Fall Facts and Fun!

19 09 2011

Here at The Austin Children’s Museum we’re excited that Summer is leaving and the weather is starting to cool, which means autumn is just around the corner.

Autumn is one of the four seasons and it typically falls between September 21st and December 21st. Why is autumn sometimes called Fall then? Because leaves fall off of deciduous trees during the season. Here are some cool facts about fall leaves from LoveToKnow.  You should learn this before autumn starts and summer leaves!

  • Leaves require sunlight, water, chlorophyll and carbon dioxide to make food for themselves.
  • As winter approaches, leaves make a coating for themselves which blocks their water source; in the absence of water, the leaves no longer produce chlorophyll (chlorophyll is what makes leaves green).
  • When the leaves turn colors in the fall, they actually are returning to their normal colors. During the summer months, the chlorophyll in the leaves causes them to turn green, blocking the leaves’ actual colors.
  • Along with chlorophyll, leaves contain two other chemicals that cause coloring. The first is called xanthophyll, which is yellow in color. The other is carotene, which is orange in color.
  • Red and purple leaves are actually caused by the presence of sugars from sap that is trapped inside of the leaves.
  • Once the leaves have turned brown, they are dead and no longer receive any nutrients.

Leaves are pretty interesting right? They can even be used for art! Check out how we used leaves creatively in these activities:

Color one yourself: Leaf Man and Butterfly Leaf

And send us your leaf art!

Exploring Mercury

2 05 2011

In our Ready, Set, Roll! exhibit, we have learned a lot about gravity. Now, we can see how gravity is used in different sciences like space exploration.

Here is the first image taken in Mercury's orbit by MESSENGER.

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, so it has been difficult to learn more about this planet, but now scientists have finally found the key thanks to gravity!

Since March 29, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has been sending back images of Mercury to Earth. These are the first images ever taken from within the tiny planet’s orbit.

The first photographs include glimpses of Mercury’s surface never before seen by spacecraft. The images also show a lot of small craters, which look like pits in the ground.

In the first three days of the MESSENGER orbiting around Mercury, the MESSENGER sent about 1,500 by March 31.

On average, the spacecraft will take more than 200 photographs per day. This is over 75,000 pictures in a year!

On March 17, MESSENGER became the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. This was all possible due to gravity. Gravity is a force of attraction. This force, or pull, is increased as mass increases. This is why we stay on the ground as we walk and why Earth stays in its orbit. In the case of MESSENGER, it is held close to Mercury by the planet’s gravity.

Mercury does not have a lot of mass, but fortunately, it has enough to keep MESSENGER in its orbit, and we can continue to discover new things about this planet’s atmosphere, landscape and history!

Women’s History Month: Marie Curie

25 03 2011

Photo ACJC, www.aip.org
For Women’s History Month, we are once again recognizing a woman who has made huge advances in science: Marie Curie.

Marie Curie was the first woman to ever receive a Nobel prize, and the first person to receive two (one in physics, one in chemistry)! She won her first Nobel prize in Physics in 1903 for research she completed with her husband, Pierre Curie, in radioactivity. The idea of radiation and the word radioactivity were invented by Marie Curie herself!

Today we know that there are lots of different kinds of radiation. The light from the sun is radiation! So are x-rays, a stronger kind of radiation, which doctors use today to be able to see our bones through our skin. Light radiation is too weak to pass through objects (like our skin) but the types of radiation (like x-rays) that Marie Curie worked with can. Marie and her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, helped pioneer the use of x-rays in medicine during World War I.

Marie Curie’s discoveries set the foundation for atomic and nano research, and today allow us to understand much more about atoms, the tiny particles that make up our bodies, our planet, and our solar system. It is because of Marie Curie that we can even have NanoDays here at the museum!

Even though radiation is all around us, it can be harmful. For example, the sun’s radiation can give you a painful sun burn. Sadly, Marie Curie and her daughter both died of leukemia (a type of cancer) because they had been exposed to too much strong radiation.

To learn more about atoms, the way they behave, and nanotechnology, join us this Sunday, March 27th from 12 to 5 pm!

Science Fact of the Week: The Northern Lights

10 12 2008

Have you ever heard of “The Northern Lights”? The Northern Lights, which are also called the aurora borealis, are a beautiful display of colorful lights that can be seen from the sky at nighttime. The Northern Lights can only be seen in the northern hemisphere, or in parts of the world that are very cold like Alaska and Canada.

The Northern Lights are formed when electrons and protons from the sun become trapped in the polar areas of our earth. When a lot of these electrons and protons are collected, they collide with the air. The earth’s air is made up of oxygen, nitrogen, and other gases. The collision with the air causes the electrons and protons to become very electrically charged and to produce a lot of colorful lights in the night sky!

The Northern Lights can be many different colors, and the color depends on the type of gas that the protons and electrons are mixing with.  To get a better idea of how the Northern Lights are formed, watch this interesting video! At the end of the video you can see the Northern Lights in action. Also, to make your own Northern Lights go here!

Science Fact of the Week: Snowflake Science!

