As Rosetta mission ends, Osiris Rex soars

As an asteroid and comet watcher, the Rosetta mission designed to swing around and land on a comet ’67P’ fascinated me. I also used in for a class on animation last year, so that 6th graders could learn about the mission while learning to animate the path of Rosetta. The European space agency lost contact with Rosetta at 11:19 a.m. GMT today when the craft’s probe ‘impacted’ the comet, having reached it two years ago, on August 2014.


This year, my students focused on Osiris Rex, the NASA mission to study the asteroid Bennu. marsed_sept2016By some coincidence, this was one of the big themes of the Mars Education conference I attended at ASU last Saturday.)

Students have looked up facts about the mission and next week will begin animating the path of Osiris Rex.

Osiris Rex will reach Bennu sometime in 2018, and its probe will do something more daring, – use a probe to scoop up a bit of the asteroid’s material, while it is still moving! Fascinating to think of the planning and steps this involves.

Smarter than Google? The hunt for a ‘research’ engine

In my attempt to differentiate between Search and Research (a topic that I return to around this time in the semester) I found a current event with a point of focus: ‘Chasing an asteroid!’

As luck would have it, NASA just launched a mission, Osiris Rex, that is basically a space explorer that will be chasing an asteroid for two years, before it grabs a piece of it and hustles back to earth. Students love events like this, and quickly dig deep into finding information around it.

omnityAnd as luck would also have it, there’s a new Search engine called Omnity that promises to do better, providing ‘constellations of meaning.’ Smarter than Google, even! I wish it was true, and plan to find out shortly.

Sometimes ‘research’ involves going down that rabbit hole and unearthing nuggets of information that seldom shows up on a simple search query. Students will find out that although the mission will take 7 years the return trip will take longer than getting there. Why? What determines the timeline? Google sometimes lulls us into being content with unspectacular answers. It makes us unwilling to do probe deeper.


After all, it’s not enough to teach today’s students how to use Google and Bing, or even Wolfram Alpha, but emerging tools, as we go chasing after asteroids in class.