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A Letter from a Third Grader

Late last week, I got a letter from a third grader. It was pretty random—his school is in Pennsylvania, and I’m not exactly Neil deGrasse Tyson. However, in the age of the internet, I guess if you were looking for people who teach or study astronomy, you might turn up my name. In any case, here’s an excerpt from his letter:

We are learning about the solar system. One thing we learned is that Mercury has no atmosphere. I would like to ask you some questions. First, how did you become interested in learning about space? Also, why do you think there are planets? Last, what is your favorite planet and why?

If anyone is interested, I’ll post my actual letter back to him later, which I’m still working on. It’s surprisingly hard for me to write to a third grader; I’m not used to communicating with kids that age, so I’m trying hard to strike that difficult balance between taking him seriously (not talking down to him), but not talking over his head. In other words, I’m attempting to get into the head of my third-grade self, which although it’s buried pretty deep is still there.

It helps that I remember how I got interested in space: Voyager 2. The space shuttles were cool and all, and of course I wanted to be an astronaut (when I didn’t want to be a paleontologist), but there was something truly awesome about seeing the pictures of Jupiter and its moons (Io and Europa especially) in National Geographic. The Saturn pictures a few years later had a similar effect, and I hope kids that age are finding their way to photos from the Cassini-Huygens probe, which are 10 times cooler than Voyager’s images. I think happily about how much truly wonderful information is available now. In an era of increased public anti-science sentiment and “No Child Left Behind” misguided educational policies, I’m happy kids have more science than ever to inspire them whether or not they pursue a scientific career down the road.

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9 Responses to “A Letter from a Third Grader”


  1. 1 Cedar Riener February 1, 2011 at 15:34

    This is just so cool.
    I think you should tell him to look up Thierry Legault, the French astrophotographer:
    http://legault.perso.sfr.fr/
    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/tag/thierry-legault/

    But writing to a third grader is really hard work, just as teaching any children. It is challenging even if you talk to them every day, because their thoughts are so different than our own.

    • 2 Matthew R. Francis February 1, 2011 at 15:52

      Writing the response is very difficult, though I did decide which planet I’ll list as my favorite (everyone will have to wait for the sequel blog post).

      Thanks for reminding me about Legault—I’ve added his page to the links for this site.


  1. 1 My Response « Science Vs. Pseudoscience Trackback on February 2, 2011 at 00:22
  2. 2 Warning: Self-Indulgence Ahead « Science Vs. Pseudoscience Trackback on March 6, 2011 at 21:52
  3. 3 The Smallest Planet Has a New Satellite « Science Vs. Pseudoscience Trackback on March 18, 2011 at 18:31
  4. 4 Space Exploration is Not Over « Galileo's Pendulum Trackback on July 7, 2011 at 15:42
  5. 5 Neptune the Mystic « Galileo's Pendulum Trackback on July 11, 2011 at 18:02
  6. 6 Sic Transit Gloria Fomalhaut « Galileo's Pendulum Trackback on September 26, 2011 at 12:14
  7. 7 Moonday: The Tao of Iapetus « Galileo's Pendulum Trackback on February 27, 2012 at 11:59
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