Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bad Astronomy Movie #7 - Star Trek: Into Darkness

This is the 7th in a series of 8 posts on my Bad Astronomy May Term course in which we watched several science/astronomy based movies and discussed the bad science in them.  Star Trek:  Into Darkness is the 2nd installment of the "new" Star Trek movies.  I loved this movie, as I did the 1st installment in the "new" series.  The nice thing about Star Trek is they try to do the science right or at the very least explain areas of impossible science.  For example, accelerating from rest to warp 6, will place so many g forces on the body that you will easily die.  Star Trek explains this away due to 'force absorbers' of some kind.  I'm okay with that!  They recognize the science is bad and no current technology can explain it, so they make up a new technology.  That's fine in my eyes.

There are a few areas of bad science in this movie.  For starters, there are several action scenes combining different events.  All are unlikely, but strung together are all but impossible.  There are a few scenes that mess up relative velocities and ignore air resistance.  Given the nature of the movie, I can be okay with that.  There are explosions and sound in space, two things that can't happen.  

Despite these areas of bad science, this movie is fantastic.  Plus it has Benedict Cumberbatch!  Can't beat that!!!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Learning to Ride a Bike

My 8 year old recently finished 2nd grade and is about to start third grade, but until very recently did not know how to ride a bike.  It's not without trying.  My wife and I have tried for 2+ years to help her learn how to ride a bike.  My 8 year old, however, was having nothing to do with it.  She'd scream bloody murder and fight getting on the bike and simply refuse to try.  There's not much as parents we could do so we didn't push it.  

This changed a few weeks ago.  We had a nice day and were just hanging out at home.  My wife and I decided this would be the perfect day to try the bike riding instructions again.  My 8 year old was very hesitant and we could see she was very nervous.  She put on her helmet and got on her bike.  Within 5 minutes she was riding her bike by herself and having a blast!!!  She had a huge smile on her face and was super excited that she learned how to ride a bike.  In fact, she didn't want to come in for dinner!  

I wish we could have gotten her to realize all of this earlier, but that's parenting!  We've learned that when she's ready to do something, she'll do it.  It was a very proud moment for my wife and I.  Riding a bike is sort of a rite of passage.  To top things off, our 4 year old asked to remove her training wheels and try too.  She wasn't as successful, but had fun learning too!  I doubt it will take her another 3-4 years to ride a bike without training wheels.  

Friday, June 26, 2015

This Blog's History: Bad Astronomy Movie - Armageddon

I think it's safe to assume that we all watch movies now and then.  Many of those movies have science in them and often the science is exaggerated or completely wrong.  Armageddon is one of those movies that contains almost no real science.  I originally wrote about this movie a few weeks ago and for this Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to it.

Bad Astronomy Movie #1 - Armageddon

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Defying Gravity

We all know how gravity works at a basic level.  If I fill a glass of water and tip the glass over, the water falls out and spills all over.  However, there is a way to prevent the water from spilling without adding a sealed lid to the cup.  Fill a glass of water, take a note card that is wider than the opening of the cup and place it over the cup.  Now slowly tip the cup upside down.  Guess what?  The water doesn't spill out!

How does this work?  Did we magically defy gravity?  That would be cool, but no, we didn't defy gravity.  There is still a gravitational force acting on the water to pull it down.  However, the force from air pressure pushing back up on the note card is greater than the gravitational force downward.  Thus the water stays in the cup!  Super cool!  Try it out yourself.  Your kids will be amazed.  Try different types of paper.  Does notebook paper work?  Why or why not?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

101 Science Experiments

School just ended for my daughters, meaning that we have a lot of free time to do science!  Before school ended, there was a book fair at my 8 year old's school and she picked out the following book.

The book has a number of great ideas for simple science experiments kids will love.  We'll be doing a few from this book starting this week!  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Imitation Game - Movie Review

My wife and I recently watched The Imitation Game and I loved it!  The movie is based on the true story of Alan Turing's work during World War II to decode German messages.

It was interesting to see the science behind code cracking and the work that went into it, as well as the emotional issues presented as a result of cracking the Germans' code.  This movie was definitely an eye opener, not only for the science related to the war, but also the social issues regarding Turing's homosexuality.  It's amazing how far society has come since the 1940s and 1950s, but also how far we still need to go to reach true equality.  

