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Tanya Takes on Tough Questions
Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The elementary school student wondering how El Niño will affect tomorrow's weather. The scientist studying connections between ozone and climate change. And the farmer using satellite pictures to keep track of crops. All of these people are Earth Explorers -- they are all curious about the Earth system. This series will introduce you to NASA Earth Explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

Tanya Petach sits on a raft in a river

Tanya Petach thrives on seeking answers to unanswered questions in Earth and space science. Image Credit: NASA

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Why do trees lose their leaves? Why does that rock have holes in it? These are the kind of questions Tanya Petach (PEE'-tack) asked when she was a kid. And someone always seemed to have an answer.

Sometimes a parent knew the answer. Sometimes it was a teacher. Sometimes it was both -- Tanya's mom is a science teacher! Other times it was a relative or friend.

As she grew older, Tanya asked harder questions: Why is this leaf green and that one purple? But still, there were answers.

Finally, Tanya began to ask questions that had not been answered yet. That's when she really got excited about science.

For example, Tanya and her sister did a science project a few years ago. They studied trees that had been attacked by insects. They used pictures from satellites to answer questions. One question was: Which trees would be attacked more by insects? The project won an award at a state science fair.

What did Tanya like most about the project? She liked trying to answer questions that hadn’t been answered before. "For once in my life, there were no answers," Tanya said.

Not long ago, Tanya used satellite pictures in another project. She used pictures from a NASA satellite. Tanya studied salt in the Colorado River. Water that is too salty can hurt soil and plants. The pictures helped her find where the salt was coming from. She also looked for ways to cut the amount of salt in the river.

"I became fascinated with these rivers while hiking [in Colorado] as a young child," she said.

Her project won first place in a contest for students in grades 9-12. She also won an award at an international science fair with another project.

Tanya isn't just curious about Earth. She's interested in space, too. She's part of a NASA group of scientists, teachers and students. Together, they use pictures from a NASA telescope to search for a special type of galaxy.

Tanya starts the 12th grade this fall. She hopes to find more answers to questions about Earth and space.

Related Resources:
> Cool Cosmos   →
> Video: Intel ISEF 2009: Tanya Petach   →
> Meet the Next Earth Explorers

Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies