Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jupiter's amazing Red Spot

NASA handout / Getty images
The latest news about the Juno space probe (see my last two posts, Juno's mission to Jupter and Juno's science instruments) is that it recently flew over Jupiter's giant red spot and took amazing images of the storm it represents. An article in The Guardian reports the news using very enthusiastic language.

The headline is "Jupiter's great red spot: Juno probe captures closest images yet of huge storm." The phrasing "closest ... yet" and "huge storm" reveals the importance of the development, and this phrasing continues in the article.

Link to the article:

Here are some of the examples in the text that indicate the journalist and the people interviewed see this event as a great experience (with my emphasis):
  • captured stunning images
  • the huge storm
  • not only the size of the tempest but also its extraordinary colour
  • stunning detail
  • vast, swirling feature
  • the beauty of them
  • works of natural art
  • the closest a spacecraft has ever flown
  • great red spot
  • passing as close as
  • the giant storm
  • probe fundamental questions
  • and even the nature of the great red spot itself
  • a lot of mysteries
  • This is actually really neat
  • will particularly allow us to look and see what is underneath
  • in particular we want to
  • we get a little more insight
Students can be made aware of these examples to see how subjective language can be included in writing that is reporting news (objectively?).

Further examples of such language is even found on NASA's website.

The first sentence of the article about Juno's flyby over Jupiter's red spot is:

"Images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot reveal a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval."

Doesn't that sound rather poetic for a space agency? I plan to share this with my engineering students to see how they react - and then show them some of the images so that they can write their own descriptions.

The Guardian article indicates that "Nasa releases raw data to public, enabling citizen scientists and experts to share their own processed versions of the images."

One of the "citizen scientists" who processed images is Jason Major, a graphic designer from Rhode Island, USA. His comment on the NASA website:

"It is always exciting to see these new raw images of Jupiter as they arrive. But it is even more thrilling to take the raw images and turn them into something that people can appreciate. That is what I live for."

That is certainly enthusiastic!

I like the idea of enabling my students to see what passion they can have for their interests and professional field - and this material enables them to see what language can be used to express that passion.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Juno's science instruments

The image from NASA's Juno website (Image credit NASA/JPL)

My last post was on July 5, 2016 ("Juno's mission to Jupiter"). I know that it has been quite a while, but I'm now back to keeping in touch with other ESP teachers through this blog. I hope to - once again - post an idea about once a week.

In that last post, I wrote about the Juno spacecraft mission that is orbiting the planet Jupiter until summer 2017. On NASA's website for the Juno mission there is a lot of specific information about the technical aspects of the spacecraft and of the mission.

NASA's Juno mission website:

Section of website Spacecraft and Instruments:

The information from this section about what Juno's scientific payload consists of:
  • a gravity/radio science system
  • a six-wavelength microwave radiometer for atmospheric sounding and composition
  • a vector magnetometer
  • plasma and energetic particle detectors (JADE and JEDI)
  • a radio/plasma wave experiment (Waves)
  • an ultraviolet imager/spectrometer (UVS)
  • an infrared imager/spectrometer (JIRAM)
  • a color camera (JunoCam) to provide the public with the first detailed glimpse of Jupiter's poles

Interesting practice for students would be to describe what these instruments do and/or how they work.

The descriptions on the website section are short, but are good examples of how to succinctly explain the purpose/function of a scientific instrument. In addition, there are useful verb-noun collocations (which I have highlighted in boldface).
  • Gravity Science and Magnetometers: Study Jupiter's deep structure by mapping the planet's gravity field and magnetic field
  • Microwave Radiometer: Probe Jupiter's deep atmosphere and measure how much water (and hence oxygen) is there.
  • JEDI, JADE and Waves: Sample electric fields, plasma waves and particles around Jupiter to determine how the magnetic field is connected to the atmosphere, and especially the auroras (northern and southern lights).
  • UVS and JIRAM: Using ultraviolet and infrared cameras, take images of the atmosphere and auroras, including chemical fingerprints of the gases present.
  • JunoCam: Take spectacular close-up, color images.

