Mike Lucas of US Airways and Warren Whitson of Alabama Power / Southern Company for taking time to visit withthe class. Jim Adams of the NASA Planetary Sciences Directorate and

Lika Guhathakurta of NASA Heliophysics for their guidance and encouragement in putting it together of course Dianna Williams at Citizen Schools for helping keep in on the rails.

You can learn more about our sun a the Living with a Star website:

You can learn more about Citizens Schools at

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the Astrosphere New Media Association. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at or email us at Until tomorrow…goodbye.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news, show schedules, and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!