Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Closest Exoplanet Ever Discovered

If you haven't already, please share this with your kids!  Discovering new exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) isn't a rare thing anymore.  Astronomers have currently confirmed, as of August 2016, 3,500 exoplanets.  Wow!  There are literally thousands of known, confirmed planets orbiting other stars with billions more to be found.  Last week, however, astronomers discovered the closest exoplanet ever.

Closest Exoplanet Discovered

This newly discovered exoplanet, named Proxima b, orbits the closest start to us, Proxima Centauri, at a distance of 4.2 light years.  What's even more exciting is this planet is in the star's habitable zone, meaning that temperatures are just right for the possibility of liquid water.  It doesn't mean liquid water exists, but that the temperature is in a range that makes liquid water possible.  On top of that, Proxima b is estimated to be slightly largely than the Earth and quite likely a rocky, terrestrial planet.  Super cool!

Before getting too carried away about the possibility of life, it's important to note we know basically nothing about this planet's atmosphere.  It could be an atmosphere like Venus' that makes it unlivable for life of any kind.  There are still many factors to consider before jumping to conclusions on life, but the fact we discovered a rocky planet in the habitable zone of the closest star is super cool!  When I was a kid there were no known exoplanets.  Now there are over 3,500, and the number grows every month!  Awesome!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trip to the Wisconsin Dells

My family and I had a busy travel schedule this summer with a trip to Disney World in June, a trip to Minneapolis for a weekend in July, and a trip to the Wisconsin Dells in mid-July for a family reunion.  We've driven past the Wisconsin Dells several times on trips to see family and even stayed in a cabin one spring for a weekend there.  However, we've never visited in the summer when the Wisconsin Dells tourism industry is in full swing.  It's quite an interesting area!

There are several water parks, indoor theme parks, boat tours, camping, shows, excellent restaurants, etc.  We were here for a family reunion, so we didn't hit any of the water parks.  We did an indoor theme park, went on a duck boat tour, and enjoyed the time at our resort.  At the resort I took my kids out on the lake in one of the resort's rowboat which was cool!  

I will say that the Wisconsin Dells is expensive to visit in the summer.  All hotel/resorts are very high priced for rooms, tours can be expensive, and water parks are quite expensive too.  Just be aware of that.  You can have a lot of fun on the lake and river without spending much money, but you can also have fun spending quite a bit of money too!  Regardless of how much money you wish to spend, there are plenty of things to do to keep yourself busy and have a great time.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Making Underwater Coral

On one of my daughters' last days before returning to school, we worked on an underwater coral making kit my 6 year old received for a gift.

Target sells several kits such as these for $10 - $20.  Not a bad price for an afternoon of science fun!  We put together the sodium something or other mixture (sorry, I don't remember what it was!!!) and dropped in the colored salt rock.

Within a few minutes coral was already growing!

In a few hours, the coral had reached its maximum height.

Very cool!  This was an easy experiment to set up and my daughters had fun checking it every few minutes to see changes.  As I said at the beginning of this post, a cheap science kit for several hours of afternoon science fun!

Friday, August 26, 2016

This Blog's History: Geocaching Adventures

For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a post I wrote regarding a few geocaching adventures my kids and I went on this summer.  Geocaching is super fun so I thought I would point you back to it.  Just steer clear of poison ivy as a subsequent posts warns you about.  I have first hand experience!

Geocaching Adventures

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Is it Okay to Scratch a Poison Ivy Rash?

Here's the second of a few posts on poison ivy, all stemming from an allergic reaction I had a few weeks back.  Is it okay to scratch a poison ivy rash?  Well, that depends on what you mean.  If you still have oils on your body from poison ivy, then the answer is no.  This will spread the oils and increase the region of skin affected.  If all of the oils have been washed away, scratching will not spread the affected area.  Maybe the observable affected area grows, but this is due to the allergic reaction continuing to develop from areas of your skin already exposed.  Scratching does not do this.

That doesn't mean it's okay to scratch however.  Scratching can open up the blisters and potentially increase your odds of getting an infection.  That's no fun.  Don't worry if you catch yourself scratching without meaning to.  It happens.  I've done it.  Just try to make an effort not to scratch.  Use lotions or anti-itch cream to soothe the affected area.  And remember, I feel your pain.  :-)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Is Poison Ivy Contagious?

