Marshmallows in a vacuum

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Hi everyone, its the mom here, with my first Stuff to Teach Our Kids post.

I really like baking, the kids like mixing and licking the bowl. I also like teaching them how and why we mix the ingredients together and the reactions that take place when certain things mix. Baking really is just science. So I went looking for some fun baking experiments we could try.

I came across this video by The Crazy Russian Hacker about what happens to marshmallows in a vacuum. It looks like a really fun experiment to try at home and you can find a vacuum box like the one he uses on Amazon here. You can also make your own vacuum box using a wine bottle and a wine saver pump/stopper (instructions here).

According to the science behind the growing marshmallows is as follows:

Marshmallows have small bubbles of air trapped inside them. These bubbles are at atmospheric pressure. When the air inside the glass container is sucked out, the volume of the container remains the same although there is much less air inside – so the pressure is reduced. The air bubbles inside the marshmallows are therefore at a much higher pressure than the air surrounding the marshmallows, so those bubbles push outwards, causing the marshmallows to expand. When air is let back into the glass container, the surrounding pressure increases again, and the marshmallows deflate back to their normal size.

As soon as we get the vacuum boxes we are going to try this out for ourselves and I will post a video of our results. Please let us know if you try it out too.

Image credit: Marshmellows by Maryam Abdulghaffar, licensed CC BY 2.0

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and it’s Mars mission

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
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One of the amazing vehicles humans have sent to Mars to explore the red planet is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. What is the MRO? According to Wikipedia:

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. The US$720 million spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin under the supervision of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The mission is managed by the California Institute of Technology, at the JPL, in La Cañada Flintridge, California, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. It was launched August 12, 2005, and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006. In November 2006, after five months of aerobraking, it entered its final science orbit and began its primary science phase. As MRO entered orbit, it joined five other active spacecraft that were either in orbit or on the planet’s surface: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express, 2001 Mars Odyssey, and the two Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity); at the time, this set a record for the most operational spacecraft in the immediate vicinity of Mars. Mars Global Surveyor and the Spirit rover have since ceased to function; the remainder remain operational as of March 2016.

MRO contains a host of scientific instruments such as cameras, spectrometers, and radar, which are used to analyze the landforms, stratigraphy, minerals, and ice of Mars. It paves the way for future spacecraft by monitoring Mars’ daily weather and surface conditions, studying potential landing sites, and hosting a new telecommunications system. MRO’s telecommunications system will transfer more data back to Earth than all previous interplanetary missions combined, and MRO will serve as a highly capable relay satellite for future missions.

בעברית: בויקיפדיה

The official NASA MRO website also has a great overview of the MRO’s mission which you should read for more background information and links to more information about aspects of the mission.

I noticed a terrific video commemorating 10 years of the MRO’s mission which includes some wonderful imagery:

You can also find a huge gallery of high resolution imagery in the NASA JPL Photojournal that is worth spending some time exploring. Here are some examples:

Wind at work
The Ares 3 Landing Site: Where Science Fact Meets Fiction
Aeolian Features of Scandia Cavi

Image credit: Wikipedia (Public Domain)

Audio clips and a companion Facebook Page

I have some news to share with you quickly.

Audio clips

Firstly, I have added audio clips to each of the articles on the site with a short overview of what the article is about. It occurred to me that many of the kids who may visit the site may not be able to read and all the text would be lost on them. Here is an example:

Please let me know if any audio clips don’t work for you? I used an HTML audio tag to embed the clips and the audio clips themselves are hosted on Amazon S3.

Now on Facebook

I created a companion Facebook page to go with this site and make these articles more accessible through the single biggest social network on this planet. I’m still deciding how to use Facebook best but, for now, I’ll share articles from this blog on the page and use Facebook to share quick updates too.

I have also added AMP and Instant Articles support for this site so articles should display that much better on mobile going forward.

The Royal Institution is awesome for kids

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I just watched another episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (finally available on iTunes!) about Michael Faraday and his discoveries about electromagnetism. Faraday was the director of the Royal Institution and started its annual Christmas Lectures back in 1825:

Begun by Michael Faraday in 1825, the CHRISTMAS LECTURES are now broadcast on UK television every December and have formed part of the British Christmas tradition for generations.

The Lectures have taken place every year since they began, stopping only from 1939 to 1942, when it was too dangerous for children to come into central London. The theme changes every year, and they are delivered by an expert in their field.

The reason why I am telling you this is because the Royal Institution has a wonderful collection of videos available on YouTube and its website, many of which are great for kids. One example is this Christmas Lecture by the late Carl Sagan about human space travel:

If you haven’t subscribed to their YouTube channel, definitely do that. It looks like it could be a source of inspiration for sure. Here is a playlist titled “RI Talks” which includes a collection of talks about a range of fascinating topics:

This talk by Andrew Szydlo titled “Fireworks and Waterworks” looks like a lot of fun and I can’t wait to watch this with our kids.

I have a feeling this channel will become my Saturday morning entertainment once I finish watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (again).

Image credit: Royal Institution by David Skinner, licensed CC BY 2.0

The largest galaxy in the known universe

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Have you ever wondered which galaxy is the biggest galaxy in the known universe? Apparently, the galaxy known as IC 1101, located in the Virgo constellation (although Deep Astronomy states it is in the Serpens constellation in the video below), is a giant.

According to a 1990 New York Times article titled “Sighting of Largest Galaxy Hints Clues on the Clustering of Matter” –

The galaxy, embracing more than 100 trillion stars, is the extremely bright object at the center of a rich cluster of galaxies known as Abell 2029. Analysis of new telescopic images indicates that the object is a distinct galaxy more than six million light years in diameter, scientists report in the issue of the journal Science published today.

