Friday, November 29, 2013

This Blog's History: Hubble Space Telescope Misconception - Hubble vs. the JWST

Last week in This Blog's History I revisited a post on the misconceptions regarding the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

This week I revisit another misconception regarding the HST.  The HST is currently on its last legs.  There will be no more service missions, so once current equipment and gyroscopes malfunction, the HST will be dead.  There's another big space based telescope coming soon.  The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is scheduled to launch in 2018.  The media often describes the JWST as the replacement to the HST, but that is a big misconception.  The two telescopes observe a different type of light:  visible for the HST, infrared for the JWST.  Thus the type of images they take will be very different.  The JWST isn't replacing the HST.  It's simply a new, different telescope that is schedule to launch near the time of the HST's death.  For more details read the original post at the link below.

Hubble Misconception: JWST

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

There are so many things to be thankful for this year that I can't name them all, so I'll mention just a couple relevant to this blog.

1.  I'm thankful for daughters who love playing with their Mommy and Daddy.
2.  I'm thankful for daughters who enjoy science with their Mommy and Daddy.
3.  I'm thankful for daughters who ask about science experiments when too much time goes by between.
4.  I'm thankful for what science delivers to society.
5.  I'm thankful that, although more work needs to be done on gender equality in science, more opportunities continue to open up every year for women in science.

Have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy the time with your family!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How Much Do Your Feet Sweat?

We've all had sweaty feet, especially when working out.  We take off our shoes and pull off our damp/wet socks and toss them in the hamper.  But how much do our feet really sweat?  My wife and I were recently watching an episode of Bones when Hodges says that the human feet sweat, on average, one up a day.  ONE CUP A DAY!!!  It struck me as impossible.  Think about this for a second and look at a picture of a full cup of water.

The water shown in this is just over 4 ounces.  That's 1/2 of a cup.  You need to double this to get a full cup of sweat!  WOW!  At first I simply couldn't believe that our feet sweat this much in a single day so I decided to do some research.  No, I didn't wring the sweat out of my socks to get a direct measurement, although now that I think about it, this would be an interesting experiment.  LOL!  No, I went to the web for my research. Sure enough, everywhere I looked reported a number of approximately 1 cup a day.  Over the course of the year that equates to 100 Liters of sweat!  That's 50 2-liter bottles of pop filled with sweat in a single year.  Amazing!

I'll never look at my feet in the same way again!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Toothpick Bridge Time

I first wrote about toothpick bridges last November and recently repeated the activity with my high school students last week.  The goal of the Toothpick Bridge Project is to build a bridge made out of toothpicks and glue (wood).  The bridge is intended to be designed to hold as much weight as possible.  The only restrictions students and were:

1.  The bridge must cover a gap of at least 25 cm.
2.  The bridge must have a mass that does NOT exceed 50 grams.

Below are some high school student bridges from this year.

A 5 gallon bucket is hung from the bridge and slowly filled with sand.  In the past I've used water, which always makes a mess.  This year a student asked why I don't use sand as weight.  I thought about it for a second and thought to myself "why don't I use sand?!?!"  I even had a bucket of sand at home!  I brought it in and we slowly filled the bucket with sand until the bridge broke (had to use a few solid weights for the stronger bridges).  Not nearly the mess as I had with water.

Prior to this year, the record for most weight held was 73 pounds.  Bridges this year ranged from 3 - 89 pounds.  89 pounds!!!  Wow!  That's amazing!!!  And several bridges held between 60 - 80 pounds.  I was very impressed this year.

I haven't done this project with my daughters yet, simply because handling toothpicks and glue requires patience and skill they don't yet have.  When they are a few years older we'll do this project at home and see if we can top 89 pounds!

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Daughter's Canker Sore

My 6 year old has her first canker sore.  It's a rude welcome for her and something she picked up from me.  I get canker sores quite often and have learned to deal with them.  The ones I get are pretty big and the one she has on the inside of her lower lip is a pretty big one too.  I'd take a picture and show you, but it's kind of disgusting so I'll be nice and leave the picture out.  :-)

My wife and I had a talk with our 6 year old this morning and gave her some tips on how to deal with the pain.  It's usually only painful when eating or rubbing the inside of your lip against your teeth.  I gave her some tips on certain foods (acidic foods such as some fruits, ranch dressing really bothered her yesterday, etc.) to avoid that can irritate the sore and cause pain and also that chewing on the other side of her mouth can help.

Unfortunately there isn't much you can do about a canker sore except to let it run its course.  Within a few days the sore will diminish in size and then disappear.  The best I could really tell my little one was to be patient and in a few days it will be better.  That didn't comfort her too much and I had to deal with her pouty face, but that's the life of a parent!

For more on canker sores, read the following entry on Web MD.

