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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab)

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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, 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 (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. 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