Science through the lens
Which lunch food has a shape that resembles a falling raindrop?
b. potato chip
c. hot dog
d. hamburger bun
e. all of the above
f. none of the above
If you chose (f), you’re like most people who think raindrops are shaped like tears.
If you chose (e), you’re probably just hungry.
In either case you’re wrong.
That leaves us with lunch. Let’s start from the top.
Choice (a), orange, is a sphere. Water droplets are spherical because water is cohesive, meaning it sticks to itself. The “skin” that holds the drop together is surface tension and the reason insects can walk on water.
If you chose (a), you made a logical choice based on the properties of water, but you are wrong. Notice that you were not asked to identify the shape of a raindrop sitting on a leaf. You were asked to identify the shape of a falling raindrop. (Always read questions carefully!)
Moving down the list to (b), we encounter the potato chip. Potato chips come in many shapes, ranging from relatively flat to completely crumpled. Have you ever seen a raindrop that looks even a little bit like a potato chip? If you chose (b) you are wrong, but have a good sense of humor.
Choice (c), hot dog, is an interesting option. Could a spherical drop of water morph into the cylindrical shape of a hot dog? After all, a hot dog is a cylinder with a hemisphere (half sphere) on each end. Could a water droplet in free fall separate itself into two hemispheres with a long drip of water in between? Although this is an imaginative idea, the laws of physics make it impossible.
Choice (d), hamburger bun, is the only remaining choice, and is the correct answer. Here’s why:
A raindrop is acted upon by three forces: gravity, buoyancy, and drag. Gravity is the force that pulls the drop toward the earth, while buoyancy of the surrounding air pushes it upward and keeps it from falling. When the force of gravity is greater than the force of buoyancy, the raindrop falls. The air around it creates drag, slowing the drop down to its maximum speed. In the process, the sphere is distorted into a shape that resembles a hamburger bun.
Got it? Now, you may go to lunch.
Bugs bite, drink blood, and rob food from gardens and fields. They can even kill plants, animals, and, occasionally, people. Is bugging a crime? In her latest book, Bug Shots, Alexandra Siy compiles "rap sheets" on several of the major categories of bugs and takes a very close look at some of the types of insects in an engaging text. For more information, click here.
Alex Siy 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. "The Race for the Sky." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 7 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ A-Raindrop-Quiz.
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.
STEM through the lens
In 1953, a scientist named Edmund Schulman discovered that bristlecone pines are the world’s oldest trees. They live high in the mountains—between 9,000 and 11,000 feet above sea level where the soil is rocky, the air is as dry as a desert, and the temperatures are extremely hot in summer and cold in winter. Most ancient bristlecones grow in California’s White Mountains and Nevada’s Snake Range, and scientists now know that some of these trees are more than 5,000 years old. They are the oldest known living things on the planet.
Edmund Schulman used a boring bit, a tool shaped like a drinking straw, to drill into old trees and pull pencil shaped pieces of wood called cores out of the trunks of very old trees. Cores contain patterns of stripes. One stripe represents one year of growth. Schulman counted more than 4,600 stripes from a tree he named Methuselah--after the oldest man in the Bible.
Today, the Methuselah Tree’s exact location is kept secret to protect it from too many visitors. Like all ancient bristlecone pines, Methuselah’s annual growth rings contain secrets spanning thousands of years—secrets that are being discovered by scientists who know how to “read” tree rings. Rainfall, fires, volcanoes, droughts, and climate changes, are literally recorded in the growth rings.
In the summer of 2011, I went searching for Methuselah. I brought along my camera. Although I am not a tree-ring scientist, I did my own research using my five senses. I tasted the pitch and pollen from cones (it was a little bit bitter); smelled the bark (it smelled like rain); touched wind sculpted and sun bleached wood surfaces (it was smooth and grooved); listened to the sound created when I tapped the rock-hard wood (it was sharp and short); and I was amazed by their strange forms and colors (they looked like dancers).
Did I find Methuselah during my adventure? Actually, when I stopped searching,Methuselah found me. I will share that story along with a lot of science, in the book I am writing. But I won’t publish Methuselah’s photo or location. Some things must be kept secret.
Alexandra Siy says, "I write books that put the "A" into STEM! Reading about science should be as creative and fun as doing science. Science is not simply information and facts--it's about questions, exploration, and the process of discovery. My books are illustrated with real scientific images that bring alive the stories that inspire kids to think like scientists! " If you would like to know about some of her award-winning books, click here.
Alexandra Siy 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. "The Oldest Tree on Earth." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 10 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/the-oldest-trees-on-earth.
Do you ever feel spaced-out before you take a test? Yes or no, let’s go!
1. TRUE or FALSE?
It’s possible for a spacecraft to fly from Earth to Venus, to Mars, back to Earth, then to Saturn, out to Pluto, back to Jupiter, and come home to Earth on one tank of fuel.
