Like most cats, I don’t love wet fur. I check a weather app every morning to see if I need an umbrella. But how rain happens was a mystery to me.
So, I talked about rain with my friend Nathan Santo Domingo. He’s a field meteorologist with AgWeatherNet of Washington State University. That’s a weather tool for farmers, gardeners and other people in Washington.
“The first thing to remember is that Earth's surface is 71% water,” Santo Domingo said. “We also have a giant orb in the sky—the sun—that’s feeding energy into the atmosphere and reaching down to Earth's surface.”
The sun’s energy changes the water in the oceans, rivers and lakes. The water changes from a liquid to a gas called water vapor. That water vapor floats up into the bubble of gas that surrounds Earth—called the atmosphere.
I was fascinated by black holes as a kitten. I liked them because they were scary. But they’re also far away so I knew I was safe.
I talked about this with my friend Vivienne Baldassare. She’s an astronomer at Washington State University.
Baldassare told me a black hole is an area in space with lots of gravity. That’s the same force that pulls your body toward the Earth.
“If we want to send a spacecraft somewhere else in the solar system, it has to travel fast enough to escape the gravity of Earth—so the rocket doesn't just fall back down to Earth,” she said. “A black hole is a place where that escape speed is the speed of light. Nothing can move faster than the speed of light. So, nothing can escape from inside the black hole.”
If you looked inside a T. rex mouth, you’d see some 12-inch teeth. That’s longer than my tail!
I asked my friend Aaron Blackwell if dinosaurs used those big chompers on humans. He’s an anthropologist who studies human biology at Washington State University. He told me dinosaurs and humans didn’t live at the same time.
“Dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago—before there were even primates,” Blackwell said. “So, they could never have eaten a human or even a monkey.”
When I was a kitten, I loved collecting rocks and gems. So, I was very excited to talk about your question with my friend Johannes Haemmerli. He studies minerals in the School of the Environment at Washington State University.
Minerals are solids that form from non-living elements in nature. They have a very specific structure for how those elements are arranged. Haemmerli told me that nearly all gems are minerals or sometimes mixtures of minerals.
You’re right that gems form underground. A diamond forms when the element carbon is buried nearly 100 miles deep inside the Earth. It’s super-hot and there’s tons of pressure down there. Eventually the pressure pushes the carbon atoms together to form the mineral we call diamond. Above ground, where there is much less pressure, the same carbon can come together and form a mineral we call graphite. That’s the “lead” of your pencil.
The universe is a big place. Thinking about how we fit into it is part of what makes humans (and cats like me) special.
I talked about your question with my friend Afshin Khan who studied astrobiology and environmental science at Washington State University. Astrobiologists explore how life began. They also look for signs of life outside Earth.
Khan told me your question is a huge mystery.
“We have very good ideas about what could have happened,” she said. “In different labs around the world, we’ve gotten very close to simulating some of those conditions. But simulations can only get so … » More …
Why do moon rocks taste better than Earth rocks? They’re a little meteor! In all seriousness, your question is something humans wondered about for a long time.
I talked to my friend Michael Allen, astronomy professor at WSU about how the moon formed. He told me we figured out the answer in 1972. That’s shortly after humans visited the moon for the first time.
If you draw with a pencil, you can tell how soft the graphite inside is. Pieces of graphite break off to leave the pencil mark. But can you imagine drawing with a diamond? Diamonds and graphite are both what you might call rocks. How come they’re so different?
To find out, I talked to my friend Katie Cooper, a geologist and associate professor in the Washington State University School of the Environment. Geologists often study how different types of rocks and minerals form—and that’s the secret to whether they’re easy or hard to break.
Rocks are made of minerals, and minerals are made of elements, which are substances made of a single type of atom. You can get to know the Earth’s elements by looking at a Periodic Table.
Some minerals are made of a single element, like diamond and graphite, which are both made of carbon. Others are a mix, like limestone, which is made of calcium and carbon.
As winter gets underway here in North America, you may notice we don’t feel the sun’s rays for quite as many hours as we did in fall and summer.
To find out why this happens, I talked with my friend Vivienne Baldassare, an astronomer at Washington State University.
She said the reason we get fewer hours of daylight in the winter has to do with how Earth rotates. As our planet goes around the sun, it is always rotating. This rotation is also why we have day and night.
Worms can help the soil in a few different ways. One helpful thing worms do is move around different materials, such as leaves and grasses, and make holes in the soil.
That’s what I found out from my friend Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist at Washington State University, who was happy to help with your question.
“Worms are actually very strong,” Carpenter-Boggs said. “They can break through soil and make holes that allow air, water and plant roots to follow those channels.” Read More ...
