Thursday, April 25, 2013

Moon Phase Cookies and "Moon Tennis"

We loved doing this! Even Malachi was pretty good at creating each phase of the moon on his cookie with frosting. We took great strides of improvement beyond the original idea by using cookies that are actually GOOD, though: my friend Beth's homemade oreos. We love these! I made everyone tell me which cookie showed which phase, and then they sandwiched each cookie together with its "match" (first quarter with last quarter, waxing gibbous with waning crescent, etc.) before eating them. Yum!

Here's the recipe:

Homemade Oreos

2 packages Devils Food cake mix
4 large eggs
1 1/2 c shortening

Mix all ingredients together. Roll into tiny balls, place on cookie sheet, and bake at 375 for 7-8 minutes. Make sandwich cookies by spreading one cookie with frosting (recipe below), then placing another cookie on top.

1/8 c butter or margarine, softened
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 t vanilla
2 c powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients until smooth.

Saw this idea of "moon tennis" online. It went along with our discussion of what gravity would actually feel like on the moon---the idea being that some things would be easier to do and others would be harder, and that our lack of familiarity with that amount of gravity would make everything just feel . . . weird. Everyone really loved this game but it was WILD. Luckily all the materials are lightweight because there was lots of accidental (we hope) bashing of heads and arms.

Sam and I and the older boys watched this documentary about the Apollo Moon Missions. It was SO interesting. It's composed mainly of interviews with the different astronauts, and it's just fascinating to hear them recount their impressions and experiences. Lots of small, interesting details that you would never really think to wonder about---like if Michael Collins (the astronaut who stayed in orbit while the other two walked on the moon) felt lonely while he waited for the others. ("I would have liked being lonelier! Mission Control was yapping in my ear the whole time!") We loved it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Astronaut food and playground activities

There were some activities that needed to be done outside, so one day we went to a playground nearby (the only one I know of with a merry-go-round) to talk more about gravity and space travel. Here, the children are rolling a ball to each other as the merry-go-round spins, and observing its path.

Here, we are eating and drinking upside-down (kind of like this)

Here we seeing the difficulties of launching rockets into orbit, trying to reach the moon even as we are rotating ourselves (and of course, the moon is not a stationary target either).

I still remember how amazed I was the first time I tasted "astronaut ice cream." It is so weird and cool. I ordered these foods and we tried them out for our picnic after the day's activities. The children loved that!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Making a comet

My parents were always up on the latest astronomical happenings, so I saw lots of comets as I was growing up---I still remember getting out of the car by Utah Lake in the cold and dark of night, peering up at the sky with binoculars too big for my face, trying to see Halley's Comet. (I never did get a very good look at it. And it isn't going to come around again till I'm 82!) My brothers and I were marched outside night after night to follow the progress of Comets Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake as well. So I have a soft spot in my heart for comets.

We found several tutorials online for how to make your own "comet." Any day we get to use dry ice is a good day, so we gave it a try. It was fun to see the comet sublimating into the air and making icy trails as the heat of the hair dryer hit it!
This one didn't hold together very well. Perhaps our dry ice wasn't old enough (we didn't keep it overnight, as the instructions suggest). Still, we could observe pitting and sublimation at work.

This one was better. Here, we observe what happens when it's hit with "Solar wind"

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Playing Astronaut

Re-entry parachute check

One of my favorite things to watch is the way the children play whatever we are currently learning about. Of course, these Solar System weeks were FULL of astronaut and space play. I love this astronaut kit Abraham made for Malachi. Note the "launch hole" (!!) he climbs inside of to launch from (this is to protect bystanders from being burned by his rocket boosters firing!)
Ready for launch (wearing jetpack)


Seb dressed in his astronaut gear
Junie doesn't want to be left out

Daisy with rocket and launch tower she built from blocks

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Astronauts, Space Travel, and the International Space Station

We found a lot of ideas for demonstrations of how astronauts might feel in zero gravity. Malachi, who wants to be an astronaut, was especially interested in these simple demonstrations. Most of them came from the book Cosmic Science, but this site had some additional ideas and pictures.

One thing we tried was putting on rubber gloves and then trying to do a couple simple tasks underwater. We had to pick up a penny and put it in a cup, then take it out again; and then screw a nut onto a bolt. It was quite difficult! I can't imagine how much practice it would have taken for the astronauts to become competent enough, while wearing their gloves and while in zero gravity, to perform delicate tasks like fixing the Hubble Telescope!

