Undergraduate students at Montana State University and the University of Montana will travel anywhere in the state to present the programs, said Joey Key and Tyson Littenberg, both doctoral students in physics at MSU. Key and Littenberg created the programs and manage the Space Public Outreach Team, or SPOT.
The "Astronauts and Aliens" program invites the audience to travel from the vents of Yellowstone National Park to nearby stars in search of extraterrestrial life, Key said. The program explains how NASA explores the extreme environments of the Earth, other plants and moons to prepare for finding life in space.
Littenberg said "The Sun-Earth Connection" program reveals how the sun and Earth are intimately linked. Changes on the sun trigger events on Earth; the interaction affects human exploration of space.
"We really focus on research in Montana that relates to current missions so kids know you don't have to go far from home and you can be proud of your state that all of this cool stuff happens right here," Key said.
"It's right here in their back yard," Littenberg added.
Both programs include movies, animations and lots of audience participation, Littenberg said. The length and complexity can be adapted for the audience, but the kindergarten through third grade version generally lasts 30 minutes. The fourth through 12th grade version lasts 45 minutes. Both allow for a 15-minute question-and-answer session at the end.
Students who attend the programs will receive free posters, stickers, postcards and other handouts, Key said. Those attending the "Astronauts and Aliens" will also receive astronaut ice cream. Teachers will receive lesson plans, activities, brochures and other materials they can use in their classrooms.
Littenberg said SPOT, once known as MPOP, has been presenting programs around the state for about 10 years. Last year's presenters gave their programs to 8,000 students in 150 schools. Some of the presenters who were out-of-state residents also gave presentations when they went home for the holidays or summer vacations. Some of those locations included Argentina, Alabama and Morocco.
SPOT this year involves 10 to 15 undergraduate students from MSU and UM, Key said. They are trained and evaluated before giving their presentations in public.
SPOT is funded by the Montana Space Grant Consortium, MSU's Space Engineering and Science Lab, and the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly through MSU's Solar Physics Group. SPOT is managed by physics graduate students with advising from David McKenzie of the AIA and Solar Physics Group.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org