The Imitation Game is a fantastic movie and I highly encourage you to check it out!  You won't be disappointed!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Bedroom Science Center

While cleaning out the bedroom the other day, my 8 year old tells my wife, "I need a science center in my bedroom!"  LOL!  Yes, I agree!  I just don't know what that consists of.  I picture an ant farm, shelves of science books, a chemistry set, Einstein posters on the wall, and a sign such as the one below on the outside of the bedroom door.

I'll let you know how it goes if it ever happens!  At the very least, I figure we can get a sign for the door!

Friday, June 19, 2015

This Blog's History: The South Star

For this Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you my original post discussing the South Star.  We're all familiar with the North Star, but is there a South Star?  Find out by reading the original post, linked below.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gravity in Space

There's a misconception that there's no gravity in space.  It makes sense this is the case since we think of gravity as being associated with the Earth.  We also see movies (both real and fake) of astronauts in space floating in their craft.  So what's going on?

Gravity is the attractive force that any object with mass exerts on every other object with mass.  You and I exert a gravitational force on each other because we each have mass.  That force is extremely small because our masses are small.  The Earth, on the other hand, has a large mass and has a large gravitational force pulling objects to it.  The farther you get from Earth (or any object with mass) the weaker that force becomes.  That force, however, extends to an infinite distance, so it never reaches zero.  There are always gravitational forces acting on you and the gravity of Earth acting on you is never zero.

On the surface of Earth, the acceleration of gravity is approximately 9.81 m/s^2.  The International Space Station (ISS) is in space about 400 km above the surface of the Earth.  However, the acceleration of gravity is not zero.  Running through the calculations, the acceleration of gravity acting on the astronauts is about 8.6 m/s^2.  It's smaller but not significantly smaller.  That's more than enough gravity to prevent someone from floating.

A person floats in space because they are orbiting the Earth.  As a curved object, the person falls toward the Earth at the same rate that the Earth curves away from them.  Think of throwing a baseball.  Imagine throwing the baseball harder and harder.  It travels farther and farther before striking the ground.  Imagine throwing the baseball harder and harder such that the rate at which is falls to the ground is the same as the rate at which the Earth curves downward.  Ignoring friction, the baseball is now in orbit around the Earth!  The same thing takes place in the space station.  The gravity is not zero.  In fact, it's far from it.  Earth curves out from under the astronauts as it pulls them downward.  Thus it appears there is no gravity in space. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Science Experiment Drawing

The other week my 4 year old was very serious about doing one of her own science experiments.  This experiment was a simple setup of a bottle of water and placing a small bath toy in the bottle and watching it float.  Nothing complicated, but at 4 years old, it's cool seeing her design her own experiments.  A couple of days later, she drew this:

She drew out the procedure of her experiment!  And she did a better job than I'd most likely do!  In addition, she got really mad when a week later I dumped out the bottle and washed it.  She claimed it was her science experiment, and I thought she was done.  Apparently not!  We had to refill the bottle and put the toy back in.  So there's a water bottle with a bath toy in it sitting on the kitchen counter for who knows how long!!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Crushing a Two Liter Bottle With No Hands

My daughters recently dug through their book of 101 science experiments and bookmarked several they wanted to do.  Here's the first one they picked out.  The goal is to crush a two liter bottle without using hands or tongs of any kind.

To do so, start with an empty two liter bottle and pour a cup or so of hot water in it.  Seal the bottle and lay it down in a pan/bowl.

Next pour ice water in the pan.  

Let the bottle cool for a bit and then stand it up, taking a close look at the sides of the bottle.

See how the sides have started to crush in?  What's going on here?  When warm water is poured inside, it warms the air and the air expands.  Once sealed, no air can enter or escape.  When the bottle is placed in cold ice water, the temperature of the air inside decreases and the pressure of the air decreases.  At this point, the air pressure outside the bottle is greater than the air pressure inside the bottle.  Thus the sides cave in!  And that's how you crush a two liter bottle without using your hands!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Why is October the 10th Month of the Year?

The other day my second grader comes home from school and asks:

"Why is October the 10th month of the year when 'Octo' means eight?"

Hmmm...good question.  I had a response that I thought was right, but it turns out I was wrong, proving that we all need to double check when we're not quite sure.

My initial response was that October is named after the Roman emperor Octavius.  I probably picked this up as a misconception somewhere that has some reasonableness behind it.  July is named after Juilus Caesar and August is named after Augustus.  I took a Roman history course in college and remember discussing Octavius, but obviously don't remember the details.  Octavius IS Augustus.  Augustus was born Gaius Octavius.

