“Is time travel possible ?” asks Lachie (9)

Thanks for the question Lachie . My friend is correct, Albert Einstein thought that time travel would be possible because of something he called relativity. It seems to be about the time it takes to move through a given distance (space) and the speed of light. The faster you go the slower the time that has past. That is a very, very difficult idea to understand. Even I find it difficult ….. but lets try and give you an example

Suppose you could move through space at or around or about 186,000 miles per second, which is the speed at which light travels?

Say you were 9 years old when you left Earth in a spacecraft traveling at about the speed of light (which is much faster than we can achieve now), and celebrated only five birthdays during your space voyage. When you get home at the age of 14, you would find that all your classmates were 59 years old, retired, and enjoying their grandchildren! Because time passed more slowly for you, you will have experienced only five years of life, while your classmates will have experienced a full 50 years.

So, if your journey began today in 2018, it would have taken you only 5 years to travel to the year 2068, whereas it would have taken all of your friends 50 years. In a sense, this means you have been time traveling.

According to Einstein’s ideas you can only move forward in time you cannot move backwards. However we do not at the present time have any vehicle that could reach the speed of light so if you want to travel in time you might have to wait a little while.
(revised 23rd May 2018)

“How, where or when we’re magnets found or made?” asks Sam (11)

Thanks for the question Sam. Magnets and magnetism was first discovered about  9000 years ago. A long time ago. It was found in rocks and called ‘lodestone’. Lodestone is a naturally occurring compound of iron. It is thought that it was magnetised by lightning strikes.

We will make our own magnets by using a slightly weaker form of electricity.  Here are my team.

Firstly let us try to make a magnet (without using lightning)

You will need a battery and a length of wire and some paperclips. The a collection of nails. Try and find as many different nails as you can. Wrap the wire around the nail and sellotape the bare wire ends to the terminals of the battery. See the diagram below. See how many paperclips you can pick up? Are some nails better than others?


You might have found out that only certain metals can be made into magnets. These metals are called ferromagnetic metals.

Included in this group are the metal iron and the alloys of iron with the metals cobalt, nickel.

It is thought that in these metals (including iron) have some electrons called ‘free electrons’ (not sure what an electron is, then go to Science Master Special – Atoms and Atomic Structure). It is these ‘free electrons’ that are involved in magnetism. In the alloys the  ‘free’ electrons align themselves with the magnetism of the external magnet, making a (for the alloys) a permanent magnet.

Look at the short video I have made below. In the ferromagnetic metal (iron alloy) crystal domains you will see free electrons. In the metal these will be moving freely. As they begin to interact with the external magnetic field, they begin to align themselves, making a permanent magnet.

Liam (10) asks “Why does warm air go up?”


Thanks team. You are quite right we have to start at the beginning to really understand why warm air goes up. Let’s start by looking at what is air?

Air is a mixture of small gas particles (called molecules) of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and some other gases. The image below could be a picture of what it would look like, if you could see it. What do you notice about it?

The red molecules are the oxygen, the blue the nitrogen and the others water and carbon dioxide. Imagine them moving around (I am trying to make an animation). Because they are moving they have energy.

If we heat the air, we are giving the molecules in it more energy. This makes them move faster and they move further apart.

The ‘thicker’ cold air surrounding the warm air drops into the space under the warm air and doing so pushes up the warm air which rises.

You can see this happening in a beaker of heated water.

What happens to your eyes when you die? asks Olivia (12)

You did suggest Olivia that the eyeball might explode when a person died.  This is very unlikely. Look at the eye image below and try to identify the muscles in the eye. they will be attached to the two things that are constantly changing in the eye.

There are muscles attached to the lens and the iris.

When you die, your muscles relax. This causes the iris muscle contracts when this happens the eye is said to dilate ….like the image below

This is probably what your eye would look like  when you are asleep. Thanks for the question.

What does a dead star turn into? asks Liam (9)

Liam. Science is an interesting area of knowledge. It is recognised that it originates from an area of study called Philosophy. Philosophy (an Ancient Greek term) is about asking questions and for Science it is about asking questions about the physical and biological world. We ask the question and try to find the answers. For your question the answers are not easily found.

To try to answer your question, we have to know a little bit about the Sun. We know that in it’s centre there is an atomic reaction going on. It is not the type of atomic reaction we have in our Atomic Power Stations where we have an atomic ‘fission’ reaction occuring.

