Destiny (10) asks “Did/are unicorns real?”

Destiny, thanks for this second question. Interestingly it has connections to your previous question about evolution.

I asked my friends about unicorns.

The fact that there are no fossils does not mean that unicorns never existed. If you look at how modern humans evolved from apes there are a lot of gaps in our understanding, which could be linked to fossils that have not yet been found.

Where fossils have been found we can get lots and lots of information from them especially from the age of the rock in which they are found. This is to do with something called radioactive decay. This allows the fossils to be placed fairly accurately on the ‘evolution table’.

I have two immediate thoughts about unicorns. Firstly they are completely made up and secondly they are a brief part of an evolutionary story that didn’t survive. For example an animal (horse, deer, goat or other animal) was born with one horn by some biological accident, it lived but it’s children were ‘normal’ so the trait ended.

I prefer the mythical, made up model. I would like your thoughts.

“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)

Ronan (10) asks “How do stars form?”

Ronan ..this is my thinking about your excellent question.

Yes it is all about Gravity – There was a previous question by Tegan on Gravity. Have a look at it.

It is thought (it is therefore a hypothesis – an unproven idea)  that dust and hydrogen gas from the ‘Big Bang’ was gravitationally attracted to each other.

As the mass of the dust and gas got bigger it’s gravitational pull got bigger and the more dust and gas it attracted.

Eventually  the compact squashed ball of dust and gas started to heat up. It got hotter as it got bigger and eventually the particles of dust and gas began to break up in this hot environment and the hydrogen particles began to come together to make new particles … an atomic FUSION reaction began to occur and the star was born.

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.

What natural phenomenon made the Mariana Trench? asks Sabine (9)

The Mariana Trench ….. I have been thinking about this and I think, worked out a way of explaining the answer to your question.

Firstly

Our planet, the Earth, is an interesting planet. It has a solid surface (we call the crust) that surrounds a molten (liquid) inside, called the mantle. Like a boat on water the surface floats on the molten liquid interior. Look at the image below:

Many millions of years ago the planet was just a hot molten sphere. Slowly the crust began to form. It didn’t all form at the same time so it became a little like a cracked egg shell with each bit floating and moving on the molten mantle. These pieces were the tectonic plates. The image below shows you the present positions of the tectonic plates.

You might be able to see what tectonic plate you are living on.

These plates are constantly moving (very, very slowly). When they bump into each other they can cause lots of problems, like earthquakes. The Philippine Plate and the Pacific Plate bumped into each other many millions of years ago  and this made the Philippine Plate sink below the bigger Pacific Plate …. and the result the Mariana Trench. See the diagram below.

Where is the Mariana Trench?

I hope this makes sense Sabine. Feel free to ask another question.

Yet more questions on Space and the Solar System from William, Kylan, German, Rob, Aidan, Gavin, Lucas, Jake, Thomas and Kylie.

Hello, yet more interesting questions. Many thanks. It is brilliant that you continue to ask questions. By doing so you maybe think that you are showing your ignorance, and you are. However it is important that you do show your ignorance because that is the way that knowledge and science develop. Scientists are constantly saying “I do not know how that happens” then “I will try to find out why it happens”. My answers to your excellent questions below might therefore not be direct answers but may be directed to helping you to find the answer yourself. You can be the scientist. Here we go …..

William asked “How many stars are there in space not including the Sun and what is the hottest planet in the solar system?”

William, the difficulty I have with this question is what do you mean by Space? Space is endless so for an investigation it is better to start with a smaller known area …such as our Galaxy, the Milky Way. Even then the answer is only an estimate ….about 1000,000,000 (a billion stars) and apparently it has been estimated that there are over 1000,000,000 Galaxies in Space.

Maybe the second part of your question has an easier route to an answer. Initially one might have thought that Mercury would have been hottest – it is the closest planet to the Sun! But I am wrong, Venus is the hottest, because of its atmosphere. Why do you think this is?

Kylan asked “Is Space endless?”

Kylan, the answer to this is YES. To us humans this must be a difficult thing to grasp. We are constantly living within confined areas. To think of something as endless is difficult to comprehend.
Kylan, a great but disturbing question.

German asked “Como se origino el universo?”

German, another difficult question. You are obviously in a group who specialise in asking difficult questions. That is brilliant, because that is what science is about, asking difficult questions. There is evidence that the Universe began some 14.8 billion years ago, the Big Bang. This evidence apparently comes from a something called CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background). I think I will leave it there. I have no doubt that the Big Bang idea will at sometime in the future be challenged. Another thing about science is that scientists are always trying to falsify other scientist’s theories (prove them wrong).

Rob asked “Why no one can go to the Mars?”

We will get there Rob. When I was at the Kennedy Space Centre there was a lot of talk about the proposed trip to Mars. They are even now investigating how astronauts can live in a small self contained environment for a number of years. We have got to the Moon, which is 384,000 km away, for Mars we will have to a travel a minimum distance of 54,600,000 km. Why do I say ‘minimum’ distance for the Mars trip and not the same for the Moon trip?

I think it may happen in your lifetime.

Aidan asks “Why doesn’t NASA use a Saturn V rocket to go to Mars?”

They have a Saturn V rocket at the Kennedy Space Centre. It is massive. However they will need a more powerful (notice I don’t say bigger) rocket to launch a Mars probe which includes astronauts. The living module will have to be a good deal bigger than that used to get to the Moon and back.What do you think will be necessary for the astronauts survival?

