Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, and Happy Mother’s Day!
Mother Nature is celebrating Spring with a beautiful display of flowers. Flowers are the marketing experts of the natural world. Flowers have several ways to attract the attention of their pollinators like shape, color, smell, and pattern. Scientists have recently discovered that some flowers use electrical charges to signal bees!
Find out more at:
National Geographic, and
As we approach the end of Earth month, it is interesting to think about how perfectly humans are suited to living on Earth and how much of a challenge it would be to live somewhere else.
NASA’s Kepler satellite and other missions are looking for, and finding, planets in other star systems that are more and more like Earth. As more “exoplanets” are found, estimates for the total number of planets potentially habitable keep going up. The current ESTIMATE is 100 billion habitable planets in the Milky Way galaxy and 50 sextillion habitable planets in the universe. It is likely that we will find a planet very like Earth, however, these planets are so far away that it would take at least tens of thousands of years to reach them with the best of current technology.
Even within our own solar system, it would take months or even years to reach possible places for human colonization. Read more about the most likely places (our Moon, Mars, Europa, and Titan) at the link above or NASA’s Solar System Exploration page. A great day at any of these places is worse than the worst day in Antartica, though, so living there would be a huge achievement.
The human colonization link also has information about another option. Ship- or asteroid-based colonies in space. In some ways, this is the most realistic option, but would still be incredibly expensive. Read more at the Wikipedia Space Habitat entry. There are many links from there to more information.
Long-term, mass residency in space is far off for us, but scientists and entrepreneurs are working toward it. Listen to the episode of StarTalk Radio in which Neil deGrasse Tyson interviews Peter Diamandis about mining asteroids in the near future. (mild suggestive language warning)
Meanwhile, enjoy Earth, and think about how to take good care of it this month and every month. I don’t know about you, but all my stuff is on Earth!
Happy Earth Day! Please read a little bit about the history of Earth Day and the organization, Earth Day Network, that continues to organize Earth Day events around the world to encourage people to take care of the only inhabited planet known to us. Soon after the first Earth Day event several laws were enacted. Arguably, the most significant was the formation and authorization of the Environmental Protection Agency. Visit this site to learn about the 40 year history of the EPA and some of their accomplishments.
The production of clean energy is one of the major goals of the Earth Day movement, and solar energy is a good candidate. People have been using solar energy for thousands of years to evaporate water from brine for salt production, to heat homes (passive solar), to light fires (with lenses or mirrors), to dry and bleach clothes, and more. Plants use photosynthesis to convert solar energy into plant matter (including wood and fossil fuels), which people can then eat or burn (chemical energy). Only 174 years ago, a scientist named Edmond Becquerel discovered that solar energy could be transformed directly to electrical energy. Today, this is called the photovoltaic effect, and the efficiency of photovoltaic cells has risen to over 20%. Follow this link to a solar energy timeline.
Another way to use solar energy is to collect it using a lens. Check out this video of me and Tony using a Fresnel lens to make fire on Tony Rose Live (SAM 100.7). Here is someone else using a bigger lens to do some cool stuff. BE SAFE if you try this.
Photovoltaics are useful for large scale electricity production and for off-grid electricity generation.
Notice all of the ways the sun powers your day, today. Does it power your calculator? Did it heat up your car? Did flowers bloom in your garden?
There are over 300 million people in the United States who generate about 4 1/2 pounds of garbage every day. About 1 1/2 pounds is recycled. But, if the other 3 pounds of this garbage were put in one giant landfill, it would be 400 feet deep and would cover 1000 acres. Every day! Without recycling, this giant landfill would be even larger! Visit the Environmental Protection Agency website, this CleanAir website, or search using your favorite search engine to learn more.
One way to keep things out of landfills is to extend their usefulness. Upcycling is the term for repurposing something when its initial purpose is finished. Many examples of this can be found at local craft fairs and online at sites like Pinterest and Etsy. Here are a few examples from my house:
I couldn’t attach hooks to the wall because of a pocket door. Now this old ladder holds our towels.
These glass rings, cut from wine bottles bring a little color to the bathroom window.
The bottom of a wine bottle makes a great vase or drinking glass. Pieces of broken glass can go in the rock tumbler to make sea glass.
Here, I made an old pair of cargo pants into a skirt and a purse with a men’s tie for a handle.
Plastic shopping bags cut into strips make “plarn.” This plarn bag is bigger and stronger than the original shopping bags and is very handy for carrying stuff to the pool.
What can you reduce, reuse, recycle- or upcycle?
Here is a link to kid-friendly Planet Protector activities at the EPA website. Many, many more ideas can be found at the library and online.
