Wednesday, April 29, 2009

mars hoax

I recently had an email from a friend who said, "You like science and you'll love this." The email then went on to tell me about how spectacular the planet Mars was going to be this August. I remembered something about this event, but couldn't quite put my finger on it until AFTER I had forwarded the information to another science buddy. The Mars spectacular slated for this coming August was a hoax. The story was fake, bogus, made up. So, for anyone wondering, I have copied an article written by Alan MacRobert which debunks the Mars myth.

Mars Hoax Returns
August 8, 2006
by Alan M. MacRobert
If no one has asked you about it yet, they probably will. A bogus e-mail chain letter, sometimes titled "Mars Spectacular," has been circulating around the Internet, as it did last year. It claims that on August 27th the planet Mars will dazzle the world, appearing brighter than ever in history and "as large as the full Moon to the naked eye."

A bogus e-mail chain letter is misleading people into thinking that Mars will look as big as the full Moon to the naked eye in late August 2006. To learn the truth, see the image below.
Moon: Rick Fienberg; Mars: NASA / J. Bell (Cornell U.) / M. Wolff (SSI)The problem is that "August 27th" is actually August 27, 2003. Mars did make a historically close pass by Earth at that time, and when magnified 75 times in a telescope, it looked (in the telescope) the size the Moon looks to the unaided eye. But that qualifier has long been lost from some versions of the chain letter.
Ironically, in late August 2006 Mars cannot be seen at all; it's hidden behind the glare of the Sun. In any case, to the naked eye Mars always looks like a star, not the full Moon.
As they orbit the Sun, the Earth and Mars make a close approach every 2¼ years or so. This time is called "opposition," because from our perspective on Earth, Mars then appears opposite the Sun in the sky. On average the two planets come within 48 million miles of each other. But because their orbits are elliptical (oval) rather than perfectly circular, the minimum separation between the two planets varies from one opposition to the next.

Even when Mars is at its closest and brightest, which it won't be again until late 2007, it looks like an orangish star, nowhere near as big and bright as the full Moon.
S&T: Rick FienbergIn late August 2003 Mars came within 35 million miles of Earth, and in late October and early November 2005 it came within 43 million miles. Mars's next opposition will come in December 2007, when it will be farther still, 55 million miles from Earth. For reference, the Moon orbits the Earth at an average distance of about 240,000 miles, and the average Earth–Sun distance is about 93 million miles.
The Mars chain letter seems destined to get revived every August. I don't see this as a bad thing, I see it as a good thing. It's an immunization. If you make a fool of yourself by sending it to all your friends and family, you'll be less likely to send them the next e-mail chain letter you get, which may not be so harmless.
The first place to check for facts about any Internet rumor, hoax, or urban legend is Bookmark it!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

This is one of my favorite pictures. I took it in while driving through Parker Ranch, in Waimea, Hawaii. Other that proving that there seems to be cows and not a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, it's a good lead-in to a science experiment for Earth Day.
You will need
A ripe avocado
A tall, clean jar
1. Have an adult cut open an avocado and give you the pit. Rinse off any avocado left on the pit.
2. Stick 3 or 4 toothpicks evenly around the center of the avocado and push them in about 1/4 of an inch.
3. Place the avocado, fat end down into the opening of the jar. The toothpicks should keep the avocado pit from falling into the jar. Fill the jar with water to the top. The bottom of the avocado should be covered with water.
4. Carefully put the jar in a warm spot. Keep the jar filled with water over the next few weeks until the pit starts to grow roots and a stem.
5. When the stem grows to several inches, plant the avocado into a large pot. Keep it in a warm and sunny spot.
Unless you live in a very warm place, like Hawaii or California, you may not be able to grow your
avocado outdoors. Avocado trees can grow to be over 60 feet tall and may have hundreds of avocados!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

popcorn on the cob

It's a perfect time to start a science activity! Have you ever wondered where popcorn comes from, other than the back of your cupboard?
Try this:
1. Take some unpopped, popcorn kernels from a jar. Don't use the kind found in a microwave bag.
2. Fold a piece of paper towelling in half and place the kernels between the folds.
3. Lightly damped the towelling with water and put the towelling and popcorn kernels in a plastic zip lock bag. Seal the bag and leave in a warm place, like a window ledge.
4. When the kernels sprout, and tiny thread-like hairs appear in the bottom of the kernels, remove the kernels from the zip-lock bag.
5. Plant each sprouted kernel in a small pot and leave in a warm spot indoors until the plant is several inches high.
6. Transplant the popcorn plants into large pots or in a south facing spot in the garden. Watch over the summer as the plant grows and corn cobs appear on the plant.
7. Harvest the corn when the cobs are about 6 inches in length. The corn on the cob will look like popcorn and not sweet corn on the cob, the kind you boil and eat with butter.
8. You can pull off the husks (the covering from the corn) and have an adult microwave the popcorn right on the cob.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Belated Passover/Easter Science Activity

