Monday, August 19, 2013

Lots of Question - Part 3

Here are some more intriguing questions sent in by members of Skooville – the place where children learn to be safe online.

The next lot of questions are all about space.  From the beginning of time we have always looked up at the stars.   We then moved on to finding better ways of viewing the universe.  Telescopes, space craft and rovers that can explore the out of reach planets by remote-control. 

We had lots of questions about space from our friends at Skooville – so it looks like the next generation also has a fascination for what lies beyond our skies. 

Kanjani: How far is Earth to the Sun?
Jamie: How does gravity work?
Charlene: Why does the Earth have oxygen but not space?  Why do we touch the ground but in space why do we float? Please tell me.
Daniel: Why does the earth have an atmosphere?
Brandan: How far is the Sun to Pluto?
Pita: Is Pluto a planet or not?
Georgiana:  How do stars get eaten by black holes because aren’t stars huge and black holes small?
Pranaati:  Is there a chance of life in undiscovered planets?
Shlaaka: Whats the furthest planet you can see with the naked eye?

So – that’s a lot of questions!  We hope that you’ll enjoy reading the next bit and find the answers you are looking for …

First, a little about our very own planet - Earth... 
  • We are the third planet from the sun at roughly 149.6000.000 kms from the Sun.
  • The light and heat from the sun takes around 8 minutes and 20 seconds to get to us.
  • If we were closer to the sun it would be too hot for us.  If we were further away, it would be too cold on earth for us. 

Our planet seems to have a lot of things just right…
  • Its gravitation pull is just right. Gravity is caused as the earth is a large mass.  Matter attracts matter. So – the lager the matter, the larger the gravitation pull. 
  • Lots of people think there is no gravity in space – but this is not quite right.  As we move away from Earth, the effect of the Earth gravitation pull becomes less and less. 
  • Earth gravity also holds our atmosphere in place.  The atmosphere seems to have just the right amount of oxygen in it for us to be able to breath.  It stills a mystery as to how our atmosphere formed and where all the materials came from.  We have yet to discover another planet that comes anywhere close to being as perfect as Earth is. 

The one thing that is clear about our universe is that – we have a lot more to understand!  Even the stuff we do know needs a re-think now and again. 

In the early 1900, an American Percival Lowell noticed something interesting about the planets Neptune and Uranus.  They were being effective by a gravitational pull – but not their own!  Percival Lowell decided that there must be another planet somewhere close.  This was an exciting theory and the search for Planet X started.

It took 30 years for Planet X to be discovered by a man called Clyde W Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.  

Some interesting stuff  about Pluto …
  • It got its name due to its rough surface.  A comparison was made to the Roman God (called Pluto) who was a rough guy from the underworld!
  • It is 5.9 billion kms from the sun.
  • There has been lots of debate and confusion about whether it’s actually a planet or not.  It’s only small and there is not much off it! 
  • It orbits the Sun slightly differently to other planets.
  • Pluto has a moon … but get this … Pluto’s moon is bigger than Pluto!  Weird.
  • All these discoveries and the confusion surrounding Pluto made the International Astronomical Union re-think how they define what a planet actually is.  So they re-worked the definition and as a result poor old Pluto got demoted to a ‘Dwarf Planet’ in 2006.

Black holes have always fascinated scientists especially as black holes are still a bit of a mystery too.  But scientists do think that  …
  • They are created after a star dies.
  • A star is a burning mass created by a massive explosion.  There is a massive force going outwards.  But because there is a large amount of matter – there is a large gravitation pull towards the star too! 
  • This creates a bit of a fight between the force pushing outwards and the gravitational pull pulling inwards.  Once the force pushing out dies the force pulling inward wins.  What is left is a black hole 
  • Black holes are so dense even light cannot travel through them!

As you can see there is so much we don’t know about our universe.  There are lots of mysteries.  Who knows – there might be life on other planets – but we humans haven’t met any yet!

We encourage you to start looking upwards!  You don’t need any fancy equipment.  By just using your eyes you can see loads of starts and it is possible to see the planet Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.  On some nights you can also see the International Space Station!  When Alan first came to New Zealand he visited the Carter Observatory in Wellington.  They helped him look up and see a ‘new’ hemisphere.  If you want to find out more about the skies and stars above you – why not visit their website


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