A Guide for Educators in Grades 3-8

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry


Traveling Exhibits

1945 SE Water Avenue

Portland, OR 97214






This guide is available electronically at:





Eyes on Earth is a hands-on exhibit designed to help people understand how the Earth is observed from space.


Since its creation in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been studying the Earth and its changing environment by observing the atmosphere, oceans, land, ice, and snow, and their influence on climate and weather. The key to gaining a better understanding of the global environment is exploring

how the Earth's systems of air, land, water, and life interact with each other. This approach blends together fields such as meteorology, oceanography, biology, and atmospheric science.


In 1991, NASA launched a more comprehensive program to study the Earth as an environmental system. By using satellites and other tools to intensively study the

Earth, our understanding of how natural processes affect us, and how we might be affecting them has been expanded. Such studies will yield improved weather

forecasts, tools for managing agriculture and forests, information for fishermen and local planners, and, eventually, the ability to predict how the climate will change

in the future.


Key areas of study include clouds, water and energy cycles, oceans, chemistry of the atmosphere, land surface, water and ecosystem processes, glaciers and

polar ice sheets, and the solid surface. NASA's fleet of satellites tasked with this study is called the Earth Observing System—EOS.


Just as the first weather and communications satellites fundamentally changed our way of thinking about those fields, so will EOS expand our perspective of the

global environment and climate. Working together with our partners around the world, we are well on our way to improving our knowledge of the Earth and using

that knowledge to the benefit of all humanity.




OMSI would like to thank NASA for funding the creation, design, and fabrication of our traveling exhibit, Eyes on Earth. Substantial assistance was provided to

us by researchers at many offices at the Goddard Space Flight Center near Baltimore, Maryland.

The Exhibit


A series of hands-on exhibits, graphical images, and videos tell the story of how satellites observe the Earth. The following exhibit units comprise Eyes on Earth:


·    The Bigger The Better—experiment with telescopes to learn about resolution


·    Design a Satellite—see how a satellite is put together and experiment with different sensors


·    Earth Today—investigate NASA data about the Earth


·    Hot Or Not—make infrared images using a heat sensor


·    Image Gallery—view large format reproductions of spectacular images of the Earth


·    Mission Kiosk—learn how satellites help us understand what we are doing to the Earth


·    Orbit Table—roll marbles in a "gravity well" and experiment with different types of orbits


·    Ozone Zone—discover how ozone blocks harmful ultraviolet light from the sun


·    Pixel Story—use giant pin boards to discover how imaging systems capture detail


·    Satellite Puzzles—for younger space adventurers


·    TOPEX/Jason-1 Radar Altimeter—measure your height as a satellite passes overhead


·    What Goes Around: Far Satellite—become a geosynchronous weather satellite and orbit the Earth 35,400 km (22,000 miles) up


·    What Goes Around: Near & Far—observe the Earth from low and high orbits and see the difference that distance makes


·    What Goes Around: Near Satellite—simulate being a low-Earth-orbit satellite


A Little About Orbits


An orbit is the path a spacecraft takes through space. Some spacecraft orbit the sun, or other planets such as Jupiter. EOS satellites orbit our planet, Earth. The

Eyes on Earth exhibit has several units designed to help people understand different types of orbits.


Many satellites orbit the Earth just a few hundred kilometers or miles above the surface. These are called low-Earth or near-Earth orbits.


The closer a satellite is to the Earth, the less time it needs to go around once. Near-Earth satellites typically orbit once in about an hour and one-half to two hours.

Near-Earth satellites have two advantages:


·          They orbit quickly and observe many parts of the Earth in a day

·          Because they are close to the Earth, they can see more detail than a satellite far away


Other satellites orbit farther out. One special orbit is found about 35,400 km (22,000 miles) above the Earth's surface. That far away, a satellite takes 24 hours to

orbit once. Because a satellite in this orbit goes around in the same time it takes the Earth to turn once, the satellite stays above one spot on Earth. These are called geostationary satellites. The value of a geostationary satellite is that it sees the same part of the Earth, all the time. Weather and communication satellites are the

primary type of satellite in geostationary orbits.



Some of the EOS Missions


This is a brief summary of some of the primary EOS missions and satellites. Many of the associated web sites contain activities about observing the Earth from

space for classroom use.


EOS—a brief overview from NASA

(Earth Observing System)




The only feasible way to collect information over the entire Earth in short time spans is through the use of space-based Earth "remote sensors" (instruments that can

measure things such as temperature from a distance). NASA's Earth Observing System has begun an international study of planet Earth.


