Virtual Nature Tots: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

Guest post by Erin Votaw, GSC Educator

ErinHello my preschool science buddies! If you aren’t familiar with Nature Tots programs at the Greensboro Science Center, let me introduce myself. My name is Erin and I am a part of the Education department here at the Greensboro Science Center. I have been teaching Nature Tots classes, summer camps and grant programs for the past 10 years.  I thought it may be fun to investigate some of the topics we didn’t get to meet up for in our Nature Tots class. We always have such a fun time together on Tuesdays and I look forward to the time when we get back to the fun, together in our special place with visiting animals and keeper talks. The GSC is working hard to keep the animals happy but I know they miss seeing your sweet faces checking on them.

What makes the night sky twinkle? Such a great question that begs for an answer. Let’s begin with stars and how they work. We see our sun, the center of our solar system every day, and especially when it’s a nice sunny day. The largest star in our solar system, our sun gives us light, warmth and life to Earth and plants through the process of photosynthesis. Made of helium and hydrogen gases held together by gravitational pull, the sun is the reason for our seasons, weather and – let’s be honest – birthdays! Your birthday comes from each revolution around the sun. Sounds like a very important star to me! And at around 6000℃, wow! Talk about hot!!!  

Have you ever seen a helium balloon?  Maybe at a birthday or graduation party or just floating in the sky? The helium inside the balloon is an invisible gas that makes it float and is one of the same invisible gases that creates the stars in our sky. Stars are actually giant balls of gases, like helium and hydrogen, that are so hot and fiery that they glow brightly and give off heat. Stars do come in all sizes but they are so far away from us that they look like tiny, beautiful, twinkling points of light, when actually they are really gigantic! 

Stars can also be different colors depending upon how hot they are. The coolest temperature stars are red, warmer stars are yellow-orange, hot stars are white and the very hottest stars are blue! We can’t actually feel the heat from the smaller stars because they are so far away.

Let’s try to see if we can see this for ourselves. Gather up some colored tissue paper and a flashlight. Turn down the lights. Using your flashlight and colored tissue paper, cover the light part of the flashlight with the tissue paper. What color is the light from the flashlight now? Try different colors. Shine the light onto the walls. Can you see how the color of the light changes for the tissue paper color? Just imagine you are changing the temperature of the star based on the color of tissue paper you put over the light. 

Stars also shine all the time! It’s difficult to understand this because we do not see them during the daytime. This is because the light from the sun is so bright that it is impossible to see the light coming from the other stars. But really, we do see one star during the day – the sun!  

So, onto the question of twinkling. Just how do the stars twinkle in the sky at night? The stars twinkle in the night sky because of the effects of our atmosphere. When starlight enters the atmosphere it is affected by wind, temperature and density. These fluctuations in the stability of the air and changes in properties in the atmosphere causes the light from the star to twinkle when seen from the ground. Think of it like this – as the light travels to where we can see it (from deep, dark space down to our eyes on Earth), it passes through things that cause it to jumble like a car on a bumpy highway. Not super smooth, but bumpy and jumpy, hence the twinkling appearance of the light when we finally see it. Goodness, I just like thinking that they were blinking at us! 

A group of visible stars that form a pattern we can see is called a constellation. Scientists who study space have given many stars and constellations names and you can look for them in the night sky. You may have heard of the North Star and constellations like the Big (and Little) Dipper, Orion and the Northern Cross just to name a few. A great way to investigate stars and constellations is to check out the sky at night. There are several free apps for your phones that allow you to “look” at the sky and know what you’re actually looking at in the sky. Fascinating really!

We can make our own constellations in a couple of fun ways.  Using a piece of construction paper, star stickers (or whatever you have on hand) and white chalk or crayon, we can lay out a shape or design for our constellation. Place the stickers in a square (or whatever shape you want) on the paper. Next, draw lines with the chalk to connect the stickers and there you have your very own constellation!

Chalk Constellation

Another option is to use a tp roll and make it a constellation viewer. Take the tp roll and put a square of construction paper over one end with a rubber band. Ask an adult to help you poke holes with a toothpick (in a shape or constellation design) through the construction paper.  

TP Constellation

Hold it up to the light and you will be able to see your constellation design. What will you name your constellations? Very stellar!!

TP Constellation Glowing

Stars and space are super interesting areas to learn about and investigate. I would recommend you get outside and check out space in your place. Go out during daytime to look at the clouds and the light (don’t look directly at the bright sun…ouch!). Peek outside at night to see if you can see the stars twinkling — can you connect them to make constellations? You may even have seen the space station fly overhead recently! Seriously, space is FULL of neat science.

Be sure to observe the moon during its phase changes and maybe make a 30-day moon chart (you can check the internet for a sample). A fun read to go along with this moon shape study is the story “Breakfast Moon” by Meg Gower. It corresponds to a family journaling the moon’s shape with shapes of their foods at breakfast.  How sweet!!

I hope to bring you more blogs and activities to help keep you engaged in our science world. I hope to see you again soon, until then have fun and remember science is everywhere!