Web MD - Canker Sores

Friday, November 22, 2013

This Blog's History: Hubble Space Telescope Misconceptions

What makes the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) special and distinct from ground telescopes?  There are many misconceptions regarding this that I first cleared up on October 12, 2012.  Here are the two misconceptions I discussed in that post.

1.  The HST takes better images because it is closer to the stars.

Well, technically it is closer, but stars are many light years away.  Being a few miles closer to the stars out of a total distance of light years is almost no change in distance at all.  HST quality images have nothing to do with distance.

2.  The HST is the largest telescope.

Nope, not even close.  The largest visible telescopes on Earth are around 8 meters in size.  The HST is only 2.4 meters in size.  If the HST was larger, it would be an even bigger telescope.

So what makes the HST special?  Full details are discussed in the original post.

Hubble Space Telescope Misconception #1

The issue at play here is Earth's atmosphere.  Earth's atmosphere produces turbulence (movement of air) that affects the quality of images.  By getting above Earth's atmosphere, the HST doesn't have to worry about air turbulence and thus it produces much better images.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pumpkin Mold

The scariest part of a jack-o-lantern isn't the scary face you carve into it or the spooky candle glowing in the dark.  It's the mold that covers the inside of the pumpkin a few weeks later!  We carved our pumpkins the second or third week of October and recently removed them from the deck.  Here's what they looked like after a month carved and sitting outside.

Mold grows best in warm, wet conditions.  It had rained during the 4 weeks the pumpkins were out, providing the moisture.  The temperature also reached into the upper 60s several days which provided the warmth.  Thus the mold.  This happens every year, but the mold has pretty much covered these pumpkins.  Yuck.  They went straight to the compost pile!  These pictures are a great lesson in why carved pumpkins go outside.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Peanut Butter Bird Seed Feeder

Here's a cool fall task to do with your kids.  I must give credit to my better half, the Cool Science Mom, for this one.  She's the one who found activity, collected the materials, and actually put it together with our kids.  All I did was take the picture and write about it!

The activity is very simple.  Take an empty toilet roll holder, spread peanut butter on it, coat the peanut butter with birdseed, and use some string to make a hook.  Hang it from a tree and you have a quick and dirty bird feeder!

Since we don't have a lot trees around our house, we don't see too many birds, but we do get a few bird's nests in the bushes.  We took a look at the bird feeder a week later and some of the bird seed is missing.  Now whether that's due to birds eating the birdseed or the birdseed falling off, I don't know.  But it's still a fun activity to do with your kids and it's neat seeing them eager to check the feeder to see if any seed is missing.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Egg Drop Experiment Time

I've posted about this before (see here and here), but just did this egg drop experiment again with a group of 3rd-5th graders.  The basic idea of an egg drop experiment is to build a ship/container out of very specific materials that is designed to protect a raw egg when dropped.  These students had the following materials:

15 tongue depressors (wide popsicle sticks)
15 narrow popsicle sticks
1 plastic grocery bag
5 paper clips
5 straws
15 cotton balls
5 rubber bands
3 pipe cleaners
2 feet of yarn

With those materials and only those materials, students had to build a ship.  Ships built by these 3rd-5th graders are shown below.

They did a great job with several eggs surviving a fourth floor fall to the ground!  The egg drop experiment is something you can do with your kids when they're bored on the weekend.  You can use the same materials I chose, or mix and match with different materials.  My 6 year old is close to being old enough that she can build the ship without  much parental guidance.  I'm looking forward to doing this with her (and my 3 year old) in the relatively near future.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Making an Apple Pie

I have to give the Cool Science Mom credit for this one since all I did was watch from the kitchen table and write up this post.  :-)  We recently read Amelia Bedelia's First Apple Pie book to our kids.  At the end of the book is a recipe for making an apple pie.  Our kids wanted to make the apple pie, so they did, with my wife.  I took a few pictures of them in action, but basically I stayed out of the actual pie construction.

The kids had a lot of fun, especially when it came to peeling and coring the apples using a special apple peeler/corer.

This isn't our apple peeler, but looks very similar to ours.  The kids loved turning the handle themselves, and even my 3 year old was strong enough to do a complete apple peeling.  The apple peel stays intact as one very long strand which was kind of cool.

Then came the point where I learned something about making apple pies.  Once the filling was poured onto the pie crust and the top half of the pie crust was placed on top of the filling, my wife used a cookie cutter to cut out a small portion of the upper pie crust.  I asked her why she did this and learned that if you don't there's no way for the hot air to escape.  The pie crust will bubble up and potential make a mess in the oven.  Makes perfect sense.  Never thought about this before since I've never made an apple pie.

So there you go, a great activity for the kids, and the Cool Science Dad learned something too!!!

