Celebrate Pi Day 2022 with these epic NASA math challenges for March 14

NASA’s Pi Day Challenge of 2022 includes questions about four agency missions.
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

If you ever feel like you're spinning in circles, the annual pi day is a great moment to remind yourself of the power of such thinking.

NASA celebrates the famous mathematical ratio each year on March 14 (3/14), which is meant to represent the 3.14 constant that results when you divide a circle's circumference by its diameter. (The actual number is infinite, but two decimal places works for most of us.)

In 2022, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is serving science and engineering questions based on real-life agency missions. 

Two are missions in planning: the Lunar Flashlight and the Earth-gazing Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) missions that will launch missions later in the 2020s. Two are ongoing: the InSight lander on Mars, and the planet hunting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

Related: 10 surprising facts about pi

As an example problem from the set, NASA highlighted Lunar Flashlight's attempt to look for water ice in permanently shadowed craters on the moon, which the agency hopes will be useful for future moon missions with the Artemis program.

"For the NASA Pi Day Challenge, problem-solvers can use pi to find out how much surface area will be measured in a single pulse of Lunar Flashlight’s lasers," the agency wrote on Thursday (March 10).

The answers to all four of the questions will be available on March 15, and you can see the entire problem set on the NASA Pi Day Challenge website. Previous years' problems and answers are available there as well, if you want some more taste tests of mathematics.

If you want yet more opportunities for pi problem solving, just wait around until July 22. Europeans write their dates in another format, with day of month first, and tend to celebrate pi day on 22/7. (If you divide 22 by 7, that comes to the same approximate ratio that you get as pi.)

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace