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:


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