Misconceptions in Astronomy

In a series of posts this week, I will be sharing 5 Misconceptions in Science and providing lessons and activities to help dispel these conceptual misunderstandings. Today’s post focuses on common misconceptions in astronomy.

Misconceptions in Astronomy @EvaVarga.netMisconceptions in Astronomy

Misconceptions creep into the science of astronomy perhaps more than any other science. Surveys have found that even college graduates carry persistent misconceptions or even wildly incorrect ideas about the phases of the moon or the cause of the seasons.

Considering the following statements, which are true? Which are false?

 

1) The sky is blue because it reflects the blue color of the oceans.
2) The seasons are caused by the Earth’s distance from the sun.
3) The Moon’s phases are due to the shadow of the Earth falling on the Moon.
4) The bright glow of a meteor is not caused by friction as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere.
5) There are no stars seen in Apollo Moon-landing pictures thus proving that these landings were staged.
6) The Hubble Space Telescope is bigger than all Earth-based telescopes.
7) Stars in the night sky do have color.
8) The Moon is bigger near the horizon than when it’s overhead.
9) In the southern hemisphere, winters are much warmer than those in the northern hemisphere.
10) X-rays are emitted from the eclipsed sun but these X-rays do not damage your eyes if you look at the eclipsed sun.

How to Dispel Misconceptions

To help foster the replacement of misconceptions with new concepts, students should be encouraged to ask questions. Additionally, they should be given ample opportunity to engage in hands-on experiments or demonstrations designed to test hypotheses.

Carefully selected demonstrations are one way of helping students overcome misconceptions, and there are a variety of resources available. Let’s take the second statement above and explore how we can dispel this common misunderstanding.

MISCONCEPTION #2

The seasons are caused by the Earth’s distance from the sun.

Studies have shown that as many as 95% of people— including most college graduates—incorrectly believe that the seasons result from the Earth moving closer to or farther from the Sun. In reality, the answer lies in the tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis away or toward the Sun as the Earth travels through its year-long orbit. Distance plays no role since the Earth actually is closest to the Sun during the first week of January.

This video embedded below uses a globe and a strip of thermochromic paper to show how the axial tilt of the Earth as it orbits the sun produces the changing season. This is an excellent hands-on activity in which to engage your students to dispel this commonly held misconception.

To further investigate this common misconception in astronomy, check out National Geographic’s lesson The Reason for the Seasons.

Using demonstrations is a great tool to help dispel misconceptions. Be careful, however, to choose models and demonstrations that do do not mislead or strengthen other misconceptions. A popular model of the solar system that shows the relative distances of the planets from the sun, shows the planets all rotating around the sun on the same plane rather than on independent three-dimensional paths.

5 Misconceptions in Science & How to Dispel Them @EvaVarga.net

Misconceptions in Science & How to Dispel Them (series introduction)

Misconceptions in Geology & Meteorology (coming Wednesday)

Misconceptions in Chemistry & Physics (coming Thursday)

Misconceptions in Biology (coming Friday)

You might also be interested in my 5 day series,  Discovering Peru, where you’ll have the chance to win a travel guide of choice from DK Publishing.

My post is one of many hopscotch link-ups. Hop over and see what others are sharing.

Hopcotch2015Statements 4, 7, and 10 are true.  Statements 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, and 9 are false.

 

Science Milestones: Mendeleev & The Periodic Table of Elements

Creating what is arguably the most iconic symbol ever seen in science, Dmitri Mendeleev was passionate about chemistry. He was also an educator and his deepest wish was to find a better way of organizing the subject. Mendeleev’s wish led to his discovery of the periodic law and his creation of the periodic table.

mendeleev

Biography

Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev was born February 8, 1834 in Verkhnie Aremzyani, in the Russian province of Siberia. He was the youngest of at least 16 children. He first trained to be a teacher like his father, winning a place at his father’s old college. He continued his studies at St. Petersburg and graduated in 1856 with a master’s degree in chemistry. In 1863 Mendeleev was appointed to a professorship and in 1866 he succeeded to the Chair in the University.

