Friday, July 31, 2015

This Blog's History: Sinking a Lemon

Raining outside?  Too hot to go outside?  Too cold?  Kids bored?  Then do some science!  I posted this a month back, but here's a neat little science experiment teaching the aspects of density that uses water and a lemon.  If you don't have a lemon, try an orange or a lime.  For full details, check out the original post.

Sinking a Lemon

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Northern Ireland - Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Here's another MUST see if you visit Northern Ireland in the future.  Two days ago I posted pictures of our visit to the Giant's Causeway.  When you visit the Giant's Causeway make sure you take time to visit the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, just a couple of miles down the road.  There's even a hiking path between the two if you are so inclined.

It's a bit of a hike from the parking lot to the bridge, but easily manageable and well worth it!  The bridge can be a bit scary, but my 4 and 8 year old handled it just fine.  It's safe to cross as there is a rope webbing around the plank boards.  You really have to try to fall to actually fall, so don't worry about falling.  On the other side of the bridge is a small island that is very cool!  Here are a few of our pictures.

The trip can be quite a drive depending on where you are staying in Ireland, but take the time to visit both this bridge and the Giant's Causeway in the same day.  It is WELL worth the drive!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


My wife, daughters, and I unwillingly participated in a science experiment regarding the tomatoes in our garden.  Each spring we plant 15 tomato plants.  They typically grow 3-4 feet and produce a ton of tomatoes.  Every August we find ourselves canning tomatoes and making salsa because the plants produce far too many tomatoes to eat before going bad.  Not this year.

We planted our plants in mid-May as normal, and they did okay at first, but stopped growing.  Now they are completely dead.  Why?  The ridiculous amounts of rain we've had this year.  Basically it has rained so much and never dried out that the roots rotted and the plants died.  Just as there is a thing as too much water for humans, there's also a thing as too much water for tomatoes.  Not much we could do about this.  We ended up with about 10 tomatoes...from 15 plants!!!  Not 10 tomatoes from each plant, but 10 tomatoes TOTAL!!!  This sucks big time because we love garden fresh tomatoes!  The tomatoes they sell at the grocery store are NOT the same.

I suppose we'll just have to buy tomatoes from the local farmer's market this year.  We participated in a science experiment and definitely learned something, although I'm not sure this is the type of knowledge I really wanted!  LOL!  As the saying goes in sports...there's always next year.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Northern Ireland - Giant's Causeway

I recently posted on visiting Ireland with my wife and kids.  The island is actually composed of two countries.  There's the Republic of Ireland and there's Northern Ireland.  Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and separate from the Republic of Ireland.  When visiting Ireland, we also traveled into Northern Ireland.  There's no border check when crossing.  The only difference is that road signs are in miles in Northern Ireland and kilometers in Ireland.  There's much to see in Northern Ireland and one of those must sees is the Giant's Causeway.

The scenery here is absolutely amazing, as you can tell from our pictures, below.

The Giant's Causeway is filled with thousands of hexagonal shaped rock structures you can walk across.  These are the result of ancient volcanic eruptions.  Awesome!!!  There are several hiking paths you can take, including one that takes you up the cliff and allows you to see down on the Giant's Causeway as well as far off into the distance.  We took this hiking path and the kids loved it!  I'd have to say this was one of my favorite sights on our trip to Ireland.  Loved it!  If you make it to Ireland, and you should definitely do so, make sure you visit the Giant's Causeway because it is AMAZING!!!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Does Your Blood Boil in Space?

I've previously discussed the possibility of freezing in space, so let's look at another common space based theme.  Does your blood boil in space?  The idea here comes from the boiling temperature of liquids.  Water on Earth boils at a temperature of 100 C.  Water on Mars, however, boils at a much lower temperature since the air pressure pushing on the water is much lower.  This makes it easier for individual water molecules to quickly escape the water (boiling).

Air pressure is extremely low in Earth's atmosphere so it makes sense liquids would boil very quickly, and this is true.  However, the blood in your body is part of a closed system with its own internal pressure, so the blood in your veins/arteries would NOT boil.  Liquid exposed to the air, however, would boil.  Saliva on your tongue will boil off as will any sweat on your body and liquid on your eyeballs.  This is not a good thing, but much different from the blood in your body boiling.

To conclude, it's never a good idea to remove your suit in space, but if you did, your blood would NOT boil.

Friday, July 24, 2015

This Blog's History: Crushing a Bottle with No Hands

Here's a cool science experiment you may have missed last month when I first posted it.  Crushing a two liter bottle is easy, but can you do it without hands or some other physical apparatus that requires the use of your hands?  No?  Science can!  Check out the original post for full details and procedure.

