Capitol Hill Science 8

Language Support for Eighth-Grade Science at Capitol Hill

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Cosmic Coincidences with Near-Miss Asteroid and Direct Hit Meteor: Neil deGrasse Tyson Breaks It Down

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson gives a simple explanation on a morning talk show here.

Below he delivers a more nuanced explanation on the PBS News Hour.


*He introduces the term “near earth objects” to include anything that can cross our orbit. This term includes both comets and asteroids.

*Cis-lunar Space is the region between Earth and the circle represented by the orbit of the moon. The asteroid that missed us actually came fairly close, closer than our weather satellites!

*We have ways to deflect asteroids, but no asteroid defense plans are funded anywhere in the world.

*The fly-by asteroid and direct hit meteor are just a cosmic coincidence; they have no relation to each other.

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Did the Russian Meteor Leave a Gigantic Burning Crater?

Did the post-Valentine meteor gouge the Siberian landscape with a flaming crater ? One Russian news team wanted this scenario so badly that they reported it – without confirmation! It makes for an impressive visual but has nothing to do with the meteor.

Here’s the real story behind the burning hole. (It’s almost as good as a meteor strike.)

In reality, this meteor didn’t end up as much of a meteorite (what we call the rock once it hits the ground). Instead, shards of the space rock littered the countryside. Sharp-eyed villagers are turning a profit by scavenging the pieces of space rock and selling them off to seedy strangers cruising around their rural roads in cars.

One woman didn’t have to hunt for her shard. It landed right on her and melted a hole through her winter coat! For more details, see below:

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Space Rock Slams Russia!

A rock fell out of the sky!

To use more specific terminology, refer to the graphic. It wasn’t a comet, but at some point it was probably an asteroid, then a meteoroid, then a meteor, and finally a meteorite. After that it was just debris littering Siberia.

Space Rock Classification

To get an idea what the experience was like in the Ural Mountains of Siberia, the great eastern expanse of Russia, check out these videos.

Split-screen Dashcam! This driver in the city of Chelyabinsk does not have his ordinary commute.

Some people didn’t see the meteor, but even inside an office, they felt it! Boom!

More silent surveillance footage. Stay for the end! That woman returns to the mayhem. She is not going to face Armageddon without her mink coat!

So what was it that hit Russia? Was it related to the asteroid that we already knew was passing close to the earth’s orbit? Was it coming from the same direction? Find out in this segment from The  New York Times below:

So much of the footage that captured the meteor in Russia came from dashboard cams installed in people’s cars that I began to wonder why Russians have dashboard cams in the first place. For an explanation and non-meteor footage that gives a glimpse of what Russian roads can look like, check here. It’s looks five different reality shows combined.

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Watch Astronomy Shows Streaming at Home!

Do you stream Netflix or Hulu Plus at home? Both are loaded with shows about the astronomy and the universe. Other sites offer programs without any subsciptions. Mr. Q can recommend the programs below. Each link leads you straight to the specific show.

Note: Netflix and Hulu Plus require paid subscriptions. Hulu, YouTube, TED Talks, and PBS are free.

(Extra credit if you can find any of the below titles that I’ve listed under Hulu Plus or Netflix for free!)

Nova Science NowCan We Make It to Mars?

This is part of Nova’s Science Now series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you are thinking about how humans might populate Mars, first you have to consider how we’re going to get there!

Obstacles and possible solutions include space food (it has to last years!), fashion (space suits that look like superhero costumes), zero gravity, and cosmic rays. The show concludes with a profile on a robotic scientist who is already on Mars, sort of… She controls the two rovers that roll around on the surface of Mars and send back data. The rovers let us know what the planet will be like once we can figure out how to survive the journey through space to reach it.

The 2011 show runs 52 minutes.

You can find s5e1 on both Hulu Plus and Netflix. It is FREE on the PBS site.

Carolyn Porco TED TalksTED Talks: Space Trek – Carolyn Porco Flies Us to Saturn

The Cassini robotic spacecraft is transmitting astonishing images from Saturn – as well as amazing information about some of Saturn’s moons, which could be capable of supporting life.

This 2007 talk runs only 17 minutes – and she packs it full!

Available on Netflix and FREE on the TED Talks site.

Into the Universe with Stephen HawkingInto the Universe with Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking’s 2010 series includes Aliens, which discusses what sustains life on Earth and how life elsewhere might be similar or very different; Time Travel; and The Story of Everything.

Each show is 43 minutes.

The Aliens show could be very useful when you are considering how human life might continue beyond Earth.

Available on Netflix.

How the Universe WorksHow the Universe Works

Eight shows in the 2010 series: Big Bang, Black Holes, Alien Galaxies,  Extreme Stars, Extreme Planets, Supernovas, Alien Solar Systems, and Alien Moons.

Produced by the Discovery Channel, each show is about 43 minutes.

Available on Netflix.

PlanetsThe Planets

This 1999 series from the British Broadcasting Corporation isn’t just about planets. Eight show titles include Different Worlds, Terra Firma, Giants, Moon, Star, Atmosphere, Life, and Destiny.

Mr. Q has only seen the first one, which focuses on Earth and its two most similar planets, Venus and Mars.

Each show is 49 minutes.

Available on Netflix.

Life Beyond EarthLife Beyond Earth

This 1999 documentary features sci-fi writer Timothy Ferris posing questions to scientists about the possibilities of life in our solar system and beyond. As with most of the other documentaries that focus on life beyond Earth, this one focuses first on how life is defined on this planet.

This documentary runs 108 minutes and is a single feature, not a series.

Available on Netflix.


Cosmic CollisionsCosmic Collisions

Interested in cosmic collisions, like the one that just happened in Russia? There are all kinds of space collisions! This series presents three areas in three episodes: Earth, Solar Systems, and Galaxies.

Each of these Discovery Channel shows lasts 43 minutes.

Available on Netflix.

NOVA Finding Life Beyond EarthNova: Finding Life Beyond Earth

I have only sampled the first few minutes. Watch and let me know what you think!

Available for FREE on the PBS site and on YouTube.

The Cosmos A Beginner's GuideThe Cosmos: A Beginner’s Guide

This 2007 series comes from the BBC and Open University.

Each show is 25 minutes.

Available on Netflix.

Comic VistasCosmic Vistas

A 2009 series from Pure Science.  There are 18 shows that run anywhere from 12 to 23 minutes each.

Available FREE on Hulu.

Cosmic JourneysCosmic Journeys

A 2009 series from SpaceRip.

There are 20 shows that are about 25 minutes in length.

Try out the episode Birth of a Moon to start off!

Available FREE on Hulu and on YouTube.



And finally, the granddaddy of all modern space documentary series…


This 1980 series was a kind of sensation when Mr. Q was in eighth grade! Host Carl Sagan was a popular personality, and even now I can imagine people imitating his voice as a joke. But since then, documentarians have been imitating his landmark series about space. It’s more talky and poetic than most of the other documentaries on this list, but it has aged quite well, and the passion for knowledge about the universe still draws the viewer in.

Available on Netflix and FREE on regular Hulu. All 13 shows are on YouTube. You can check it out right here!