Mendeleev is best known for his work on the periodic table; arranging the 63 known elements into a Periodic Table based on atomic mass, which he published in Principles of Chemistry in 1869. His first Periodic Table was compiled on the basis of arranging the elements in ascending order of atomic weight and grouping them by similarity of properties.  He predicted the existence and properties of new elements and pointed out accepted atomic weights that were in error. His table did not include any of the Noble Gases, however, which had not yet been discovered.

“In a dream I saw a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.”

As new elements that he had predicted were discovered, Mendeleev’s fame and scientific reputation were solidified. In 1905, the British Royal Society gave him its highest honor, the Copley Medal. In the same year he was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Element 101 is named Mendelevium in his honor. He died two years later of influenza.

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Science Milestones

To learn more about those born in the month of February, visit the iHomeschool Network’s Birthday Lessons.

 

Science Milestones: Linus Pauling & Molecular Medicine

As an Oregon State University alum, Linus Pauling’s memory invokes a sense of pride. Not only was he one of the greatest scientists of our modern age, but he was also a much respected and beloved defender of civil liberties and health issues.

My father, when I had just about reached my ninth birthday, wrote a letter to the Portland Oregonian, asking for advice as to what books to get for me. He said that I seemed to have an unusual interest in reading, especially history. Then he went on to say, “And don’t say the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species, because he has already read them.”

linuspauling

Biography

Linus Carl Pauling was born in Portland, Oregon, on February 28, 1901. He received his early education in Oregon, finishing in 1922 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis — now Oregon State University. Already he was drawn to the challenge of how and why particular atoms form bonds with each other to create molecules with unique structures.

LinusPaulingFor postgraduate study Pauling went to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which provided a stipend for research and teaching. In 1925 he received a Ph.D. in chemistry and mathematical physics. Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, in 1926-27 he studied in Europe with physicists who were exploring the implications of quantum mechanics for atomic structure. In this revolutionary new field Pauling found a physical and mathematical framework for his own future theories regarding molecular structure and its correlation with chemical properties and function.

Pauling discovered that in many cases the type of bonding — whether ionic or covalent (formed by a sharing of electrons between bonded atoms) — could be determined from a substance’s magnetic properties. To explain covalent bonding, Pauling introduced two major new concepts, based on quantum mechanics: bond-orbital hybridization and bond resonance.

Pauling originated the concept of molecular disease. In 1945, while hearing a physician describe sickle cell anemia, he instantly surmised that it might be caused by a defect in the red blood cell’s hemoglobin. After three years of painstaking research, he and his associate Dr. Harvey Itano identified this prevalent disease as molecular in origin — caused by a genetically transmitted abnormality in the hemoglobin molecule.

“I have always liked working in some scientific direction that nobody else is working in.”

Pauling’s description of this first molecular disease initiated a search for many more such disorders. The new idea quickly became immensely important in medicine and is now the main focus of human genome research. Thus the medical specialties of hematology, serology, immunology, applied genetics, and pathology owe much to Pauling’s contributions, which were made long before his intense interest in the promise of nutritional therapy became widely known.

In 1954 Linus Pauling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Pauling put his elevated new position as a Nobel laureate to good effect in his growing social activism. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he protested vehemently against atmospheric nuclear testing.

Pauling’s antitesting campaign was vindicated when a treaty was signed by the three nuclear powers — the U.S., Great Britain, and the U.S.S.R. On October 10, 1963, the day on which the limited test ban went into effect, it was announced that Linus Pauling would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962.

Linus Pauling is the only person to be awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes and one of only four individuals to have won more than one Nobel Prize (the others being Marie Curie, John Bardeen, and Frederick Sanger). Also of note, he and Marie Curie are the only people to be awarded Nobel Prizes in different fields.

Bring it Home

Atomidoodle: A Game App to Unlock the Periodic Table of Elements

Just prior to Thanksgiving, I downloaded a new app called Atomidoodle for our iPad. It looked both educational and fun. We were driving up to Oregon to see family and in the rush to pack and load everything into the car, I neglected to tell the kids about it.

