Thursday, December 31, 2015

1,000th POST!!!

Today's post is the 1,000th post on this blog since its founding a few years ago!  Woohoo!!!  I should stop now, right?  :-)  No way!  I love writing this blog and sharing science and parenting with others.  I have no intention to stop now.  

This blog started in May 2012 and soon moved to a M-F publishing schedule.  Three and half years later I've written 1,000 posts and have about 4500 unique visitors per month.  Not too shabby!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Does the Moon Reflect a LOT of Light?

Let me start by saying that we don't see the Moon because the Moon produces its own light.  The Moon does not produce its own light.  We see the Moon as a result of sunlight striking the surface of the Moon and reflecting back to Earth for us to see.  A full Moon in the night sky can appear very bright, making it difficult to see the fainter stars in the sky.  Meteor showers during a full Moon are not nearly as impressive because the light reflected from the Moon's surface partially fills the night sky.

The bright full Moon in the sky makes it appears as if a large amount of light is reflected off of the Moon's surface.  This is not true.  In fact, the Moon's surface is not very reflective at all.  On average, only 7% of the Sun's light that strikes the surface of the Moon is reflected.  So why does the Moon appear so bright in the night sky?  There are a couple of reasons.  For starters, a large amount of sunlight strikes the surface of the Moon, so even 7% of that is still a considerable amount of light.  The larger reason, however, is that you are contrasting the full Moon against a dark sky.  It's that contrast that makes the Moon appear very bright.  Compare a full Moon that rises as the Sun is setting to a full Moon a couple of hours later.  The same amount of sunlight is reflecting off the Moon's surface, yet the full Moon when the Sun is just setting does not appear nearly as bright as the full Moon an hour later when it is dark outside.  This is due to the contrast of the Moon on a dark sky.

The Moon could appear MUCH brighter if there was a different surface composition.  If the Moon had a very icy surface like Pluto and other far away objects in our Solar System objects, the amount of sunlight reflecting off would be MUCH greater than 7%.  Europa, a moon of Jupiter's, and an object in our Solar System with a very icy surface, has a reflectivity of 64%.  Imagine if our Moon had that reflectivity!  Wow!!! 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Playing Scientist

The other day my wife had the kids and arrived home a few minutes before I did.  Both of my daughters were playing in yard when I pulled in and were excited to tell me what they were doing.  They were playing scientists!  They had picked up some acorns and other types of nuts that had fallen from the trees near where my wife works and were cracking them open.  They grabbed a hammer and carefully cracked open the nuts to see what they looked at inside.

It was very cool to see how excited they were.  They weren't pretending to be scientists.  They were actual scientists!  They were doing what scientists do every day which is investigate the world around them through observation.  This was a proud daddy moment for me!

Let me end by continuing to encourage everyone reading this to promote science and investigation in your kids' lives.  Buy them (or check out from the library for free) science experiment books.  For gifts get them a science related gift now and then.  Take them to science events or science museums near you.  Introduce science into their lives and they will take care of the rest!  It's that simple!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Did NASA Invent Tang?

Often times it is brought into question whether money devoted to NASA is worthwhile given other world problems.  People look at the amazing space missions, but then wonder how this affects their daily lives.  What is often not discussed is the ways in which NASA technology benefits us in other aspects of our lives.  This post is not about that.  This post is about one invention that NASA is often credited as having developed but did not.  I'm speaking of Tang.

I've never had Tang, so I can't tell you if it's good or not.  What I can say is that NASA did not invent Tang.  Tang was developed in 1957, a full year before NASA was founded in 1958. Why then is Tang associated with NASA?  Tang was used in several early manned space missions in the 1960s.  Maybe this is where Tang gets its claim to fame (assuming Tang ever had fame!).  It's cool that Tang was used by NASA astronauts, but this is a far cry from NASA inventing Tang.  

Now I'm curious what Tang tastes like.  Can you buy Tang on Amazon?  Yes, yes you can!

