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Solar System Exploration Virtual Institute

NASA’s many successful space missions and discoveries have resulted in the acquisition of thousands of images, movie clips and a variety of data in a range of scales.  These resources have helped most of us to visualize, interpret and map distant planetary surfaces, leading to extraordinary discoveries. But, what about your colleague, friend or family member who is visually impaired or blind?  How might these discoveries and observations be as powerful for them as it is for you?  We ask questions like this all of the time so that people with disabilities can have the same experiences as people without, whether it is understanding what an asteroid or small body is, experiencing a lunar or solar eclipse, or using spectroscopy to determine the composition of a planet’s surface.

For the last two decades we have been working with students, colleagues, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), teachers and parents to make earth and space science accessible for all. Three tactile books and associate educator resources currently in production are:

Getting a Feel for Eclipses

Getting a Feel for Eclipses will take advantage of the fact that the path of the August, 2017 total solar eclipse will travel directlry across the continental US, from Oregon to Charleston, SC. We have created a tactile guide to eclipses.  Tactile graphics will provide an illustration of the interaction and alignment of the Sun with the Moon and Earth. Associated activities will help to explain the nature of eclipses.

Understanding Small Bodies in the Solar System

Understanding Small Bodies in the Solar System is an introduction to the meteorites, asteroids and the smaller moons in our solar system and our current understanding of their nature and composition.  The emphasis for this tactile guide will be the use of spectroscopy to distinguish the similarities and differences of the various planetary bodies.  Tactile graphics will illustrate the different sizes and textures of these small bodies.  

Touch the Spectrum

Touch the Spectrum is an introduction to the electro-magnetic spectrum and its use and importance for space exploration.  Examples include rock and mineral identification and planetary surface mapping, such as produced by the recent Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) mission. Tactile graphics include outlines of the full spectrum (UV – IR) and individual rock and mineral examples (e.g., olivine, pyroxene, anorthosite) from small bodies in the solary system. 

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