STEM through the lens
Chances are you’ve seen this photograph before—maybe on a T-shirt, on a billboard, or in a TV ad. The “Blue Marble Shot” has been reprinted more than any other photograph in history. It was taken on December 7, 1972, by one of the three Apollo 17 astronauts on their way to the Moon. But no one knows which astronaut took the picture because all three claimed to have been the photographer.
During the few minutes Apollo 17 flew across the place in space located directly between the Sun and Earth (which was 28,000 miles away), no one should have been looking out of the window as they all had important tasks to do. But, obviously, someone, and perhaps everyone, was looking out. One of them grabbed a camera and clicked the shutter four times.
After Apollo 17 returned to Earth, the picture was published on the front page of newspapers all over the world. For the first time ever, people saw the full planet Earth completely flooded in sunshine. Heavy clouds swirled over vast oceans. The African coastline was clearly visible, with its northeastern edge fitting like a puzzle piece with the Arabian Peninsula. Madagascar, the fourth largest island on Earth, was slightly off center, looking like a slipper floating in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And because the photo was taken just two weeks before the winter solstice, Earth’s southern hemisphere was tilted toward the sun, revealing Antarctica. For the first time ever, the south polar ice caps appeared in a photo.
The mystery of who took the picture has never been solved. The commander of the mission, Eugene Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon, says he snapped the picture. But would the commander have had the time to take the photo at that critical point of the flight? Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the first geologist sent to the moon, also swears that he took the picture. Perhaps that makes sense because he was responsible for making scientific observations. Ron Evans, who died in 1990, also claimed that he took the picture.
No one will ever know for sure who took the Blue Marble Shot. But the words of Commander Eugene Cernan describe what he saw out of his spaceship window “…you can look out the window and you're looking at the most beautiful star in the heavens— the most beautiful because it's the one we understand and we know, it's home, it's people, family, love, life —and besides that, it is beautiful. ”
In Alex's book Cars on Mars you can follow the course of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission as twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity explore the Red Planet. Learn how scientists determined that there was once water on Mars and how the earthbound NASA team resolved problems with the rovers from afar in order to prolong the mission, which continues today. For more information, click here.
Alex 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
Siy, Alexandra. "Mystery of the Blue Marble." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 30 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Mystery-of-the-Blue-Marble.
Polar bears are built to withstand some of the coldest temperatures on the planet. Their brown and black bear cousins avoid the winter cold by digging dens and sleeping. But, except for pregnant females, polar bears spend the arctic winter outside where temperatures could be -40° F (which equals-40 °C) and windy. That’s too cold for humans. You could go outside, but only for only a few minutes with every part of your body completely covered. And if you didn’t wear goggles, your eyelashes would freeze and break off if you touched them.
Polar bears are warm-blooded like us with a body temperature of about 98°F/37°C. But they are invisible to night-vision goggles that pick up the infrared rays that warm-blooded creatures, including humans, give off. Why? Nature has given polar bears enough insulation to prevent body heat from escaping. They are toasty warm and comfortable in the frigid arctic.
Their heat insulation is in several layers. Under their skin, there is a 4-inch (21.5 cm) layer of fat. Next to the skin is a dense layer of woolly fur that also keeps heat in. The fur you see is a thick layer of long, colorless guard hairs that shed water quickly after a swim. They are stiff and transparent and hollow. In the arctic sunlight, the hairs act like mirrors and reflect white light, which acts as camouflage against the snow so the bears are not seen by their prey. Polar bear skin is actually black, so that it can absorb the invisible warm infrared rays of the sun and the bear’s own body heat, both of which are reflected back by the guard hairs.
Most warm-blooded animals raise their body temperatures through exercise. Polar bears hunt seals, which they don’t often chase. They prefer to sit at the edge of an ice floe and wait for dinner to arrive. At best, they’ll lumber after a seal at four and a half miles (7.25 km) an hour, raising their body heat to 100°F (38°C). When that happens, they go for a swim to cool off.
Cold won’t kill off the polar bears, but global warming can. As polar ice disappears, so does the hunting ground for seals. Not so cool!
Close up, the polar bear guard hairs are transparent. This allows the infra-red light (heat) from the sun to pass through them to be absorbed by the black skin under the hairs. The hairs also act like mirrors , reflecting back to the skin any infra-red radiation escaping from the bears body so it can be reabsorbed. Thus, the insulation is just about perfect with no infra-red radiation escaping. The hairs are also coated with oil so they drain quickly after a swim.
Vicki Cobb's This Place Is Cold shows how the latitude of Alaska affects the lives of the plants, animals and people who live there. It is gloriously illustrated by Barbara Lavallee, a long-time Alaskan resident and artist.
Vicki is a member of Authors on Call—she can visit your classroom with interactive videoconferencing: Read more about her here.
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "The Way Polar Bears Keep Warm Is Cool." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 29 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/The-Way-Polar-Bears-Keep-Warm-Is-Cool.
