Some Questions about the Solar System by Rishi, Ned, Maya, Thomas, Jackson, Adam and Pug.

Many thanks for the questions, and they are all about the Solar System. Amazingly I have just (three days ago) visited the Kennedy Space Centre in Orlando so they come at a time when I am excited by the science associated with space and space travel. I had questions before my visit and after it I had more. That’s the brilliance of these exhibitions, they raise questions. So let’s look at yours.

Rishi asked “How does the solar system work?”

I immediately think of why does it work in the way it does? The centre of the Solar System is the Sun. The Sun is one of a group of stellar objects called stars. Our star was named, by somebody, in the past, as the Sun.  Our star (the Sun) seemed to have attracted to it some massive lumps of matter/material which we call planets (planets are the biggest ‘lumps’ , the smaller ‘lumps’ are called asteroids and meteorites. What has given the Sun the ability to attract these ‘lumps’?

You then have the amazing thing that these lumps move around the Sun. They are attracted to the Sun but do not fall into it. They rotate around it, why do they do that? . Or does the Sun rotate around them?

So Rishi, your question is a great science question. From it lot’s of other questions arise, and that is what science is really about.

Ned asked “If the world split in half, would there still be a gravitational pull?”

Ned, thanks for the question. Gravity is one of those strange things called ‘forces’. Most forces are easy to define. You push things, you pull things by physically applying a force. Magnets  can push and pull so they can apply a force. So how can you explain the fact that things are somehow ‘pulled ‘ towards the Earth?  This seems to be something called a gravitational force. It’s strange. Nothing seems to be pulling or pushing you. Scientists have created a word called ‘gravity’ which describes the process of one object (of a big mass) pulling towards it a smaller mass.

We know that there is this force called gravity that exists. I am not sure that we have yet found out what causes it. We know that a very big object (of great mass) will attract a much smaller object (of smaller mass), however we have no idea why.

So at last to your question. My hypothesis (find out what that means). Slitting the world in half would mean that both halves of the Earth would move closer to the Sun because, the Sun is the biggest object in our Solar System.

Maya asked “What is the milky way?”

Maya, it’s a good question. I wonder who first used the name ‘the milky way’ and why? I firstly think about stars in the night sky, they produce white light (I wonder why – why not red or yellow light?). Does our star (the Sun) produce white or yellow light?

It is for a lot of us to really observe the night sky in all its glory. Why? It seems to be all the background light that we are experiencing when we look at the night sky. Go to a very dark place, away from the city, away from a near town and look at the night sky. You will see things you have never seen before. It is magical. You will see more stars than you have ever seen in your life. Only then will you see the Milky Way and only then will you know what it means.

Thomas asked “How many Suns are there in the universe”?

Thomas, thanks for the question. My first question is . What do you mean as Universe? As yet the investigation of the Universe in which we live is incomplete. We do not know how big it is. We do know, that the Universe consists of groups of stars that we have called Galaxies. We are in a Galaxy called the Milky Way (see Maya’s question). There are millions of stars in our Galaxy. So Thomas, in answer to your question ….we do not know …but the important thing is that you asked the question. By asking the question the quest and research for an answer continues. That is science.

Jackson asked “How big is Jupiter?

Jackson, a great question. It raised a question which I tried to find the answer to “Why do we want to know the size of Jupiter?’ I suspect it is to try to answer an even bigger question linked to Risha’s question. Why do the planets orbit the Sun? Is there some reason in there order of orbit …Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune?   Jupiter is the biggest planet in terms of mass and size in our Solar System . It would be nice if the size and mass of the planets and their orbital position was a straightforward order …but not so. That seems to be the outline of another question.

Adam asked  “How old is the Sun”

Adam, an interesting question, thanks.  It is thought that the Sun is 4.6 billion years old that is …would you believe it 4,600,000,000 years. Scientists reckon it was formed by the sudden compression of hydrogen and helium gas caused by the explosion of nearby star. Wow. This leads to lots of other questions …..think about them and let me know. The scientists also reckon that the Sun is about halfway through it’s life.