There are also good examples of explaining the purpose or reason for certain features of the instruments' design. Some examples:
  • ... spinning makes the spacecraft's ppointing extremely stable and easy to control.
  • Juno will be the first solar-powered spacecraft designed by NASA to operate at such a great distance from the sun, thus the surface area of solar panels required to generate adequate power is quite large.
  • Before launch, the solar panels will be folded into four-hinged segments so that the spacecraft can fit into the launch vehicle.
  • Juno will avoid Jupiter's highest radiation regions by approaching over the north, ...
  • With a mission design that avoids any eclipses by Jupiter, minimizes damaging radiation exposure and allows all science instruments to be taken with the solar panels facing the sun, solar power is a perfect fit for Juno.
  • To protect sensitive spacecraft electronics, Juno will carry the first radiation shielded electronics vault, a critical feature for enabling sustained exploration in such a heavy radiation environment.
  • This feature of the mission is relevant to NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, which addresses the need for protection against harsh radiation in space environments beyond the safety of low-Earth orbit.

While I tend to focus on useful language features of this information, my students find the information itself most interesting. And that, of course, increases their motivation to read the material.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Juno's mission to Jupiter

Juno spacecraft (NASA photo)
Today (July 5, 2016), NASA's Juno spacecraft successfully started the main phase of its mission by entering Jupiter's orbit. The spacecraft was launched in August 2011 with the mission of orbiting Jupiter to study the planet below the level of its clouds. An article in The New York Times, "Juno Enters Jupiter's Orbit, Capping 5-year Voaage," explains the importance of studying the planet Jupiter:

“Jupiter, most likely the first planet formed after the sun, is believed to hold the keys to understanding the origins of our solar system. How much water it contains and the possible presence of a rocky core could reveal where in the solar system Jupiter was created and provide clues to the early days of other planets.”


The topic is certainly of interest to engineering students, and of particular interest for those whose area of study is solar power, the spacecraft is powered by solar panels (see also my previous post, "Solar power for Business English," June 7, 2016).

The website of the article has plenty of extra features that can be used in the classroom. My favorite is the "Interactive Feature" Jupiter and its moons:

In addition to information about the planet’s moons (with spinnable maps of Jupiter and the Galilean moons), there is a video (3:51) about the Juno mission from launch to orbit. It is narrated clearly and slowly, and although there is some background music, it is not loud or distracting.

Since the article describes the spacecraft’s mission, there is a lot of vocabulary describing movement and location.

Expressions of movement & location:

  • Juno enters Jupiter’s orbit
  • ducking through intense belts of violent radiation
  • as it skimmed over the clouds
  • spacecraft on Monday finally clinched its spot in the orbit
  • left it in the grip of its desired orbit
  • spacecraft to enter orbit around Jupiter
  • spacecraft spent eight years there surveying the planet
  • a probe that parachuted into Jupiter’s atmosphere
  • the tools that Juno does to delve into what lies beneath Jupiter’s clouds
  • ensnared by Jupiter’s gravity
  • Juno accelerated quickly to its rendezvous with Jupiter
  • passing within the orbit of Callisto and Ganymede
  • it zoomed past the other two
  • “We’re barreling down on Jupiter really quick”
  • Juno passed over Jupiter’s north pole and through a region
  • electrons bouncing back and forth at nearly the speed of light
  • “They will go right through a spacecraft and strip the atoms apart …”
  • Juno’s main engine began firing to slow the spacecraft enough to be captured by the planet’s gravity.
  • Juno also passed through the plane of Jupiter’s diaphanous rings.
  • even a piece of dust colliding with a spacecraft moving at 130,000 m.p.h.
  • Juno passed within 2,900 miles of Jupiter’s cloud tops.
  •  “what we’re targeting is a space …”
  •  “We’re going to hit that within 1.2 seconds after a journey of 1.7 billion miles.”
  • Then Juno was headed outward again, away from Jupiter.
  • the spacecraft still had to pivot so that
  • it will swing back for its first good close-up
  • Juno will fire its engine again on Oct. 19 to move to a 14-day orbit
  • The spacecraft will have to make multiple flybys
  • each time Juno zooms past Jupiter
  • Juno will pass through the more violent portions
  • Juno is to make a suicidal dive into Jupiter
  • possibility of Juno’s crashing into Europa

The vocabulary referring to tools and instruments is also very useful:
  • Juno's instruments are designed to precisely measure the magnetic and gravitational fields of Jupiter and the glow of microwaves emanating from within. That, for instance, will give hints about storm systems like the visible Great Red Spot.
  • Juno has been on its own since Thursday, performing a programmed sequence of actions
  • could have knocked out the computer and other electronics
  • a titanium vault built for Juno proved up to the task of
  • Juno's main engine began firing to slow the spacecraft enough to be captured by the planet's gravity.
  • After the end of the engine burn, the spacecraft still had to pivot so that its solar panels were again facing the sun.
  • Juno's three 30-foot-long panels with 18,698 solar cells generate a mere 500 watts to power the spacecraft and its instruments.
  • Its scientific instruments, which had been turned off for the arrival at Jupiter, will be turned back on in two days.
  • Juno will fire its engine again on Oct. 19 to move to a 14-day orbit when the science instruments begin in earnest.
  • The assault of radiation each time Juno zooms past Jupiter will take its toll on the electronics.

