Geeky Parent Guide: Discovering the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) with Your Kids

It has been a very busy and productive year for those in the field of space exploration. So much so that the Geeky Parent Guide has already covered NASA’s Goddard Visitor Center, the International Space Station, and big events like the Falcon Heavy launch and the Tesla Roadster in space. Today, we are going to focus our attention on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Founded by Caltech faculty, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a division of Caltech and is the leading U.S. center for the robotic exploration of the solar system . . . currently responsible for conducting missions with more than two dozen spacecraft.”

As a parent, it’s important to continue to revisit such endeavors, as each step forward allows us to understand the many facets of Earth, the solar system where our planet resides, and our neighboring galaxies. Gathering knowledge of our galactic universe will help us make it more probable for our kids to have a better life in the future. For example, by studying the sun, we gain the potential to develop and protect space satellites and future astronauts who plan on venturing further in space (like Mars). Or, if we learn how to create a sustained living environment in space long term, we might be able to make maintainable food sources, which is something that will be key to someone interested in exploring the final frontier.

The work being done at JPL lets parents realize that there is a future in these fields. If your kids are interested in outer space or working in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field, there’s a good chance learning about these things at an earlier age will drive them to want to be involved with such a dedicated organization.

Now, let’s take a look at what’s been happening at the JPL!


Celebrating 15 Years of the Spitzer Space Telescope
Launch Date: August 25, 2003

The fact that this mission has gone beyond initial expectations, originally listed for a “minimum 2.5-year primary mission,” is an amazing feat. What’s even more incredible is the fact that JPL identified 15 of its greatest achievements with several of them happening beyond its first two and a half years.

The achievements of those operating Spitzer might be relevant for any kids hoping to discover or research exoplanets, another term for planets outside of our solar system. One of these planets, HD 189733b, is likely to have chaotic winds. Earth’s jet streams are timid at 200 miles per hour, while this particular exoplanet “might rage across the surface at up to 9600 kilometers per hour (6,000 miles per hour).” The other exoplanet, HD 149026b, has a temperature reaching 3,700 Fahrenheit (2,038 degrees Celsius).

Another listed discovery to celebrate 15 years involves finding Earth-size planets in conjunction with TRAPPIST (Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope) located in Chile. TRAPPIST found the first two planets, while Spitzer “confirmed these planets and uncovered the other five in the system.” These examples of exploring the sky to find other habitable planets lets parents and their kids stretch their imagination and wonder what’s possible in the future. How many other planets are out there? Do any of them support life? This also relates to anyone interested in telling stories, since discovering new life or habitable planets is a constant theme in science fiction.

Parents might also enjoy sharing another moment captured by astronomers using the Spitzer Space Telescope. This moment in history is of particular interest, since it wasn’t planned. “Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered carbon molecules, known as ‘buckeyballs,’ in space for the first time. Buckeyballs are soccer-ball-shaped molecules that were first observed in a laboratory [in 1985].”




Despite this unplanned find, it’s even more amazing to learn the probability of finding these molecules. Astronomers were searching a planetary nebula, which is an aging star that emits gas forming into a cloud around it. During this investigation, the carbon molecules were at the right temperature to be seen by the telescope, and “a century from now, the buckeyballs might be too cool to be detected.” Sometimes, good and exciting things happen when we least expect it, and perhaps sharing this idea with kids might alleviate pressures associated with expectations or reaching goals.

Beautiful mapping of the Milk Way – this might be the best way to describe the awe-inspiring image. “The star-studded panorama of our galaxy is constructed from more than 2 million infrared snapshots taken over the past 10 years by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.” Becoming a scientist may involve lots of research and exploring endless hours of data, but it should also be pointed out that beauty can be found in that data through a telescope, and our imaginations can come to life when it’s all pieced together. As an added bonus, the Jet Propulsion Lab has posted a video showing how the view changes, with a “continually-looping infrared view of our Milky Way galaxy.”


STEM Activities for Families

If your family is looking for an interactive experience, the JPL offers plenty of opportunities on their website. They list each STEM category with their own activities, such as “Modeling an Asteroid” in Science, “Robotics: Making a Self-Driving Rover” in Technology and Computer Science, “Parachute Design” in Engineering, and “Take the Pi in the Sky Challenge” for Mathematics.

There are videos available in an additional general section that cover a variety of topics. “Mars in a Minute” is a series where families can explore the temperature on Mars, how to land and drive on the red planet, communication from Mars, and more. If your kids love volcanoes, they’ll enjoy learning why they’re much larger there than on Earth.


What are you or your kids a fan of from the Jet Propulsion Lab? Are you interested in learning more about what they’re working on currently or in the future? If you want to see more treks into space covered by GPG, please make sure to like and rate this page below, share with your friends, and give us a follow over on Facebook and Twitter.

Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.


Last modified on Thursday, 06 September 2018 17:06

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