It is Spring, the weather is beautiful, and it is time to get outside! While you are outside, look around for some animal signs- scat, tracks, remains, and other cues that an animal has been there. One interesting thing you might find is a bird pellet.
A bird pellet can range from about a half inch in size for a small bird and around two inches for a larger bird. Pellets usually contain fur, bones, and other parts of the bird’s prey that are undigestible. Many birds make pellets, but possibly the most interesting is an owl pellet since it usually contains the most bones. Visit the KidWings website for more information about birds, bird pellets, and to do a virtual owl pellet dissection!
We discussed animal signs and examined the contents of a (probably) hawk pellet on the Tony Rose Show. Here is the link to audio: 20130408TonyRoseLive This audio doesn’t play, I’m trying to fix it. Bear with me.
For more interesting things to do outside visit the library for a book about outdoor activities (or for a tree, flower, mineral, etc. identification guide) or search the web for ideas. Here are a few sites to get you started:
April Fool’s Day is the perfect holiday to remind us that truth can be stranger than fiction. Below are three things that are absurd but true. Follow the links to find out more…
Albert Einstein changed the most fundamental beliefs about how the universe works with his theory of relativity. He also coined the phrase “spooky action at a distance” to describe a phenomenon that has since been proven in multiple experiments.
So, remember, just because it is absurd doesn’t mean that it isn’t true, but you might want to test it, just to be sure!
As it is Spring and Easter is next weekend, I am once again thinking of eggs. Eggs are amazing things. Chicken eggs must be strong enough for a hen to sit on, but allow the tiny baby chick to break out. Luckily, the hen applies compression force and the chick applies tension force, and the structure of the egg is perfectly adapted to react correctly to these two forces.
The Romans and the Eskimos have effectively used the ability of the dome to disperse compression force in architecture. Here is a link to view some famous architectural domes. The rounded shape of the dome is key to its ability to bear compression force. As the compression force pushes toward the center of the egg (or dome or arch) the rounded shape distributes that force across a large area. Focusing the force on a very small area would damage the curved shape and destroy this ability. However, a tension force (which pushes away from the center) cannot be distributed by the curved shape.
IMAGES: In the first image, above, the eggs are ready to demonstrate the strength of their dome shape. In the second image, we are applying compression force. We ran out of books at about 50 to 60 pounds and the eggs were unbroken. I decided to stand on the eggs, but they only held my weight for a second before they were crushed. Images courtesy of Tony Rose at SAM 100.7
These types of buildings generally contain a lot of dust. The organic dust has a lot of surface area making the formation of “free radicals” very easy. Free radicals are molecules with extra electrons that are highly reactive. They make an excellent fuel. The air contains oxygen. And, the heat for ignition can be provided by any type of spark or open flame from static, faulty wiring, or unshielded machinery. Fuel, oxygen, and heat are the three sides of the fire triangle. All are necessary for combustion.
To simulate our own flour mill scenario, we used non-dairy creamer and candles. Here is a video by Kayla Dowdy on YouTube showing Tony Rose experimenting with fire. There are many more videos like this available online. Here are the Mythbusters doing the same thing on a much larger scale.
This experiment should only be done with capable adult supervision!
Here is an overview of the fire triangle from Smokey Bear. This site also has kid-friendly games and information about forest fires and how to prevent them. Understanding the fire triangle is a good place to start!
Last week I saw an article about a woman who had died at age thirty-one with eight children. The coroner’s report stated that she probably wouldn’t have died if she hadn’t been drinking more than two gallons of Coca Cola each day for several years before she died. But, people drink Coke and other soft drinks all of the time, how could this have killed her?
For answers, lets look at the ingredients of Coke. They include: carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, and caffeine.
High Fructose Corn Syrup is the source of calories in soft drinks. A 16.9 ounce bottle of Coke, marked as a single serving, has 200 calories. While it is scientifically unclear whether sugar is addicting, it is certain that people prefer the taste of sweet things even before they are born. People will tend to consume sweet things regardless of their nutritional value. Also, 200 calories is a very large portion of the recommended calories for a day and more than the recommended amount of “added sugar” calories for one day. The calories in soft drinks aren’t bad on their own, but they do add up fast and they do not come with the positive nutritional benefits that calories from other sources do. Follow this link to WebMD for more information about sugar.
Caffeine can have some benefits. It increases alertness, concentration, sociability, and may even slow cognitive decline. Like many stimulants, caffeine is addictive. Trying to stop a regular caffeine habit can result in withdrawal symptoms like headache, fatigue, irritability, depression, and poor concentration. These withdrawal symptoms can last up to nine days. Consumption of caffeine can lead to insomnia, increased loss of calcium and magnesium, and an elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Here is a link to caffeine myths and facts on WebMD.