Friday, November 15, 2013

50,000 Page Views

We did it!  Yesterday morning this blog reach 50,000 unique page views!  It took 18 months, but the number of page views per month continues to steadily increase.  What started out with 200-400 page views the first couple of months is now 4500 - 5000 page views per month and growing!  Below is a plot of page views versus month.  There's a clear upward trend!

At the current monthly pace of 4,800 page views, this blog will reach 100,000 page views in September 2014.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Science Experiments

As you've noticed, I haven't had a chance to post much about science experiments I've done with my daughters lately.  We did many science experiments this past summer, but as fall arrived we became busy with school, homework, and after-school activities (primarily soccer games/practices with both kids).  As a result, this took time away from doing science experiments.  My 6 year old still asks on a frequent basis if we can do a science experiment.  This is when I usually check my list and find something science related to do.  Not to worry though, I still have a long list of different science activities to do with my daughters.  Until you see them posted on this blog, here's a list of several websites I use to gather ideas for experiments.

24 Kids’ Science Experiments That Adults Can Enjoy, Too

40 Cool Science Experiments on the Web

Science Kids

Science Fair Projects

Sports Science Projects

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Do a web search and you will find thousands of different science experiments/activities that you can do with your kids!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Does Intelligent Life Exist Outside of Earth?

Does intelligent life exist outside of Earth somewhere else in the Universe?  We've never been contacted by intelligent life (sorry conspiracy theorists who think otherwise) and we've never contacted intelligent life that we know of.  However, it's still very likely that intelligent life exists somewhere outside of our own Solar System.  The Kepler spacecraft has produced a wealth of data that is quickly increasing the numbers of known planets outside of our own Solar System.  As of November 1, 2013, the number of confirmed planets outside of our Solar System stands at 1,038 and that number continues to increase every week.  Although the Kepler spacecraft is no longer in operation, there is a treasure trove of data that has yet to be analyzed.

A new report was just released by the NASA that says data/evidence shows there are at least 8.8 billion Earth-size planets in the habitable zone.

Milky Way Teeming with Earth-Like Planets

The term "habitable zone" is extremely exciting in this report.  These are planets that are the appropriate distance away from their star such that the temperature is right for liquid water to possibly exist.  This doesn't mean liquid water exists on the planet's surface, it just means that it is possible.  Where liquid water might exist, there is a chance that life, and possibly intelligent life, exists.  To me this is beyond exciting!  I'm convinced that there are many intelligent life populations that exist in our Galaxy, and many more that exist in the Universe.  The odds of intelligent life existing on any random planet are very low, but given there are 9 billion Earth-sized planets in habitable zones in our Galaxy alone (there are billions of galaxies in the Universe), there are certainly many planets with intelligent life in our Galaxy.  Will we ever make contact with them?  Who knows, but all signs point to them existing out there somewhere.

At some point your kids may ask you about life elsewhere in the Universe.  Share this, and other articles with them.  Who knows what we'll know in 10 years?!?!?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Are Meteors Hot After Hitting Earth?

If you watch movies and TV shows you come to the conclusion that meteors flying through Earth's atmosphere become very hot and once they hit (and become meteorites) they are smoking hot to the touch!  Unfortunately this is very far from the truth.  The asteroid that became the meteor that became the meteorite has been in space (very cold conditions) for millions, if not billions of years!  These are very cold objects, all the way down to the center!  Yes, they flare up and can look like fireballs in the sky and can leave a trail of "smoke" through our atmosphere, but this is only heating the surface of the rock.  The time spent flying through our atmosphere before striking the surface of Earth is VERY short.  The time is much too short to raise the temperature of the object.  The final result?  To the touch, meteorites are the exact opposite of smoking hot.  They are freezing cold!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hot Air Balloons

The other day my two daughters and I were sitting at the kitchen table.  I was reading a book with my back to the kitchen window and my daughters were coloring pictures, facing the window.  Suddenly they both got excited and started pointing and telling me to look at the window.  I turned around and saw this:

A hot air balloon!  I've never been in a hot air balloon, and neither have my daughters.  Part of me thinks it would be cool to ride in a hot air balloon, but then the part of me that is terrified of heights steps forward and slaps me!!!

Seeing this hot air balloon offered a great opportunity to explain to my daughters, especially my 6 year old, how hot air balloons work.  It basically boils down to density.  A burner is used to heat the air inside the balloon.  Hot air is less dense than cooler air, so the the balloon rises.  It's similar to mixing a glass of water with a glass of oil.  The two substances have different densities and separate with the lower density material rising.  

To keep the balloon from falling, you need to keep re-heating the air to keep it less dense than the surrounding air.  If you want to land, simply stop heating the inside air, it will cool and become more dense, thus causing the balloon to slowly sink.  

Physics in action!