2 12 2008

snowflake2It’s wintertime and that means that parts of the US are getting snow right now! Have you ever wondered how snow is formed?

Snow is formed in clouds when water vapor freezes in the air at a temperature of less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  The shape of a snowflake is determined by the temperature of the air and the amount of water vapor that is formed in the cold weather.

If you were to look at snow under a microscope, you would see that each snowflake is made up of detailed, beautiful designs! There is a myth that no two snowflakes are alike, but did you know that this myth is not completely true?

To understand this myth, we need to be familiar with probability, which is the measure of how likely an event is. The Science Buzz blog explains it this way: when molecules freeze and form ice crystals, they can create billions of different shapes, but each year, billions of snowflakes fall onto the earth. Over time, the number of fallen snowflakes becomes greater than the number of possible snowflake shapes. 

So that means that although we will probably never physically see two identical snowflakes, SOMEWHERE in the world, there are duplicates of snowflake designs! To see some amazing photos of snowflakes under a microscope click on the picture of the snowflake!

Science Fact of the Week: All About Hibernation

25 11 2008

bear-2When winter comes hibernation begins for many animals. Hibernation is when animals become inactive or sleep for long periods of time during the winter.

Before it gets cold, these animals spend most of the day eating to gain weight so that the extra body fat will keep them warm during hibernation. Then, in the spring, the animals come out of hiding and enjoy the warmer weather. Here are some interesting science facts about animals and hibernation:

Many people think that only certain mammals, such as bears, squirrels, chipmunks, and bats hibernate, but that’s not true. Amphibians and reptiles, such as frogs, turtles, snakes, and lizards can hibernate, too. Even some insects are known to hibernate!

An animal can lose up to half its body weight over the winter while hibernating.

While some animals hibernate in caves, trees, or holes in the ground, amphibians and reptiles sometimes hibernate underwater!

The animal that spends the longest amount of time hibernating is called a Belding’s Ground Squirrel. This animal hibernates for about eight months!

During hibernation, an animal’s heart rate slows to about 10 beats a minute. Sometimes, an animal’s heart rate can drop as slow as only 1 to 2 beats a minute!

Science Fact of the Week: The World’s Saltiest Body of Water

19 11 2008

dead-sea-2If you have ever visited the ocean, you know that ocean water is different from the water we drinkat home. That’s because oceans are made up of salt water and most lakes and rivers are basically fresh water. 

Have you ever wondered why the ocean is salty in the first place? Most soil and rocks are made up of small amounts of salt. As rivers and streams flow towards the ocean, their current picks up the small traces of salt and deposits them into the ocean. Although these traces of salt are very small, it builds up over time, making the ocean noticeably salty!

Did you know that there is a body of water that is much saltier than even the ocean? The Dead Sea, which lies between Israel and Jordan, is considered the saltiest body of water in the world!

While most oceans are only made up of 3 to 6% salt, the Dead Sea is made up of 28 to 35% salt! This is because the Dead Sea is completely landlocked and is much lower than the land around it. When salt flows from rocks and soil down into the Dead Sea it becomes trapped and has no way to escape.

Salt water is denser, or heavier, than fresh water. Because it is denser, it makes it easier for things to float in it than in fresh water. The salt water in the Dead Sea is so dense that it is VERY easy to float in it! Watch the following video for an interesting science experiment involving salt water and density:

Science Fact of the Week: The World’s Smallest Dinosaur!

12 11 2008

When we think of dinosaurs, we often think of HUGE creatures that would be able to chomp down on a car in one bite if they still existed today. For example, the Tyrannosaurus Rex stood an average of 20 feet tall. Its teeth were an average of 9 inches long, which is about the size of a banana, and its body was an average of 40 feet long, which is about the length of a school bus!

microraptor21We know there were many enormous dinosaurs that roamed the planet, but do you know how tiny the smallest dinosaur was? The smallest dinosaur that ever existed was called the Microraptor.

The Microraptor was so small that you would have been able to hold it in the palm of your hand. Fossils of the Microraptor were found in China and it appears that the dinosaur was an average of only 16 inches- that is almost as small as one tooth of the T-Rex! It is considered one of the most bird-like dinosaurs to ever be discovered because it had feathers on both its arms and legs! The Microraptor was a carnivore, which means that it ate meat. Because it was so small though, it probably only ate insects instead of other dinosaurs.

To find out how you measure up to various dinosaurs, go to Discovery’s Dino Viewer!

Science Fact of the Week: The Science of Benjamin Franklin!

4 11 2008

Benjamin Franklin is famously known for being one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, but did you know he was a great scientist as well? It’s true!

Benjamin Franklin did a lot of scientific research concerning theories of electricity. For example, he figured out that by placing an iron rod on top of a church and by connecting a cable from the rod to the ground, the rod would attract lighting during a storm and send electricity to the ground. This prevented lighting from striking elsewhere and causing a fire. Ben Franklin also studied electricity by tying a key to the end of a kite. He flew the kite during a storm and found that the key could collect an electrical spark from a storm cloud!

