August 11, 2014
The nighttime sky is always interesting to look at, but perhaps this week more than usual.
Image by Marco Langbroek
If you happened to watch the moonrise last night, you might have seen a cape flying out behind the giant moon. Well, not really, no cape, but last night’s moon was this year’s supermoon, and it did look bigger than usual–about 8 percent bigger. The above image shows the potential difference in size.
What’s a supermoon? A supermoon, or perigree moon, occurs when a full moon is at its closest point to the earth, or its perigree, in its yearly elliptical orbit. It looks bigger than usual to all of us on earth gazing up because it’s only 221,765 miles (356,896 kilometers) away. So close!
Usually a supermoon happens every 13 months, but this year we are going to be treated to supermoon spectacles three times over the course of three months! A supermoon rose on July 12th and we’ll have a chance to marvel at yet another supermoon on September 9th. The one in August, however, is the closest. Astronomers warn that this trifecta of supermoons won’t happen again until 2034.
If you happen to miss the supermoon, fear not, there is more great stuff happening in the sky this week. The Perseid meteor shower is making its annual visit. Though actually, the Earth and the meteor shower are visiting each other.
Every year around this time in August, Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle and encounters loads of comet debris. The dust and ice particles that make up this debris burn up as they zip through the earth’s atmosphere, letting us catch a glimpse of their paths across the sky. If a meteor is lucky enough to travel all the way to earth, it’s called a meteorite. Before the meteor hits the earth’s atmosphere, when it’s still just a rock minding its own business out in space, it’s called a meteoroid.
The best time for viewing the Perseid meteor shower is usually in the early morning. This year, however, the supermoon might get in the way with all its bright light. You can also spot meteors during early evening.
Choose a spot with little light pollution, such as an empty field or park. A few minutes after turning out all lights, your eyes will be adjusted to the dark and you’ll be able to see plenty of stuff in the sky.
These meteors are called the Perseid meteors because they look like they originate from the same area as the Perseus constellation, which can be found in the northeastern part of the sky, as you can see in the above illustration from NASA. Don’t worry too much about facing the right direction, though. Simply look up and a meteor will catch your eye.
Happy star gazing!
Thursday, November 6, 2014, 9:00 am
Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, 2800 Opryland Dr, Nashville, TN 37214, United States
Come visit Nomad Press at the 2014 AMLE annual conference, see why Nomad titles are the perfect resource for the Middle School classroom. Don’t forget to ask about our show specials.
Show runs November 6 -7, 2014.
July 14, 2014
The World Cup has come to an end. The players have gone home, the stadiums have emptied, fans around the world have gone back to their daily lives. Did your team win? Lose? If you find yourself reaching for the potato chips more often this week, chances are good you aligned yourself with the losing team.
Apparently, the successes and failures of our favorite sports teams have an effect on our moods, our general outlook, and even our diets. Researchers have found that football fans whose teams have lost are far more likely to eat lots of fatty food the day after the game than those fans whose teams have won. And if you live in a town that follows football with gusto, the greater your helpings of doughnuts and guacamole.
This makes sense when you think about how our moods affect our eating habits. They call it “comfort food” for a reason—we eat it when we need to be comforted. And when our team does badly on the field, we get depressed. We need comfort. We need casseroles.
The team’s wins and losses are our wins and losses, even on a physiological level. Men experience an increase or decrease in testosterone depending on whether their team won or lost. Part of the attraction of watching a game is that rush of adrenaline, that feeling that life hangs in the balance. We love the dopamine that floods our neural sensors when the game is going our way. And when our team takes a hit, some of us react with a rage we rarely feel when doing something mundane like paying bills or walking the dog.
Being a sports fan also gives us a place of escape. When we watch our team light up the field, the court, or the rink, we’re no longer regular people who spend most of their time worrying about money, global warming, and that new, misguided tattoo. The rules are different. We can yell and scream, insult other people, and embrace the person sitting next to us, whether we know him or not.
And even as we escape, we belong. The fans of your team are your friends, they’re your sporting family. And it feels good to belong to a close family, even one that’s united by team colors rather than genetics.
Keep in mind, though, if your team is dragging behind, that high-caloric food isn’t the answer to a rough game. That will only make us slower. Neither is the destruction of community property a productive reaction. No, the best way to handle the agony of defeat is to read up on the science of why you feel so low. And then get back to training.
July 8, 2014
An octopus? On dry land? Aren’t octopuses supposed to stay in the murky depths of the ocean, squeezing themselves into tiny spaces?
Dr. Julian Finn of the Museum Victoria filmed this particular octopus stroll. It turns out that finding an octopus on land is not unusual, but they’re nocturnal. They typically come out at night, so it’s rare that we diurnal humans catch a glimpse of them.
Want to know another amazing thing about octopuses? They keep about three-fifths of their brains in their arms. And not only is much of their intelligence in their arms, each arm acts as if it has a mind of its own. If you cut one off in the lab (the octopus will grow another one), it can move around for up to an hour. Luckily, the arms can also recognize each other so they don’t get tangled up.
They can also recognize and remember people even after a long period of time. One octopus at the New England Aquarium took a disliking to a female volunteer and squirted water at her every chance he got. The volunteer left for several months, but when she returned, she was greeted with a face full of salt water, courtesy of the octopus, who hadn’t performed that move with anyone else in many weeks.
The stories of octopus smarts are many. There’s the octopus who turned a Tylenol bottle into a toy. There’s the one who was observed building a small wall of rocks around the entrance to her cave so she could sleep safely. Octopuses have been known to carry coconut shells for instant shelter in the face of danger. There are lots of octopuses who have successfully freed food from all manner of complicated containers, not the least impressive of which was a childproof pill bottle.
Octopuses live only a few short years, and they spend most of their time alone. So why have they developed such a high level of intelligence? The usual evolution-based reasons for being smart—longevity and social immersion—are missing. Some scientists think their lack of shell has caused them to become highly intelligent creatures. They’ve had to figure out how to survive in a world that’s eager to feast on their soft, exposed bodies.
Humans and octopuses are vastly different creatures, but the opportunity to learn from each other is limitless. What can we discover about neural diseases, regeneration, and adaptability? By studying octopuses and their behavior, we’re propping open a door between two very different experiences of the same world.
To read more about amazing octopuses, visit