Friday, December 25, 2015

This Blog's History: The Martian

Today is Christmas and maybe you'll be lucky enough to get the book The Martian as a gift this year.  How awesome would that be!?!?!  It's Friday, meaning it's time for This Friday in This Blog's History.  Today I point you back to my movie review of The Martian.  If I haven't said it enough yet, let me say it again.  It is an AWESOME movie!!!  Go see it!  Now!!!

Movie Review - The Martian

Thursday, December 24, 2015

First Year Knowing Santa is not Real

I hope everyone reading this is having a happy holiday season.  For us this will be the first year my 8 year old knows the truth of Santa Claus (and the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Elf on the Shelf, etc.), having figured it out herself around Easter, earlier this year.  It's not a sad time by any means, just a different time.  Seeing her question things and thinking through the reality of the whole Santa Claus thing was a joy to see as a parent.  I certainly wasn't going to hide the truth from her when she asked and if I may offer advice, I advise you not to hide the truth either.  Answer your child's questions truthfully.  Be proud of your child for asking questions and thinking critically.

If you want the full story behind my daughter's realization Santa Claus isn't real, go to the link below.

The Truth of Santa Claus

Have a great holiday season and I'll leave you with this holiday goat.  :-)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Doctor Who Christmas Gifts!!!

The other day my wife, kids, and I opened our Christmas gifts to each other.  My 5 year old picked out this very neat fish key chain with eyes that bulge out when squeezed!

My wife and 8 year old picked out a couple of very cool Doctor Who items, including a bookmark and a little TARDIS ornament.

My wife also gave me a very cool tie clip!

Yes, that is a pi!!!  Love it!!!  Can't wait to wear it at work!!!  Yes, I'm a total geek/nerd!!!  My family gave me the PERFECT Christmas gifts this year!  They know me very well!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ant Farm Christmas Gift

My 5 year old doesn't know it yet, but she's getting an ant farm for Christmas!!!  After the success of our triops (okay, after a couple of failures), I thought it would be cool to get her an ant farm.  I know she'll love it!  Here's an image of one we purchased.

This is an Uncle Milton Ant Farm.  Ants are not included.  Those have to be ordered separately and we have not ordered them yet.  I'll wait until the holiday season is over and my 5 year old is back into a normal school routine.  Then we'll order the ants and get started.  I never had an ant farm as a kid, so I don't know what to expect.  I'm curious and I know both of my daughters will have fun watching the ants.  

This was just one of a few science related gifts we gave our daughters, in addition to several non-science gifts.  Science plays a big part in our household, but sometimes a break from science is needed.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mixing Soaps

Whenever the hand soap dispenser by the kitchen sink gets low my wife or I fill it up from a large container of soap below the sink in the cabinet.  On this occurrence, however, my wife emptied one large container and opened a new one, but the two soaps were not the same kind.  One was standard hand soap and the other was the foaming hand soap that's supposed to go in a different dispenser.  My wife didn't realize this at the time, until she noticed they didn't mix, as shown below.

What's going on here?  The two liquid soaps have different densities and do not mix.  The lower density soap sits at the top and the higher density soap sinks to the bottom.  Cool!  This is very similar to the standard oil and water experiments in which the oil and water clearly separate due to different densities.  The was another good opportunity to show off science to our daughters and offer an explanation.

The moral here is that science surrounds us.  You just have to look for it!

Friday, December 18, 2015

This Blog's History: Aging Glow in the Dark Slime

Science fun with making slime doesn't end with the making of the slime.  Observe how the slime changes over the days.  Why does it change in this way?  What's the cause?  This Friday in This Blog's History:  Aging Glow in the Dark Slime.

Aging Glow in the Dark Slime

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Eat Lunch at Your Child's School

Just before Thanksgiving break I had a couple of days off but my daughters were both still in school.  I took advantage and went to my 5 year old's lunch one day at school and my 8 year old's lunch at school the next day.  If you have the opportunity, I urge you to do it one day.