Here's an activity that I used to do with my kids when they were young. You will need
Raw Eggs
Coffee Grounds (available for free from most coffee shops) NOTE: coffee grounds not ground coffee.
Onion Skins
Olive Oil
Salt, Pepper
Roasting Pan with lid

1. Put a layer of onion skins in the bottom of a heavy roasting pan.
2. Gently place an egg into the onion skins.
3. Drizzle olive oil onto the eggs. If you wish you can even use a clean paint brush to paint on a design using the olive oil.
4. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the eggs.
5. Use your hand to scatter the dry coffee grounds over the eggs. Cover the eggs with another layer of onion skins.
6. Have an adult put the roaster in the over, and add enough water to cover the eggs. Have the adult cover the roaster with a lid and turn the oven on to 225 degrees.
7. Leave the roaster in the oven overnight.
8. Wash your hands with soap and water after touching the eggs.

In the morning have an adult use oven mitts to remove the roaster from the oven. Using a slotted spoon, remove each egg from the onion skins and rinse in cold water. The eggs have turned a rich, brown color, with blotches of bright yellow and streaks of white. When you remove the shell, you will find the egg is a mocha color. Presuming you don't have any food allergies, eat the egg for breakfast. Does it taste like coffee?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shira, photo by Elad Tzadok

This is a photo of my daughter, Shira, taken by my nephew, Elad Tzadok. Elad had to create a photograph of a famous painting by Picasso, so he used Shira as a model. The reason for this posting is to prove to my children that I can, in fact, blog without their assistance. Thank you kids for your confidence!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chocolate Eggs under Threat from Witches Broom

This is a very timely article from the New Scientist web site. It was written by Debora Mackenzie. Besides, the title alone makes the article a must read!

Chocolate eggs under growing threat from witches' broom
07 April 2009 by Debora MacKenzie
Magazine issue 2703. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.
IT'S chocolate egg season again, and sales of the pagan and Christian symbols of rebirth are as strong as ever. But the hunt for Easter eggs may truly be on next year, because chocolate trees are in increasing trouble.
Chocolate is made from the fermented, roasted seeds of the cacao tree. The cacao swollen shoot virus (CSSV) can kill the trees, and threatens to slash this year's spring crop by a third in the world's biggest producer, Ivory Coast. Meanwhile a fungus called witches' broom is doing the same in Brazil. Now researchers are racing to sequence the cacao genome and find genes that can resist CSSV.
Cacao trees are native to the Amazon rainforest, but west Africa produces 70 per cent of the world's cocoa, virtually all on tiny, impoverished farms. In recent years, demand for chocolate has mushroomed. The farmers cannot afford expensive fertiliser so they boost production by planting more cacao trees over a greater area. That means cutting down other trees that normally grow between cacao crops, which also replicate their rainforest origins and give them the protective shade they prefer.
"Increasingly cacao is grown almost as a monoculture," says Paul Hadley of the University of Reading, UK. That promotes the spread of disease, as does the trend towards growing the trees in drier regions - water-stressed cacao trees are less able to fight off disease.
In recent years, CSSV has become an increasingly serious problem in Ivory Coast. The virus originated in native African trees, in which it is endemic, and is spread by common mealy bugs, so it can't be avoided. The only defence until now has been to destroy millions of infected cacao trees to create disease firewalls. Yaw Adu-Ampomah and colleagues at the Cacao Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) have found cacao varieties in Africa that partially resist the killer virus, and they are trying to breed more resistant strains.
But progress is slow. New genetic stock brought over from South America must be quarantined for two years before going to Africa, and experimental crosses take three years to grow before researchers can test for CSSV resistance.
Ray Schnell and colleagues at the US Department of Agriculture lab in Miami, Florida, are trying to speed things up. "We're mapping genes for resistance to CSSV now," he says. "It will all be a lot easier in a few years when we've sequenced the cacao genome."
If they can link particular DNA sequences with CSSV resistance, they hope to use them to make a testing kit so researchers in Africa can screen experimental crosses and plant only resistant seedlings. The CRIG is already using such a test to combat a fungal cacao disease called black pod.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

launch poster

Let's do launch!
Please join us on May 2nd as the best group of children's writers and illustrators in BC launch their Spring book titles. Enter in a draw to win a mini-microscope and some 3-D glasses with a 3-D photo.
Try a hands-on experiment at my table.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Boys

These are the boys whose nicknames are "Cry" and "Havoc". On weekends the thing I love to do the most is sleep in, and the thing they love to do the most is to go to the beach or for a long walk in the forest. Guess who wins that fight? They take up most of the bed, they smell terrible, they like to cuddle, all of which means I don't sleep well.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

fighting lizards

In all the years I've been in Hawaii, this was a first for me. Two anoles were fighting for territory. Watch as they change colors and puff out their red throats.