Friday, November 8, 2013

This Blog's History: Why Does Water Condense on Windows and Glasses?

As a kid I always wondered why water droplets formed on windows and on drinking glasses.  I had no idea what condensation was when I was a kid, so I concluded that water in a glass "leaked" through the glass and caused the outside to become wet.  LOL!  I was wrong, but can you blame a little kid for coming to that conclusion?

It turns out that the answer is condensation.  I first discussed this on this blog on March 19, 2013.

Condensation Misconception

You can read the original post at the link above for full details.  Basically if the air surrounding the glass or window is warmer than the glass/window, energy will transfer from the air to the glass.  When this happens, the water vapor molecules lose energy.  If they lose enough energy their temperature drops enough to change phase from a gas to a liquid.  Thus water (liquid) droplets form on the glass.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bad at Math Myth

As a high school teacher of physics and astronomy I hear students say all the time "I'm bad at math."  I always tell them, no, you're not.  You're just choosing to be bad at math.  Turn your attitude around and you'll be good at math.

Here's an excellent article in The Atlantic that discusses the "I'm bad at math" myth.  It's an excellent read that I encourage you to check out.

Bad at Math Myth

Prepare yourself as a parent because there's a decent chance that one day your son/daughter will come home one day with a poor math score and say "I'm bad at math".  How you respond to them at that moment could change their life forever!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Conservation of Energy Physics Experiment

Here's a physics activity that I do in my high school physics classroom each year and it's something that you can do with your high school student at home, but potentially on a larger scale.  The goal is to roll a marble down a ramp, off a table, and into a bucket.  Sounds easy right?  The catch is that you don't get the marble until you've already positioned the bucket in the appropriate place!

Students use conservation of energy to determine the velocity of the marble at the end of the ramp.  They then use that velocity and the height of the table to determine how far away the bucket should be placed.  This is a good activity for your kid to prove his/her understanding of physics to you!  Plus you can expand on it.  Instead of a small ramp off a table, take the ramp to your roof!  Or build a taller ramp, or build a larger ramp and use a bowling ball instead of a marble.  The options are limitless.  Just be careful to not fall off the roof or drop a bowling ball on someone!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey

There's a new TV documentary coming up that looks to be very interesting.  It's an astronomy-related documentary titled Cosmos:  A Space-Time Odyssey and will be presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson.  The show is considered a follow-up to the famous Cosmos:  A Personal Voyage presented by Carl Sagan back in 1980.

From what I can find, this show will premier sometime in the second quarter of 2014 and will air on Fox and the National Geographic Channel.  We don't have satellite or cable TV in our house anymore, so hopefully episodes will be shown on Hulu or on one of the channels websites.  Fingers crossed on that because this looks to be a great documentary.  And Neil DeGrasse Tyson never disappoints!  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hybrid Eclipse - November 3, 2013

I failed to post about this last week, but figure I should say something now in case there's any confusion about yesterday's hybrid solar eclipse.  One of the reasons I didn't post about it was the location.  It was only visible in the United States near the east coast and since I don't live near the east coast, I didn't pay much attention to it.  However, there was something very interesting about this eclipse.  It wasn't a total eclipse, an annular eclipse, or a partial eclipse.  It was a hybrid eclipse.  So what's a hybrid eclipse?

First of all, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon moves directly between the Sun and the Earth and casts a shadow onto the Earth's surface.  See below.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon blocks the entire disk of the Sun.  A partial eclipse occurs when the Moon only blocks part of the disk of the Sun.  An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is a bit farther away from the Earth and doesn't quite block the entire disk of the Sun.  The Moon's apparent size is smaller than that of the Sun.  Below is an example of an annular eclipse.

What made Sunday's eclipse special is that it was a hybrid between an annular eclipse and a total eclipse.  For part of the eclipse's path across the Earth's surface it was an annular eclipse and for part of the path it was a total eclipse.  Hybrid eclipse's such as this are very rare.  Of the 12,000 solar eclipse (any type) over the last 5,000 years, only 4.8% were hybrids (as noted by Universe Today)!!!

If you had a chance to see it, congrats.  Unfortunately most people on Earth were not in the right place at the right time to see this one.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

This Blog's History: Why is the Sky Blue?

Why is the sky blue?  This is a common question that kids ask parents and it's a common question that parents don't have the correct answer to.  I first discussed this question on this blog on July 7, 2012.

It's a very common misconception that the sky is blue as a result of the blue oceans.  Since water covers 70% of the planet, it's assumed that since water appears blue, this causes the sky to appear blue.  Guess what?  That's NOT why the sky is blue!  The sky is blue as a result of the scattering of blue photons across our sky.  This explains why the sky appears blue all across the globe, even in a desert region that may be hundreds to thousands of miles away from a large body of water.  

For full details, read the original post last year.