About 300 years ago during another pandemic, there was a person named Sir Isaac Newton who spent a lot of time at home thinking about the universe.
He was thinking about how objects fall and started to wonder if the same force that made objects fall also kept the moon in its orbit. He called this force gravity.
That’s what I found out from my friend Guy Worthey, an astronomer at Washington State University. Gravity plays a big part in the answer to your question, and we’ll explore that in just a moment. Read More ...
We still don’t know exactly how the rings around Saturn formed, but scientists who study Saturn’s rings have come up with a couple of ideas.
One common theory many scientists agree upon is that Saturn’s rings are made from the little leftover pieces of what used to be a moon.
My friend David Atkinson is really curious about the solar system and told me more about it. He is a graduate of Washington State University and now works at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He also worked on the Cassini-Huygens space research mission which helped us learn more about Saturn, Saturn’s large moon Titan, and the entire Saturn system. Read More ...
When it rains, sometimes we can see oil on the street rise to the top of puddles and spread out into a rainbow of colors.
One of the main reasons we see color is because of light, said my friend Cigdem Capan, a physics instructor at Washington State University.
She reminded me that when our eyes sense colors, we can trace those colors back to different wavelengths of light. Perhaps you can make some waves in the air with your hand. Make small, tight waves. Now make a big, wide waves. Read More ...
When we look around our world, we can find all kinds of shadows. One way we can explore the answer to your shadow question is with a little experiment.
My friend Anya Rasmussen, a physics professor at Washington State University, told me all about it.
First, you will need to cast your shadow on a wall. Rasmussen reminded me shadows form when an object—such as your body— blocks light and keeps the rays from reaching a surface—like a wall. Read More ...
While we can’t see black holes with our eyes, astronomers have figured out how to spot these objects in our universe.
One astronomer who is really curious about understanding black holes is my friend Sukanta Bose, a researcher at Washington State University.
First, he told me there are different kinds of black holes. Supermassive black holes can be millions to billions of times the mass of the Sun. We have a supermassive black hole in our own Milky Way galaxy called Sagittarius A*, which is pronounced as Sagittarius A-star. Read More ...
When you look up at the night sky, it can feel like the universe is a big blanket of stars above you. But unlike a blanket, the universe doesn’t have corners and edges. Far beyond what humans can see, the universe keeps going. As far as humans know, it never stops.
When I saw your question, I went straight to my friend Michael Allen to learn more. He is a Senior Instructor of Physics and Astronomy at Washington State University.
The universe is bigger than the biggest thing you’ve ever seen. It’s bigger than the biggest thing this cat can imagine. It’s so big that even your question has more than one very big answer.
When the wind blows, it can do all kinds of things. It can help pick up tiny seeds and carry them away, so plants and flowers can grow in new places. It can push a big sailboat across an ocean. We can even harness the wind to make clean energy to power our homes and schools.
That’s what I found out from my friend Gordon Taub, an engineer at Washington State University. He is very curious about wind energy and told me more about why the wind blows.
Take a big, deep breath. As you inhale and exhale, you can probably feel the air taking up space in your lungs.
The air we breathe is made up of a few different things. It includes gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide—just to name a few. Animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. But in the plant world, it’s the opposite.
Trees, plants, and even algae in the ocean, take in carbon dioxide from the air and, using the energy of the sun, transform it into the oxygen we all breathe. Read More ...
If you are anything like me, you probably like watching for shooting stars in the night sky. A shooting star, or a meteor, is usually a small rock that falls into Earth’s atmosphere.
When I went to visit my friend Michael Allen, a senior instructor of astronomy and physics at Washington State University, he told me a lot of shooting stars are no bigger than a pencil eraser. Read More ...
It’s great to hear you want to help our oceans. After all, they do a lot for us. Life in the ocean provides much of the oxygen we breathe and is also a source of food for many animals, including humans.
One of the most important things we can do to prevent more pollution is to keep our garbage, especially plastic, out of the ocean. That’s what I found out from my friend Richelle Tanner, a marine biologist and researcher at Washington State University.
While a lot of plastic ends up in the ocean, it actually started under the Earth’s surface in the form of oil, leftovers of plants and animals that died long ago. Read More ...
Wherever we find a volcano on the surface of our planet, we can find the source of an eruption beneath it. That’s what I found out from my friend John Wolff, a volcanologist at Washington State University.
Our planet is home to all kinds of volcanoes that erupt in different ways. Some eruptions are quiet and continuous, with a slow flow of lava. Other volcanoes erupt explosively and can spew ash and lava hundreds of feet up into the sky. All of this lava has its start underground in the form of something called magma.