Why?  For starters, you child will love it!  Seeing my 5 year old's smile when she saw me waiting for her at lunch was priceless!  Second, you get to talk to your child at school and have her tell you how lunch works and what happens.  Third, you get to see the kid next to you covered in pudding.  Seriously, the kid sitting on my other side had pudding EVERYWHERE!  Apparently his pudding container exploded in his lunch bag and was all over, and as he was taking things out, he just continued to spread it on everything he touched.  LOL!

Most of all, though, it's a great bonding experience as your child gets to show off his/her mommy/daddy.  My 5 year old was so excited to tell everyone that I was her daddy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why is Some Snow Sticky?

It may seem obvious to adults and older kids, but a young child probably doesn't understand why snow sometimes packs easily to make a snowman (or snowball) and sometimes doesn't pack at all.

Snow is nothing more than a large collection of ice crystals.  To get ice crystals to stick (pack) together, the crystals need to melt.  On a day when the temperature outside is warmer and the sun is out, the snow on the ground will likely be melting somewhat.  This makes it easy to grab a handful of snow and pack it together in a snowball.  However, when it is colder out, the ice crystals are not melting and the snow doesn't stick together.  

There are ways to pack white fluffy snow that won't stick.  Grab a handful and try to squeeze it as tight as possible.  This creates greater pressure on the ice crystals, making it more likely they will stick.  You can also blow hot air on the snow to increase its temperature and cause some melting.  

Now head outside and make some snowballs!!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Movie Review - Goosebumps

The other week my wife and I took our kids to see Goosebumps at the theater.  The Goosebumps movie is based on the Goosebumps book series by R. L. Stine.  In fact, Stine makes an appearance in the movie!  As a kid I read several R. L. Stine books, although I don’t remember if any were officially in the Goosebumps series.  

My daughters are 8 and 5 and both enjoyed the movie as did my wife and I.  There are some scary parts in the movie, but our 5 year old handled them fine.  The scary parts are more along the lines of scary looking monsters and not truly scary in terms of a typical horror movie.  You always have the sense the main characters will be fine and aren't truly in danger. It kind of depends on your kid as to whether he/she is old enough to see this movie.  Our 5 year old was fine and our 8 year old loved it!  There were funny parts, serious parts, and parts that might be a tad scary, but overall we all enjoyed the movie.

As for the science, well, it's not meant to be scientifically accurate.  The Ferris wheel rolling around was the one unbelievable part I may have liked to have seen altered.  The wheel travels through too much of the forest to be able to get through without hitting a tree.  In addition, the amusement park in the forest was stated as never opening, yet has full electricity and everything works fine.  Not believable.  Given the nature of the movie, however, I'm just being very picky!  After all, monsters magically appear out of books, so I can't complain too much about science accuracy.  :-)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Tomorrowland - Movie Review

The other week after work my wife, kids, and I decided that it was a good night for a family dinner and movie.  We picked up pizza, stopped at the Redbox, and had a great evening.  The movie chosen for the night was Disney's Tomorrowland.  We all thought it was a good family movie and enjoyed it.

It gives an interesting view of what a future world might look like, but also serves as a frank reminder of our technological limitations.  For example, the boy in the movie builds a jet pack that has trouble staying stable.  Later, the boy, as an adult, has a stable jet pack.  One of the main principles behind a jet pack is Newton's Third Law.

For every action force there is an equal an opposite reaction force.

The jet pack has fuel and exhaust pipes.  Thrust out of the exhaust pipes pushes against the ground, and the ground pushes you up.  Once in the air, the thrust pushes against the air and the air pushes you forward.  Remaining stable on a jet pack is very difficult.  Due to the large forces involved, one tiny movement in the wrong direction and the jet pack sends you flying uncontrollably in the wrong direction, as shown in the movie, at least by the boy.

I'd love to have a jet pack to fly to work every day, but that's not a possibility and may never be.  Jet packs and hover boards, two things that the 1980s me was sure we'd have and be actively using by now!!!

