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: Red Panda-monium, featuring DIY Seed Bombs!

Usha Red Panda DSC_5036

Red pandas are undeniably one of the world’s cutest animals. With bright red fur, striking facial features and a big fluffy tail, these animals have quickly become popular throughout the internet and in the hearts of our guests. However, these traits serve a larger purpose than to pull at our heartstrings! Red pandas are native to Southeast Asia, particularly in the temperate forests near the Himalayan Mountains. In these areas, temperatures remain cool and that large fluffy tail is used almost like a blanket to keep these small animals warm. In addition to providing warmth, that beautiful thick red fur helps these animals camouflage themselves within the red lichens that grow in their natural habitat.

Believe it or not, the red panda is the original panda. Red pandas were discovered around 50 years before the black and white giant pandas that we typically think of. These animals have caused quite a headache for scientists over the years as they’ve tried to figure out the relationship between red pandas and giant pandas.

Currently, red pandas are classified in their own unique family called Ailuridae. However different these animals may seem, they do share some commonality. For one, both the red panda and the giant panda love to eat bamboo! These animals are also both greatly affected by habitat loss. Here at the Greensboro Science Center we support the Red Panda Network, an organization dedicated to preserving these animals. You can also help red pandas by donating to the Red Panda Network here (https://www.redpandanetwork.org) and by continuing to visit the Greensboro Science Center and other AZA accredited zoos and aquariums!

Remember to join us during the month of September on Tuesdays and Thurdsays at 10:30am and 2:30pm at our red panda habitat to participate in our Conservation Creation activity as well as on September 14thfor Red Panda Day!

While red pandas live thousands of miles away from us, there are things we can do for animals effected by habitat loss right here in North Carolina! Some of these animals include our local pollinators such as bees and butterflies. As we move in to the cooler months of fall, we can begin planting flowers and other plants to help out these animals. To get started, we have a cool DIY activity for you to do at home that will be fun for you and beneficial to our local pollinators: Seed Bombs!

DIY Seed Bombs

What you will need: Air-dry clay, potting soil or compost, water, seeds, a large mixing bowl, a measuring cup of any size

To choose seeds that will be the most beneficial to your area, visit this website: https://www.ourstate.com/tips-bee-friendly-garden-north-carolina/

Seed-Bomb-Ingredients

Seed bomb ingredients

Step 1: Take 1 part clay, 1 part water, and 2 parts potting soil or compost and combine them in your mixing bowl.

Seed-Bomb-Combine-Ingredients

Combine 1 part clay, 1 part water, and 2 parts potting soil or compost

Step 2: Use your hands (or a large spoon) to mix the ingredients together, adding water as necessary. Your final mixture should be similar to Play-Doh in consistency.

Seed-Bomb-Mix-Ingredients

Mix ingredients, adding water as necessary, until the mixture has a Play-Doh-like consistency

Step 3: Add your seeds of choice to the mixture and mix thoroughly.

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Add seeds

Step 4: Form the mixture into balls or another fun shape of your choosing.

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Form the mixture into balls

Step 5: Allow 2-3 days for your seed bombs to dry and then toss them wherever you would like your seed bombs to grow! Seed bombs don’t require care or attention so they can be placed wherever you would like to see your flowers. Visit them often in the Fall and Spring to see if you have any insect visitors!

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Completed seed bombs!

Conservation Creation: 180 Steps Around the World

Summer is right around the corner and it’s once again time to take a tour around the world – all from within our very own Jeansboro Junction (located in Friendly Farm)! On this tour, you will get the chance to learn about our farm animals and their natural histories, as well as earn a souvenir to take home with you.

While commercial farms tend to focus on a single crop or species of livestock, smaller family farms tend to have many different plants and animals, which is what you will see in our farmyard here at the Greensboro Science Center. When farmers are setting up their farms, they will often think about the relationships between their herds and their gardens. For example, horse manure is a great crop fertilizer and can be used to help grow vegetables for people as well as hay for livestock. Free-range chickens are great for keeping pests out of gardens while also providing eggs to sell or eat.

During the farm planning process, farmers need to be aware of the needs of both their animals and their gardens to ensure an efficient and healthy farm. For our activity this month, you will be planning and creating your own farm diorama! Below, you will see an example of a farm that we created, as well as how to make a horse for your farmyard.

What you will need:a box, craft supplies and a creative mind! Running short on craft supplies? Visit Reconsidered Goods to stock up on donated materials without breaking the bank!

Step 1: Figure out what kinds of animals you want on your farm and what they will need to live happy and healthy lives. To get started, remember that the three essential needs for any living creature are food, water and shelter. If you’re using the internet, search for animal care sheets (ex. Horse Care Sheet) to find out what each animal needs.

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Step 2: Make your cork horse! Start by breaking 3 toothpicks in half. Use the pointy ends to add legs and a neck to your horse. You will have half of a toothpick left over.

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Step 3: Attach a smaller cork to the neck area of the horse; this will become the head. Use glue to attach string for hair and googly eyes (if you would like) for the finishing details.

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Step 4: Create your diorama with the animals you want on your farm! For our farmyard, we decided we wanted to have a garden, free-range chickens with a chicken coop, a fenced-in pasture for sheep and horses, and a well to make providing water easier on our farmer. For an added challenge, try using only recyclable materials or materials from your yard!

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