Until 1800, the U.S. capital had been Philadelphia, a big city. Then the capital moved to Washington, DC, a small town with dirt roads, lots of trees, and the not-quite-finished Capitol and presidential mansion, known to some as the “White House.” In the winter of 1809, when Abe Lincoln (future President No. 16 – the tallest) was still a baby, James Madison, the new president (No. 4 – the shortest), gave a party. It happened that James’s wife, Dolley, was excellent at bringing all sorts of people together and making sure they had a jolly time. This was her way of making Mr. Madison popular.
So, one Wednesday evening, the Madisons’ servants (enslaved African Americans, some of them) welcomed party goers to the White House. The large East Room, where Abigail Adams (wife of President No. 2) hung up her laundry, was closed off. Now the politicians, government workers, foreign diplomats, and their wives exchanged smiles with rosy Dolley Madison. (She used blusher – very daring then!) Imagine people in the oval-shaped Blue Room (cream-colored then, with red velvet curtains), laughing with the First Lady, all fancy in her Paris gown.
Next door was the sunny gold parlor (the Red Room now), where you might visit with shy, brainy President Madison. (Did you know he helped to write the U.S. Constitution? Well he did!) Best of all was the big State Dining Room. It had been an office for Thomas Jefferson (President No. 3). Now it was full of FOOD: Savory snacks, tea and other drinks, little cakes and a rare delicacy: ice cream. Imagine guests with their mouths full and eyes wide, staring up at Gilbert Stuart’s great portrait of President No. 1. Some of the guests had met George Washington, but they all knew how much he’d done to make the United States possible.
Everyone had such a good time, that there was another party the next Wednesday and the next. LOTS of people came – even the most disagreeable politicians! The popular weekly party, with its crowds of mashed together party goers, was a White House tradition for a while. It even got a name: Mrs. Madison’s Crush.
Cheryl Harness's latest book is Flags Over America, a picture book history of flags, especially America's. It was published for the 200 YEARS anniversary since Francis Scott Key wrote his poem about the Star Spangled Banner. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Wednesday Night Crush." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ the-Wednesday-Night-Crush.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
“Whatever happens to this single animal, let him always remind us that
the fate of all living things on Earth is in human hands.”
These words, inscribed on a panel by the enclosure where the last of his race, the Pinta Island tortoise called Lonesome George, are no longer needed. George died on June 24, 2012, at an undetermined age, but likely more than 100 years. Even so, his actual death is merely a symbol of extinction, since he was the only one of his kind left. Without a mate for George, this species was doomed.
Perhaps George’s death, however, will impress people with the power of our own species to doom or to save others. The thoughtless short-term thinking so common among humans ignores the long-term effects of our actions. During the 1800s, whalers, fur sealers, and other seafaring folks raided the Galapagos Islands for food. The giant land tortoises that populated the islands were perfect for long-term storage, as they could survive for a year or more on a ship without eating or drinking. Their diluted urine provided drinking water as well. The Pinta tortoise population was hit the hardest by this exploitation because Pinta is the farthest north of the islands and thus the last one visited when the sailors left for the open sea.
By 1959 the tortoises had just about disappeared from Pinta. Some fishermen released three goats there, knowing they would reproduce to make island meat once more available to ships. The goat population exploded, devastating the island vegetation and dooming any animals that depended on it for survival.
In 1979, a scientist studying snails came across George, who was soon brought to the Tortoise Center on nearby Santa Cruz Island for protection. But hopes of finding a mate for George and thus saving his species faded with the years, and Lonesome George became what he remains after his death, a symbol of careless exploitation by humans.
Now, after careful restoration of his remains, Lonesome George is on exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History until January 4, 2015, after which he will be returned to Ecuador. The plaque overlooking his old corral now reads, “We promise to tell your story and to share your conservation message.”
Some good news! Unlike the Pinta subspecies, conservationists have managed to help bring back the tortoises on the Galapagos island of Espanola from a low of only 16 to a population of more than 1,000 now living on their home island. Here, scientists are recording information about the tortoises in their native environment. Photo : Flickr: Sebastian Keynes via Christian Zeigler
Read how one endangered species got returned to its natural home and thrived in Dorothy's book, When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone. She says " I loved writing this book, which describes the positive changes in the ecology of the park that are happening since the wolves came back--healthier willows, more beavers and small predators, more song birds, and more. Wolves have also returned to several western states around Yellowstone, including Montana, and their presence there is also helping restore the natural environment."
Dorothy Patent is a member of Authors on Call. You can bring her to your school via our Zoom Room. Here's a link to her program on wolves.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "Lonesome George: The Face of Extinction." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Lonesome-George-the-face-of-extinction.
Are you starting to notice the difference in the voices of the authors of the Nonfiction Minutes? Are you getting the idea that we are a passionate bunch of people with wide interests? Do you think you could recognize an author even if you didn't know who wrote a Minute?
How about bringing your favorite author to your school to answer questions about his or her MInutes? You can find out how through the Center of Interactive Learning and Collaboration. If you're a teacher it costs nothing to join and there are lots of other content providers listed whom you may find interesting. If you look at the drop-down list of providers, you'll see us under Authors on Call/iNK Think Tank. But here's the link for you to bring us to your school and talk to many classrooms in one visit through our fabulous Zoom Room. All you need is WiFi and a white board or projector and screen.