Another Belt Circles Earth

Science is about Discovering Things

One of the misconceptions that people uneducated in science often hold is that “science knows everything”. Yet, the very nature of science — which is an exploratory discipline — means that scientists are constantly finding new things and re-examining older knowledge in the light of new discoveries. That’s exactly what science is supposed to do.

A map of the  Van Allen Belts and the newly discovered third belt. Courtesy NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Colorado/ASI.

A map of the Van Allen Belts and the newly discovered third belt. Courtesy NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Colorado/ASI.

Take the discovery of a third radiation belt around Earth, just announced today. For 50 years, we’ve known that Earth has two zones of trapped radiation surrounding our planet.  They’re called the Van Allen Belts, and without them, our telecommunications (for one thing) would be nearly (if not completely) impossible. They’re affected by solar storms, and the interactions between those belts and incoming swarms of energetic particles from the Sun can affect our GPS, communications, and other technologies.  I’ve written about this before, and a few years ago worked with MIT’s Haystack Observatory to produce a series of video podcasts called Space Weather FX that explains the complexities of the Sun-Earth connection and the role that our ionosphere and magnetosphere play in that connection.

Atmospheric researchers continually study those regions to characterize how the change over time, particularly during solar events. Of course, we don’t know everything about them yet, but increasingly more sensitive probes of that region (including studies done with ground-based atmospheric radars) tell scientists a lot about this constantly changing region.

The newly discovered third radiation belt was found by a set of spacecraft called the Van Allen Probes, and they will be critical in helping researchers understand the variability of all of Earth’s radiation belts, particularly as they respond to the variable activity of the Sun.

This finding shows us that there are still things to discovery, to study, to understand, and predict. Scientists knew quite a bit about the radiation belts before, but discoveries like this one are showing them that advances in technology are always going to uncover new and wondrous things! To learn more details about the Van Allen Probes and this discovery, check out today’s NASA press release about it.


A Low-cost Telescope For Astronomy Education

The Galileoscope

My friend and colleague Rick Fienberg, who is vice president of Galileoscope, LLC , has a cool project he and colleague Doug Arion of Carthage College started for the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. It’s called the Galileoscope, and they have sold many, many of these easy-to-assemble telescopes at cost.

The Galileoscope Telescope kit. Courtesy Galilescope, LLC.

The Galileoscope Telescope kit. Courtesy Galilescope, LLC.

If you run a gift shop in a museum, planetarium, or other institution, you might want to think about stocking these useful and popular telescopes. When I first saw one of these scopes I was really impressed at how easy they were to put together and how well they allowed people to see things like lunar craters, the Jovian moons, the phases of Venus, and the Pleiades.  These guys are donating all their labor and are only charging to cover the costs of the project.

The Galileoscope comes as a kit that takes only a few minutes and no tools to assemble. It’s perfect for classroom activities, group projects, etc.

Interested? Read what Rick has to say about terms and prices.

“We sell the Galileoscope wholesale in cases of six at $25 per kit ($150 per case) plus shipping. Our dealers are selling Galileoscopes at retail prices between $49.95 and $59.95. Most are also leveraging the kit to sell other products, for example by bundling it with accessories such as tripods and star maps.
Galileoscopes are also useful in your education and outreach programs; we even provide economical and convenient training via our Galileoscope Workshops. Further support for the Galileoscope is provided through, a website from the science educators at the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
You can learn more about the Galileoscope at and by looking over the attached flyer. If you can pay by credit card or PayPal, you can order from 1 to 11 cases online (; to use another payment method, or to place a larger order, you can fill out our bulk-orders form (, and we’ll send you a quote and invoice.
If you carry the Galileoscope in your shop, we will link to your website from our home page to refer customers your way. Please let me know if you have any questions, need more information, or want me to send you a sample Galileoscope kit. Thanks for your consideration.”