To get a sense of just how big IC 1101 is, here is an extract from an article on Futurism titled “The Largest Galaxy In the Known Universe: IC 1101“:

Just how large is it?  At its largest point, this galaxy extends about 2 million light-years from its core, and it has a mass of about 100-trillion stars. To give you some idea of what this means, the Milky Way is just 100,000 light-years in diameter. If our galaxy were to be replaced with this super-giant, it would swallow up both Magellanic clouds, the Andromeda galaxy, the Triangulum galaxy, and almost all the space in between. That is simply staggering.

Other resources:

Image credit: Galactic Pyrotechnics on Display (NASA, Chandra, 07/02/14) by NASA’s Marshall Flight Center, licensed CC BY NC 2.0

Have you met the tough Tardigrade?

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One of the strangest creatures I’ve come across (although not first-hand) is the Tardigrade. I first found about these tiny creatures on COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey (highly recommended) and they are really amazing. According to Wikipedia:

Tardigrades are notable for being perhaps the most durable of known organisms; they are able to survive extreme conditions that would be rapidly fatal to nearly all other known life forms. They can withstand temperature ranges from 1 K (−458 °F; −272 °C) to about 420 K (300 °F; 150 °C),[7] pressures about six times greater than those found in the deepest ocean trenches, ionizing radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than the lethal dose for a human, and the vacuum of outer space.[8] They can go without food or water for more than 30 years, drying out to the point where they are 3% or less water, only to rehydrate, forage, and reproduce.

National Geographic has a great article titled “5 Reasons Why The Tardigrade Is Nature’s Toughest Animal” which includes clips from COSMOS imagining what Tardigrades may look like in a waterdrop.

What fascinates me about them is that they are so resilient. I couldn’t help but imagine a possible future where humans are long gone and these little creatures become the dominant species on this planet after growing a little and developing technology.

SciShow has a video about them and why space agencies are so interested in them:

Other resources:

Image credit: “SEM image of Milnesium tardigradum in active state” by Schokraie E, Warnken U, Hotz-Wagenblatt A, Grohme MA, Hengherr S, et al. (2012) and submitted to Wikipedia. Licensed Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic


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What are volcanos? There is quite a lot to know about volcanos and here is a starting point. According to an explanation in the Wikipedia volcanos portal:

A volcano is an opening, or rupture, in a planet’s surface or crust, which allows hot, molten rock, ash, and gases to escape from below the surface. Violent explosive eruptions from such vents often produce craters or calderas and coat extensive areas in volcanic ash, while the lava from comparatively gentle effusive eruptions may eventually form large plains, cones or mountains.

Volcanoes are generally found where tectonic plates are pulled apart or come together. A mid-oceanic ridge, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, hosts volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates pulling apart; the Pacific Ring of Fire contains many volcanoes caused by convergent tectonic plates coming together. By contrast, volcanoes are not commonly created at transform boundaries, where two tectonic plates slide past one another.

We found a great playlist on National Geographic Kids about volcanos:

SciShow Kids also has a great video about volcanos for kids:

While we were looking up volcano information on Wikipedia, we saw some great explainer images. This one shows the anatomy of a volcano:

Volcano anatomy by MesserWolan, licensed CC BY SA 3.0
Volcano anatomy by MesserWolan, licensed CC BY SA 3.0

We also found this great view of an erupting volcano from the perspective of a satellite passing overhead:

Volcano eruptions can be pretty dangerous for aircraft too. You may remember the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. National Geographic has an interesting report on the dangers of volcanic ash titled “Volcanic Ash Stops Europe Flights—Why Ash Is Dangerous“.

Other resources:


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According to Wikipedia:

A tsunami (plural: tsunamis or tsunami; from Japanese: 津波, lit. “harbor wave”;[1] English pronunciation: /tsˈnɑːmi/[2]) , also known as a seismic sea wave, is a series of waves in a water body caused by the displacement of a large volume of water, generally in an ocean or a large lake. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions (including detonations of underwater nuclear devices), landslides, glacier calvings, meteorite impacts and other disturbances above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami.[3] Unlike normal ocean waves which are generated by wind or tides which are generated by the gravitational pull of the Moon and Sun, a tsunami is generated by the displacement of water.

I found great videos for the kids on YouTube (the challenge with teaching kids about tsunamis is that they are pretty devastating phenomena so I try to be careful about which videos I show them.

How tsunamis work – Alex Gendler

What is a Tsunami? Facts & Information | Mocomi Kids

I also found this great illustration of how an earthquake triggers a tsunami on Wikipedia (Link).

Other resources


Voyager craft heading into interstellar space

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My son asked me about space travel and we started talking about the Voyager 1 and 2 probes that were launched in the late 1970s and sent out to the outer planets. Those probes have begun their journey into interstellar space after passing out of our solar system.

NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Labs) has great resources about the Voyager craft and a terrific YouTube playlist:

Killer Whale vs Great White Shark

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I stumbled across this video, “Great White shark Vs Killer Whale“, on the National Geographic Wild channel on YouTube and it is just incredible. It is apparently very rare to see a Killer Whale kill a Great White Shark:

What is very cool for kids is that the Nat Geo Wild channel has full length episodes freely available on YouTube. This is a terrific educational resource for parents!

Fascinating fact: if you can turn a shark upside down, it calms down. Its apparently a phenomenon called “tonic immobility“.

Image credit: Jump by Christopher Michel, licensed CC BY 2.0

This post was originally published on my blog on 2015-09-15 as “Watch a Killer Whale hunt and kill a Great White Shark