Since I found myself with an allergic reaction to poison ivy a few weeks ago after geocaching one day, I thought I'd put together a few posts to share a few of the misconceptions regarding poison ivy.  First, let's take a look at what poison ivy looks like.

A poison ivy rash is NOT contagious.  Once all of the oils are removed from your body and clothing (and this is key), the rash cannot be passed from one person to another.  While the oils are still on your body, they can be transferred, and in that sense, poison ivy may be considered contagious, but that's not really the meaning of contagious, so pretend I didn't use that word.  :-)  Once the oils are gone, you can rub your rash all you want on someone else and it will not transfer the rash to another person.  

Fortunately, before realizing I had come in contact with poison ivy, I did not transfer oils to anyone else in my family or on my face.  Yikes!  So to conclude, the oils from poison ivy can be transferred, but a poison ivy reaction itself is NOT contagious.  It cannot be transferred to another person.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My He-Man Toys

This summer my mom asked me if I wanted to bring my old Masters of the Universe He-Man toys home for my kids to play with.  After thinking about it I figure my 6 year old would probably love them!  So on a trip home this summer we picked them up and upon getting back home we opened the box to see what was inside.  I had quite a few He-Man characters when I was a kid!

I was impressed with myself that I remembered the names of some of the characters, but others I had no clue.  While we were cleaning them up we looked them up online.  My kids had quite a few questions as to what their powers were, whether they were good guys or bad guys, which animals they rode, etc.  It was a fun time.  Both of my kids have had fun playing with them at times since, so it was well worth driving to my mom's to get the box.  

If you have old toys from your childhood boxed up somewhere, consider getting them out for your kids to play with.  If your kids are like mine, they'll be really curious to learn a bit about your own childhood.  My 6 year old kept asking how I played with them, which characters were my favorite, how old I was, etc.  She was filled with questions which is exactly what I want from my kids.  Ask questions!!!  That's how you learn!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Your Kids' Creativity

As parents we want to make sure we are providing for our kids in all ways.  Not only does that include food and money, but also play activities such as games, sports, etc.  It's important that parents play games with their kids and goof around with them.  There are times, however, where parents can take this too far.  Parents mean well, but we can make our kids' lives too rigid and planned.  I know I can be guilty of this as I will sometimes feel bad if I'm not playing with them at home or helping them with something they're working on.  However, I have to keep reminding myself that it's good for kids to have time each day that is not rigid and planned.  It's important kids have alone time in which parents are not directly involved.  It's important kids have the opportunities to use and develop their creativity.

It's all about finding the right balance.  And when that balance is found (don't ask me how, because I question every day whether we've found that balance with our kids), it can be truly amazing, or at least I think it can.  The other day I wrote about my daughters dressing their stuffed animals up as stuffed animals.  Other times they'll talk about and create their own science experiments.  Other times they are developing their own skills of working together to solve a problem or work out disagreements.  Granted, mommy and daddy often have to settle these disagreements, but depending on what's going on with the disagreement, we'll let them work on it for awhile before interrupting.  

There's no magic pill to parenting.  I wish there was.  All parents make mistakes.  All we can do is work to recognize those mistakes and do better the next time.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

This Blog's History: The Spam Museum

I recently had a chance to visit the official Spam museum, located in Austin, MN.  I wrote about it in a previous post, so for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to that post.  If you ever get a chance to visit, do so.  You'll be amazed at how much you didn't know about Spam!

The Spam Museum

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pirates of the Caribbean and Stuffed Animals

Every couple of weeks we hold a family movie night at our house where the four of us cuddle up on the couch with popcorn and watch a movie.  We recently started watching the Pirates of the Caribbean series.  We've watched the first three movies with plans to watch the fourth on our next family movie night.  As a side note, there's a fifth movie set to come out next year.  My 6 year is super into pirates now and her and my 9 year old decided to dress up a few of their stuffed animals.  The next day I saw this.!  ROFL!!!  Leave your kids alone for awhile to use their own imagination and you never know what they'll come up with!  The timing of this is particularly good as the day I saw this I was feeling a bit down due to some standard life things we adults experience at times.  This perked me up a bit, I must admit!