TOMS—ozone measurement

(Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer)



TOMS is an instrument designed to measure ozone from space. It has flown aboard Nimbus-7 and Meteor-3 and provided global measurements of ozone on a

daily basis. A complete data set of daily ozone was obtained from November 1978—December 1994. After an 18-month period when the program had no

on-orbit capability, ADEOS TOMS was launched on August 17, 1996, and provided data until June 29, 1997. Earth Probe TOMS was launched on July 2, 1996,

to replace the failed ADEOS. Earth Probe continues to provide near real-time data.


Landsat—long-term imaging of the Earth



Landsat is a series of satellites orbiting since 1972 designed to study the Earth's surface. The latest, Landsat 7, was launched in 1999. The three-decade record of

data acquired by the Landsat satellites constitutes the longest continuous record of the Earth's continental surfaces. Preservation of the existing record and

continuation of the Landsat capability were identified in the law as critical to land surface monitoring and global change research. Landsat 7 will have a unique and

essential role in the realm of Earth-observing satellites in orbit by the end of the 1990s. The Landsat Program is committed to provide Landsat digital data to the

user community in greater quantities, more quickly, and at lower cost than at any previous time in the history of the program.


TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason-1—sea heights

(Topography Experiment for Ocean Circulation)



TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason-1 measure changes in the sea heights. Variations in sea level heights are correlated with water temperatures. TOPEX/Poseidon and

Jason-1 data provides comprehensive global views of ocean temperatures and how they are changing over time.

QuikSCAT—Quick Scatterometer—and SeaWinds on QuikSCAT—ocean wind measurement from space using radar



Winds above the ocean surface can be inferred from the way radar is reflected from the ocean to an orbiting satellite. Small waves called "cat's paw" waves are

kicked up by winds. The ruffled ocean surface has different radar reflectivity based on how fast the wind is blowing. Several NASA satellites use radar to measure

how fast winds are blowing over the oceans.


Trmm—detecting rainfall from space

(Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission)




The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) is the first mission dedicated to measuring tropical and subtropical rainfall through microwave and visible infrared

sensors and includes the first space-borne rain radar. Tropical rainfall comprises more than two-thirds of global rainfall. It is the primary distributor of heat through the circulation of the atmosphere. Understanding rainfall and its variability is crucial to understanding and predicting global climate change. Our current knowledge of

rainfall is poor, especially over the oceans. By use of a low-altitude orbit of 350 km (217 miles), TRMM's complement of state-of-the-art instruments will provide

more accurate measurements.


Terra—a series of Earth observing missions



Physically, the EOS Terra spacecraft is roughly the size of a small school bus. It carries a payload of five state-of-the-art sensors that study the interactions among

the Earth's atmosphere, lands, oceans, and radiant energy (heat and light). Each sensor has unique design features that enable EOS scientists to meet a wide range

of science objectives. EOS Terra orbits the Earth from pole to pole, descending across the equator in the morning when cloud cover is minimal, and its view of the

surface is least obstructed. The satellite's orbit is perpendicular to the direction of Earth's spin, so that the viewing swaths from each overpass can be compiled into

whole global images. Over time, these global images enable scientists to show and tell the stories of the causes and effects of global climate change.


The following missions are riding on the Terra spacecraft.


     ASTER—Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer




ASTER obtains high-resolution images of the Earth in the visible, near-infrared, short-wave-infrared, and thermal-infrared regions of the spectrum.


CERES—Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System




CERES measures the Earth's radiation balance and determines properties of clouds to find out how clouds soak up heat from the Sun and transmit it to the ground

and back to space.


     MISR—Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer




MISR studies sunlight reflected from the Earth. This is done to understand how sunlight interacts with the various solid, liquid and atmospheric aspects of Earth's

surface. Most satellite instruments look only straight down, or toward the edge of the planet. To fully understand Earth's climate, and to determine how it may be

changing, we need to know the amount of sunlight that is scattered in different directions under natural conditions. MISR is a new type of instrument designed to

address this need—it will view the Earth with cameras pointed at nine different angles. As the instrument flies overhead, each region of the Earth's surface is

successively imaged by all nine cameras in four wavelengths or colors (blue, green, red, and near-infrared).


