• Greg Baker

This Week In Science

(reprinted from the Metro Spirit 01-25-16)

It’s snow more

This morning on the way to school, my daughter asked a very interesting and insightful question.

“Daddy, why is the snowman still there when the snow is all gone?”

Significant snowfalls only occur in Augusta every once in a while, and the snow usually doesn’t last long.  The warm ground coupled with a bright sun quickly restores our green winters.  Under certain conditions, however, traces of the snowfall will linger.  Those conditions are worth a discussion, especially if we get into the science of snow melt.

“Well, when you pack the snow all together, it sort of concentrates the cold and makes it harder to melt.”

OK, so that’s not the most scientific explanation.  However, going straight from zero knowledge into Newton’s Law of Cooling would be counter productive.  The typical 6th grader just doesn’t understand the concept of heat transfer coefficients.  I let the explanation sink in for a moment.

Of course, that’s just a nudge to continue the conversation.  With the right prompting, I can steer my daughters into conversations regarding STEM topics.  In this case, thermodynamics is not my best area, but I’m sure we could spend a half-hour discussing the impact of surface area on heat transfer and the physical state changes between ice, water and water vapor.

I take a quick look at her as she taps on her phone.

“Well, do you want me to try again?”

Without taking her eyes off the phone, she responds.

“Nope.  I’m good.”


All In One Place – For those that couldn’t get enough of the full moon this past weekend (wasn’t it just awesome!!!), another astronomical treat is occurring during the next few weeks.  Just before sunrise, the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all visible in the eastern sky.  The last time that six planets were visible at the same time was eleven years ago.

In order to see the planets, look in the eastern sky just before twilight.  Low in the sky, Venus and Saturn are easily visible, as they are the brightest lights in the region, Venus being the brightest.  Moving higher in the sky and closer to the Moon, Mars will be discernable by its reddish hue.  Continuing in a line, Jupiter will appear as a bright object, almost as bright as Venus.  Mercury is the most difficult to see.  This planet appears above the horizon just a few minutes before the sunrise become too bright.  Mercury never gets more than ten degrees above the horizon, so any nearby pine trees will block your view.

There’s one more planet visible in the same field of view.  If you guessed Pluto, that’s a good guess.  Pluto is almost directly behind Venus, albeit much further away.  Unfortunately, Pluto is no longer considered a real planet, and it’s not visible without a really big telescope.

Do you need another hint?  OK, but this is last one…you’re standing on it.


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