After gathering with family at my brother’s house, the kids went home with their Grandma for the night. We picked them up the following day and drove home. The drive takes about 5 hours and often, the kids will engage themselves in reading, practicing their Mandarin, and playing games or reading iBooks on their devices.

atomidoodleThe next week, I sat down on the couch and called them over to share with them the new app I had downloaded. Much to my surprise, they had already discovered it. “Atomidoodle! I love that game,” my daughter exclaimed. “I found it on the iPad when we were at Grandma’s house and I played it a bunch. It is so fun!”

We received the Atomidoodle app in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product.  All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information. 

My daughter doesn’t play video games very often. Hearing her speak so highly of the game, I couldn’t wait to play it myself. I asked her to show me and I quickly discovered what she enjoyed so much. We have since enjoyed playing together (taking turns) on several occasions.

I love that she is learning as she is engrossed in a game. Trying to collect all the elements in the periodic table is also a great challenge to keep her motivated.

atomidoodle_game

Within the game, there are pathways that the little atom travels upon. The goal is to move the number of atoms requested to the final destination before time runs out or the atoms crash into one another.

As each atom pops out of the generator, you direct it along its route to divide (using the fission widget) or combine (using the fusion widget) the atom to create different atoms.

Let’s say the game asks for a 5-Boron atom. If 5-Boron comes through the portal, you can lead it directly to the end of the route. However, if anything else arrives, you have to keep it moving along the course.

When an atom is directed to the fission widget where atoms are split as evenly as possible. Even numbered atoms are split exactly in half whereas odd numbered atoms are split as close as possible (9-Fluorine, for example, will be split into 4-Beryllium and 5-Boron).

Conversely, the fusion widget combines atoms. If the game asks for a 5-Boron atom, you’ll need to join smaller atoms together. Direct two 2-Helium atoms into this widget will result in 4-Beryllium. Direct a 1-Hydrogen to the widget together with 4-Beryllium and you’ll create the 5-Boron atom you need.

While the game aspect is so very fun, it is also educational! Each time a goal is reached, you unlock one of the elements on the Periodic Table of Elements. Fun facts and trivia are revealed along the way.

The game keeps you on your toes! As you race the computer to achieve your goal, target goal will change mid game. As you advance, the game board also changes and the atoms are generated more rapidly.

atomidoodle_trivia

Atomidoodle, a gaming app by Hero Factor Games, provides kids a fun and engaging way to learn about the periodic table and practice their math skills. It is a simple, yet action-packed puzzler based on the Periodic Table of Elements.

Created by a husband and wife team who have enjoyed playing video games since their childhood, Atomidoodle is fast paced, mentally stimulating, and hard to put down.  Due to their lifelong love of video games, they know how to weave positive content into exciting, challenging, and rewarding gameplay, so that kids are enjoyably edified!

The latest release includes hundreds of interesting trivia facts. Atomidoodle is a virtual chemistry notebook come to life with speedy atoms, challenging mazes, and colorful doodles.

  • Draw paths through tricky mazes, and get atoms safely to the goal
  • Use fission (division) and fusion (addition) to create new atoms
  • Think fast to avoid explosions
  • Discover the elements and complete the Periodic Table
  • Unlock hundreds of facts about the elements
  • Eye-catching, hand-drawn artwork

Atomidoodle is available for iPads on iTunes and is now also available on Android tablets as well! You can grab it on the Google Play store.

Stay connected with Hero Factor Games

 

Science Milestones: Jean-Henri Fabre

jhfabreJean-Henri Fabre is best known for his popularization of insect natural history. Although a reclusive amateur, with no scientific training, he was an acute observer of insect behavior. He combined his observations (most made in his own backyard) with an easy to read writing style that made his books popular.

The ten volumes of Souvenirs Entomologiques attracted only mild attention when they were first published. Fabre was 84 when the last volume appeared, and he was “discovered” soon afterwards. He was elected to numerous scientific societies, provided a government pension, and even the President of France came to visit him.

Biography

FabreJean Henri Casimir Fabre was a French entomologist born at Saint-Léons in Aveyron, France on December 22, 1823.

He earned teaching certificate at the young age of 19 and began teaching in Carpentras. He was a popular teacher, however, he is probably best known for his study of insects, and is considered by many to be the father of modern entomology.