Specifically, MISR will monitor the monthly, seasonal, and long-term trends in:


·          Amount and type of atmospheric aerosol particles

·          Amount, types, and heights of clouds

·          Distribution of land surface cover, including vegetation canopy structure


     MODIS—Moderate Resolution Imaging SpectroRadiometer




MODIS is a key instrument aboard both the Terra (EOS AM) and Aqua (EOS PM) satellites. Terra's orbit around the Earth is timed so that it passes from north

to south across the equator in the morning, while Aqua passes south to north over the equator in the afternoon. Terra MODIS and Aqua MODIS are viewing the

entire Earth's surface every 1–2 days, making observations of land and ocean surface temperature, land surface cover, clouds, aerosols, water vapor, temperature

profiles, and fires.


     MOPITT—Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere




MOPITT is an instrument designed to enhance our knowledge of the lower atmosphere and to particularly observe how it interacts with the land and ocean

biospheres. Its specific focus is on the distribution, movement, sources, and sinks of carbon monoxide and methane in the troposphere.




Activities                                             Grade              National Education Standards         



   1—What happened in Wisconsin?     3, 4, 5              Abilities necessary to do science inquiry

                                                                                    Changes in earth and sky

                                                                                    Changes in environments    


   2—Bit by bit images                          5, 6, 7, 8          Science and technology in society

Understandings about science and technology   


   3—Details, details, details                  3, 4, 5              Abilities necessary to do science inquiry

Abilities to distinguish between natural objects and objects made by humans           


   4—Hurricane tracking                       6, 7, 8              Structure of the earth system

                                                                                    Abilities necessary to do science inquiry           


   5—What are we looking at?              3, 4, 5, 6          Abilities necessary to do science inquiry

                                                                           Abilities to distinguish between natural objects and objects made by humans                                                                                





The images needed for these activities are part of this educator's guide. However, since most deal with what is seen on the Earth's surface, having maps of the

different locations may help students get a better geographical context for what they are looking at.


The images from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are in the public domain and are not copyrighted.


It is recommended that these activities be done by the teacher prior to assigning them in class.



Activity 1: What happened in Wisconsin? - before and after



·        Students make comparisons using satellite images

·        They learn about scale


Big idea:

·        We can learn about changes on the Earth by comparing different images of the Earth


For Students and Teachers:


Look at the two images of the Siren, Wisconsin area taken by Landsat satellite in 2001. One was taken in May, the other in June. What differences do you see?


The dark, irregular shapes are lakes. In one image, sunlight reflects from the water and makes the lakes appear lighter.


Do you see a faint gray band that stretches across the June image?


What might have caused this?


Knowing how big the band is might help. The Burnett County Airport is just north (above) of the band. It has two runways. The longest runway is 1.2 km (3/4 mile)

in length. Use this information to estimate the width of the band. Then estimate how long the band is in this picture (the band was much longer than is shown).


What weather effect might have made a long line on the ground?

Hint: Think Wizard of Oz!


More For The Teacher:


The band cutting through the center of the June image from left to right (west to east) is a debris trail from a tornado. The tornado was moving from west to east. It

is almost 1 km (1/2 mile) wide and extends about 24 km (15 miles) across the image.


A tornado's high winds will flatten vegetation, and that changes the appearance of the ground. The winds can lift debris (dirt, trees, parts of houses) and throw it a

long way. The extent of the damage done can be estimated from these before and after images.


Source Page:



Image 1:



Image 2:






Activity 2: Bit by bit—Encoding images with digital data



·        Students see how numbers can represent visual information

·        They encode an image in binary form

·        They transform a binary number into an image


Big idea:

·        An image can be represented by numbers


For Students and Teachers:


The information—or data—that a satellite gets from its sensors is stored in the satellite's computer as numbers. The numbers can be turned into images. This helps

scientists understand the data better.  But the data has to be transmitted to Earth and then turned into an image.


Computer images are made up of millions of tiny dots.  Each dot has a number in the data that tells what color it should be in the picture.  This is done like "paint by numbers" where a number represents a shade of gray or a color.  If a picture had 8 colors, 1 could be red, 2 would mean orange, yellow 3, green 4, blue 5,

purple 6, white 7, and 8 could stand for black. 


Computers use a number system called binary. Computers use binary because they are built out of switches (called transistors) that only switch on and off.  We

use “1” to represent on, and “0” to represent off.  Every number in binary is represented in 1s and 0s. 


In a black and white picture, a 0 could be code for white while a 1 would be black.


Look at this image of the letter "S."




























It is made of 25 squares, some black, some white. Starting at the top left and going across, the first row would be 0 1 1 1 0. The next row would be 0 1 0 0 0.