Friday, December 11, 2015

This Blog's History: A Blue Moon

Every so often we hear about a blue moon in the media and there are always several misconceptions passed along.  To be clear, a blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month.  That's it.  It's not blue.  The next blue moon is a few (okay, many) months off, on January 31, 2018.  That's still 2+ years away, but it's never too early to take on misconceptions.  So for This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you my blog post on the often confused blue moon.

Are Blue Moons Blue?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Universe Today

If you're looking for a great website to provide you or your kids with accurate, up to date astronomy information that is easily understandable by a general, non-science oriented audience, then look no further than Universe Today.

Universe Today

Universe Today is one of the few websites I have linked to my Feedly feed so I get daily updates on new articles/blogs they post.  Each post is written at a level for a general audience to follow without too much difficulty.  It's a great way to catch up on astronomy related current events and get a better overall feel of what is going on in astronomy.

Here's a snippet of what you're missing by not following Universe Today.

What are you waiting for?  Go to the website now and start learning!!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Movie Review - The Peanuts Movie

A couple of weekends ago my wife and I took our daughters to see the The Peanuts Movie in the theater.  I grew up watching the Peanuts holiday cartoons and read Peanuts in the newspaper.  My daughters haven't had too much interaction with the comic strip.  I'm not sure they've seen all of the holiday specials, but I know they've see the Great Pumpkin holiday special.  Both my daughters loved it!  I was a bit skeptical going in, but I have to admit, it was a great movie!

As for the science, well, it's animated, so expect anything.  Is it scientifically accurate that Snoopy flies around the skies on a red dog house?  No, but that's not the point of the movie.  There's mention of the Red Baron, a German fighter pilot in World War I who is credited with 80 air combat victories.  Although my kids certainly didn't pick up on this, Peanuts hits adults by focusing on many of the inadequacies we all have, whether justified or not.  This is most noticeable in Charlie Brown who is constantly second guessing himself, something we all do.  Along the way, there are many good life lessons in this movie.  

If you haven't taken your kids to see The Peanuts Movie, you MUST do so.  You will NOT be disappointed!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Teaching an 8 Year Old

A couple of weeks ago in my high school astronomy class I asked students to share common science misconceptions that we've discussed in class in preparation for an activity in which those students would attempt to correct the misconception in such a way that an 8 year old would walk away with a clear understanding.  This is more difficult than may seem as an 8 year old does not have the educational background an adult has.  It also stresses the important of discussing complicated science in a way that the general public can understand.

The misconception we chose was the cause of the seasons.  Too often kids are taught we have seasons on Earth due to Earth's changing distance from the Sun.  Not true.  We have seasons due to Earth's tilt, as I previously discussed here.  Students had to discuss and formulate a way to explain this to an 8 year old.  After a few minutes I selected a handful of students to give it a shot at the front of the room.

Granted, I did not give my students long to think about this and it is much more difficult than it looks, but one student used hot water from a faucet onto a metal bowl.  If the water directly strikes the top of the bowl, the bowl gets hotter, whereas if the water comes in at an angle, the bowl doesn't get as hot.  This wasn't a bad example and relates to the directness of the sun's rays on Earth's surface!  However, the student used a few words that would confuse an 8 year old.  For example, he used the word 'particle' and 'directness of sunlight'.  These terms make sense to us in the class, but may not to an 8 year old.

The goal of this exercise wasn't to be perfect, but to attempt an explanation to a very general audience without much of a science background.  It's much harder than it looks and you encounter problems you didn't necessarily expect to encounter.  It's a task all of us should take on from time to time to continue that relationship with a non-expert in your chosen field.  Try it on your kids.  Try explaining what you do at work in a way they'll understand.  It's hard, but a worthwhile experience as a parent.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Harry Potter Excitement!

After recently finishing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and watching the movie, we didn't wait long before digging into the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Both of my daughters were super excited to start.  We're far from finishing, but I must stress again what an amazing family experience it is to read full length novels together!  We all sit on the couch together and read 20-40 pages at a time.  It's a great bonding experience.  Having a movie to watch after the book adds to the excitement!