Much of his enduring popularity is due to his marvelous teaching ability and his manner of writing about the lives of insects in biographical form. He died on October 11, 1915.

One of his most notable discoveries was in regards to insect pheromones. Pheromones are chemicals released from the body of animals and insects that are used to attract mates or relay danger.

L’Harmas, Fabre’s house at Sérignan in the Vaucluse northeast of Orange, was well screened by trees. In a series of key experiments, initially studying the Great Peacock Moth, Fabre found that a female moth could attract males over large distances, even on stormy nights.

It is smell, therefore, that guides the Moths, that gives them information at a distance“.

He deduced that the male antennae had something to so with it, noted that surrounding the female with trays of molecules like naphthalene or lavender oil did not deflect the males from their aim, and observed that males were attracted to an empty cage where the female had spent the previous evening.

Bring it Home

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Science Milestones: Marie Curie

During the 19th century scientists knew little about what went on inside an atom. However, by the end of the century there were startling new ideas about the structure of the atom resulting from the discoveries of X-rays, radioactivity, and the electron. Marie Curie was amongst the leaders whose discoveries of radioactivity led to a new understanding of atomic structure.

mariecurie

In 1896 Henri Becquerel was using naturally fluorescent minerals to study the properties of x-rays, which had been discovered the previous year by Wilhelm Roentgen. Becquerel exposed potassium uranyl sulfate to sunlight and then placed it on photographic plates wrapped in black paper, believing that the uranium absorbed the sun’s energy and then emitted it as x-rays.

Believing his experiment had failed due to the inclement weather in Paris, he decided to develop his photographic plates anyway. To his surprise, the images were strong and clear, proving that the uranium emitted radiation without an external source of energy such as the sun. Becquerel had discovered radioactivity.

“I am amongst those who think science has great beauty.”

The term radioactivity was actually coined by Marie Curie, who together with her husband Pierre, began investigating the phenomenon recently discovered by Becquerel. The Curies extracted uranium from ore and to their surprise, found that the leftover ore showed more activity than the pure uranium. They concluded that the ore contained other radioactive elements. This led to the discoveries of the elements polonium and radium. It took four more years of processing tons of ore to isolate enough of each element to determine their chemical properties.

Biography

MarieCurie

Maria Sklodowska was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867, the daughter of a school teacher.  As a young girl, Manya (as she was affectionately called)  received a general education in local schools and some scientific training from her father. She was a brilliant student and dreamed of studying at the Sorbonne in Paris but it took eight years of saving before she could afford to go. Despite very poor living conditions and a lack of French she graduated in physics in 1893 and mathematics in 1894.

“All my life through, the new sights of nature made me rejoice like a child.”

She met Pierre Curie, Professor in the School of Physics in 1894 and in the following year they were married. Her early researches, together with her husband, were often performed under poor laboratory conditions. The discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel in 1896 inspired the Curies in their research which led to the isolation of polonium, named after the country of Marie’s birth.

Pierre was tragically killed in 1906, leaving Marie with two daughters; Irène aged 9 and Eve aged 2. Determined to continue their work, Marie became the first ever woman professor at the Sorbonne and as well as teaching, she discovered how to isolate radium in metallic form. In 1911 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the discovery of the elements radium and polonium.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”

During World War I, she established a front-line X-ray service in the battlefields of Belgium and France, tirelessly fundraising, training staff, and driving the X-ray vans. After the war, Marie continued her research and to raise funds for a hospital and laboratory devoted to radiology. She eventually died in 1934 from the cumulative effects of radiation exposure.
marie_curie

My daughter is pictured here giving a living history performance as Madame Curie.

Bring it Home

  • Research Marie Curie and her life’s work and create a living history presentation to present to others.
  • Watch the BrainPop video on Marie Curie to learn about her early days, from her humble beginnings in Poland, to her professorship at the Sorbonne.
  • Visit the EPA‘s Radiation Protection Pages to learn about radiation and radiation protection.
  • Write a brief story that describes what Marie Curie might have felt when she realized that she had discovered a new element.

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Explore additional November Birthday lessons and unit studies with iHomeschool Network bloggers.