Back to the Pirates of the Caribbean.  These movies are rated PG-13.  Obviously my kids are under the age of 13.  However, we made the determination there are no bloody or deeply disturbing scenes.  Yes, there is violence.  There are pirate battles.  There are scenes of people getting hanged and stabbed with swords.  Before starting the movie we had a conversation about what is real and what isn't real.  We had conversations about movies being for entertainment.  In the end we decided they were mature enough to watch these movies.  You'll need to decide for yourself whether Pirates of the Caribbean is appropriate for your children.  If you do, you may find your stuffed animals in your house turned into pirates!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bingo - U.S. States Version

My 6 year old recently received a United States version of Bingo game for her birthday.  We've had a chance to play it a few times and it's a pretty cool version of Bingo that introduces kids to the fifty states.

Bingo itself is not an educational game.  There's no strategy behind it.  You win based on pure luck of the correct balls being selected.  However, this version of Bingo does have an educational aspect to it.  Each of the bingo state cards has information on the states.  This includes the state capitol, the state nickname, the state initials, and an interesting fact about the state.  So when a state card is drawn, you don't have to say the state name.  You can add a level of difficulty to it be saying the state nickname only or saying the fun state fact only or saying the state capitol only.  It's also a game that helps you learn the shape of the states for young kids who aren't already familiar.  In other words, a great birthday gift that combines fun with education.  Can't argue with that!  So chalk this up as another great gift idea or elementary aged kids.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

An Introduction to Poison Ivy

I have to admit that I was beginning to wonder if I was one of the small percentage of people immune to poison ivy.  Approximately 85% of people develop an allergic reaction, typically a rash with blistering, when exposed to poison ivy on the skin.  I've never had this pleasure, although I've hiked through the woods, particularly when geocaching.  That all changed last month.  Indeed, I am part of the majority and I learned this the hard way.  I usually try to be careful when geocaching, but apparently I failed and ended up with an allergic reaction to poison ivy all up my right arm and all down my right leg.

That's a SMALL patch on my skin that was effected.  Yikes!  A poison ivy rash can start 24-72 hours after exposure, so it's very likely I was spreading the oil as I moved throughout the rest of the day, making the soon to be rash worse.  Not much I can do now expect not itch it, apply lotions and anti-itch cream, and let it work its course.  It should clear up completely in 1-3 weeks.  

So, moral of this story is that you are likely part of the 85% allergic to poison ivy and you should definitely be on the lookout out for it when outside and when geocaching.  And if you spot it, avoid it!  Don't be like me and apparently bathe in it!!!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Canoeing Trip

The other weekend my wife and I took our two kids on a canoeing trip down a local river.  We'd both been canoeing before, but decades ago.  I had been canoeing once, back in 5th grade!

We hopped in the canoe and headed off.  It was a fantastic 3 hour trip.  Peaceful with a great deal of scenery to take in, including many turtles and a large snake!  It was also a learning experience for my kids on how to make a canoe change direction.  It was a hands-on physics lesson!  It basically boils down to Netwon's 3rd Law.

For every force there is an equal and opposite force.

If we want to turn the canoe to the left, we have to paddle on the right side.  If we want to turn the canoe to the right, we have to paddle on the left side.  If we want to move the canoe forward faster, we have to paddle moving the paddle front to back.  If we want to slow the canoe down, we have to move the paddle back to front.  

It was a good learning experience as we let both kids paddle at times.  A fun day!  Of course now it's the next day as I write this and my arms are sore!  LOL!

Friday, August 12, 2016

This Blog's History: Earth at Aphelion

For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a post I wrote regarding Earth's aphelion position in its orbit about the Sun.  This took place on July 4th this year.  I also tie in to the misconception that seasons on Earth are caused by Earth's distance to the Sun.  Click the link below to read more.

Earth at Aphelion

Thursday, August 11, 2016

This Year's Garden

This is the 9th year we've had a garden in our backyard at our house.  The first 7 years went well, but the 8th year, last summer, was a total bust.  We had soooooo much water that it stunted the growth of the plants and by the end of June had basically killed every plant.  Thus we had nothing!  Over the fall I started adding in more topsoil as the raised garden had dropped a bit over the years.  In the spring I added a few bags of manure and mixed it in with the tiller.  I also tossed some fertilizer in the dirt prior to planting and then added more fertilizer twice before July to promote greater growth.  Last year was definitely a fluke with the tremendous amount of rain we had, but I was paranoid.  I love garden fresh tomatoes and missed out on them last year.  I did not want to miss out two years in a row!  Did our efforts to bring back our garden this year succeed?  I'm happy to report yes!!!