Here we observed and recorded the difference between a vehicle's re-entry into the atmosphere with a parachute, and without one. (We made a parachute for a toy out of plastic wrap and yarn.)

We saw how constant motion can "trick" the inner ear into thinking you aren't moving when you are, or how a change in motion can make you think you're moving the opposite direction.

We tried writing with a ballpoint pen upside down (and compared this with using Sam's "space pen"---and a pencil).

Robot arm operator
Junie looks on with interest
Success! Malachi grabs the clay ball!
Perhaps the most fun of these activities was making a robot arm, like the one found on the International Space Station. It was surprisingly tricky to maneuver it correctly in order to pick up a small clay ball (and we even had the resistance of the table to press against, which you wouldn't in space, of course).

There are lots of cool videos you can watch that show how things behave in zero gravity. One of our favorites was this one, showing what happens when you wring out a washcloth in space.

The children really liked this one, too: everyday life on the space station.

Lastly, this is the most interesting movie ever---an hour-long tour of the International Space Station. We could have watched this all day. Just watching the narrator move around is fascinating, but seeing the different spaces they live and work in is even better. I would want to spend all my time up in the cupola, watching earth. So cool!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Planetarium Shows

We visited both our nearby planetariums (planetaria?) during this unit. My brother Kenneth used to give the planetarium shows at BYU and they were always SO excellent. I could listen to Kenneth talk about the stars forever! I'm sorry to say that the current crop of BYU students hardly lives up to his legacy (the girls were reading their parts from a script the night we went, and not reading very well, either), but it's a fun field trip nonetheless. We'll have to go back again when they're doing a different show (the one we saw was showing us constellations in other cultures, which was somewhat interesting but not very useful for those of us still trying to learn landmarks in OUR night sky!).

A visit to the Eyring Science Center is never a waste of time, though. We always enjoy seeing the pendulum, the wave machine, and the other fun exhibits.
This exhibit showed the density of various materials, culminating with a neutron star. It was so heavy we couldn't even lift it!

Another day, we went to the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake. They have some really fun free exhibits, though the shows are quite expensive. This time, we went specifically to see an IMAX movie Sam's parents recommended to us, called Hubble 3-D. The astronauts who fixed the Hubble Space Telescope brought an IMAX camera with them, and filmed some really amazing footage. I thought even the parts that showed the astronauts suiting up, getting ready for launch, etc., were really fascinating (because it's 3-D, you feel like you are in the room with them!), but the shots from the astronauts' point of view, looking down at the earth as they floated next to the Hubble and worked on it, are mind-blowing. SO cool. There are a lot of great shots taken by the Hubble itself, also. We really loved the movie and felt like it was worth the (rather pricy) ticket.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Jupiter and Saturn

On the day we talked about Jupiter I dressed up as Jupiter. The children thought this was really funny. (And it was!) :)

Malachi wanted to be Jupiter too. He wasn't as round as I was, though.
Jupiter is such an interesting planet. It has a huge magnetosphere; much bigger than it should be, from what else we know about it. So, of course it has aurora at the poles. We liked this video showing Jupiter's aurora.

Naturally, the children were fascinated when they heard about the Shoemaker-Levy collision with Jupiter. Here is a video about it.

Saturn has aurora too.

One of our books had a picture of what Saturn would look like in the sky from its moon, Titan. (It looked something like this.) (Titan is one of our favorite moons anyway. It has lakes and rivers of liquid methane on it! So interesting.) Anyway, Sebby formed an instant bond of fear/fascination with "Big Saturn from Titan," and in his usual way of dealing with odd fears, he drew and talked about it endlessly. He has even composed a piece of piano music called "Big Saturn from Titan"(you can imagine what it sounds like). :) He says that he's not scared of Saturn in the normal way of things, only when it's "looking at you like a big eye in the sky." I guess I can understand that. Anyway, this video shows what several of the planets would look like in our sky, if they were as close to us as our moon is. The children, especially Sebby, wanted to watch it over and over again. (And he came and got into my bed after a nightmare that night. Coincidence?) So view at your own risk!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rotation and revolution model

This is a pretty simple illustration of rotation and revolution. The boys' cousin Michael came home with the same model from his second-grade class when we were over at his house. We recommend using cardboard for the arms between the sun, earth, and moon---paper is too flimsy. Instructions here.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Radar Mapping (Venus)

When we were studying Venus we learned about how some space probes used Radar Mapping to determine topography on Venus (since they couldn't see through the thick clouds). This seemed like kind of an abstract concept, so we talked about topographical maps and then I had the boys try some "Radar Mapping" of their own.