Crushing a Two Liter Bottle with No Hands

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Augie and the Green Knight

If you haven't heard of the book "Augie and the Green Knight" you definitely need to check it out.  This book is the result of a Kickstarter campaign started last summer by Zachary Weinersmith that I contributed to.  You can see the original Kickstarter campaign below:

Augie and the Green Knight: A Children's Adventure Book

As the title suggests, the story focuses on Augie, a young girl who goes on an adventure with a Green Knight.  The girl is very into science and there are several references to science topics and scientists.  The book is also filled with several phrases or references that your kids won't get but are funny to adults.

Basically it is a fantastic book for both kids and adults!  We read it to our kids before bed over several days and it was a great joy.  The Kickstarter campaign is over, but you can purchase the book at Amazon.

Augie and the Green Knight @ Amazon

Oh, and it's a great birthday and/or holiday gift idea!!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ireland - Driving on the Left Side of the Road

Last month my family and I visited Ireland for the first time.  We spent 8 days there and had a fantastic time!  We toured the northern and eastern parts of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  The one thing you have to get used to right away upon entering the country is driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car.  Having never driven on the left side of the road from the right side of the car before, this was a bit of a challenge.

Not our car...this is a stock Google image.

The basics of driving are the same, but the way your brain has been conditioned to think is very different.  For example, in the U.S. when I need to look to see what is behind me, I look to the upper right at my rear-view mirror and I have my view.  In Ireland, my brain is conditioned to look to the right, so that's what I kept doing, only to find myself staring out my window!!!  It took extra thought to look to my upper LEFT to see the rear view mirror.  

In addition, it took extra thought when turning left or right.  When turning left in the U.S., one crosses a lane of traffic.  In Ireland, when turning right you cross a lane of traffic.  It takes a moment of extra thought to make sure one is looking the right away for oncoming traffic.  

I will fully admit I was very nervous at first and took extra caution.  By the end of the trip I was much more comfortable, but still had to constantly think when turning to make sure I was doing it right!  

Despite the possible difficulties driving, I highly encourage all of you reading this to find time to visit Ireland.  It was simply amazing!!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Coloring Flowers

Here's a cool science experiment you can easily do at home.  You simply need flowers of some kind, water, and food coloring.  Grab a couple of glasses or jars and fill them with water.  Drop a couple of drops of food coloring in each jar (different color in each jar).  Then put in a flower or two and wait.  We did two jars (blue and green water) and grabbed a couple of peonies from the backyard.

By the next morning, the tips of the petals were colored!

Very cool!  You can test this out yourself and experiment with different types of flowers.  Lighter colored petals will work much better than darker colored petals.  Does a certain type of flower color more easily than another?  Find out!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Home Alone Science

As a kid I saw the movie Home Alone in the theater and have since seen it many, many times.  Home Alone is one of those movies I think most of us have seen several times.  It's a great family movie!  I was very excited to share this movie with my daughters the other week.  We checked it out from the library, made some popcorn, and cuddled on the couch as a family.

There's one scene, however, that has always bothered me.  It's the scene when Kevin (the kid left home alone) pulls out his sled and slides down the stairs and out the front door.  Kevin positions himself against the left railing, yet the door is farther to the left than the left railing.  By aligning with the left railing, Kevin can only go straight or right, and will thus slam into the house wall.  

To make it out the front door, Kevin most position the sled on the right side of the stairs and aim to the left.  This scene always bothered me, even as a kid.  I guess it's the geek in me coming out.  :-)

Friday, July 17, 2015

This Blog's History: Egg Drop Experiment

The most popular post of all time on this blog is the Egg Drop Experiment discussion I posted back in October 2012.  Since that time, a total of 10,677 people have viewed it!  Given its popularity, I'm bringing it back to you for This Friday in This Blog's History.  Check it out!

Egg Drop Experiment

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pluto Images!!!

NASA released several closest approach images of Pluto yesterday and they are AMAZING!!!

Above is an image of Pluto's surface showing a mountain range with peaks reaching 11,000 feet!!!  Very cool!!!

Above is a full image of Pluto.  Check out that large heart shaped, smooth area.  There's evidence on Pluto that the surface has been resurfaced within the last 100 million years, which isn't necessarily expected for a planet as small as Pluto.  It was expected to be geologically dead, but that may not be the case.  There's also a very large crater seen on the center-left of this image.  

Images were also taken of Pluto's large moon, Charon.  