Low levels of magnesium leads to nausea, vomiting, fatigue, abnormal heart rhythms, and low calcium. This is associated with low levels of potassium, which leads to heart arrhythmia, constipation, fatigue, and kidney damage.
Phosphoric acid, like other acids, will make the calcium phosphate in your bones and teeth dissolve. In the image above, the calcium phosphate has been dissolved out of the chicken bone leaving the flexible proteins behind.
And, here is what a chicken bone looks like after it is soaked in Coke for four days. The caramel color has stained it a dark brown.
The article mentions that Natasha Harris, the woman who died, suffered from rotting teeth, racing heart, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, shortness of breath, and potassium deficiency. The specific cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia. She also exhibited severe withdrawal symptoms whenever she did not drink Coke. Given this information, it is easy to see why the coroner would point to her excessive consumption of Coke as a significant factor in her death.
Obviously, people drink soft drinks every day without serious health problems, but it is a good idea to understand how the ingredients in your food can affect you.
Time for your own scientific research….
How many calories and milligrams of caffeine are in your beverages? How much do you consume in a day? What other ingredients are included?
What taste do you prefer? Survey your family and friends. Consider conducting a blind taste test.
Hard boil three eggs, but do not peel them. Place one egg in water as control, place the second egg in a soft drink, and place the third egg in vinegar (acetic acid, which is stronger than the phosphoric acid in soft drinks). Place the three eggs in their containers in the refrigerator for one week. What happened to the eggs? Compare them. Follow this link to the Exploratorium for more. What happens if you do the same experiment with chicken bones?
Near Earth Objects have been in the news a lot lately. 2012DA14 is highly interesting, but it was expected. The meteor that appeared near Chelyabinsk, Russia, was a surprise. The unrelated, but highly coincidental, appearance of these two objects on the same day has rightly sparked interest in objects like this, more generally.
Most of these relatively small objects that are part of our solar system formed at the same time as the planets and date from around 4.6 billion years ago.
-Comets formed in the colder far edge of our solar system and are made up of ice and rock with some carbon molecules. Comets that have an orbit that brings them near the sun form a long tail as they warm. Their ice sublimates and the dust that is released can form a tail that is millions of miles long. Comets are regarded as a potential source of hydrogen and oxygen for future space missions. These elements would provide water or even rocket fuel.
-Asteroids were formed, and are mostly found, in a region between Mars and Jupiter and are more like the planets near the sun. They are made of rock and metals, mostly iron and nickel. Asteroids range widely in size and there is a gray area regarding how large an asteroid would have to be in order to be classified as a minor planet. Asteroids are regarded as potential sources of metals.
-Meteoroids are very small dust particles that can be produced by dust released from comets or by asteroid collisions.
-A meteor is the name for one of these objects as it falls through our atmosphere.
-A meteorite is the part of a meteor that reaches the surface of the Earth.
The young solar system was more crowded with space objects and the Earth was bombarded much more until about 3.8 billion years ago. By then, our orbit was largely “cleared out,” however, there are still comets and asteroids that are affected by collisions or gravitational fields and take new paths. Scientists generally estimate that an impact large enough to create a major local disaster (like the one in Tunguska in 1908) could be expected about once every 100-300 years and an impact large enough to create a global disaster (like the one the dinosaurs experienced 65 million years ago) could be expected every few hundred thousand years.
But, objects from space fall to Earth all of the time. About one hundred tons of space objects fall to Earth every day mostly as dust. Some of these are micrometeorites and you can collect them using a strong magnet. They can be found at the bottom of downspouts, on beaches, and in other areas where they are not trapped in vegetation. You can compare your collected objects to this list of meteorite characteristics and to these pictures of “meteorwrongs.” A strong magnifying glass, loupe, or microscope will be necessary, since these are very small. I was able to collect several from below our downspout using the rare earth magnet I salvaged from a hard drive.
NASA has a very informative website about Near Earth Objects including how NASA is studying, cataloguing, and detecting them. Most of the information for this post came from that site.
Visit the interactive Impact Crater Viewer to see where large meteorites have impacted the Earth in the past. Here is a story about a meteorite that hit a car. And, here is a story about something that seemed to be a meteorite, but wasn’t.
We’ll get to see a spectacular comet this holiday season called ISON, follow the link for more information.
And, here is a kid-friendly, interactive quiz about comets, asteroids, and meteors.