Check out those tomatoes in front!  They are doing wonderfully!  At the time this picture was taken the tomatoes were still green, but there are a ton of them!!! fresh tomatoes!  

Gardening is a great way to teach your kids the basics of growing fruits and vegetables.  Start with tomatoes as they are relatively easy to grow and take care of.  There's no need to have a dedicated garden plot in your backyard such as the one I have.  You can pick up a couple of large pots from the store and plant tomatoes in them.  This is what we did when I was a grad student and we lived in an apartment.  We planted a couple of tomato plants in pots on the balcony.  One tomato per pot!!!  It may look silly when first planted, but tomatoes grow quickly and grow large!  They have a large root system that will fill your pot.  Planting more than one per plot can stunt the growth of all plants.  

Give gardening a shot.  Your kids will learn something and you'll get some yummy fruits/vegetables later in the summer!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Playing Mancala

For my 6 year old's birthday last month she received the board game Mancala from her grandparents.  This was a great gift as it's an easy game to learn how to play but a game that also contains a great deal of strategy.

The basic idea of the game is to get more stones on your side of the board than your opponent.  Simple, right?  Yes, but to win you need to imply a great deal of strategy.  Therefore this is a game that promotes the use of critical thinking skills.  

I alternated between playing against my 6 year old and 9 year old for a few games.  When playing my 9 year old I played to win.  Yet I lost both times.  Hmmm.  Looks like I'm a bit rusty and need to use my own critical thinking skills!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Exterminate! Exterminate!

My 9 year old said the greatest thing the other day!  While in the middle of my 6 year old's birthday party at our house, my 9 year old was running around playing with all the other 5 and 6 year olds.  At one point I hear her running across the yard yelling "Exterminate!  Exterminate!"  This comes directly from the Daleks in Doctor Who.

I was watching a couple of episodes of classic Doctor Who (3rd Doctor) earlier in they day when I was working out.  The girls watched a few minutes and one of the episodes had an appearance from the Daleks.  LOL!  Exterminate!  Exterminate!

Moral of the story.  Watch Doctor Who with your kids.  Who knows what they'll say later in the day!  :-)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Disney World - Epcot Center

The last of Disney World's four parks we visited in our June trip was Epcot Center.  Epcot Center is famous for the big ball at the park's entrance.

We had a lot of fun in Epcot.  We visited several characters, rode on several rides, had a great dinner, and walked through the back part of Epcot which has sections devoted to different countries.  We also had our longest wait in a line to see a character.  We waited in line for over an hour to see Joy and Sadness.  For some reason this line moved super slow.  It was worth it to see the way Sadness reacted to taking photographs.  When asked if she was ready, she shook her head back and forth.  LOL!  

For dinner we ate at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway area of Epcot Center.  This was a character dinner with several Disney princesses that my daughters loved.  It was also our most expensive meal of the trip, totaling $215 BEFORE tip.  That's for 4 us of.  Great food, and fortunately we paid for the dining plan before arriving, so we didn't actually pay $215.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, get the Disney dining plan.  It is well worth it!

One of the more interesting rides was Test Track.  You actually design how your race car handles the track before getting on the ride and having it tested.  My 6 year old rode with me and she was super excited to design her own car!  

We thought for awhile we'd do a second day at Epcot and we easily could have, but we only had one day left and decided there were still parts of Magic Kingdom we wanted to see, so we went there instead.  

In my opinion Epcot was a great park.  We had a ton of fun and you can't go wrong spending a full day or two here.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

This Blog's History: Animal Kingdom (Disney World)

In case you missed it the first time, for This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to the post I wrote on our recent trip to Disney World's Animal Kingdom.  We had a lot of fun!

Disney World's Animal Kingdom

Thursday, August 4, 2016

What is a Meteor Shower?

Two days ago I wrote about the upcoming Perseids meteor shower but didn't fully explain a meteor shower.  What are they?  What causes them?  Why do they return each year?  Let me start by defining a meteor shower.