If October is named after Octavius, where does the name come from?  It comes from 'Octo' meaning eight.  The original Roman year had 10 months, starting with March.  In this calendar, October was the eighth month of the year.  When January and February were added, October became the tenth month of the year, but retained the name October.

I may have my Ph.D. in astrophysics, but my second grader (and pre-schooler) teach me new things every day!!!

Friday, June 12, 2015

This Blog's History: Do You Instantly Freeze in Space?

For This Friday in This Blog's History I bring you back a misconception I discussed over a month ago.  Do you instantly freeze in space if you remove your helmet?  You will die, that is guaranteed, but do you die from freezing?  Check out the original post for the answer.

Do You Instantly Freeze in Space?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Do Black Holes Suck in Material?

A very common misconception in astronomy is that of black holes sucking in material.  Before debunking this misconception, let me explain the basics of black holes.  A black hole is an infinitesimally small object with a large amount of mass packed into that space.  Since the force of gravity is so large, nothing, not even light can escape, hence the term black hole.  You can theoretically get as close to the black hole as the event horizon.  The event horizon is a distance from the black hole that is equal to 3 times the black hole's mass in solar masses.  Thus if a black hole has a mass of 5 suns, the event horizon is about 15 km.

Artist's conception of a black hole.

Now back to the misconception.  Black holes do NOT suck in material like a vacuum cleaner.  If the Sun were replaced by a black hole of exactly the same mass, the Earth would not care.  Earth would continue moving around the center of mass (now the black hole) once every 365 years.  Objects can, however, fall into a black hole due to orbital decline from frictional forces.  Stuff does fall into black holes, but the black hole doesn't suck in or pull in the material.  A black hole is an object with mass and in terms of gravity, acts just like any other object with mass.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Rainbow Density Experiment

Here's a cool density related science experiment you can do with your kids.  Take four glass and pour 3 tablespoons (45 mL) of water into each glass.  Put a couple of drops of red food coloring in one glass, yellow in another, green in another, and blue in the final glass.  Now add 1 tablespoon of sugar to one of the glasses and stir.  Add 2 tablespoons of sugar to a different glass, 3 tablespoons to a third glass, and 4 tablespoons of sugar to the final glass.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Now here's the tricky part.  Slowly pour the glass with 3 tablespoons of sugar into the glass with 4 tablespoons of sugar.  Pour very slowly to avoid mixing the liquids.  Now slowly add the 2 tablespoon mixture and finally add the 1 tablespoon mixture.  If poured very slowly, the colors will remain separated because each layer has a different density.  The more sugar added to the water, the greater the liquid density.  The more dense liquid remains on the bottom with the less dense liquid at top.

Above is our first attempt, which didn't work so great as I tipped the glass too much and it mixed.  There is, however, a layer differentiation near the bottom with the yellow, green, and blue.  We tried it again (sorry, no picture) and it worked much better.  Try experimenting with more or less sugar.  What about salt?  Does it work as well as sugar?  Test it out!!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bill Nye the Science Guy

OMG!!! OMG!!! OMG!!!  Bill Nye the Science Guy is now streaming on Netflix!!!  OMG!!!  Okay, I freely admit that I have NEVER seen an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy.  I follow Bill Nye today as he's a huge advocate for science and is doing wonders to push science today.  Bill Nye has always been a huge advocate for science and had a TV show titled "Bill Nye the Science Guy".

The show first aired in 1993.  Exactly one hundred episodes were produced over 5 seasons before the show ended.  All 31 episodes in the first season are now available for streaming on Netflix.  I can't wait to sit down with my kids this summer and check out the first episode!  I can't convey to you enough how excited I am to finally see an episode!  I hope my kids are as excited as I am, although they probably think I'm a bit weird right now.  LOL!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Bad Astronomy Movie #6 - 2012

We are now about halfway through 2015, so all of those ridiculous 2012 doomsday scenarios proposed by conspiracy theorists were proven wrong over two years ago.  That didn't, however, stop a movie from being made about death and destruction on Earth taking place on December 21, 2012.  2012 is a blockbuster Hollywood movie starring John Cusack.


