Friday, October 26, 2012

Math, Science and "Magic"

This week is "National Magic Week" - a week of illusion, tricks and fun that goes from October 25 - 31. As any professional magician knows, magic is mostly a combination of science, math and illusion. So here's a few "magic" tricks you can work on to amaze your friends and family next week:

Turn water into wine (or monster blood)
Suck an egg into a bottle (without using a straw)
Make rainbows in your milk (no cereal needed)
Tie water in knots  and then bend it
and learn a cool card trick.

Check out more Friday Science stuff over at STEM Friday.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Stars Fall Out of Sky This Weekend!

OK, they’re not really stars. They’re the Orionid meteors, bits and pieces of Halley’s Comet left behind from the last time the comet passed by. Every year at this time the Earth passes through this debris – particles ranging from the size of dust to pebbles. All those particles zoom into our atmosphere at speeds of up to 25 miles an hour, burning up as they enter and streaking across the sky.

They radiate from the Club of "Orion the Hunter". If you want to see them, they tend to fly after midnight, and are best seen before dawn. The astronomers at Kopernik Observatory predict dark skies and a shower producing up to 30 meteors an hour for this event.

Clear sky or not, if you live anywhere near Vestal, NY you might want to head over to their program on “Comets and Meteors” this Friday night, October 19 at 8 pm. You’ll have a chance to touch a real meteor, watch how a comet is made, and view the Orionids as they fall out of the sky. They’ll also be open for meteor-viewing October 18 – 21 from 8 pm on (clear skies only). You can call 607-748-3685 for  sky conditions or check their website after 6 pm for a sky update.

For more about comets, meteor showers and all things related, check out EarthSky. And drop by STEM Friday for some books reviews and news you can use.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mars Monday - "Hi Mom!" from Curiosity

Every now and then the rover, Curiosity sends a postcard home. I thought I'd share a few. This one is of the "Rocknest", a cluster of dark rocks that measures about 8 feet by 16 feet. Photo taken on the 52 Martian day (or sol) of the mission - that's Sept. 28 Earth time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Engineering Nature's Designs

The other day I was out taking photos of leaves and I stopped to listen to the world around me. It’s pretty quiet on my hill, but there was a lot of rustling in the leaves – a breeze so subtle that I couldn’t feel it had the big toothed aspen leaves chattering like the ladies down at Rosie’s CafĂ© (an imaginary place that doesn’t exist in my town but should). I got to wondering how cool it would be if we could harness all the energy generated by the leaves flipping back and forth on their stems.

Some engineers had a similar idea. They were looking at problems with harvesting wind power in urban areas, where wind speeds are lower than needed for large turbines and where you wouldn’t want huge turbines anyway. One mechanical engineer experimented with an aerofoil that fluttered like a fish tail, generating small amounts of current each time it moved. Another team proposed a tree of flapping “leaves”.

Scientists at UC Davis are growing tiny “trees” of silver to collect solar energy. But you don’t have to be an engineer in a university lab to come up with a new idea. Thirteen-year old Aidan Dwyer devised a vertical array of solar cells to resemble the leaves that collect the sun’s energy. Because, as he pointed out, those natural “solar panels” aren’t all flat, like roof panels. In fact, they’re arranged around the trunk of a tree in a specific pattern: the Fibonacci sequence.

Aidan's project won the 2011 Young Naturalist award from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Even though he made some rather serious errors in original calculations, the idea has merit. He's conducting a new set of experiments to see if he gets similar results (with corrected calculations).

Velcro was another nature-inspired idea that came from close observation of how burdocks clung to sweaters. What ideas does nature inspire in you? For more Friday science inspiration, head over to  STEM Friday. 


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Welcome to Wordless Wednesday

This year I want to pay attention to the world around me. So each week I'll head out with my camera or nature journal and take a closer look at things in my back yard, along the road, between the cracks in the sidewalks. And I'll share it - with as few words as possible. I invite you to join me on an exploration of your own neighborhoods. Please share your discoveries, too.

Friday, October 5, 2012

More Animal Tails

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?
By Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
32 pages, ages 4 – 9 
(and older!)
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003

Seems like this is the week to share tales about tails. On Wednesday I chatted with Carrie Pearson about how some animals use tails to keep warm in the winter. And that reminded me of this cool book by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. I love it for the wonderful paper collage illustrations… and that it is so quirky.

What do you do starts out with noses, not tails! Then ears – did you know that crickets hear with ears that are on their knees? Finally, a page about tails! There’s curly tails and swatty tails and stingy tails and stinky tails – peeuw! And the question is: what do you do with a tail like this?

If you’re a monkey, you hang from a tree. If you’re a lizard, you break off your tail and run away. After looking at feet and other adapted body parts, Jenkins and Page end with four pages of detailed notes on noses, ears, tails, eyes, feet and mouths. That’s where you learn that the nitty-gritty details about how skunks use their tails, why lizards don’t mind losing their tails, and why giraffes have that funny hank of hair on the end of their tails.

One more thing I really like about the book is the aesthetic appeal: it’s a square (10 inches by 10 inches) and the tail on the cover is a spiral. Review copy of this book found at my local library.

Check out more animal tails over at STEM Friday.
And join Nonfiction Monday over at "Wendie's Wanderings" for some cool nonfiction books!