‘Fission’ means splitting something into two or more parts. The animation below shows a small atomic particle called a ‘neutron’  hitting a much bigger particle called an ‘atom’ . It splits forming more neutrons that hit other atoms, which break and form more neutrons………and on and on. This is a fission reaction and a lot of energy is released.

In the Sun the opposite is happening. Instead of fission we have fusion , the joining up of particles (Hydrogen atoms) to give Helium which creates lots and lots of energy. See the diagram below.


Why would the Sun die? The main reason is that it runs out of Hydrogen. So what will happen then?  Firstly the Sun will get brighter. This will happen because of the helium that is produced. It will be pulled into the centre and begin to burn, adding more light and heat to the Sun’s radiation. Then as the hydrogen gets less and less the Sun will get cooler but at the same time begin to expand. It will become a Red Giant.

It is reckoned that it will expand so much that it will consume the Earth……that will happen in about 4 billion years time, however life on Earth will no longer exist in 1 billion years. This is because of the brightening of the Sun and the rising temperature of The Earth’s atmosphere, all the oceans will disappear and plant life will not be able to survive.




Viper Astra (9) asks “What makes earthquakes happen?”

Viper, to answer your question it might be useful if we go back to the beginning. By the beginning I mean 4.6 billion years ago when the planet was first formed. Then it was a ball of molten lava. (1 billion is 1,000,000,000 or one thousand, million)

Over the next billion years the planet cooled and bits of crust formed on its surface. We call these bits of crust tectonic plates (the word ‘tectonic’ comes from the ancient Greek word for ‘building’ ……the crust is ‘building a surface’). These bits of crust got bigger, sometimes sunk into the molten sea they were floating on, but slowly covered the Earth.

Because they floated, the ‘plates’ of crust would have constantly experienced the movement of the molten ‘sea’ below them, so they moved and bumped into each other, and they are still doing that today. It is the movement and the, bumping into each other that causes earthquakes.

Watch this short video. It explains the different types of earthquake that can occur.

Thanks for the question Viper. Not sure about something then ask another question.

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.

“How does a magnet become a magnet?” asks Ava (11)

A brilliant question Ava. I asked my team for their thoughts.

Yes team you are quite right there are some limitations to magnet making. The main one is that only certain metals can be made into magnets. These metals are called ferromagnetic metals.

Included in this group are the metal iron and the alloys of iron with the metals cobalt, nickel and some other rare earth elements .

It is thought that in these metals (including iron) have some electrons called ‘free electrons’ (not sure what an electron is, then go to Science Master Special – Atoms and Atomic Structure). It is these ‘free electrons’ that are involved in magnetism. In the alloys the  ‘free’ electrons align themselves with the magnetism of the external magnet, making a (for the alloys) a permanent magnet. For iron alone the magnetism is only temporary and you can test this in the experiment below.


Look at the short video I have made below. In the ferromagnetic metal (iron alloy) crystal domains you will see free electrons. In the metal these will be moving freely. As they begin to interact with the external magnetic field, they begin to align themselves, making a permanent magnet.












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.

Ellie (12) asks “What are the damages of hurricanes?”

Great question Ellie. I was going to ask my team to tackle this, however for some reason the question was left unanswered so to apologize I think I will try to answer it myself.

How is a hurricane created?

Air is made up of tiny molecules. When molecules are heated, they move faster. As they move faster they become become spaced farther apart, which makes the air less dense – meaning that there are fewer molecules in a given volume. This also means that the air has a lower overall pressure – pressure is the push of the gas on it’s surroundings. In comparison, cold air is made of more tightly packed molecules, and so it is denser and has relatively higher pressure.

The warmer, lower pressure air begins to move upwards and therefore it creates space below it which is filled by the colder higher pressure air. The warmer air ‘floats’ on the colder air. It also carries with it water vapour – water that has evaporated and contains lots of energy. A wind begins to be created. The hotter the air near the surface of the sea, the lower the pressure and the faster the rise.

As this warm air gets higher it begins to cool and also the water vapour that would have risen with it begins to turn back to water. A cloud begins to form. The energy of the condensing water vapour is given to the cloud.

The cloud of colder air and water vapour begins to move in circles (because the Earth is rotating). It meets other storm clouds. The hurricane is forming and is being fed by the warm air close to the warm sea.

What are the damages of the hurricane?

The strong winds of a hurricane can push water up and onto land. This water can cause major flooding and damage to homes, cars, and boats. Heavy Rains – Hurricanes can cause heavy rains that flood places inland and away from the center of the storm.

This video will help explain the formation of the hurricane.