I've seen this movie several times and find it enjoyable to watch, but boy is there a ton of bad science!!!  I won't give too much away, but there's a car driving scene as the ground is crumbling all over and huge sections of land are dropping into deep pits.  In addition, buildings are falling, cars and trucks are flying everywhere, yet the car makes it all the way through the city to the airport.  This wasn't a fast race car either.  This was a limo!!!  ROFL!  Students and I loved the ridiculousness of those scenes.  Later a large RV is careening down a mountain, avoiding flaming rocks crashing down left and right.  Another LOL moment!  

Let's see, what else.  There's a huge tsunami reaching 1500 meters in height, as stated in the movie, however, the water from this tsunami reaches a height of 29,000 feet, nearing the height of Mount Everest.  Uh...1500 meters is only 4900 feet.  How did this water 'climb' another 24,000 feet?  

There are several ridiculous, impossible airplane scenes, not to mention the whole premise of the movie being based on fake science.  A planetary alignment causes solar neutrinos to change somehow such that they heat the interior of the Earth?  Uh...sure.  LOL!  

Again, it's an enjoyable movie based on the pure ridiculousness of it, but every minute contains some bad science.  If you haven't watched it, please do, but just understand that most of it is fake science.  

Friday, June 5, 2015

This Blog's History: Gravity Needed to Dunk a Basketball

For this Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you the calculations I made if I wanted to dunk a basketball on Earth.  The results are not pretty and show that I have little vertical leaping ability!!!  For the math, check out the original post.

Gravity Needed to Dunk a Basketball

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Banana Boat

This really isn't a science experiment, but at a recent camp while on Spring Break, my daughter made a banana car!

Very cool!  The car, however, has a very short shelf life.  There's no need for ants and fruit flies in the house, so we had to toss the car out after a couple of days.  Still, kind of cool.  Something to do on a rainy or super hot day!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bad Astronomy Movie #5 - Interstellar

The 5th movie watched in my 2 week Bad Astronomy May Term course was Interstellar.  I had high hopes for this film.  I figured there'd be some bad science, but I expected it to be a good film, at least from what I'd heard.  Boy was I wrong!

As expected, there was some bad science, although not nearly as bad as the bad science in Armageddon.  There was a complete lack of discussion in the movie regarding oxygen supplies.  Only once, near the very end of the movie, was lack of oxygen ever mentioned.  There was another scene in which the space craft launched from a planet (similar to Earth) into orbit without a 3 stage rocket.  A 3 stage rocket was required to launch the same craft out of Earth.  There was mention of different gravity on different planets, and although close to Earth, walking ability suffered no effects.  Somehow huge tsunamis developed in water that was only about a foot deep.  

None of this bothered me as much as the storyline.  I was okay with it up until the last hour (3 hour movie).  Then it seemed as if the producers slapped together a bunch of different pieces to keep the movie under 3 hours.  In my opinion they tried to squeeze way too much into that last hour and the movie greatly suffered as a result.

So that's my review of Interstellar.  Some bad science, but far from Armageddon style bad science.  Forgetting the bad science, I still found this to be a horrible movie.  Three hours of my time I'll never get back.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bad Astronomy Movie #4 - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Movie #4 in my Bad Astronomy May Term class was Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  The book by Douglas Adams is fantastic, but the movie left much to be desired.  I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out and found myself nodding off at times during the second go around.

The movie is not meant to be scientifically accurate, although there are areas where bad science is present.  Consider the flower pot falling through the air.  No petals fly off!  Given the large air resistance forces present, it's inconceivable no petals would fly off.  The quick accelerations of various spacecraft would kill someone in real life.  So there's a bit of bad science.

There are funny parts in the movie and it is not even close to the worst movie I've ever seen, but I doubt I'll be watching this one again anytime soon.

Monday, June 1, 2015

3rd Anniversary!

This past Saturday, May 30, on a day I don't post on this blog, this blog celebrated a very important milestone.  May 30, 2015 marked the 3rd anniversary of this blog.  I started this blog back on May 30, 2012 as a way to share science activities with others as well as a way of debunking science misconceptions for the benefit of others.  I started out posting on random days, but soon shifted to a regular daily M-F posting schedule with no posts on the weekend.

This blog started with just a few hundred monthly visitors the first few months and recently passed 7,000 monthly visitors!  Woohoo!!!

I've always told myself I would continue this blog as long as I was having fun and had something to share with the audience.  At the current time I'm still having a blast and feel that I still have knowledge to share to others.  I see no end in sight for this blog and look forward to celebrating the 4th anniversary next year!