Pi Day is a day for people to celebrate and appreciate the importance of pi in our lives, and is often marked by various events and activities such as pie-eating contests, pi recitation competitions, and lectures on the history and significance of pi. Some people also use Pi Day as an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of math and science education.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory celebrates the mathematical marvel with a set of problems involving real space missions.
Pi Day is the annual tribute to the mathematical constant pi, whose infinite number of decimals is usually rounded to 3.14. So what better day to celebrate than March 14? To find pi, aka the Greek letter p, you simply divide any circle’s circumference by its diameter. It’s a ratio that’s indispensable to NASA missions studying Earth, Mars, and beyond.
This Pi Day marks the 10th year that the Education Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has celebrated this wondrously useful number with the agency’s Pi Day Challenge. Students can put their math mettle to the test to solve real problems faced by NASA scientists and engineers.
Using pi to tackle this quartet of problems, students can:
- calculate the volume of a Martian rock core gathered by NASA’s Perseverance rover as it collects samples to be studied on Earth;
- understand the cosmos-peering power of the Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope by comparing the area of their primary mirrors;
- approximate the density of Psyche – the metal-rich asteroid that will be visited by a NASA mission by the same name – and speculate about what it’s made of; and
- determine how much of the Sun’s disk will be eclipsed by the Moon and whether to expect a total or annular solar eclipse this October.
Answers to all four challenge questions will be available on March 15.
The NASA Pi Day Challenge is accompanied by other pi-related resources for educators, K-12 students, and parents, including lessons and teachable moments, articles, downloadable posters, and illustrated web/mobile backgrounds. More than 30 puzzlers from previous challenges are also available.
Pi is a mathematical constant that represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It is a non-repeating and non-terminating number that has been calculated to trillions of digits, but is commonly approximated to 3.14. Pi is used in many fields, including mathematics, physics, engineering, and statistics, and has numerous applications in everyday life such as in the design of buildings, the calculation of distances in navigation, and in the measurement of circles and spheres.