Wow!  Simply wow!!!  Check out the large canyon structure cutting across the center of Charon.  It's estimated to be 4-6 miles deep.  That's 4 - 6 times DEEPER than the Grand Canyon on Earth.  Holy cow!!!  On top of that, Charon has a large dark spot on the top of this image.  What is that?  

To put it bluntly...AWESOME!!!  New Horizons was beyond successful and data will continue to be analyzed over the next couple of years.  New Horizons also took data on Pluto's atmosphere and initial data shows signs of methane.  Much more to come in the weeks, months, and years ahead, but these images are beyond AMAZING!!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Modem Blast from the Past

My daughters are missing out on an 'experience' I had has a high school and college student.  Listen to the sound clip below for that 'experience'.

The Experience

Yep, the classic sound of a dial-up modem connecting!  Anyone who lived through the 90s knows that sound and it was usually very frustrating as the modem would hang and not connect.  Then you'd try connecting again, and again, and again, until it finally connected!  My poor deprived daughters!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Number of Human Senses

How many senses do people have?  In elementary school we are told 5, but is that really true?  The five we are taught are touch, taste, hear, sight, and smell.  But are there others?  The answer is an overwhelming yes.

Although the five senses we all learned in school maybe the most common senses, there are many more.  Some studies suggest humans have at least 20 separate senses.  Other senses humans have that differ from touch, taste, hear, sight, and smell are sense of itch, sense of pressure, sense of temperature.  These are different than the simple sense of touch.

So the next time someone tells you that humans have only 5 senses, you can now tell them otherwise!

Number of Human Senses

Monday, July 13, 2015

Pluto - New Horizons - One Day!!!

If you haven't heard of the New Horizons Pluto mission then you must be living deep underground in a cave with no contact with the outside world!  If that's the case, you're not reading this, so I must assume you aware of New Horizons.  :-)  Tomorrow, July 14th, New Horizons reaches its closest approach to Pluto.  This is NOT a mission that will orbit Pluto.  New Horizons will fly by Pluto, taking data, and then zooming to farther distances in the Solar System.

The awesome thing about this mission is that we've NEVER had detailed surface maps of Pluto's surface.  NEVER!  Prior to this mission, the best image to date was taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, seen below.

Now that's cool, but doesn't tell us much.  Pluto is small and VERY far away, so even Hubble can't get detailed surface images.  

As New Horizons has approached Pluto, we've been teased with several images giving us a glimpse of the surface.  Here's one of the latest.  

Amazing!  Finally we see the surface!  The above image was taken 3 days out, so more details are still to come!  Pay close attention to the news tomorrow!

Friday, July 10, 2015

This Blog's History - Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy

I wrote a quick review of Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy book about a month ago.  If you haven't read it yet, please do.  It is fantastic!  A great gift for any middle school or high school student interested in science, especially if that interest is in physics or astronomy.  You can check my original review by going to the original post below.

Book Review - Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Astronomy Cast Podcast

If you're looking for a cool astronomy based podcast to listen to, then look no further than the Astronomy Cast podcast.  It's a weekly podcast hosted by Pamela Gray and Fraser Cain.  It's about an hour long each week and is packed full of astronomy related information.

Astronomy Cast Podcast

You'll definitely learn something listening to this podcast.  Astronomy is not a small field.  There are many different fields of astronomy looking at different astronomical aspects of the subject.  I have a Ph.D. in astrophysics and I usually learn a few things in each episode!

Astronomy Cast is a great podcast and if you aren't already listening, you should be!!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Planetary Rings

In yesterday's blog post I discussed the structure of the rings of Saturn and how they are not solid like a record or DVD.  Today I want to further focus on planetary rings.  Whenever someone mentions planetary rings, the first planet that pops into mind is Saturn because it's rings are very prominent and very easy to see, even through a small telescope.  All of the gas giants, however, have planetary rings, not just Saturn.  Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune also have rings, but they are much thinner, making them much more difficult to detect.  Below are images of these planets with rings, starting with Jupiter, followed by Uranus, and finally Neptune.

As you can see, they all have rings, although none are as impressive as Saturn's.  There's no real secret to rings.  Any planet can have rings as long as there is a supply of materials (asteroids, moons, etc.) to keep the rings visible.  Over time, particles collide and become smaller and smaller, making rings less prominent to the eye.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Saturn's Rings

If you've never had the chance to view Saturn through a telescope, please do so!  Find a telescope or a star gazing event, and if Saturn is up, make sure you get a chance to see it.  The first time I saw Saturn through a telescope, it looked like a fake image.  I had never seen rings on a planet before with my own eyes and they seemed so amazing as to appear fake.  They weren't fake, however, they were simply that awesome!