I just put some bowls into a shoebox and covered the box with paper so they couldn't see inside. Then we took a long skewer and marked centimeter markings on the side. The boys poked the skewer through the paper, observed how far it went in, and recorded their measurements on top of the paper. You have to remember to write down the number corresponding to the height of the object beneath, NOT how far the skewer goes in. In other words, I gave them a maximum height from ground to "cloud" (I think it was 11 cm), and then if the skewer went in 4 cm, we wrote down "7 cm" (11 minus 4) as the height of our mystery object. They caught on to that pretty quickly.

They had to make lots of measurements to make sure they were getting a good picture of what was underneath!
Once we had the paper full of measurements, I had them color it in with markers, using warm colors for the highest points and cools for the lowest points. Then I asked them to describe what they thought was beneath before we looked inside. They said "two mountains---one taller than the other."

Which was exactly right!

This was fun. They wanted to do it again, so they did it themselves for awhile during free time later that day.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pudding Craters

This pudding crater activity came from a book called Cosmic Science. We did it on our Mercury day, and then the children wanted to do it again on the Moon day, so we did (with bananas instead of chocolate chips). There are lots of other ways to make craters (balls thrown into flour, etc.) but the pudding seemed to work nicely. It's fun to throw things into pudding and see what kinds of craters you can make.
Sam made the huge crater by throwing something from really far away.
I like Malachi's face here

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Scale Models of the Solar System (size and distance)

The sun (by Abe,) Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars

One of the first activities we did was pace out the distances, to scale, between the various planets in the Solar System. I always think activities like this are so memorable (we did something similar when learning about the amount of empty space in an atom) and fun. It's just incredible to imagine the vast distances we are talking about even in just our own solar system! Mind-boggling.

There are a few different ways to do this---this one uses beads and strings, so you could do it inside. This one is similar ("solar system in your pocket")
This one is really great, because it shows distance AND planet size to scale, so we would have done this if I'd been more prepared. Also I really love the writing style of the guy who wrote this up (clearly a passionate astronomer)

But we ended up doing this very simple walk, using the following numbers of steps:

To Get From: 
Sun to Mercury walk 3 steps 
Mercury to Venus 2.5 steps 
Venus to Earth 2 steps
Earth to Mars 4 steps 
Mars to Jupiter 27.5 steps
Jupiter to Saturn 32.5 steps
Saturn to Uranus 72 steps
Uranus to Neptune 81.5 steps
Neptune to Kuiper Belt/Pluto 71 steps

It was really easy and it fit (barely) in the space we were trying to use. I just made really simple signs on skewers to poke in representing each planet, so we could look back and see how far we'd come.

Pluto. The inner planets are waaaay back by the purple arrow---almost out of sight

Next we wanted to show the relative sizes of the planets. For this model, of course, we didn't show relative distances, and we couldn't include the sun either.

We used the following dimensions:

Mercury: 1½"
Venus: 3¾"
Earth: 3 7/8"
Mars: 2"
Jupiter: 44¼" (Tape butcher paper together to get desired width)
Saturn: 37 1/8"
Uranus: 16"
Neptune: 15¼"
Pluto: ¾"

We used a compass---or a string tied to a pencil (cut to the radius of the planet we were drawing) for the  larger planets---to make the planets the right size. Just learning how to do this was educational in itself, I thought. The older boys were quite pleased with themselves.
Sam even showed them how to do an ellipse, using a loop instead of a line of string. That was for Saturn's rings.

We colored the planets after we drew them, which took forever, but looked nice. Our butcher paper kept curling because it was nearly at the end of the roll. Annoying (the planets kept curling off the wall even after we put them up). We should have flattened them under something first.

We put them up in our stairway and it was really fun to walk by them every day (when they weren't falling down). I love the dramatic size of Jupiter and Saturn next to the tiny little rocky planets!

And there's always this cool "powers of 10"-type universe scale site (did you watch "Powers of 10" in high school science class? I love that movie)
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