2. It’s possible for a spacecraft to fly all over the solar system on one tank of fuel because of:
a. the sling-shot effect
b. gravity assist
d. all of the above
e. none of the above
The sling-shot effect, also known as a swing-by or gravity assist, is used to accelerate a spacecraft. Acceleration means to change the speed and/or the direction of a moving body. A spacecraft that is speeding up, slowing down, or following a curved path is accelerating.
Gravity accelerates objects everywhere in the Universe. When you ride your bike up a hill it takes a lot of effort to make it to the top because the Earth is massive compared to you, and gravity pulls you toward its center. When you coast down the other side, gravity is your friend!
Spacecraft can use the gravity of a planet to accelerate. Picture a spacecraft falling toward a planet. The spacecraft will crash unless it steers away.
3. As a spacecraft accelerates toward a planet, the motion of the planet is also affected by the gravity exerted by:
a. the spacecraft
b. the Sun
c. cosmic rays
d. both (a) and (b)
e. both (b) and (c)
f. all of the above
g. none of the above
All bodies in space, no matter how big or small, exert gravity on each other. Planets stay in orbit around the sun because of gravity. A planet is also affected by the tiny mass of a spacecraft. Gravity assist was used to increase the speed of Voyager 1 by 36,000 mph on its swing by Jupiter, which sling shot it to Saturn. And Jupiter slowed down infinitesimally, at a rate of 12 inches per one trillion years.
4. The person who discovered the math for using gravity assist to accelerate a spacecraft from planet to planet to planet…was:
a. Aristotle (384 B.C. to 322 B.C)
b. Galileo (1564-1642)
c. Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
d. Katherine Johnson (1918- )
e. Michael Minovitch (1936- )
END OF TEST!
DON’T STOP WORKING.
GO TO THE LIBRARY TO FIND THE ANSWERS.
In this drawing a spacecraft gets an assist from Jupiter as it "slingshots" toward Saturn. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 used gravity assist to fly by the outer planets. Image courtesy of NASA
The twin Voyagers have no people on board on their interstellar journey, but carry The Golden Record, which contains messages, music, and pictures from Earth. Image courtesy of NASA/Alexandra Siy
In case you didn't make it to the library: In 1961, UCLA graduate student Michael Minovitch used math and the new IBM 7090-7094 computers to invent gravity assist trajectories for space flight. Used with permission of Michael Minovitch
Alexandra Siy's Voyager's Greatest Hits tells the story of the twin space probes that traveled to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, a journey beyond our solar system into interstellar space, where no probe has ventured before. Siy tells the fascinating story of how the Voyager probes work, where the probes have been and what they’ve seen, and what they carry on board.
Alexandra Siy is also a member of Authors on Call. You can bring her to your classroom via interactive videoconferencing and learn more from her and ask her questions. To find out more go here.
MLA 8 Citation
Siy, Alexandra. "Spaced Out." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 2 May 2018,
Science through the lens
A long time ago in a land far, far away…
The climate suddenly changes. It’s May, and a “Great Fog” appears in the sky. During the day it blocks out the sun and acts like a blanket trapping heat near the ground. A ten-year old boy notices that temperatures spike and sunsets are a spectacular display of colors. He doesn’t know that volcanoes in the “Ring of Fire” are spewing ash into the atmosphere creating massive clouds and causing the strange weather. All he knows is that he can’t take his eyes off the sky. The boy’s name is Luke Howard. The year is 1783, and his location is the English countryside. Luke records his observations in a journal. Although he doesn’t know it yet, he is on his way to becoming the “Father of Meteorology.”
Flash forward twenty years. It’s 1803, and Luke Howard is a successful businessman. But in his spare time, ever since the summer of 1873, he’s been watching the clouds and thinking up new ideas about the weather. He writes and publishes a scientific paper and presents his ideas to a group of fellow amateur scientists. His article, “On the modification of clouds, and on the principles of their production, suspension and destruction,” classifies clouds into groups using Latin words: heaped (cumulus), layered (stratus), fibrous (cirrus), and rain (nimbus). By combining terms into names such as Cirro-cumulus, which he describes as "small, well-defined roundish masses, in close horizontal arrangement," Luke identifies many kinds of clouds.
Luke’s passion for clouds inspires him to make watercolor sketches and write a book called The Climate of London, which introduces new ideas about lightening and the causes of rain. In 1864, Luke Howard dies at the age of ninety-two, leaving behind a cloud naming system that is still used today.
A long time ago in a land far, far away, Luke Howard names the clouds—and in our imagination we see him turning to a friend and saying, “May the clouds be with you.”
To see photos of many kinds of clouds go to NOAA Sky Watcher Chart
Spidermania: Friends on the Web debunks myths about spiders and takes an extremely close look at creatures that have both fascinated and terrified humans. An introduction explains what makes spiders unique. Then ten species are highlighted with incredible electron micro-graph images and surprising facts. From diving bell spiders that live in bubbles underwater, to spitting spiders that shoot sticky streams of spit at their prey, to black widows and wolf spiders, this unusual book will intrigue readers and help cure arachnophobia. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Siy, Alexandra. "Luke Skywatcher." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Apr.