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How does my family car work?

Dear Dr. Universe: I want to know how my family car works. How does the gas reach the engine and go? How does the steering wheel make the car turn and how do the brakes help us to stop? -Jordan, 6, Queens, New York 

Dear Jordan,

As a cat, car rides can sometimes make me feisty. But as a scientist, it’s fascinating to learn about the mechanics, engineering, and chemistry fueling the cars humans drive every day.
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What happens under a volcano?

What happens under a volcano? -Graylon W., 6, Milton, Ontario

Dear Graylon,

Your question takes us on a journey deep into the Earth. Figuratively speaking, of course. It’s really hot under Earth’s surface. It’s so hot it can melt rock. This melted rock is known as magma. And anything that erupts magma is a volcano. » More …

How do mollusks move around the ocean?

If mollusks have such heavy shells to drag around with them, how have they spread all over the ocean? -Michel W.

Dear Michel,

Mollusks, from land snails and slugs to oysters and mussels in the sea, have a few things in common. They have a head. They have a soft middle part that holds their organs. Then, some have a muscle that’s known as a “foot.” » More …

How are magnets made?

Dr. Universe, How are magnets made-Andrea, 8, Berkeley, CA                                                                                     

Dear Andrea,

When I saw your question, I headed straight for the Magnetics Lab and met up with my friend John McCloy. I found out the word “magnet” comes from a Greek word for the region of modern-day Turkey we once called Magnesia. That’s where people found magnets in nature. » More …

Are aliens real?

Dr. Universe: Are aliens real? -Lily, 10, New York City, NY                                                                                          Is there life on other planets? -Heidi, Cincinnati, OH 

Dear Lily and Heidi,

Well, we don’t know for certain. Looking up to the stars at night, I’ve often wondered if alien cats are out chasing alien mice or taking naps on other planets.

My imagination aside, your questions are like those scientists are asking, too. And it’s no wonder we are so curious.

With billions of planets in our galaxy, including small Earth-like worlds, the possibility of life out there is an exciting thought to many people. So, humans have set out to look for planets that might support life.

In fact, this month scientists announced the Kepler spacecraft’s discovery of Earth’s closest cousin so far. Some are calling it Earth 2.0. It has a Sun just like Earth does and if it has a rocky surface like scientists predict, it might even be a good place to grow plants.

My friend Dirk Schulze-Makuch studies life in the universe as an astrobiologist at Washington State University. He explained that for life to exist on Earth it needs a few ingredients. It needs liquid water, just the right combination of elements, and a source of energy, such as our Sun. These are required for every living thing we know of, from bacteria to plants to intelligent life forms, like humans.

dru-hero-poseIntelligent life, said Schulze-Makuch, is especially rare.

“For 4.5 billion years, on our planet we’ve only had one species so technologically advanced,” he said. “That’s us.”

But the ingredients for life on Earth might not be the exact same for life on other planets, explained Schulze-Makuch.

He has studied thorny devil lizards in one of Earth’s driest desert environments to find clues about life on Mars. It can be hard for thorny devils to find liquid water in the desert, so they’ve adapted to their environment. They can grab water from the air and use special groves on their spines to get a drink.

Scientists wonder if, just as the thorny devils have adapted to their environment, life forms on other planets may also have adapted to their environments. Scientists also think about how organisms can survive in environments that aren’t like Earth’s.

Take a tiny living thing called the tardigrade. Astronauts, who observed these creatures hanging on to their space shuttle, learned the tardigrade could survive in extreme conditions of space without any kind of space suit.

“The tardigrade shows how amazingly inventive life is once it has originated on a planet,” Schulze-Makuch said. “Not only microbial life, but all life, including multicellular life.”

Schulze-Makuch thinks we will find microbes, such as bacteria or fungi, on other planets in the next ten to twenty years.

“We simply don’t know the answers,” he said. “But if it’s out there we’ll have to go find it.”

I’m keeping my paws crossed for a whole planet of cats. But finding even a tiny organism like a microbe would be a huge discovery. It would change our understanding of life as we know it.

Sincerely,

Dr. Universe

Have a question? Ask Dr. Universe. You can send her an e-mail at Dr.Universe@wsu.edu.

The Science of Baseball

The Science of Baseball

At the WSU Sports Science Lab, a team of engineers tests out all kinds of baseballs and bats. In the lab, canons send baseballs flying up to 585 mph. That’s nearly five times faster than the fastest human pitch on record.

They use their expert knowledge on energy, force, and speed to find out what happens when a bat and ball collide. They measure how the equipment performs and make sure the equipment is safe for athletes to use during the game.

You could be an engineer one day, too. Stay tuned for more from the Sports Science Lab. In the meantime, check out videos from the lab on their YouTube channel.

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