Imaggeo on Mondays: Watching the world from space with EarthKAM

Imaggeo on Mondays: Watching the world from space with EarthKAM

This photo was taken from the International Space Station (ISS), approx. 400 km above the Earth, in the NASA-led educational project Sally Ride EarthKAM (, Mission 58, April 2017. The image was requested by a team of 10th and 11th grade students from the National College of Computer Science, Piatra-Neamț, Romania, coordinated by me. The lenses used on the digital camera mounted on the ISS are 50 mm focal length. The area photographed is a region of 185.87 km wide and approx. 123.5 km long, from Utah, USA. The view is spectacular, a perfect equilibrium between mountains, canyons, lakes and bays.

It’s just one of the pictures that my students had the opportunity to get from the ISS. Even though we weren’t there on the ISS to trigger the camera, all the locations in which the photographs were taken were chosen by us, on the track of the ISS.

The project activities were very complex. The students learned about the Earth, its rotation and gravity, and about the space station and its orbit. They completed their knowledge of physics, understanding how from the ISS orbit we can have another perspective of the Earth. They chose the places on the Earth to be photographed, studied these regions and monitored the weather conditions for better photo opportunities. They identified the places on Google Earth, analysed the photos and then created QR codes for some of them.

Below are the QR codes for the photo “Awesome trip above the Earth”:


The ISS became an innovative learning environment for the students. The astronauts’ availability for engaging in educational programmes, sharing their extraordinary experiences of becoming aware of the beauty and fragility of the Earth from the ISS orbit, has increased the attractiveness of learning about space. As Sally Ride, the first American astronaut woman on the ISS, said:

“When I was orbiting Earth in the space shuttle, I could float over to a window and gaze down at the delicate white clouds, brilliant orange deserts, and sparkling blue water of the planet below. I could see the coral reefs in the oceans, fertile farmlands in the valleys, and twinkling city lights beneath the clouds. Even from space, it is obvious that Earth is a living planet.”

The photo was integrated into a photo exhibition called “The Earth’s Colors” that I realised with my students at my college, which led the viewer on a global trip, discovering how beautiful and fascinating the Earth viewed from Space is. Satellite photography offered my students a new world perspective, encouraging them to ask questions and to search for the answers. It was a new and exciting way to travel and discover our planet.

The project was a great opportunity, not only for my students but also for thousands of other students around the globe, to study the Earth in a way that complements different subjects in order to better understand our world. It also has strengthened my conviction that, as the teacher and Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe said:

“…space is for everybody. It’s not just for a few people in science or math, or for a select group of astronauts. That’s our new frontier out there, and it’s everybody’s business to know about space.”

By Diana Cristina Bejan, physics teacher, The National College of Computer Science, Piatra-Neamț, Romania

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at

Discover geology with Lego!

Discover geology with Lego!

Science communication is becoming a widely recognized skill for both established and budding geoscientists alike. Outreach activities are beneficial in many ways, as they not only showcase science to the general public, but also give scientists the chance to develop transferable skills.

If you’re in the market for a creative geoscience activity, one that especially appeals to a younger audience, look no further! In this guest blog post, Stephanie Zihms, a geomechanics postdoc at Heriot-Watt University and the EGU Union-level ECS representative, details a fun hands-on activity that teaches geoscience with the help of Lego blocks. This post is modified from a version which first appeared on Stephanie Zihms’ blogRead the original post.

I designed this activity for the Explorathon 2015 (a family orientated science event) because I was looking for a way to show how geologists work from observing the surface to gathering information from boreholes and seismic surveys to understand the subsurface. I also wanted participants to experience this process without needing to be in the field or taking rock samples.

Kit and preparation

I used a generic brand of building bricks (because my budget didn’t allow for actual Lego) and bought two boxes of mixed bricks in a bargain store. First you want to sort the bricks by colour (unless you can buy them that way). Then you want to decide what shapes to make – I opted for three simples shapes: Syncline, Anticline and Oil Reservoir with seal.

With the geology built, you then want to select three or four areas to make a ‘borehole’ with – I used single bricks but this could be done with the 2×2 squares as well. If you have enough bricks you can probably incorporate the ‘boreholes’ into the model and reveal them by extracting them – which would be super cool. Once you have the models built and boreholes prepared, you need to make some envelopes to only expose the top layer – I used brown hacking paper and packing tape to make sure they can be reused easily. That’s pretty much it.

Activity: Syncline & Anticline       

Show your participants the covered models and ask if they can tell you what the rest of it looks like. You can explain that geologists use exposures like this for mapping (having maps on hand can be useful). Also ask how sure they are that they are correct based on the information available. You can then offer more information in form of boreholes – either lay or stand them in front of the model in the correct place (you can mark your envelopes) or extract them if you went for the hiding option.

Either ask the participants to show you what they can see – following a colour for example or ask them to copy the boreholes on a bit of paper and connect colours that way (this will depend on how much time you have with each participant; borehole papers can be prepared with the columns printed on so the participants only have to colour them in).

Once that is done reveal the full model. This is normally a big ‘Ahhh’ effect because just by having that little bit of extra information they got it right. This is a great opportunity to talk about information available and how geologists infer maps and what the subsurface looks like based on similar information. (if you have boreholes logs from the local area + the iGeology app from BGS this can really help relate this to the local area). If you make a version where the boreholes can be retrieved this could be standalone activity with instructions to follow as well.

Activity: Oil reservoir with seal         

This activity is very similar to the one above except that we can’t see anything from the top layer. And before we even know where to drill for a borehole we have to do a seismic survey. After guessing what the model looks like and deciding the information is not great. Show a generic seismic line (normally easily found online or in petroleum engineering tutorials). We printed seismic lines on A5 and asked participants to colour them in – following any features or structures they could see (this could also be done with one A3 paper that’s laminated and can be re-used).

After identifying a generic reservoir structure we revealed the model to show the different layers. A set of boreholes could be done based on where participants would ‘drill’. Which would mean having a set of boreholes available or making the middle of the model retrievable.


I absolutely love this activity because it uses something people are familiar with – independent of age and it mimics a little geological survey taking participants on the journey of gathering information and making an estimation. This activity can also be easily amended for different size audiences (e.g. using DUPLO for a show & tell type event) or adding more information about the process, talking about risk and uncertainty. The response from participants, especially children, when the model is revealed is priceless.

I hope you found this how-to useful and please share how you used it at your events either in the comments or by tagging me (@geomechsteph) on Twitter.

By Stephanie Zihms