An image of the engines of the Saturn 5 rocket  at the Kennedy Space Centre

 

Gavin asked “How does the Solar System work?”

Gavin, great question. I have already answered a similar question in a previous post. This was my answer to Rishi:

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?

Lucas asks “How big is our solar system and do humans know if there are other solar systems?”

Lucas, NASA has a project called Keppler that is looking at other planetary systems. Below is an image of the space telescope that is doing this work. Note that our planetary system is the only one called the Solar System. All others are called planetary systems. The Kepler telescope has identified a number of other planetary systems and some of them are very strange. One system has two stars. Quite a few have Earth like planets. I wonder what it would be like living on a planet with two stars?

Jake asks “Will Mercury crash into the Sun in a million years?”

Jake, it is unlikely that Mercury will crash into the Sun. It is thought that as the Sun gets older, it is now about 4 million years old, it will begin to expand  and eventually destroy Mercury and Venus and the Earth. It is reckoned that this is likely to occur in 4.5 million years time.

Thomas asks “How does the Sun create radiation?”

Thomas, how many types of radiation do you know about? There is visible light radiation,  ultraviolet light radiation, and infrared radiation.  However, there is another type of radiation which produces all of these types of radiation.

The Sun’s radiation is created by a nuclear fusion reaction in its core. This nuclear reaction produces very high energy gamma radiation which, as it passes from the inside of the Sun to the outside, is converted to the other types of radiation listed above.

Kylie asks “Why does Saturn have rings?”

Great question Kylie. Saturn is one of the largest planets in our Solar System. It therefore has a great gravitational attractive force. It has 60 Moons! It is thought that the rings have been created by this gravitational force attracting lots of the bits and pieces that each year enter our Solar System. Bits and pieces like asteroids and meteorites. Gravity is an important feature of our Solar System. Have you any questions about Gravity? I would like to hear them.

Some more questions about the Solar System and Space by Seb, Luke, Luca, Sammy and Bowen

Many thanks for your questions. I told the last group that, 3 days ago I visited the Kennedy Space Centre in Orlando. It was brilliant. I was particularly interested in their idea to visit Mars in the near future. However let us look at the other superb questions and see how many other questions they create….that is what science is about.

Seb asked  “What does Mercury orbit?”

Seb, many thanks for the question. Not long ago, in our history, everybody thought that the Sun orbited the Earth. Why shouldn’t they? You see the Sun rise everyday and move across the sky and then disappears on the opposite horizon. It moves, we don’t.

Or could it be the other way – the Earth moves and the Sun stays in the same place? This was a question that a early scientist Copernicus (1473-1543) thought about and and then Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) confirmed ..it was the Earth that orbited the Sun. With this knowledge other scientists (we call them astronomers) worked out what Mercury orbited. What do you think?

Luke asked  “Do Saturn,Neptune or Venus orbit any planets other than the sun/orbit each other?”

A question I think that is linked to Seb’s. What evidence would you think would show that a planet orbited another planet? Think about the Moon, what does that orbit? Does it orbit the Sun? Supposing it did, what would you observe?  It was Galilei who built a telescope that would enable observations of the planets and therefore provide evidence which would answer the question. Like all science once the hypothesis has been made it can only become an accepted fact after relevant observation and production of evidence.

Luca asked “What is the furthest distance of a spaceship travel?” and “What is space made of?”

Luca, two great questions. For the first question I must admit I have no idea. From my visit to the Space Centre I know that NASA is planning to go to Mars. I see no reason why humankind will not be able, in the future, to leave the Solar System. We can already send satellites and other objects beyond the Solar System.

To your second question, the easy answer is ‘nothing’, other than stars, planets, asteroids, satellites and other bits an pieces. It does however contain what would be called ‘radiation’ of different types, otherwise we would not be able to see stars, the Moon or the Sun. Do you think it could contain anything else?

Interestingly, in Earth orbit, you would not be able to see any stars in space? Any ideas why?

Sammy asked “Can a black hole swallow Earth? If so when could this happen?”

Sammy, what do you think a black hole is? Why do you think it is called a black hole? I think it is something to do with that magical force called gravity. Think about gravity.  What does the gravitational force that an object has, depend upon?  Think about the force that pulls you to the ground. Think about the force that keeps the Earth in orbit around the Sun. Think about the force that holds the Moon in orbit. A black hole is a hole which light has been pulled into it, by a gravitational force. Think about a gravitational force that can pull light into it …….will it be able to swallow the Earth?

Sammy …something I didn’t know. It is thought that all galaxies have a black hole. Even our Milky Way galaxy has its own black hole.

A NASA photograph of a black hole. There is one…its a dot in the middle of the bright circle in the middle of the picture.

Bowen asked “Why do humans still think that there are resources on the moon? I think there are none.

A interesting question Bowen which I would like to challenge. Why do you think there are none? My thinking is that the Moon seems to be made of rocks and rocks are sources of all sorts of things. A lot of rocks contain silicon, what do we use silicon for? A lot of rocks (moon rocks included) contain aluminum which is used in a variety of ways, the rocks also contain hidden oxygen, a lot of rocks exist in the form of oxides (iron oxide is an example). Probably the biggest resource that the Moon has  is a low gravity. Any ideas why that is so important? Let me know.

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.