At a basic level a meteor shower is a greater than average number of meteors occurring over a couple of nights, all originating from the same location in the sky.  In fact, this is how meteor showers are named.  The Perseids are called the Perseids because the meteors appear to all come from the same location in sky, in this case the constellation of Perseus.  Meteors are bits of debris, often material the size of a grain of sand, that burn up as they fall through Earth's atmosphere.  Very few meteors ever make it to the surface of the Earth before burning up.  As they burn up, they appear as a streak of light across the sky that is commonly referred to as a falling star.  Of course, no star is falling.  It's just small debris falling through Earth's atmosphere.

Meteor showers are the result of Earth passing through comet tails.  Comets leave behind a tail of particles that remain in an orbit.  Each year, as Earth passes through this tail of particles, many enter Earth's atmosphere.  Because Earth enters the tail in a specific direction, all of the meteors appear to originate from the same location in the sky.

The Perseids are a result of Earth passing through the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle.  There you go.  Now you know the basics of meteor showers.  Now you can head out later this month to observe the Perseids.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Lunar Eclipse - August 18, 2016

You may soon hear, if you haven't already, about an upcoming lunar eclipse view-able from the United States.  There is indeed a lunar eclipse of sorts taking place on August 18, 2016 and it is view-able from the United States, but it all depends on your definition of view-able.  Consider the image below.

A lunar eclipse occurs whenever Earth is positioned directly between the Sun and the Moon.  As a result, the Earth casts a shadow onto the surface of the Moon that we can view from Earth.  A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon is in the darkest part of the shadow shown above.  If the Moon is in the lighter part of the shadow above there is still an eclipse, called a penumbral eclipse.  The Moon will darken a bit in the sky, but it is not nearly as impressive as a total eclipse.  Even that's not happening later this month.  On August 18, the Moon will be near the penumbra shadow line, but not fully within.  This it is close to an eclipse, but not actually a true eclipse.  If you have detailed observing equipment, you may detect a slight drop in the Moon's brightness, but this is nothing you'd notice with your naked eye.  

In other words, don't get excited.  The next total lunar eclipse view-able from the United States will take place on January 20, 2019.  Be patient.  :-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Perseids Meteor Shower - August 12, 2016

Coming soon is a good astronomical viewing event if you're willing to stay up into the wee hours of the morning.  In ten days the Perseids meteor shower will make its annual appearance.  The Perseids are a popular meteor shower to observe in the Northern Hemisphere as the weather is warmer for observing and they can be impressive at times with as many as 50-100 meteors per hour.  That's 1 - 2 per minute which is pretty good.

The red marks in the image above show where you should look in the sky to observe the Perseids.  They are called the Perseids because they appear to come from the constellation of Perseus.  Putting a damper on this year's shower is the presence of the moon.  It's out in the evening, making the sky brighter, and reducing the number of meteors you can see.  The moon sets in the evening, so if you're willing to stay up past midnight, you'll still have a chance at observing a nice shower.  The best day to observe is Friday, August 12, 2016 in the morning, around 1 - 2 AM.  Yes, it's a school/work day, so I'll probably skip this shower, but if you're more adventurous than me, give it a shot.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Misleading Article: The Nearest Galaxy

Recently, while reading an issue of Discover magazine I had to do a double take after reading a line in a short article.  See if you can find the mistake in the image below.

Do you see the mistake?  "Though the light from the nearest galaxy takes about 3 million years to reach Earth..."

Do you see the mistake now?  The mistake is the word 'nearest'.  The nearest LARGE galaxy to us is the Andromeda Galaxy, located about 2.5 million light years away.  Light from Andromeda takes 2.5 million years to reach us, so rounding up, approximately 3 million light years.  The problem is that Andromeda is by no means the closest galaxy to us.  The Andromeda Galaxy is part of the Local Group, the group of galaxies we belong to, but there are several others closer than Andromeda.  

According to the list of nearest galaxies on Wikipedia, the Andromeda Galaxy comes in around #38.  Wow!  So no, not the nearest galaxy.  Close, yes, but not the closest.  Had this article included the word 'large' before the word 'nearest' it would be correct.  What a difference a single word makes!