Today's Hours: 10am to 5pm
Steve Whitt is COSI's go-to guy for all things science.
Spring is on the way. Really! Despite the chilly weather and occasional snow dump, the second half of March invariably brings on scientific-sounding descriptions of something called the vernal equinox, the day when daytime and nighttime are finally equal. It marks the time when daylight starts lasting longer, nights get shorter, and (eventually) warm weather returns to our fair land.
What is rarely discussed, though, is why. Why should the Earth's axis tilt in such a way to create varying seasons? Why are seasons so predictable, year after year after year? Do other planets have similar cycles? Will our pattern ever change?
The wild frock of hair. The mischievous grin and sad, puppy dog eyes. And, of course, the famous equation E=mc2. The one scientist almost everyone knows not just by name but even by sight is, of course, Albert Einstein. He’s become a synonym for genius; so smart, so beyond our ordinary ways of thinking, that we don’t have any chance of understanding his ideas.
And yet, that part of the legend is simply not true. You can understand some of Einstein’s most exciting discoveries, and you won’t need an advanced degree in physics to do it. All it takes is a little imagination. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” What better way to celebrate Einstein’s 134th birthday than by recreating in our own minds one of his most astonishing discoveries?
Groundhog Day approaches! Legend has it that if the groundhog, a large rodent related to squirrels and chipmunks, sees its shadow on February 2, we’re in for six more weeks of winter. If, on the other hand, the shadow stays hidden, we’ll have an early spring.
Sure, everyone knows about turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. But somewhere hidden behind the gravy boat and that mountain of rolls, if you're very lucky this Thanksgiving you just might find a truly unique dish: candied sweet potatoes! My grandma used to make them the old-fashioned way - piled high with delicious, gooey marshmallows! Mmmm, marshmallows . . . I was a picky eater as a kid, but even I couldn't turn my nose at a vegetable that tasted like dessert.
What is a sweet potato, anyway? Turns out it's not a potato at all. It isn't closely related to white or yellow potatoes, the kind you mash up for Thanksgiving or deep fry and salt for, well, for just about any other day. Sweet potatoes also aren't closely related to yams, another tuber grown mostly in Southeast Asia. (What many people call candied yams are almost always in reality candied sweet potatoes.)
Halloween is pretty much my favorite holiday. I love the costumes, the spookiness, using marshmallow "peeps" in my science experiments, and the candy!
Of course, we know what makes candy great is sugar. What we know as sugar is sucrose, a molecule composed of 12 atoms of carbon, 22 atoms of hydrogen, and 11 atoms of oxygen (C12H22O11).
I don’t really consider myself much of a scientist, being a communications person and all, but I love the idea that cooking, baking, and the like counts as science. When we mix different ingredients together, we form new compounds, and formulate chemical reactions to make delicious foods. By the way, whenever this mad scientist is in the kitchen, it’s definitely considered experimental. I once burned rice krispie treats! (in the science world that is called carbon. Sheepish grin.)
An ode to the Mars Curiosity written by our very own Emily Dorrian who is an Associate Faculty Leader for Operations:
Twas the night before Mars-mas, when all through Gale Crater,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a gator;
Mount Sharp was piled in the center with care,
In hopes Curiosity soon would be there;
Imagine yourself on the surface of Mars. The temperature is a balmy zero degrees Fahrenheit. The pink, nearly cloudless Martian sky surrounds a tiny but blindingly bright Sun, shining its feeble light on the frigid surface. In other words, it’s a beautiful day on the Red Planet.
Suddenly the sky opens up in a fiery and terrifying display. What can only be described as a creature from another world begins a rapid descent to the Martian surface. In the space of seven minutes, what was a speck of fire in the sky becomes an enormous robotic vehicle firmly planted on the surface of Mars. It promises quite a show.
First a parachute catches as much of the thin Martian air as it can, slowing the body of the craft down from a blistering 900 mph to a still-deadly 180 mph.
Scientists at CERN have announced that it's quite likely they've finally cornered the primary quarry of their latest and biggest machine, the Large Hadron Collider. I'd like to call it the Higgs, but others will insist on calling it "The God Particle."
If you remember nothing else from this article, I'd like you to remember this: please don't call it The God Particle. According to Rutgers University physics professor Matt Strassler, who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do, the origin of the nickname is about as non-religious and non-scientific as one could imagine: it was invented as advertising... I have never heard or seen a physicist refer to the Higgs particle in this way in the context of a scientific paper, a talk at a conference, or even an informal scientific discussion. There’s nothing in the mathematical equations, in the interpretation of the physics, in any philosophy of which I am aware, or in any religious text or tradition with which I am familiar that connects the Higgs particle or the Higgs field with any notion of religion or divinity. The nickname is pure invention."
In Roman mythology, Venus was the goddess of love. From Earth, the lovely planet Venus is the brightest object we can see besides the Sun and the Moon. We know today that Venus itself is not so lovely a place, with clouds of sulfuric acid and a surface hot enough to melt lead. But because Venus is between the Earth and the Sun, every so often, something very special happens. Venus passes directly between our planet and our star. We call this passage a transit.
Imagine yourself as a space alien, looking down on our solar system. In the center is the Sun, dwarfing all else. A few million miles* from the Sun you see some orbiting rocks. Two of them, almost the same size, are the second and third rocks from the Sun. The orbits of these planets are almost (but not quite) circles, and they’re almost (but not quite) in the same plane. If the planets were exactly in the same plane, it would be as if they were marbles rolling about on a flat plate as they circle the Sun. If that were the case, then every time Venus overtook the Earth in its orbit (something that happens at least once every year) people on Earth would see Venus pass in front of the Sun. But because our orbits are tilted, this perfect passage (or transit) occurs only when conditions are just right.
Imagine you’re a Trogdorian, living on the planet Trogdor seventy-five light years from Earth. It is ninety million years ago, and your planet has just developed the technology to survey nearby worlds for signs of life.
You train your ultra-sensitive space telescope on a pretty solar system with a yellow star and eight smaller worlds stretched out like gemstones on a necklace. One of these worlds, third from its star, lies at a distance where liquid water might exist on its surface. Intrigued, you set your spectroscope to examine the atmosphere (if any) of this orbiting rock.
People love their cars. But driving can be risky. When it comes to moving at 100 kilometers per hour, the laws of physics are not always on our side. Stopping a car, slowing it down, or changing its direction at high speed can be difficult and dangerous. But there is a solution to the problem of driving: remove the drivers.
President & CEO
Manager of Experience Programs
Former Director of Sustainability Initiatives
Education Programs Marketing Manager
PR & Social Media Manager
Director of Early Childhood Education Strategic Initiative
Manager of Health and Medicine Initiatives
Guest Blogger from ScottsMiracle-Gro
Sr. Director of Marketing & Communications
Manager of Energy & Environmental Initiatives