Look at the numbers for the rows and see where the 1s and 0s stand for black and white squares.


Row 1:      0 1 1 1 0

Row 2:      0 1 0 0 0

Row 3:      0 1 1 1 0

Row 4:      0 0 0 1 0

Row 5:      0 1 1 1 0


You can see the "S" shape in the rows.


When data is transmitted from a satellite to the Earth, the numbers are sent as one, long string. If the numbers in the rows are put together, the entire "S" would be:


0 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 0


This is the data stream. The key is knowing that all these numbers fit in a 5x5 grid of squares. If you had a grid with more squares, there would be more numbers.


Do This:


Look at the image of the letter "X" in the grid.




























Encode each row using 1s for black and 0s for white.

Then put all of the rows together and make the data stream.


Now Try This:


Here is a data stream. Create the image that it represents.


1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0




























Hint: write the numbers in the stream in groups of fives to make the rows of 1s and 0s. Then fill in the squares: black for 1s and white for 0s.


Answers For The Teacher:


The image of the "X" encodes row by row:


Row 1:      1 0 0 0 1

Row 2:      0 1 0 1 0

Row 3:      0 0 1 0 0

Row 4:      0 1 0 1 0

Row 5:      1 0 0 0 1


And the data stream is:


1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 1


The data stream in the second part of the activity represents the letter "Y."





























Binary numbers can be used to represent any kind of information: Pictures, words, numbers, sounds, etc.  Different patterns of 1s and 0s describe different



With binary numbers, each digit stands for a power of 2.  In regular decimal numbers, the number 359 stands for three hundreds, five tens, and nine ones.  In binary,

10000 equals sixteen, 01000 equals eight, 00100 equals four, 00010 equals two, and 00001 equals one.  So 1101 stands for one eight, one four, no twos and

one one.  8 + 4 + 1 = 13.


Our black and white pictures only needed one number per dot.  For more detailed pictures, we need more information in each dot of the picture.  Longer sequences

of ones and zeroes can tell us the difference between different colors.  (00110 could represent red, while 10100 could represent green.)  Just as it was important to

know our picture was 5 dots wide and 5 dots tall, it’s important to know how many numbers go with each dot.


For more information on binary counting, visit OMSI’s website:



For much more about how computers process information, visit Intel’s “The Journey Inside”:





Activity 3: Details, details, details



·        Learn about resolution

·        Identify features seen on Earth satellite images


Big idea:

·        Different amounts of detail affect how recognizable something is



For Students and Teachers:


Look at Image One. This is a low resolution, color image of a part of Colorado. Resolution indicates how much detail can be seen.


What can be identified? Can anything be learned about the Earth from this color image?



·          Colorado is generally brown from iron oxides (rust) in the rocks and soil.

·          Cities show up as gray areas.

·          Roads appear as either light or dark lines (concrete or asphalt).

·          Rivers look like lines but are more crooked than roads.

·          Farmland often is cultivated in square shapes and can be shades of brown, yellow, and green.


What is the white area to the right of center?


Now look at Image Two. This is the same as Image One, but it shows much more detail—twenty times as much! What can you identify in this image?


More For The Teacher:


From space, the city appears gray – lots of concrete!  The large white area to the right of center is the new Denver International Airport – individual runways and taxiways are visible. You can see the road going from the airport to a highway south (below) of the airport.  Other features are noted on the black and white image key.


Both of these images of Denver, Colorado come from NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite.  The second image has a resolution of 30 meters (100 feet).  Resolution is a way of measuring the level of detail that a satellite can see.  30-meter resolution means that a satellite can see objects as small as 30 meters across.  The first image has a resolution twenty times lower than that of the second image.  In other words, the smallest object visible in the first image is twenty times larger than the smallest object visible in the second image.  Many details, such as individual roads, become blurred at this low resolution.


Why do we use low-resolution when we can have crisp, higher resolution images?  Sensors on early satellites had very poor resolution by today’s standards.  As

technology has advanced, the resolution of satellite images has gotten better and better.  Depending on the application, however, high resolution may not be needed.

 When studying patterns over a large area, such as ocean surface temperatures, low-resolution images are easier to use than high-resolution images.  On the other

hand, for a geologist using satellites to study rock formations or a city planner creating detailed maps, high resolution is very important.


