Exploring Mercury

2 05 2011

In our Ready, Set, Roll! exhibit, we have learned a lot about gravity. Now, we can see how gravity is used in different sciences like space exploration.

Here is the first image taken in Mercury's orbit by MESSENGER.

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, so it has been difficult to learn more about this planet, but now scientists have finally found the key thanks to gravity!

Since March 29, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has been sending back images of Mercury to Earth. These are the first images ever taken from within the tiny planet’s orbit.

The first photographs include glimpses of Mercury’s surface never before seen by spacecraft. The images also show a lot of small craters, which look like pits in the ground.

In the first three days of the MESSENGER orbiting around Mercury, the MESSENGER sent about 1,500 by March 31.

On average, the spacecraft will take more than 200 photographs per day. This is over 75,000 pictures in a year!

On March 17, MESSENGER became the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. This was all possible due to gravity. Gravity is a force of attraction. This force, or pull, is increased as mass increases. This is why we stay on the ground as we walk and why Earth stays in its orbit. In the case of MESSENGER, it is held close to Mercury by the planet’s gravity.

Mercury does not have a lot of mass, but fortunately, it has enough to keep MESSENGER in its orbit, and we can continue to discover new things about this planet’s atmosphere, landscape and history!


Peep Battle!

29 04 2011

Before Microwaving

We had quite a few marshmallow chicks hanging around and getting stale, so we named them, armed them with toothpicks, and let them battle in the microwave!

Check out the video below to see what happened.

We wanted to know more about what was going on and found a great explanation from the Exploratorium. Marshmallows are basically made of sugar and water (plus gelatin) that are wrapped around a bunch of air bubbles. When a marshmallow is heated in the microwave, two things happen. First, the heat of the microwaves softens the sugar. At the same time, the heat makes the molecules in the air bubbles move around faster, making them push into the walls (of softened sugar). This pushing makes the gas bubbles expand, and that makes the whole marshmallow expand!

You can try this at home with any type of marshmallow (not just ones shaped like animals). Be sure to place your marshmallows on a plate or paper towel, or you’ll end up with a molten mess in your microwave! Our marshmallows were fully expanded in 45 seconds, but depending on your microwave, it should take between 30 seconds and 1 minute.

Note: This experiment should be done with adult supervision.

From a Liquid to a Solid

9 04 2011

It’s no secret that at ACM we love to play with our food. It helps us with build upon our math and science skills. Plus, it is just so much fun!

We have an experiment that will turn one of your favorite beverages into plastic.

All you will need is:

  • 4 ounces of milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vinegar
  • a small pan
  • a small, clean jar

First, you will put the milk in a pan and heat it on the stove until it curdles. This happens when the milk begins to form lumps. Next, you will slowly pour off the runny liquid. Then, put your lumps in the jar and add vinegar. Let it stand for about an hour.

After an hour, you will notice the milk has turned into rubber! Finally, you can shape the lump into a ball or some other simple shape. Be sure to pour out any excess liquid before playing with the rubber. After doing this, let it sit on a paper towel for a few more hours. Once it is completely dry, you will now notice the milk has finally turned into plastic!

You can also paint your new plastic toy like these at Discovery Kids.

How did this experiment work? When milk and an acid (the vinegar) mix together, the milk begins to change properties. The milk begins to separate into a liquid and a solid. The solid material consists of minerals, fat, and a protein called casein. This protein is made of long molecules. Those molecules allow us to bend the lumps like rubber until it hardens and resembles plastic.

Let us know what shapes you managed to create with your milk.

To learn more about proteins and milk or to find new ways to play with your food, visit some of our other experiments.

What Can Water’s Surface Tension Do?

14 12 2010

Water particles are attracted to each other from all sides. The particles on the surface only have each other to bond with, because there are not particles on top of them.  This attraction creates a thin skin, called surface tension.  Very light objects, like paper clips, can float on water if they do not break the surface tension.

When you simply drop a paperclip into a cup of water the surface tension breaks, causing the paper clip to sink.  It is possible to gently lay a paper clip on top of the water. This is very difficult, because if  your fingernail touches the surface you will break the tension. One trick is to lay a small piece of paper towel on top of the water and then pace the paperclip on top. This allows the paperclip to gently ease 0nto the water. The paperclip will float even after the paper towel sinks to the bottom!

Do you have any other tips for making a paper clip float? Leave a comment letting us know.

Polishing Pennies

3 12 2010

Have you ever noticed that new pennies are shiny and old pennies are darker and sometimes even green. When copper is exposed to oxygen it oxidizes creating a darker layer of Copper Oxide on the outside of the penny. I experimented with several liquids to see if they could make the pennies shiny again.

Get several clear cups and dirty pennies. Try to find pennies that are similar in color, so you can compare how the liquids affect the pennies. Put a different liquid in each cup. I used lemon juice, vinegar, water, and dishwasher detergent mixed with water.

Put the pennies into the cups and wait of five minuets. I put two pennies in the liquids, so I could see if they came out the same. You could use more or only one. After the five minuets I took out the pennies and cleaned them off with a paper towel.

Look how shiny the pennies that were in the lemon juice are! Lemon juice has acidic acid which dissolves the copper oxide. Share your results with us in a comment. What liquids did you use?

Balancing Butterfly

22 11 2010

We have explored balance by making tops and balancing  yard sticks on our fingers. Now we are going to learn about center of gravity by making a beautiful butterfly

Fold a piece of paper in half and draw half a butterfly on one side. Cut out your butterfly, so that it is symmetric. Trace the butterfly onto a piece of cardboard.

After you cut out the butterfly try to balance it on the eraser side of a pencil. The butterfly’s center of gravity is the point where it can balance on the pencil. Next, tape one or two pennies onto each of the wings near the top.

Find the center of gravity again using the pencil. How did the weight change the center of gravity?

Science Fair Project Help

1 11 2010

Science fair projects provide an excellent opportunity to explore science and share your findings. However, it can be difficult to know where to start. I am  sharing some of the resources I use when creating blog posts in hopes they will help you plan your science fair project.

Howtosmile.org– Search their collection of over 1,000 science and math activities by subject and age range.

www.stevespangler.com– Read descriptions and watch videos of experiments about chemistry, density, weather, and more. There is even a category just for science fair ideas.

www.exploratorium.edu– The Exploratorium is a unique museum of science, art, and human perspective in San Francisco. Their website is full of ways you can explore science from home.

sciencenewsforkids.org– The Science fair zone of this educational website provides examples of outstanding experiments, tips, and topics.

Also, look through the blog for ideas.  These  experiments showing capillary attraction, density of gases, and chemical bonds might pique your scientific curiosity.

What was your favorite science fair project? leave us a comment and let us know!


Young scientists experiment mixing primary colors at the Museum