Forty Thousand Children Help Build Space "Disco Ball"

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Teachers report an enthusiastic student response to the project.

"The idea of working on a mirror that would fly in a spacecraft really got them interested," said Gary Brekke, a science teacher at Woodrow Wilson Community High School in Fargo, North Dakota. "They like doing things like this that are meaningful and useful to the scientific community."

Brekke said it took his students three to four hours to polish each mirror well. The task involves grinding off tool marks from the machine that made the mirrors, polishing the surface to near perfection, and checking the flatness of the mirror to ensure it will properly reflect sunlight and be visible from Earth.

"This is a cool way to get students to do science, not just read about science," said Brekke. "It is a great way to get them involved in the process of real scientific work."

Observation Posts

Brekke's students will join thousands of students from around the world tracking Starshine 3 as it orbits Earth, its orbit becoming shorter and shorter as solar storms cause the density of Earth's upper atmosphere to increase.

Detailed instructions on how to track the satellite are posted on the Project Starshine Web site. Students are first encouraged to learn how to spot the satellite in the night sky and then how to help plot the orbit of the satellite with the use of star charts, short wave radios, digital watches, and the global positioning system.

Students will post their detailed observations on the Internet. Project scientists will use this data to calculate the Starshine 3's orbit, helping them better understand the effects of solar storms.

"This project would not be if it were not for the fact that the students are involved," said Moore.

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