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Ask Dr. Universe Podcast | Community Science Series
Western Monarch Mystery Challenge
In this episode, we meet Emily Erickson. She’s part of the Western Monarch Mystery Challenge team. That’s a community science project that asks people to look for monarch butterflies in early spring and send in pictures to help scientists learn more about these important pollinators.
If you’re interested in helping monarch butterflies near you, check out these nectar plant guides from the Xerces Society.
How do we really know that there are other planets?
I looked through a high-power telescope for the first time in college. I couldn’t believe how many stars I saw. It’s hard to imagine all the planets orbiting all those stars.
I talked about how we know those planets are out there with my friend Jose Vazquez. He’s an astronomer at Washington State University.
He told me that scientists look for planets outside our solar system using a number of instruments—like a photometer. That’s a tool that attaches to a telescope and measures light.Read Story
Why do cats purr?
I purr all. the. time. I purr when I get a good question like yours. I purr when I finish answering a question. I even purr when I’m struggling to find an answer.
Luckily, Dr. Sarah Guess says that’s normal. She’s a veterinarian at Washington State University. She told me that cats purr when they’re content and when they’re stressed out. It can be a little confusing for humans.
Scientists have two ideas about why cats purr. It could have come from the way mother cats care for kittens. Or it could keep their bones and tissues healthy.
But experts don’t agree … » More …Read Story
What do robots eat?
I just scarfed down tuna with a side of kibble. That’s how I get the energy I need to investigate your questions.
To do that, I talked with Ming Luo. He’s a robotics scientist at Washington State University.
He told me that robots don’t eat like we do.
“A human has a digestive system,” Luo said. “That’s how food can be converted to energy. But a robot can’t do that. The robot can just take in energy directly.”Read Story
What is echolocation?
Dear Carolyn Grace,
Toothed whales—like dolphins and belugas—might live in the ocean, but they have some big things in common with cave-dwelling bats. They’re all mammals that live in dark places and use echolocation.
That’s why I talked about your question with my friend Christine Portfors. She’s a biologist at Washington State University. Her lab keeps a colony of bats.
Many bats sleep in caves and zoom around at night. Their world is dark, so they use sounds and their echoes to perceive the world around them, which is called echolocation. Toothed whales live in dark oceans or murky rivers and … » More …Read Story
What makes fireflies light up at night?
When I was a kitten, there were tons of fireflies in my grandparents’ yard. My litter mates and I loved to gently catch them and let them go.
I talked with my friend Richard Zack about how and why fireflies light up. He’s an insect scientist at Washington State University.
Those glowing insects are a kind of beetle. But we call them fireflies or lightning bugs. Their glow is a form of bioluminescence. That’s when a chemical reaction inside a living thing makes it light up.Read Story
What are butterfly cocoons made of?
When I was a kit, I looked a lot like the adult cat I would become—even though I was smaller and fluffier. But wiggly caterpillars don’t look like butterflies at all.
I talked about this with my friend Allan Felsot. He’s an insect scientist at Washington State University.
He told me cocoons are mostly silk. But they’re usually made by moths. A butterfly “cocoon” isn’t really a cocoon at all. It’s called a chrysalis.Read Story
Why do owls stay up at night?
I love how humans use figures of speech about animals to describe their behavior. An early bird is someone who likes to get up early. A night owl is someone who loves to be awake late at night—like an owl.
I talked about why owls stay up all night with my friend Dr. Marcie Logsdon. She’s a wildlife veterinarian at Washington State University.
She told me that for many owls, the dark is a good time to catch a meal.
“Owls are just taking advantage of a time when they can excel at finding prey because there are a lot of other … » More …Read Story
How does hair grow?
My whole body is covered in thick, glossy cat fur. Humans look mostly furless. But people grow hair on every part of their bodies except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Most human hair is just super fine and hard to see.
That’s what my friend Edward Johnson told me. He teaches classes about the human body in the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University.
He also told me hair grows from follicles. Those are special organs in the top layer of the skin. Everything you need to grow hair is inside the follicle.Read Story
Why don’t birds get electrocuted when they sit on power lines?
I’ve never sat on a power line. I like to keep my paws firmly on the ground. But birds love resting there, especially in winter. Power lines give off a little heat, so it’s a good spot for birds to snuggle together and stay warm.
I talked about how they do that safely with my friend Javier Guerrero. He’s a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Washington State University.
He told me birds do get electrocuted on power lines sometimes. But that won’t happen if the bird touches just the power line—and doesn’t touch other lines or the pole at the … » More …Read Story
Why do dogs have tails?
My best friend is a golden retriever. When I get home, she greets me with a goofy smile and a big wag of her fluffy tail.
I talked about why she has a tail with my friend Jillian Haines. She’s a veterinarian at Washington State University.
She told me dogs use their tails for lots of things. Tails help dogs balance while running, jumping or swimming. Tails help dogs communicate with each other and other animals. Some dogs in the Arctic—like sled dogs—use their tails to stay warm. They curl up and cover their noses with their fluffy tails.Read Story