Thursday, November 19, 2009

Butterflies on the International Space Station!

There are butterflies in space! Painted Lady larvae and three Monarch caterpillars are currently orbiting above us, after recently traveling to outer space aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The "butterflynauts" boarded the International Space Station yesterday.

You can track the progress of the Painted Lady butterflies via Twitter (@ButterflySpace). Teachers can download a free teacher's guide and register for email updates about the mission. There's also a specific thread for teachers on the BioEd Online web board devoted to this experiment.

From the Butterflies in Space website at BioEd Online:
"On November 16, 2009, Painted Lady butterflies [flew] aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station (ISS). The butterflies will spend several months in space as part of an exciting experiment to observe their life cycles and behaviors in microgravity. We invite your class to participate! The butterflies will live in a special habitat, which provides a safe environment, food and water. Photos and video will be transmitted back to Earth and made available here ..."
But Painted Lady butterflies aren't the only insect space travelers this time. Monarchs are up there, too! Through Monarchs in Space, Monarch Watch is documenting the progress of the monarch larvae. You can download some wonderful instructional data from this site along with links to other fun stuff like these recent pictures of the monarch caterpillars in space.

This current set of butterfly experiments builds upon previous work by BioServe Space Technologies, which has designed experiments in space since the early 1990s (including space flights for spiders, ants, and silkworms).

This video describes some of the challenges that the butterflies may face in their new habitat:


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