Planetary scientists spread word, images of new discoveries in Spanish

Published: Oct. 6, 2011

A group of planetary scientists have released a new Spanish-language teaching resource featuring colorful graphics and explanatory text to get the word out on the latest space discoveries both in and outside of Earth's solar system.

"Descubrimientos en Ciencias Planetarias," Spanish for "Discoveries in Planetary Science," are easy-to-use computer slide sets that college and high-school instructors can present in the classroom, said University of Colorado Boulder faculty member Dave Brain, project leader. The translated slide sets are targeted for Spanish-speaking audiences in the United States, Latin America and Spain.

The most recent slide set, "A Planet Orbiting Two Suns" is about the recent discovery of a planet nicknamed "Tatooine" outside Earth's solar system that was announced by astronomers just three weeks ago. "The slide sets are already in wide use in English," said Brain of CU's astrophysical and planetary sciences department. "Planetary science changes quickly, and we wanted to spread the news in Spanish about discoveries that are too recent to be included in astronomy textbooks."

The slide sets are more useful than news announcements about discoveries because they already are in a classroom-ready format and emphasize the science behind the headlines, said Pedro Sada, a faculty member at the University of Monterey, Mexico, who translated the findings into Spanish. "There is no reason to limit the excitement to English-speaking audiences," he said.

The slide sets are starting to be used on a regular basis in classrooms and science centers in Spain, according to planetary scientist Jesus Martinez-Frias of the Centro de Astrobiologia in Madrid.

"There are a lot of Hispanic students in our region of the United States," said CU-Boulder Professor Nick Schneider, who directed the project. "We feel this is a way for space scientists, including those of us at the University of Colorado, to help share this valuable new resource with people in communities across the West." Schneider also is the education officer for the Division of Planetary Sciences, an arm of the American Astronomical Society.

The release of the new planetary slide sets in Spanish isn't just about expanding the lay audience for planetary sciences, said physics Professor Jorge Lopez at the University of Texas, El Paso and past president of the National Society of Hispanic Physicists. "Hispanics are an underrepresented minority in the physical sciences and these slide sets are a great tool to draw these students into the sciences."

Hispanic physics majors are increasing at a faster rate than any other racial or ethnic group, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, said Ted Hodapp, diversity programs director of the American Physical Society.

Faculty members and teachers in North America and Europe already are lining up to use the resource, according to the project leaders. "I've been waiting for years for a resource like this, something I can use in the classroom and in talks to the general public," said Carmen Pantoja, who teaches introductory astronomy in Spanish at the University of Puerto Rico.

The 23 Spanish slide sets can be downloaded for free at English versions are available at

The project is supported by the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society.

Concepción Artística del planeta Kepler 16b (el objeto oscuro al frente) y las estrellas binarias que orbita (una parecida a nuestro propio sol). Los tres objetos se eclipsan mutuamente en las observaciones de Kepler, demostrando que se mueven en casi el mismo plano. (This is an artist's conception of planet Kepler 16b, the dark object in the foreground, and the binary star system it orbits. The illustration and caption are part of a new Spanish language teaching resource on new discoveries in planetary science spearheaded by CU-Boulder faculty.)