Public Outreach


Spark! Imagination and Science Center

Paul Cassak partners with Spark! Imagination and Science Center. He has served as a science adviser on exhibits and signage, participated in special events including "Science Day" and "Space Day" at the museum and "Science Night" at schools in West Virginia, and helped construct and deliver science kits about space weather to elementary schools in McDowell County, Braxton County, and Webster County, West Virginia.  [Image from]


The Space Weather Exhibit

Spark! Imagination and Science Center and Paul Cassak developed a unique, hands-on exhibit called "Space Weather"

What Is it? - The Space Weather Exhibit, one of the only museum exhibits in the world solely on Space Weather! And it's completely hands-on!

Where Is It? - Only at Spark! Imagination and Science Center (formerly called the Children's Discovery Museum of West Virginia)

What Is In The Exhibit? -

  • A large Plasma Ball - learn about the super-hot fourth state of matter that makes up most of the sun, the stars, and space. Make it move with your hands!

  • Play with Horseshoe Magnets - feel the magnetic force. This same force is a crucial aspect of space weather!

  • Visualize Magnetic Fields - see what magnetic field lines look like in 3D! Earth's magnetic field looks similar!

  • See a Lifesize Replica of a NASA Satellite - a model of a satellite in NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission. It's complete with many of the instruments on the real satellite. This completely unique piece was made by a school group from Paw Paw, WV, and was brought to Florida for the launch of the satellites in 2015!

  • Experience Virtual Reality - put on goggles and feel like you're standing in space! You will see the MMS satellite and hear about the mission. The MMS satellites were designed to study magnetic reconnection, a key aspect of space weather!

  • Take the Astronaut Challenge! - dress up as a NASA astronaut and pretend you are assembling parts on the International Space Station! Also, feel how heavy a jar would weigh on other planets in our solar system. Astronauts have to be wary of space weather, as they can get harmed by the powerful radiation from solar storms.

  • Watch Aurora in a Bottle - learn what causes the northern and southern lights, also known as aurora, by making aurora in a bottle! This device, called a terrella, was designed and created at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and lets you shoot electrons at a magnet to see how aurora happens. Aurora naturally occurs during space weather events.

  • Learn about Space Weather - panels describe what space weather is and how everyone is affected by it. You will also learn about space weather research being done in West Virginia!

The exhibit was funded by generous support from West Virginia University (WVU), the WVU Department of Physics and Astronomy, the National Science Foundation (NSF Grants AGS-0953463 and AGS-1460037), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA Grants NNX16AF60G and NNX16AL15G), and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

It was created as a partnership between Spark! Imagination and Science Center (formerly the Children's Discovery Museum of West Virginia), the Department of Physics and Astronomy at WVU, and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies at WVU. [Image from P. Cassak.]


Planetarium Movie

Paul Cassak contributed graphics to a planetarium movie on magnetism produced by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Rice University, and Evans & Sutherland. The movie is called "Magnetism - Defending Our Planet, Defining The Cosmos".  [Image from]


Public Outreach Presentations

Paul Cassak often gives outreach talks. Examples are to the WVU Astronomy Club in 2017 (pictured above) and 2015, NASA Headquarters Heliophysics Carnival in 2017, the Pulsar Search Collaboratory in 2013 and 2010 (the 2010 talk was called "The Sun and Space Weather"), the Kanawha Valley Astronomical Society in 2010 and 2008, and Hood College in 2005 for the Hood College World Year of Physics Lecture Series.  [Image Credit: Askar Salikhov/THE DAILY ATHENAEUM,]


NASA Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission Outreach

Paul Cassak participated in the NASA MMS Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission Prelaunch Press Briefing, February 25, 2015, and the NASA Magnetospheric Multiscale MMS Mission Science Briefing, March 12, 2015.  [Image courtesty of NASA.]


The Tale of Magnetic Reconnection (A Poem)

by Paul Cassak, written June 2016 for the CEDAR/GEM Student Day

Sit down and relax, I trust there is no objection,
And I will tell you the tale of magnetic reconnection.

It's a strange but cool process that has caused much confusion,
Though it's important for space weather, astrophysics and fusion.

Motivated by Giovanelli while studying solar flares,
He found they occur where magnetic fields cancel in pairs.

A graduate student named Dungey played the role of the hero.
He figured out what happens where magnetic fields go to zero.

Ideally, field lines can't break through stretching or attrition
As a result of Alfven's frozen-in condition.

But Dungey, he made a shocking proclamation,
That field lines can break due to small-scale dissipation.

It was argued by Sweet that plasma jets result from the constriction,
Then Parker used MHD theory to make an analytic prediction.

His excitement was real because it was much faster than diffusion,
But it was too slow to explain flares, causing despair and confusion.

They were out of ideas, the community was a wreck,
Until the bright idea by an engineer named Petschek.

While long, thin, Sweet-Parker layers cause major roadblocks,
The outflow jets could be formed at slow shocks.

What the doctor had ordered, Petschek had served.
Reconnection was as fast as flares are observed.

But the tale is not over, for didn't you hear?
Dungey realized reconnection occurs at Earth's magnetosphere.

The solar wind brings in the interplanetary field,
Which reconnects with Earth's magnetic shield.

Dayside field lines move tailward where an energy reservoir forms.
Then reconnection in the tail releases it in geomagnetic storms.

Dungey realized the convection driven by reconnection would yield
Exactly the observed patterns in the ionospheric electric field.

Despite these successes, reconnection remained curious,
Many didn't believe it, it made Alfven furious.

Evidence was indirect, there was much uncertainty.
Until direct observations of jets by Paschmann with the satellite ISEE.

We've since gotten more data that we've been able to muster,
From Polar, Geotail, Double Star, THEMIS and Cluster.

Theoretical work has produced a ton that we can add to our courses,
Thanks in part to the increase in speed of supercomputing resources.

In situ observations are not easy to nab,
But now there's no doubt it occurs, we can even see it in the lab.

So our understanding of reconnection is doing quite good.
But there remain many things not sufficiently understood.

How energy is stored and what starts its release.
How fast it goes and what makes it cease.

And also the subject of many articles
Is how reconnection heats plasmas and accelerates particles.

And it remains unclear, for goodness sake,
What causes the dissipation allowing magnetic field lines to break.

Resistive MHD doesn't cut it, it has a great flaw,
Instead we need to consider generalized Ohm's law.

Though, by itself, it doesn't allow field lines to reconnect,
The GEM Challenge showed the importance of the Hall effect.

To determine the role of the electron pressure tensor,
We need a satellite with an incredibly fast sensor.

The most recent advance in our reconnection tale,
Is the development of Magnetospheric Multiscale.

Four satellites in formation with only a 10 kilometer separation,
Designed to measure reconnection dissipation.

It measures electron distributions 100 times as fast
As any mission had ever done in the past.

MMS has now measured crescent-shaped electron distributions,
With electrons from the sheath crossing to the magnetosphere to make a contribution.

MMS is gathering a wealth of great high resolution data,
So stay tuned for new results that will come around later.

Thanks for listening to the tale of magnetic reconnection,
But the story's not over - there are still open questions!