Friday, January 27, 2017

Mission to Pluto

Last week I reviewed a couple books for junior space-cadets.

Today we're headed to outer space with scientists in the field. 

 This addition to the Scientists in the Field series goes boldly where no person - or spacecraft - has gone before! (click here for appropriate music)

Mission to Pluto: the first visit to an ice dwarf and the Kuiper belt (Scientists in the Field)
by Mary Kay Carson; photos by Tom Uhlman
80 pages; ages 10-12
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

It takes a lot of work to get to Pluto: teams of scientists and engineers, mission control specialists who keep your vehicle on track, and time. Nearly ten years of time - even if your spacecraft is tiny. That's why the folks at NASA had to build a craft that was durable, and could take care of itself.

In 2005, when they were building the New Horizons spacecraft, engineers knew it would need a power source. Solar panels make electricity for most satellites and space probes, "but a sunny day on Pluto is about as bright as twilight on Earth," writes Mary Kay Carson. So New Horizons carried its own power source: plutonium.

The whole craft is about the size and weight of a grand piano (1054 pounds) to allow it relatively "speedy" travel. Even so, scientists knew it would take more than nine years to reach Pluto, so they programmed in a hibernation mode to save on power.

New Horizons reached Pluto in July of 2015 - when it took samples of atmosphere as well as lots of photos and sent them back to Earth. But the mission was not finished. Right now, the New Horizons spacecraft is on its way to the Kuiper belt - a band of rocky and icy objects out past Neptune. Scientists believe the Kuiper belt has more than 100,000 miniature worlds with diameters larger than 62 miles. Some of these "dwarf planets" are nearly the size of Pluto.

Once it reaches the Kuiper belt, New Horizons will fly by KBO ( Kuiper Belt Object) MU69. Scientists want to know what sorts of rocks and ice a Kuiper belt object are made of, and whether they have moons. The projected arrival date is sometime in 2019. But New Horizon's journey won't stop there - it will keep on going (like a certain bunny), and sending information and signals to Earth until its plutonium runs out.

Author Mary Kay Carson captures the excitement of space discovery in her stories about the scientists and the spacecraft. She includes plenty of graphs and illustrations, as well as 2-page "Mission Briefs" that detail specific aspects of the Mission to Pluto. Back matter includes a glossary and resources for learning more about New Horizons, Pluto, and KBOs.

Today is STEM Friday! Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by the author.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Books for Space Cadets

There are lots of fun books for future space explorers. Here are two that fell into my book basket recently.

To the Edge of the Universe, a 14-foot fold-out journey
by Raman Prinja; illus. by John Hersey
36 pages; 8-12 years
Carlton Kids, 2016

theme: nonfiction, space

Look around you. Wherever you are, whoever you are, you are on planet Earth.

Above earth is an atmosphere, and beyond that the space station and the moon, the sun, 8 planets, an asteroid belt, supernovas, more galaxies until you reach... the edge of the known universe.

What I like about this book: The pages are connected in a long, long, long (14-foot long) mural that takes you from the earth's surface to the edge of the universe. On the reverse side  are facts, graphs, charts, constellations... answers to the questions you'll be asking as you explore the universe.

I also love the interaction required for this book. You can unfold the entire mural - indeed, you could (if you want to) cut it off the cover and tape it to the wall. It's just plain fun.

On the Space Station (a shine-a-light book)
by Carron Brown; illus. by Bee Johnson
36 pages, ages 4-8
Kane Miller, 2016

Take a trip in a rocket and zoom far from our planet to visit the astronauts who live and work in a space station.

This book begins with the astronauts boarding the rocket that will take them to the space station. Once there they are busy with work and eating, exercising, and sleeping. After six months, they return to earth.

What I like: This book is also interactive; each page holds a secret. Hold the page up to the light, or shine a flashlight behind the page and the secret is revealed. It might be something simple, like what happens to a bag of candy when it's opened. Turn the page to read more.

Beyond the books:

Make a map ~ get a large piece of paper and make a map of the universe. Maybe it will be the sort of map you can use to help you find your way when you take off on an adventure.

Check out what's at the edge of the universe in this PBS video  and what happens if you go there.

Explore the planets at this NASA page.

Learn how astronauts sleep in space with this video by Astronaut Chris Hadfield. Now create your very own space station sleeping pod.