Conservation Creation – iNaturalist + Monkey Madness

If you’ve been to the Greensboro Science Center or any other zoo or aquarium, you’ve probably seen many animals with a “Conservation Status” listed on their exhibit signage. These statuses range from ‘Extinct’ to ‘Least Concern.’ ‘Extinct’ means that there are either no more instances of that animal left in the wild, or that the ones remaining have no chance of reproducing. ‘Least Concern’ means that this animal is abundant in the wild and that there are currently no concerns revolving around its population numbers. Scientists have many ways of determining how many animals of a species exist in the wild – methods ranging from recording calls in the forest or tagging animals in the ocean to be tracked with innovative technology.

While these methods can give us an idea of what animal populations look like, there are many situations in which a population doesn’t fit into a specific category. For example, you may see an animal that is listed as ‘Data Deficient.’ This means there isn’t enough information to determine what their population realistically looks like. This applies to many ocean animals, since they can be difficult to track due to the ocean’s vastness. There are other instances where an animal can be listed as ‘Least Concern’ overall, but still be vulnerable in certain areas. This is why it’s important to be mindful of wildlife when you encounter it, regardless of an animal’s conservation status.

Now, for an activity! This month, instead of a craft, we’ll be sending you on an adventure! All you will need is a smartphone or tablet and the spirit of a biologist. Start by downloading the app, iNaturalist. This is a free app for Apple and Android that will allow you to track local wildlife and help scientists learn about the animal populations near you! Learn more about the app by visiting inaturalist.org.

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Once you have downloaded the app, you can begin your adventure! You’ll be taking photos of the plants and animals you find. If you already know what you’re looking at, you can identify it yourself on the app. If you don’t know what you’ve found, however, other users of the app can help you figure out what it is.

By participating, you’ll be helping scientists to learn about the plants and animals near you, giving them insight on what needs to be done to help and protect these beings. You can use iNaturalist anywhere you go – including your home, a vacation spot or one of Greensboro’s beautiful parks. Now… break out your safari hat and begin your journey as a Citizen Scientist!

Want more conservation? Get hands-on at the GSC! During July 2019, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 & 2:30, join our educators at the howler monkey exhibit to learn about these monkeys and how they’re being affected by habitat loss. While there, you can make a seed bomb – made from seeds of local plants – to take home to enrich your local wildlife habitats! 

Conservation Creation: Terrific Turtles

Ever wonder what the difference is between a turtle and a tortoise? To answer this, you must first know that all tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. This is because all tortoises and turtles belong to the Testudine family, meaning they are reptiles with a hard shell. However, turtles break off into other smaller families (dependent upon their traits). The most obvious difference is that tortoises only live on land, while turtles will spend at least some of the time, if not a majority of their life, in the water. Another distinguishing characteristic is that tortoises are herbivores (vegetarians), while turtles are omnivores, eating both plants and living creatures like insects.

While there are several differences between tortoises and turtles, one thing they have in common is their need for protection. Due to their hard outer shell, these animals are well equipped to protect themselves from the natural predators who see them as a potential meal. However, they are not prepared to save themselves from human threats (like habitat loss). This is why it is important to make sure that we don’t disturb wild turtles or tortoises when we see them and make sure to keep pets like cats and dogs inside so that they don’t become a potential predator for one of our shelled friends. We can also help by being cautious drivers. Many turtles have an internal homing sense and desire to stay close to their original home. This sometimes means crossing roads to find food or potential mates, then returning home. If you do see a turtle in the road and want to help, make sure that you move them to the side they are trying to get to, and only do this if you are safely able to do so.

Now… for some fun! This month, we will show you how to use bottles to make a turtle bank! If you want to take an extra step to help turtles and tortoises, consider donating to the following organizations, which we also support here at the Greensboro Science Center:

The Orianne Society: Nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of reptiles, amphibians, and the lands they inhabit.

The Turtle Survival Alliance : Nonprofit dedicated to conserving struggling turtle and tortoise populations through a variety of techniques including breeding programs and habitat protection.

 

DIY Steps

What you will need: plastic bottles, scissors, glue, fun foam or craft felt, a marker, craft supplies of your choice, and an X-ACTO knife or sharp blade (using adult assistance).

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Step 1: Using the X-ACTO knife, cut off the bottom of a plastic bottle, then use scissors to smooth out the edge.

Step 2: Place the bottom of the plastic bottle on top of your foam or felt, then use your marker to trace a circle around it.

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Step 3: Use your marker to draw a tail, a head and feet on to the circle, then cut out your turtle shape.

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Step 4: Put glue on the rim of the plastic bottle bottom from earlier and place it on top of your turtle base. Allow it to dry.

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Step 5: Use your X-ACTO knife to make a small slit in the bottom of your turtle.

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Step 6: Get creative! Add your own decorations to your turtle’s shell. If you use glue to adhere your embellishments, make sure to allow everything to dry before using your bank. You can also use your creation to store small household items such as buttons, screws or headphones!

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