Wolff said that scientists used to think there were large pools of hot liquid beneath volcanoes. Now we know it isn’t quite that simple. Magma is not really a liquid, but rather a kind of sludge or slurry. It helps to think of it kind of like honey. Read More ...
We’ve had a lot of earthquakes on our planet this year. Maybe you’ve learned about them from the news or felt one shaking up your own neighborhood.
First, it is important to know a bit about the Earth’s outer layer, or crust. The crust is made of seven big pieces called “plates.” They are about 60 miles thick and sort of float on the molten rock beneath them. That’s what I found out from my friend Sean Long, a geology professor at Washington State University who knows a lot about earthquakes. Read More ...
Imagine you’re riding in the car on a very hot day, when you look out the window and see a shimmering puddle of water up ahead. As you get closer, you find there’s not really anything there. It’s a mirage.
It just so happens the Great American Eclipse is coming up on Aug. 21, 2017. This solar eclipse will be the only one visible from across the lower 48 states in nearly a hundred years. When it happens, parts of the country will experience darkness for a couple minutes during the day.
Astronauts eat all kinds of different foods up in space. The food is often similar to what we have here on Earth. But in space, there's very little gravity. There’s very limited refrigeration, too. On the International Space Station, the refrigerator is only about half the size of a microwave. That means scientists who prepare and package astronaut food have to do it in ways that take up very little room and don’t need to be kept cold.
Our planet’s surface is constantly on the move. Sometimes this movement really shakes things up.
The Earth’s crust is made up 14 major pieces and dozens of smaller ones, called plates, that move in super slow motion. Earthquakes can happen when these plates suddenly slip past each other. They send out waves of energy that make the ground shake.
And while we’re at it, let’s answer these questions:
When lightning strikes the ocean, what happens to the fish? –Olivia, 12, Manchester, UK
Why is lightning attracted to metal objects? –Grant, 11, Pullman, Wash.
Why does lightning sometimes just happen in clouds? –Leo, 11, Cayman Islands
Dear Monica, Olivia, Grant, and Leo:
While you are probably not in the middle of an electrical storm right now, there are more than 1,000 happening at any given moment on our planet. They happen on Saturn, Venus, and Jupiter, too.
Each planet is a little different on the inside. And what’s inside a planet can shape what’s on the outside, too. That’s what I found out from my friend Steve Reidel, a geologist at Washington State University.
“Well, there’s the rocky planets,” he said. “Then there are the big, gas giants.”
Rocky planets, like Earth, are wrapped in a thick crust. Beneath Earth’s crust is the mantle. The mantle is quite solid, but it actually behaves more like a fluid. It flows and deforms. It’s similar to Silly Putty, but a really strong version of Silly Putty. It’s about 1,800 miles thick. It is also the main source of Earth’s volcanoes.
If you’re anything like me, one of the first things you'll do in the morning is check the weather. Sometimes it’s rainy and I’ll put on my rubber boots. Other days it’s really sunny and I’ll grab my sunglasses. When we look at the patterns of these weather conditions over a long time—sometimes over hundreds of years—we can learn about a place’s climate.
If you are anything like me, you like watching the night sky. The stars we see are a lot like our nearest star, the sun. They are just much farther away. That makes stars look like small twinkly things instead of a big, furious thing like our sun.
Just the other day I looked up and wondered the very same thing. The sky is certainly blue, I thought. But on second thought, it isn’t always blue. Sunsets burst in pink and orange. The night sky is black.
It’s usually later in life that we see the more dramatic signs of aging, like gray hair, wrinkles, and lots of birthday candles on our cake. But we really start growing older from the time we are born.
There’s nothing like taking a little catnap by the fireplace, feeling the heat, watching the flames, and listening to crackling sounds. But until you asked, I wasn’t entirely sure what this mesmerizing thing was or how it works.
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 … » More …
Whether it’s a model rocket you build in the backyard or one that launches a space shuttle, there are lots of materials you could use. So, when I saw your question I grabbed my lab coat and safety goggles, and zoomed over to my friend Jake Leachman’s lab. He’s a rocket scientist and engineer at Washington State University.
Where does dirt come from? -Brian, Pullman, WA
In just a word, the story of soil goes something like this: “CLORPT!" It’s fun to say, and it helps explain how tough rock turns into the soft soil farmers need to grow food and feed the world. Read More ...
Our universe would look so different, Kyle. You might not recognize it even if you could be here to see it. Unfortunately, there probably wouldn’t be a whole lot to see.
I learned about this from Washington State University professor and physicist Matthew McCluskey, who studies the material world. He explained how gravity pulls together dust, gas, and little particles floating around space to make massive clumps of matter that form stars and planets.
For example: planet Earth. Every particle in the Earth is pulling on you at this very moment--every single one. Read More ...