Today is Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.We're also joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies provided by publishers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ freezing soap bubbles

Frozen bubble (CC use by Max Pixel)

Can you freeze a bubble? Sure. All you need is some heavy-duty winter-weather bubble mix and a wand or large straw. And a day when the temperatures dip below freezing. Here's one recipe for bubble mix:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup liquid dish-washing detergent
  • 1/2 cup white corn syrup
Adding corn syrup to the soap bubble recipe creates a sugar polymer and a stronger bubble that can survive freezing temperatures.

Head out and try blowing bubbles. Sometimes they will freeze in the air. If that doesn't work, coat a porch railing with a bit of soap solution and then blow a bubble on top of that. Or blow a bubble and attach it to pine needles or winter weeds.

As the bubbles freeze, it looks like bits of frost or snowflakes are forming and growing. What's happening is that the soap bubble is made up of three layers: a thin layer of water molecules squished between two layers of soap. The water layer freezes first, and at lower temperatures than the soap layer.

More Things to Do
  • Make bubbles using bubble mix that has been cooled in a refrigerator for 15 minutes or so, and compare with bubbles made using room-temperature mix.
  • Try adding sugar to some mix. Does it help bubbles form faster?
  • Poke a frozen bubble. What happens? 
  • Try to take photos or videos of your bubbles
  • Compare bubbles made with a straw versus those made with a wand.
  • What happens if you put a drop of food coloring in the mix?
  • Try capturing a bubble and putting it in the freezer
If you live where it is warm: blow a bubble on a plastic plate or jar lid and put it in the freezer. What happens?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Listen to Our World

Listen to Our World
by Bill Martin & Michael Sampson; illus. by Melissa Sweet
40 pages; ages 4-8
Simon & Schuster Kids, 2016

themes: animals, nonfiction

In the morning, Mommy gives us wake up kisses and says, "Good morning, little one. Can you hear the sounds of our world?" 

Through the pages we visit different habitats and listen to the animals that live there: monkeys, parrots, gila monsters. Sometimes the sounds we hear are calls and songs, sometimes they are the clicks and thumps of movement.

What I like love about this book: The sounds. The diversity of featured creatures. The diversity of the mothers and children. The way the book ends with being tucked in and listening to hush, hush sounds. And then there's Melissa Sweet's art. I love collage art, and these illustrations fill me with joy.

I also like the back matter. For each animal there's information about where they can be found, what sort of habitat they live in, and a bit about their natural history.

Beyond the Book

Go on a listening hike. What sorts of noises so the animals in your neighborhood make? Go for a walk and... listen to the birds, cats, dogs, people, even the flies trapped inside on a winter day. Write down the sounds they make - or try to record them. Can you imitate their sounds?

Make some art! Use bits of left-over holiday wrapping paper and cards to create some animal collages of your own.

Listen to whale sounds here. You can learn more about Penguins and listen to their sounds here.

Today is Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview F&G from publisher.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club

Welcome to a new year! This year I'm doing something new with my Wednesday page; I'm turning it into an "explorer's club". That means you'll find different things here each week. I'll continue with occasional five-minute-field trips and "wordless Wednesday" photos, but be open to adventure. Be prepared to meet a "bug of the month", and every now and then I'll challenge you to "look closer".

For this week - check out the sky above you. I'm not sure why, but I think our winter sky has a different look that the summer sky: not as soft. Maybe it's the cold air... If you have a camera, take photos of your sky from one particular place - maybe once a week, or a couple times a month. Who knows what you might discover.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Animals by the Numbers

Animals by the Numbers: a book of animal infographics
by Steve Jenkins
48 pages; ages 6-9
HMH, 2016

How much do all the humans on earth weigh? Without adding up everyone's weight, we have to make an estimate, and that comes to around 350 million tons. That's a lot, right?

So how much would all the insects on earth weigh? Best estimate of that comes to 100 billion tons - about 15 tons for every person on earth. To help put these huge numbers into context, Steve Jenkins creates infographics - charts, tables, diagrams, and graphs that illustrate information.

He uses bar graphs to compare how fast animals swim, fly, and run and how far animals jump. There are pie charts and "thermometer" graphs, maps and a very cool decision tree illustrating the sorts of things that might run through a small animal's mind when another creature approaches: does it look dangerous? Does it see me?

What I like about this book: it presents facts about animals in a fun way. Sure, you could read a page telling how fast different animals run, but a chart comparing those speeds makes you think about information in a different way. The way he presents the information is as fun as the questions he explores: how fast do critters have to flap their wings to stay airborne? How many hours a day do animals sleep compared to their waking time?

And, for us writers, Jenkins includes a pie chart showing how he spent his time making the book (5% spent staring into space).  Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies provided by publisher.