Pug asked “If all planets crashed into each other would it affect other Solar Systems?”

Pug, a good question. What do you think would happen if all the planets crashed into each other? How would it happen? Here is ia hypothesis. The most likely scenario would be the outer planets moving into a lower orbit and crashing into the lower orbit planets. They would then be affected by the gravitational pull of the Sun. They might then crash into the Sun. The Sun may therefore gain more energy and explode into a supernova. Pug, a hypothesis is an idea, can you come up with an alternative one? Let me know.

Pete (10) asks “What is the pitch of a sound?”

Thank you team.  Lets first look at the motion of the particles. You suggest that the motion of the particles is in the form of waves. I think that is quite difficult to imagine but I think I have an example that will help illustrate this type of motion. Look at what happens when you drop a pebble in a pond. The pebble, when it hits the water, it creates  one vibration.

 

 

 

In this image the sound is produced by the piston creating the waves. Notice the wavelength, that is important. If we can manipulate the piston, make it go slower or faster  we can change the wavelength. Changing the wavelength is changing the pitch, think about that.  How does the sound change?

Try blowing over, or tapping, some bottles.

 

Pitch and Frequency ..Test your hearing a little bit more …….

In the video below you can see and hear how the pitch of the sound and the wavelength change together.  We measure wavelength in units called Hertz. 1 Hertz is one cycle per second. In the image above imagine that it takes one second to get from the flute to the ear. Then there are 8 cycles in the top sound is so frequency is 8 hertz and there are 3 cycles in the bottom sound so the  wavelength is 3 Hertz.

You can now test your hearing.    Take Care….make sure you have control of the volume.

 

 

Thanks to
Orion Lawlor, for the water ripples video, Published on 9 Jan 2011
Earmaster at https://www.earmaster.com/music-theory-online/
The ISVR from the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, University of Southampton.
The Sound Video, unknown but thanks.

“I have a question about Hermann’s tortoises” says Christopher (10)

Many thanks team. The Western Hermann’s tortoise has evolved in the warmer parts of Europe while the Eastern Hermann’s tortoise has evolved in the colder parts of Europe where the ice age lasted longer. The Eastern tortoise is bigger than the Western one and it has been determined that it probably evolved faster than the Western tortoise. They can be distinguished by their carapace and plastron patterns. The images below are from Chris Leone
The Plastron

The Carapace

Maybe, Christopher you could tell me how long tortoises live? All you need to do is tell me in the Reply box below.?

Many thanks to
Chris Leone for his images
Changes to title, images  and added information on tortoises (21/11/17)

Caroline (10) asks “Will the world ever end?”

Thanks team. It is thought that in 4.5 billion years time the dying Sun, then a Red Dwarf will expand as it runs out of energy. The expansion will reach our worlds orbit so the planet Earth will be destroyed.

Obviously before then the Earth might be hit by asteroids or some other catastrophic event so although the planet might survive, life upon it might be destroyed.

Below is a short animation of the Sun’s expansion at the end of it’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“How did evolution happen?” asks Parm (10)

 

Parm, it’s all due to some wonderful stuff called DNA however the beginning of life is at the moment attributed to  a simpler chemical called RNA. Somehow 4.5 billion years ago, in a hot chemical quagmire a collection of complex chemical structure was formed which was living, it could reproduce itself. It is thought that this microscopic entity was quite close to the structure of present day bacterias although, it’s make up was completely different. For example it didn’t breathe Oxygen, it is thought that it might have breathed a chemical called Ammonia and it expelled Oxygen. It also, in its structure contained a crude DNA structure.

From this humble beginning all life on Earth evolved dictated by changes in the  DNA molecules that were part of their structure. Plants, Insects, Bacteria, Animals, Fungi, Algae,  all life contains their own DNA molecules which dictate their continued existence.

So for Jeremey, our snail there has been, for some reason, a small change in her/his DNA. The spiral is wrong. Maybe it might be wrong but it might help Jeremy eat a plant that he/she couldn’t eat before and therefore survive and breed more snails like him/her.

