September 1, 1852, British astronomer Richard Carrington was sketching the pattern of sunspots being projected from his telescope onto a white panel. Suddenly, a rare white-light solar flare outshone the rest of the image. Trouble was on its way!
The revolving molten core of our Earth generates a magnetic field – the magnetosphere – that not only orients our compasses but protects us from the sun’s lethal radiation. Intense charged particles from the sun are magnetically bent around the earth. Some follow magnetic lines into the poles and light up the arctic and antarctic skies as aurorae. Periodically, during times of intense surface disturbance, giant flares of energy can burst out of the sun: CMEs, coronal mass ejections. They’re directional and they seldom hit earth. When they do, the most powerful can punch through our magnetosphere.
On September 2, 1852, Carrington’s flare energy reached the earth and danced along the copper wires of our (then) new telegraph system. Hundreds of miles of wire burst into flames. Telegraph offices burned down, operators at their keys were knocked back by severe shocks, instruments and switches melted. For two days the telegraph system that wasn’t destroyed sent nonsense. Then spectacular aurorae that lit up the skies, they, finally, proved that the sun’s energy was the aurora’s source. Aurorae were seen all over the world, even near the equator. After two days the effects ceased.
Could it happen again? It has. In 1882, a flare melted telegraph equipment in Chicago. In 1902, solar energy disrupted the Atlantic telegraph cable and shut down Swiss electric trollies. In 1940, hundreds of miles of American telegraph and telephone lines were destroyed. A solar flare in 1989 almost forced the Space Shuttle Discovery to return to earth early and knocked out Quebec’s electricity; only quick action in New Jersey, where a major transformer melted, saved the United States’ east coast from a long blackout. In 2003, a powerful flare destroyed or disabled many satellites, damaged instruments on our Mars orbiter, and sent the crew of the International Space Station into its flare-shielded module. In 2005, our GPS navigation satellite constellation was knocked out for 10 minutes.
All the life and energy we have comes from the sun. But that energy, itself, is dangerous. We’re partially protected by our magnetosphere. Hope for the best and reach for the sunscreen.
Adkins new book is about the first drive in an automobile. The wife of the inventor took her kids to see their grandparents.
The United States Constitution includes two oaths of office. The first, and better known one, is the presidential oath in Article Two, which reads, "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Why does it include “affirm” in parentheses? Because the Framers understood that an incoming president might object to “swearing,” which could indicate an oath before God. This might also explain why the Constitution does not add “so help me God” at the end, although most modern oath-takers do so.
The second oath, in Article Six, similarly requires all national and state officials to “be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.”
Why are these provisions important? One answer is that our 18th-century forbears deeply believed in the magnitude of swearing oaths before God: violating an oath, after all, might lead to Divine, as well as secular, wrath.
Furthermore, note that allegiance is sworn to the federal Constitution. Before the Revolution, colonial officials swore fealty to the king. Afterward, but before the Constitution was ratified in 1788, state legislatures required members to swear loyalty to their particular state. As John Adams had said, “Massachusetts is our country.” The Framers debated which of these to follow—state or federal—and even whether to require oaths altogether. James Wilson of Pennsylvania argued that they were unnecessary because “a good government did not need them and a bad one…ought not to be supported.”[i] Requiring allegiance to the federal government was a major step.
But there is another crucial question: Can we tell when someone is, or is not, obeying the oath? What does it mean, “to the best of my ability, [to] preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States?” Donald Trump was impeached twice by the House of Representatives. Did he live up to the terms of his oath or not? How do we decide?
Presidents will always insist that they complied with the oath. Office-holders as varied as Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt, among others argued that they had the power to interpret the Constitution to do what they believed counted as preserving, protecting and defending it. Other people say the Supreme Court is the “ultimate interpreter” and presidents must abide by the justices’ rulings. The South African Constitution, for example, makes it clear that that country’s Constitutional Court takes precedence over any contrary assertions by the President. Would you support that?
Many of the political issues we struggle with today have their roots in the US Constitution. Husband-and-wife team Cynthia and Sanford Levinson take readers back to the creation of this historic document and discuss how contemporary problems were first introduced―then they offer possible solutions.
"A fascinating, thoughtful, and provocative look at what in the Constitution keeps the United States from being “a more perfect union.” " Kirkus Reviews - Best Middle Grade Nonfiction of 2017
The Master Chef of Kids' Hands-on Science
Think you might like to be a helicopter pilot? If so, here’s what the U.S. Flight Aptitude Selection Test for helicopter pilots says: “Helicopter pilots must pass some of the most demanding physical tests of any job in the military. To be accepted for pilot training, applicants must have excellent vision and be in top physical condition. They must have very good eye-hand-foot coordination and have quick reflexes.”
A sense of balance is also extremely important because sometimes instruments alone are not enough to keep a helicopter oriented properly in the air. Pilots may have to make very subtle corrections. So here’s a test for balance. Be forewarned. Not many people can do this, maybe one in twenty.
1. Stand at attention.
2. Make two fists and extend your arms straight down by your sides. Point your index fingers to the ground.
3. Close your eyes.
4. Bend one leg back at the knee so that your lower leg is parallel to the floor and you are standing on one foot. Don’t let your foot droop. You must maintain your knee at a right angle.
5. Keep your eyes closed and hold this position for ninety seconds.
6. Try not to shake.
I learned about this from a Scotsman who told me about this test to qualify for the British Royal Air Force. He couldn't pass it, nor could I. In fact, no one I knew could rise to the helicopter pilot challenge except a Navy pilot in my family. He held the position perfectly for two minutes. Solid like a rock. No problem.
It’s clear that when it comes to certain skills not everyone is equal. Some people are not even close. So very few people are in the running to become helicopter pilots. You're probably not one of them but this may change with training.
