'Big blue marble' educates Earthlings about their planet at Homestead

Science on the Sphere shows NOAA satellites data, planetary science

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

Maurice Henderson, with NASA's Science on a Sphere program, stands next to the "big blue marble" at Homestead National Monument education Center on August 19, 2017.

BEATRICE, Ne. - NASA's Maurice Henderson, who calls his job title "the man who plays with the big blue marble" has been set up with a giant inflatable Earth since Friday inside a room which provides a nice respite from the Beatrice, Nebraska summer heat.

A 68-inch diameter globe shows images from projector, covering the entirety of the sphere, is part of decade old program developed by NOAA called Science on the Sphere, or SOS. NASA has been partnering with the agency to bring planetary science to citizens around the country to classrooms and places like the fields of Nebraska, home to the Homestead National Monument of America.

The SOS globe is on display inside the education center at Homestead National Monument, where eclipse chasers and visitors can learn about the Earth and other planets ahead of the Aug. 21 astronomical event, the Great American Eclipse.

Homestead's location along the path of totality was a natural fit for an SOS visit, Henderson said.

"It's the perfect place to have people fully understand what the phenomena are at play between the sun, the moon and the Earth to produce a total solar eclipse," Henderson said as he ran an animation on the sphere showing the eclipse path across the U.S., just like it will look on Aug. 21.

The simulations are produced by the NASA Science Visualization Studio at Goddard Space Flight Center.

Science on the Sphere can also show real time data from NOAA satellites of the clouds and more weather.

But Henderson's favorite visualization to show off is the biosphere of a "pulsing Earth" using nine years of satellite observations of the chlorophyll in the ocean and the vegetation.

"The Earth is actually breathing," Henderson said. "Every breath you take has been processed by the land and the sea."

While visitors to Homestead have the opportunity to experience a variety fun activities for a three-day eclipse event, Henderson said he hopes visitors will take a few minutes to learn more about the planet before watching the sun despair for a few minutes Monday.

Henderson said the beautiful simulations on SOS couldn't happen without the people who launch the satellites that provide communications from spacecraft. Relay satellites allow communication between Earth and the International Space Station and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

"The communication network is really the backbone kind of hidden behind the current of how NASA makes all this amazing stuff happen," Henderson said.

Satellites, Henderson said, like TDRS, which launched from Cape Canaveral on Friday.

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