Finally, in discussing what could have gone wrong and what it is hoped will be discovered, there is useful vocabulary as well: 
  • Jupiter, most likely the first planet formed after the sun, is believed to hold the keys to understanding the origins of our solar system. How much water it contains and the possible presence of a rocky core could reveal where in the solar system Jupiter was created and provide clues to the early days of other planets.
  • In this belt of radiation, electrons bouncing back and forth at nearly the speed of light could have knocked out the computer and other electronics.
  • Although the mission planners had chosen a place that they thought would be clear, they could not be certain, and even a piece of dust colliding with a spacecraft moving at 130,000 m.p.h. could have caused considerable damage.
  • With a different vantage point from Juno’s polar orbit, Juno’s cameras are likely to add to the number of known moons of Jupiter, now totaling 67. “I expect that we will see some, and the number will keep going up,” Dr. Bolton said.
  • That is to ensure that there would be no possibility of Juno’s crashing into Europa, regarded as one of the likelier places for life elsewhere in the solar system, …
  • Even in the best outcome, the mission might be extended a few months.

For more information about the spacecraft and its mission, the NASA website for Juno is: 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Solar power for Business English

A recent article about the decreasing costs of rooftop solar panels is not only a good source of information about the current state of the industry, but is also a good example of business writing.

The text is fairly short (331 words), but has language referring to increase and decrease, phrases incorporating statistics, as well as comparisons between the past and the present.

In addition, there is a graph included that can be used to practice "graph language" -- helping students learn how to explain information from a graph in either speaking or writing.

The article is Rooftop solar is getting dirt cheap. That's good news for consumers, but trouble for businesses:

Here are some examples of useful language from the text.

Vocabulary for expressing change/comparisons:
  • flourishing
  • grow by
  • compared to
  • by more than
  • as much as
  • is comprised of
  • grew 
  • eclipsed
  • slashed
  • less
  • at least as much as
  • plummet to less than
  • fluctuations
  • was/were down
  • dropped
  • ranging from ... to
Specific business vocabulary (with collocations): 
  • consumers
  • businesses
  • solar energy
  • market is flourishing / should grow
  • low prices
  • stocks have plummeted
  • global solar energy was installed
  • momentum
  • capacity
  • utility-scale installations
  • residential capacity has grown
  • costs were slashed
  • caused ripples in the market
  • traditional business model
  • leading companies
  • leasing
  • gear
  • generate energy
  • customers
  • lease an installation
  • pay less / pay as much as
  • local utility
  • make a profit
  • profit on the interest
  • afford to pay
  • upfront costs
  • owned
  • third-party
  • forecast is backed by
  • current market fluctuations
  • stocks were down
  • dropped its program
  • running shorter loan programs

Much of this vocabulary can be used to describe the information in the graph (eg., stocks have plummeted, market fluctuations, plummet to less than, fluctuations).

This is the graph that accompanies the text (Credit: GTM Research):

There are also good examples of the present perfect and past tenses that illustrate the difference between the two when referring to the past: use of the simple past when there is a definite past time; use of the present perfect to refer to the past without a definite time. These are two tenses that my students often confuse.

Uses of present perfect and simple past tenses:
  • Solar energy has become dirt cheap
  • stocks have plummeted by more than 50 percent
  • residential capacity has also grown a lot
  • As much as 85% of the global solar energy was installed within the past five years
  • The residential solar market grew 66 percent year-over-year
  • But because installation costs were slashed, this has caused ripples in the market.
  • In 2014, 72 percent of all rooftop solar was owned by a third party.
Another useful grammar focus is the use of the present progressive tense. My students think it is used for referring to actions "happening at the moment," but do not realize that it is used more often for situations or actions taking place currently or for current trends (not necessarily "at the moment of speaking").

Examples of the present progressive tense:
  • rooftop solar is getting dirt cheap
  • the market is flourishing
  • the low prices are making a lot of rooftop residents jubilant
  • the kind of momentum we're talking about
  • (the company) is now running much shorter loan programs

Other examples of tenses in the text are the use of the present tense for statements of fact, the use of the future with will, and the use of the conditionals would, should, and can.

For such a short text, there is a lot of material here for Business English.