Over the millions of years that life has existed on our Earth, now and then, new life , created by old life, experiences a slight change in the DNA, and that means that the new life is slightly different from the life of its parents (plants, animals, fungi ….). If the new life survives, that life will create more new life in it’s form, evolution has taken place.

Hope this makes sense Parm. Any thoughts? Write them in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box.

Questions on electricity were asked by Gavin (10), Tegan (10) and Hayden (9)

Gavin asked “Why does the energy flow through the wires?”

Tegan asked “How does electricity work?”

Hayden asked “How do batteries springs and wires make a complete circuit?”

So how does this compare with a modern day battery. lets have a look and think about Gavins question.

Hayden and Tegan. In the circuit below the  energy flows around the circuit when the switch is closed. Why? What are wires made of? What is special? If the wires were plastic do you think electricity would be able to pass through it? Try and make your own circuits with different materials.

Electricity is linked to the passage of negatively charged electrons. These were very comfortable in the battery until it was connected to a circuit (a circuit is a continuous pathway) and the switch was closed. The circuit gave the electrons (negatively charged) a passage to the positively charged end of the battery. Electricity (electrons) flowed and accompanying the electrons was energy. Look at the Science Master Special on Energy and why not try the Circuit Quiz.

 

Do not play with mains electricity. It is very dangerous and could kill you.

Tegan (10) asks “How does gravity work?”

Tegan, a very interesting question. This question was asked some time ago and this is what my team said.

In the 17th Century Newton and another scientist called Hooke did some great observations and experiments on falling objects and proposed that gravity was an attraction between any two masses AND the attraction was dependant on the size of the masses involved.

For example you are attracted by the Earth and the Earth is attracted by you BUT your attraction is so much smaller than that of the Earth it does not affect the motion of the Earth. The attraction between you and the Earth is also dependant upon how far away you are from the Earth. The Moon is attracted by the Earth and the Earth is attracted by the Moon. They are both big bodies so gravity does affect the way they move with respect to each other and this dictates how the Moon orbits the Earth.

Some scientists including Einstein have put forward ideas on how gravity operates but even these are being challenged. There a lots of things which are still unanswered. The questions just have to be asked. Thank you for asking it.

revised 15/01/08 …experiment added.

Brandon S (10) asked “What kinds of alligators are there?

Nice question Brandon. Alligators and Crocodiles belong to the same family called the Crocodilians.

In a question from Kaia my team introduced the idea of ‘species’ and  said that, for example, there are 20,000 species of butterfly which means there are 20,000 different kinds of butterfly. There are however only two different types (species) of alligator – the American Alligator and the Chinese Alligator. Like butterflies they are almost identical the only difference with the alligators is their size.

There is a lot of work that has gone on by scientists to catalogue animals/insects/plants and other living things. For example you are in the family Sapiens and the Species Homo.

Brandon a question for you. Can you spot the differences  between a crocodile and an alligator?  They are in the same family. Try and let me know.

Thank you for your question.

William (9), Erika (10) and Alissa (10) asked some questions on fossil fuels

Erika asked “Why are fossil fuels so expensive?”

Alissa asked “How were fossil fuels found?”

William asked “how is oil made?”

I asked my friends to to talk about this however firstly I would like to talk about what makes a good science question.

science question is a question that may lead to observations, an idea and help us in answering (or figuring out) the reason for some observation and the question.

Erika’s question is a good economics question.

Miners (those who look for oil and coal) have a variety of clever tools to help them find the fossil fuel. For example they can use ‘sniffers’. The  sniffers can detect small amounts of oil vapour which might find their way out of the rocks that are hiding the oil. They also use seismic detection methods. Seismic waves were used to investigate the Earths core however the oil explorers do not use earthquakes to create the seismic wave – they use special guns or explosives. The shock waves (seismic waves) travel through the rock and at some point they are reflected back and return to the surface. The waves are recorded and examined and they tell the explorer what type of material (rock, water, oil, coal) they have traveled through.

So the question from William has led to further observations and thoughts which lead me to another question……If I left my garden rubbish for a year would it turn into coal? If not why?

Edited 20/10/17 – image changed, link added and seismic waves discussed