Source Page:



Image 1:

(same image as Image 2 below but de-resolved to show lower resolution effects)


Image 2: 





Activity 4: Hurricane tracking



·        Students will use satellite images to predict when and where a hurricane will hit


·        A prerequisite for this activity is an understanding of the basics of latitude and longitude. If your students need a review of the geographic grid system,

demonstrate by giving the first plot from the satellite image and place the first X on the map.


Big idea:

·        Observations can lead to future predictions



For Students and Teachers:


The images that follow show a hurricane moving through the Caribbean Sea. On the Day 1 image, the hurricane is at the far right, near the bottom (it is just to the

right of Puerto Rico). In some images, you can see the small dot that is the hurricane's eye.


On the Hurricane Tracking Map, place an "X" for the first four positions of the hurricane. Connect the "Xs" with a dark or colored line.


Only do the first four days, and see if you can predict where and when the hurricane will hit the United States.


Then add another day's position, and see if your prediction stays the same or changes.


Keep adding positions, and see where and when the hurricane touched land in the United States.


The hurricane being tracked is Hurricane Georges which occurred in September 1998 and made landfall in Biloxi, Mississippi. The newspaper story tells some of the

effects of Hurricane Georges on Biloxi. Used with permission from USA TODAY.




More For The Teacher:


This NASA online educational activity for grades 5-8 will allow students to investigate the causes of hurricanes and how they are named and categorized, then

practice tracking one across the Atlantic Ocean.
















Activity 5: What are we looking at? - Interpreting images from space



·        Students will interpret satellite images and identify features on the ground


Big idea:

·        When seen from space, familiar things seem different and may be unrecognizable



For Students and Teachers:


The following images show different parts of the Earth. See if you can figure out what each image is showing. There are hints for each image. Your teacher will

discuss what the images are showing when the class has finished.


Redwoods grow here. The clouds at the left are made from carbon not water vapor.



Astronauts get a real blast from here.



What hydrocarbon is found underground in Texas?



People can grow food in dry places.



More For The Teacher:


Redwoods grow here. The clouds at the left are made from carbon not water vapor.


These images are forest fires in southern Oregon and northern California. Image taken by MODIS – Terra.

Source Page: MODIS page with the fire image (second from last on the page), which can be obtained in three image scales.




Other MODIS images about forest fires are available at the MODIS NASA site:

http://modis.gsfc.nasa.gov/ and http://rapidfire.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/gallery/


Astronauts get a real blast from here.


Cape Canaveral, Florida. The space shuttle landing strip is at the very top—half of it is out of the image. At the far right, you can see a row of 10 or more white

dots on the coastline. These are the original launch pads for Air Force rocket tests and the Mercury and Gemini flights. Image taken by Landsat-7.

Source Page: http://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/Browse/Features/L7_FeaturesGallery.html

Image: http://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/Browse/Features/ksc.html


What hydrocarbon is found underground in Texas?


Oil wells show up as evenly spaced white spots.

Source Page: http://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/Browse/Features/L7_FeaturesGallery.html

Image: http://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/Browse/Features/oil.html


People can grow food in dry places.


This is the Khufrah Oasis irrigation in Libya (Sahara). Food is grown even in the desert. Water is brought to dry areas in pipes or from wells. Rotating sprinkler

systems irrigate large circular areas where the crops grow. These show up as darker places since vegetation is dark green or brown.

Source: Not available. Another image is available. It is similar but is taken by astronauts on board ISS using a handheld digital camera: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/NewImages/images.php3?img_id=16729


This page provides image renditions of Khufrah Oasis from space as well as a wealth of technical data: http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/scripts/sseop/photo.pl?mission=ISS010&roll=E&frame=5266



Web Resources


Many web pages about satellites and how they observe the Earth are available. At several of these sites you will find other activities suitable for use in the classroom

to support the Eyes on Earth exhibit experience.


NASA Earth Observatory


Contains new satellite imagery and scientific information about our home planet


NASA Earth Observing System Educator Site


Includes educational links, educational publications from the EOS program, and explanations of the program and terminology used


NASA Education


NASA’s elementary, secondary, higher, and informal education web site for students and educators


NASA Scientific Visualization Studio


Facilitates scientific inquiry and outreach within NASA programs through visualization


NASA Visible Earth


A catalog of NASA images and animations of our home planet




Great information and activities for younger children


NASA Echo the Bat and Amelia the Pigeon


Online activity introduces remote sensing and includes links to teacher resources


EOS poster series


Order water, air, land, and ice posters from NASA


U.S. Geological Survey


Images, articles, and activities about how we learn about the Earth from space