Quirks & Quarks·Analysis

Escape from isolation by exploring space from home

Bob McDonald's science blog: A few ideas to take your mind off the situation on the ground by thinking about our place in the stars

Bob McDonald's science blog

Earth from Space. It seems so peaceful ... (NASA, Terra MODIS spacecraft image)

NASA has developed a new website called  NASA at Home that is full of activities for young and old to explore the universe from home during these times of physical distancing.

Many parents are struggling to keep young minds occupied during this extended home isolation, and this site provides a wide variety of space videos, podcasts, e-books, games, VR tours and science activities that can be done at home using everyday materials.

It is an out-of-this-world escape from the difficulties we are all facing on this planet.

The space agency has an enormous library of videos dating back to the earliest days of space flight. You can re-live the Apollo missions to the moon, and get the latest on the plans to return there by 2024 through the eyes of the newest generation of astronauts. Or you can leave Earth entirely to explore the solar system through the eyes of robots that have visited other planets.

A series of podcasts narrated by NASA scientists keep you up to date on the latest developments in space exploration.

NASA at Home collects space-themed educational, historical and entertainment materials (NASA)

For the younger kids, a segment called Space Place has a series of computer games and activities such as building indoor rockets or balloon-powered rovers.

The older crowd can take 3D VR tours of NASA facilities or the International Space Station, plus there is a library of space themed e-books to read.

Participate in missions

Beyond entertainment, if you like, you can participate in real space science from your own home through a platform called Zooniverse ​​​. You can pitch in on the mission of the planet hunter TESS space telescope, searching for planets around other stars. These missions involve so much data that NASA is inviting the public to help analyze it. Who knows, perhaps you could discover a planet of your own!

The Juno mission to Jupiter involves a camera called JunoCam dedicated to public access where you can help decide what part of the giant planet the spacecraft photographs next.  

There is even an environmental program called GLOBE Observer which allows you to take daily measurements from your backyard or balcony to track environmental changes that are then compared to satellite observations of the Earth from space.

TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, will scan nearby stars to look for orbiting planets passing in front of them (NASA)

During this time when our own planet seems to be getting more dangerous with the spread of a deadly disease around the globe, it is a refreshing escape to explore other worlds that are so different, alien and far away. But having said that, remember, that despite the challenges we face from nature, whether it is disease, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, or whatever is thrown at us, we can deal with them and move on, as humans have always done. 

Because no matter how tough it seems at times, when compared to all the other planets we know of, the Earth is still the only planet we can live on — the crown jewel of the solar system.


Bob McDonald is the host of CBC Radio's award-winning weekly science program, Quirks & Quarks. He is also a science commentator for CBC News Network and CBC-TV's The National. He has received 12 honorary degrees and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.