Saturn's rings are often confused as solid rotating structures.  They are not.  They are not solid like a record or DVD is solid.  They appear solid due to the sunlight striking them and reflecting back to the Earth, but in fact they are made up of tiny little dust and ice particles.  Most particles are microscopic but they can range as large as a few meters in size.  The large "boulders" in the rings are few and far between compared to the smaller particles.  Travel through the rings is not dangerous for spacecraft.  The Cassini spacecraft has traveled through the rings many times and was never in danger.  There's quite a bit of space between objects in the rings, but from a large distance, they appear solid.  

Monday, July 6, 2015

Closest Planet to Earth?

Which planet is closet to Earth?  Most kids and adults will know the order of the planets from the Sun, but which is closet to Earth?  Is it Venus or is it Mars?  According to a book my 4 year old checked out of the library on Mars, the closet planet to Earth is Mars.  Unfortunately this is not true.  In fact, the planet closest to Earth changes over the course of the year depending on where Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are at in their orbits around the Sun relative to each other.

Mercury is located 0.387 AU (astronomical units) from the Sun on average.  Venus's average distance is 0.722 AU, Earth's average distance is 1.0 AU, and Mars's average distance is 1.52 AU from the Sun.  Adding in the fact the orbits are not circles, but ellipses, complicates this further, but let's just assume the orbits are circles for an easier discussion.  If Earth and Mars are at closest approach, they are approximately 0.5 AU from each other.  Venus, however, gets closer, with a distance of approximately 0.3 AU at closest approach.  Therefore it is NOT correct to say Mars is the closest planet.  At times it could be, but not always.  If Mars is at closest approach and Venus is on the other side of the Sun, Mars is closer.  In this case, Earth would be about 1.7 AU from Venus.

Now let's toss in Mercury.  If Mars and Venus are both on the other side of the Sun, Mercury is the closest planet to Earth (assuming on our side of the Sun), at a distance of approximately 0.6 AU.  Thus it's not as simple as saying a specific planet is always the closest.  It depends on the locations relative to each other.  The closest planet could be Mercury, Venus, or Mars, although Jupiter can never be closer than the others.  

The book we checked out was a good one, but it was wrong on this one detail.  

Friday, July 3, 2015

This Blog's History: Using a Microwave to Measure the Speed of Light

If you missed the first time I posted this, you MUST read this post and do this experiment.  What is cooler than measuring the speed of light using a microwave?  NOTHING!!!  :-)

Measuring the Speed of Light with a Microwave

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bad Astronomy Movie #8 - The Core

For the last bad astronomy movie of my two week May Term Course I showed a really good one (er...bad one).  :-)  Movie #8 of the course was The Core!  I LOVE this movie.  Not because it's good but because the science is soooooooooooo bad that all one can do is laugh while watching it!!!

In the movie, Earth's core somehow stops.  That in itself is laughable.  Then humans must travel in a ship to the core and restart it with nukes.  LOL!  There is so much wrong in this movie.  Even basic stuff with how microwaves interact with our atmosphere was botched in this movie.  In my view, The Core ties with Armageddon as the worst movie ever, based on science accuracy.  I think most parodies get the science better than these movies do and they're trying to screw things up!!!

My students asked me why I punished them by watching this movie last.  I told them that a Bad Astronomy course must end with something extremely BAD!!!  LOL!  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sinking a Lemon

Here's another cool density experiment to try with your kids.  We actually tried this with an orange a year or so ago, but my daughters wanted to try this with a lemon.  The idea is to take a lemon and determine whether it sinks or floats in water.  I started out by asking my daughters what they thought would happen and why and then we tested it.

The lemon is less dense than water and floats in the water.  We next peeled off the rind.  I asked my daughters if they thought the rind would float.  Then we tested it and sure enough, the rind floats.  The next question is whether the meat of the lemon floats.  If the lemon itself floated and the rind floats, the expectation is that the meat will sink, given it is more dense than water.  We showed this to be true with an orange.  However, when we dropped in the lemon meat, it still floated!

This was NOT expected.  So what's going on here?  This is where science is amazing.  Because this experiment didn't turn out as expected, it led us to ask other questions and do other tests on the lemon.  We then tore the lemon into individual wedges and tested the wedges.  Some of the wedges floated, while others, such as the one below, sank.  

Turns out, this was an old lemon, having been in our fridge for close to two months.  In that time, it appears that some wedges were filled with more air and less juice, resulting in a lower density than water.  Although some wedges sank, overall, the lemon was less dense than water (even without the rind) and floated.  Very cool!  Sometimes the best science occurs when things don't work out as expected!