Vicki Cobb is a former science teacher with a M.A. in secondary school science. She is also the founder and president of iNK Think Tank, the group that is producing The Nonfiction Minute. Thanks, Vicki!
Check out How Could We Harness a Hurricane?. To find out more about this book and other books that Vicki has written, click here.
Vicki Cobb is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 CItation
Cobb, Vicki. "Take the Helicopter Pilot Challenge." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 4 Jan. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Take-the-Helicopter-Pilot-Challenge.
Curiosity Queen: writing science, history, and everything in between
Regular visiting hours are over at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens, but the line to see Morty reaches out the door. It’s an event that comes once in a decade, so I’m happy to wait for my chance to see, and smell, what’s inside.
A year ago the Botanical Gardens acquired corms or bulbs of a tropical plant called the corpse flower. These aren’t little tulip bulbs you hold in your hand. The corpse flower corm weighs 120 pounds and looks like a giant potato. A corm that big needs a lot of energy to grow, so, it spends several months dormant underground. When the first hint of green peeks through the soil, it’s a guessing game as to what it will look like. Most of the time, the corpse flower will send up a slender shoot and one complex leaf that looks like a tree canopy. Through photosynthesis, this leaf will provide energy that will be stored in the corm. When there is enough energy stored up, Morty will flower. And that’s what I’m excited to witness.
Weaving my way through displays of cactus, palms, and banana trees, I wonder if someone forgot to take the trash out. The odor of rotting meat wrinkles my nose, and I realize why Morty is called a corpse flower. As we move closer, the air grows thicker. This plant has been dumpster diving.
The stink Morty sends forth is the plant’s way to attract pollinators in its native jungle of Sumatra. The flower only lasts a day or two, so the scent has to be pungent enough to quickly draw in dung beetles and carrion flies that will collect the pollen and distribute it to other plants before it wilts. It’s curiosity that lures me in.
I round the corner and catch my first glimpse of the stinker. Since it poked out of the ground it has grown five to six inches every day, and now Morty’s seven-foot spire, called a spadix, towers over me. I have to step back to catch the entire plant in my camera lens. Like a wicked witch’s collar, Morty wears a single pleated, blood red flower petal wrapped around the spadix. By midnight the flower will be fully opened and have reached maximum reek.
I click more pictures and take a deep breath. It will be a long time before Morty blooms again, and I want to remember every smelly detail.
Peggy Thomas certainly is a Curiosity Queen. You'll recall that her last Nonfiction Minute showed her taking an elephant's temperature -- not an easy task. Her book Anatomy of Nonfiction shows other authors how to write about real events.
To read about some of Peggy's other adventures and to find out about her books, visit her website.
MLA 8 Citation
Thomas, Peggy. "Morty Makes a Stink." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 9 01 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/Morty-Makes-a-Stink.
Are you tougher than a tardigrade? I don’t think so.
These typically water-dwelling animals may be microscopic in size (barely half of a millimeter when fully grown!), but boy are they fierce. Sometimes called “water bears,” they’re anything but cuddly. Each of their eight legs is decked out with wicked claws. Some tardigrades have full body armor. Most have specialized "sucker" mouths to pierce the cells of plants and animals and suck out their nutrients, while others prefer to consume their tiny prey whole… and that prey might even be another tardigrade!
Aside from ending up as someone else’s dinner, though, tardigrades are practically indestructible. They can survive in just about any conditions and take on just about anything life has in store for them. Starvation? No worries there: Tardigrades can go without food for at least 10 years. What about water, you say? No problem. They’ll just suspend their life activities and wait until the drought is over. They can survive at pressures more than six times that of the deepest ocean trenches. And, you’d die from radiation poisoning long before a tardigrade would even notice. Scientists have even tried shooting them into outer space… and the tardigrades survived.
Because of their ability to live practically anywhere, these little guys are practically everywhere. Tardigrades can be found on top of Mount Everest and in boiling hot springs, in desert dunes and rainforest canopies, in freshwater lakes and salty oceans, on your roof, outside your front door… maybe even in your bed or on your dinner plate! There are billions and billions of tardigrades… and they’re always making more!
Fortunately, there’s no need to worry—tardigrades are completely harmless to humans. In fact, tardigrades may actually end up being our best friends someday. Because they can do so many things that other Earthly animals can’t, scientists are studying tardigrades to try to find solutions to all kinds of problems. Want to dry something out to preserve it, then rehydrate it later? Study how tardigrades do it. Wish we could safely reanimate something that has been frozen? Learn from the tardigrades. Need to protect cells from being damaged by radiation? Figure out why tardigrade cells can withstand it.
Who knows? Someday the tough tardigrades might teach us all kinds of handy tricks!
Tardigrades are short and plump, with four pairs of legs, each with four to eight claws also known as "disks." Schokraie E, Warnken U, Hotz-Wagenblatt A, Grohme MA, Hengherr S, et al. (2012)/Wikimedia Commons
An adult Milnesium tardigrade, an example of more than 1,000 species of the tiny animal. Bob Goldstein and Vicky Madden, UNC Chapel Hill/Wikimedia Common
This video shows a tardigrade in real time at 100X magnification. Dmitry Brant via Wikimedia Commons
Laurie Ann Thompson and coauthor Ammi-Joan Paquette begin a fascinating new series with Two Truths and a Lie, a book that presents some of the most crazy-but-true stories about the living world. Some of the stories are too crazy to be true—and readers are asked to separate facts from fakes! "A brief but savvy guide to responsible research methods adds further luster to this crowd pleaser.” —ALA Booklist (starred review)
MLA 8 Citation
Thompson, Laurie Ann. "Tardigrades Make the Grade." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 21 Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council