I encourage you, if you aren't already, to do something similar with your kids.  It's great family fun!

Friday, December 4, 2015

This Blog's History: Being a Good Soccer Parent

I posted this last month and am bringing it back to your attention for This Friday in This Blog's History.  A large number of parents are parents of kids playing sports.  There are ways to be a good parent sports parent and bad ways.  For obvious reasons you should follow the good ways.

Being a Good Soccer Parent

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Holiday Science Gift Ideas for Kids

The holiday season is upon us and for many of us that means buying gifts for our kids, family, and friends.  Gift buying can be difficult because it is not always clear what gift to buy someone.  If you have kids, I encourage you to do a web search for science gift ideas for kids.  Here's one such science activity website that packages and sells science related gifts.

Steve Spangler Science Gift Ideas

There are plenty of other websites to find gift ideas as well.  I ask you, however, to be very careful about basing science related gifts on gender.  When I did a search I found several websites offering science gift ideas for boys, but not girls.  A few offered science gift ideas for girls.  There is no such thing as a science gift for boys or a science gift for girls.  There are science gifts, plain and simple.  A science gift is a great gift for BOTH boys and girls.

You can make your own choice, but any distributor of science gifts for kids that separates gifts for boys and girls is a distributor that won't see my money.  Science doesn't care what gender you are and neither should you when purchasing a science gift for a child.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

New Parent Parenting Mistakes

Every new parent makes mistakes.  That's to be expected.  Heck, even veteran parents make mistakes!  I saw the article below on Web MD that lists the 10 mistakes new parents make.  A few of these my wife and I knew before becoming parents and were able to make adjustments, but a few still happened.

10 Mistakes New Parents Make

Number 1 on the list was panicking over anything and everything.  Yep!  Did that!  Even knowing that there's no need to panic probably wouldn't have changed anything for me.  It's hard not to panic over your first child.

The other mistake I made was Number 10 on this list which is trusting unreliable sources for information.  I was still science-orientated of course, but I wasn't nearly as well read as I am now as it relates to skeptically thinking.  I didn't do anything that jeopardized the safety of my child, but there were a few things I did or thought about doing that I would never do or even think about doing now.

One thing I did do, however, was make sure the car seat was properly installed.  It's not an easy task to do right and I cringe every time I see car seats installed incorrectly.  We even took our vehicle to a free car seat safety check and even they were impressed that the seat was installed correctly.  They stated that very, very few car seats are properly installed.

Anyways, take a look at this list, especially if your are a new parent or a soon to be parent.  It's an excellent read and you will learn something!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Power of Democracy

I've made it known on this blog that I wish to raise daughters who are active in the political process in the United States.  My wife and I take them to the voting polls when possible and discuss the importance of voting around them.  I don't want this post to get too political and partisan, but often times it's hard to see democracy working.  Too often it seems the voice of the voters is not heard.  There are, however, times when our voice is heard and positive results are obtained.  A few weeks ago President Obama announced his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

If you are unfamiliar or unaware, the Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed pipeline to bring tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. for refining.  If the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt climate change, the Keystone XL pipeline must not be built.  The Canadian tar sands oil needs to stay in the ground.  The science is very clear on climate change.  We know that it is real and we know that it is primarily caused by humans.

A few years ago it looked like Obama's approval of the Keystone XL pipeline was a foregone conclusion.  Voters concerned about the future of this planet fought back by holding several rallies voicing their concerns.  Petitions took place and more and more people began speaking about the problems with the Keystone XL pipeline.  People, including myself, wrote to President Obama asking him to reconsider.  At first the pipeline decision was delayed and in November President Obama officially rejected the pipeline!

This is democracy in action.  This is why it is important to voice your opinion and be active in the political process.  Politicians do listen when enough people are speaking!  I'm not teaching my daughters what to think regarding politics.  They'll make their own decisions on politics.  I'm teaching them the importance of being politically active.  This country and this planet cannot move forward if the people are not interesting and active in moving forward.