Many people think that Benjamin Franklin only studied electricity, but he actually did a lot more with science, too! In the 1700’s many people used wood stoves, but Ben figured out that metal collects heat better than wood, so he created a metal stove that was more fuel efficient! He called his invention The Franklin Stove!

Benjamin Franklin continued to use his scientific skills to invent TONS of different things- he invented bifocal glasses, created swim fins, started daylight savings, and charted the Gulf Stream! I think that one of the funniest ideas that Ben had was to float in a pond while flying a kite so that the kite could move him across the water! 

To learn more about Ben Franklin as a scientist go to this cool interactive timeline that includes games and videos!

Science Fact of the Week: All About Pumpkins

28 10 2008

Fall is here, and you know what that means- it’s time for pumpkins! This week, instead of talking about just one interesting scientific fact, we thought we would talk about lots of interesting facts having to do with pumpkins:

Did you know that the pumpkin isn’t a vegetable, but a fruit? You can tell what is a fruit by checking to see if what you are eating has seeds. Vegetables don’t have seeds, but fruits do. Because pumpkins are FULL of pumpkin seeds, this classifies them as a fruit. (Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and even green beans are technically fruits, too!)

Did you know that long ago, our ancestors thought that pumpkins were a cure for snake bites and even for removing freckles? Although it doesn’t help with snake bites and freckles, pumpkins do have some healthy benefits- they are good for your heart and your eyes.

Did you know that 90% of a pumpkin is just water? Because so much of a pumpkin is made up of water, it requires a lot of water while it is growing to help it survive.

Did you know that the world record for the biggest pumpkin is a pumpkin that weighed 1689 pounds? That is over 100 times heavier than the average pumpkin!

Go here to carve your own virtual pumpkin or go here to print out a fun pumpkin coloring page!

Science Fact of the Week: The Fastest and Slowest Mammals

14 10 2008

Do you know what the fastest and slowest mammals on earth are? This has nothing to do with the tortoise and the hare! Actually, the cheetah is the fastest mammal while the sloth is the slowest mammal!

That’s right, the cheetah is the fastest mammal on the planet! A cheetah can run at speeds of up to 70 mph! How can cheetah’s run so fast? A cheetah’s speed has less to do with its legs and more to do with its ability to breathe. Cheetahs have large nostrils that let it take it large amounts of air while it runs.

Have you ever heard someone called “slothful” when they were being lazy? Well that description comes from the lazy tree dweller, the sloth! Sloths sleep up to 20 hours a day and it can take a sloth over a month to travel only one mile!

No matter how we get somewhere- whether we are walking, running, riding a bike, or driving a car- it takes energy to get from one place to another. The cheetah uses so much of its energy from running that it must rest for at least 15 minutes before going on the move again. Because the sloth travels so slowly, it uses about half the energy of the average animal.

At the Austin Children’s Museum’s new exhibit “All Systems Go” you can learn about the many ways that we get from one place to another. How much energy do you use when you power your own car at the Kid-Powered Car Track? Let us know!

Science Fact of the Week: Butterfly Migration!

6 10 2008

Did you know that birds and bats aren’t the only animals that fly south for the winter? It’s true- even butterflies are known to migrate south when the temperatures get colder!

Every fall, millions of monarch butterflies travel from the mountains of the northern United States down to Mexico. They are the only species of butterfly to travel a distance that far- up to 3,000 miles total! These tiny insects can also travel up to 80 miles a day!

Monarch butterflies migrate south for the winter because their northern habitats become too cold for them to live in and their food, which is nectar from milkweed, becomes sparse in the winter.

When the butterflies arrive in Mexico, they stay in only about 12 locations across the country. The millions of butterflies huddle together and cover Mexico’s trees. Many times, so many monarch butterflies are covering the trees that they are mistaken for fall leaves!


You can see a live map of the monarch butterfly’s migration here! Right now the butterflies are traveling through Texas so keep a lookout for monarch butterflies in the sky!

Understanding Hurricanes

18 09 2008

We’ve heard a lot of talk about hurricanes lately. In fact, two hurricanes, Gustav and Ike, have recently been having a big impact on coastal states here in the US and some of us have family or friends that may have been affected by them. What exactly is a hurricane though and how are they formed?

Hurricanes are severe tropical storms that form over the oceans when winds gather large amounts of energy from warm ocean currents. Hurricanes travel in a counter-clockwise motion, and when hurricanes hit land, their high speed winds can cause major damage to homes and cities!

If you are interested to see where other hurricanes are around the world, go to the National Hurricane Center for an interesting hurricane map! You can also create your very own hurricane here!

Sand gets a close-up

30 08 2008

Ordinary things that we see every day and never notice can be incredibly fascinating when you take the time to really look at them. Discover is displaying some extraordinary photos of grains of sand that were taken with a 3D microscope. I’m amazed at how different sand can look depending on what it’s made of!

I don’t have a 3D microscope, but I did take an up-close photo of sand one time when I was on the beach. It was fun to focus on the tiny grains and shells. I realized that, wow, there is so much amazing variety – just on this tiny patch of beach!

Do you have any close-up photos you’ve taken? Send them to csoontornvat@austinkids.org and we may post them to the site!


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