Scope on the Skies – great #astronomy resource #homeschooling

Over thirty years ago, a fine science teacher named Bob Riddle began writing a column about astronomy for the middle school journal, Science Scope Magazine. Following retirement, Bob just couldn’t stop. You’ll find a directory of all his articles here: 32+ Years of Scope on the Skies.

I especially enjoyed Bob’s latest edition: Where on Earth is Mars? Various organizations have created Mars-analogues to prepare for real-life trips to the Red Planet. Research crews have visited the Atacama Desert in the South American country of Chile, Devon Island’s Haughton crater, Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys, and more. Find these locations on your Earth globe. (You have one, don’t you? I have two 🙂 You can also search on the internet. Which Mars analogue site would you like to visit?)

Before astronauts travel to Mars, they’ll need to know how to grow food, extract fuel, and build habitats.

Constructing with locally sourced materials like sandstone, and the use of the 3-D printer, would eliminate the need to ship a lot of construction materials and save launch weight as well. What would this be like, to print in 3-D the things you need? Coincidentally, SciFi author Kate Rauner has written a five book series about colonizing Mars with a major part of the colonization and its future dependent on the use of 3-D printing technology. Bob Riddle

You can find your own free PDF copy of Bob’s November/December article, Where on Earth is Mars, by clicking here.

Thanks, Bob, for calling out my Mars colonization series. Until humans set boots on the Red Planet, we’ll rely on scifi to take the journey. My settlers must survive on the Mars that science is showing us as they try to build a new home for themselves and humanity. Hurry and read the books before real-life overtakes fiction.

Check out the first book in the series, Glory on Mars, by clicking here. Available for purchase in all major digital formats from your favorite online stores, and as a paperback. See you on Mars!

Science fiction book covers - Glory on Mars and the complete series by Kate Rauner


Closer to a Moon Landing #OrionSpacecraft

NASA’s Orion spacecraft, a ship intended to carry a crew sometime soon, had a successful launch on its trip to orbit the Moon. This is a test of the systems, so Orion will perform some intricate orbital acrobatics over the next three weeks, coming within 60 miles of the Moon’s surface at one point, and swinging out 40,000 miles at another.

If you missed the launch, here it is. Look at those solid rocket boosters!

The spacecraft should return home on December 11, at which time it will need to survive atmospheric reentry and a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean… When all is said and done, Orion will have traveled 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers)—the longest distance ever traversed by a crew-rated capsule. But that’s not all, as Orion will set records for remaining in space longer than any other crew-rated spacecraft without docking to a space station and for being the hottest and fastest crew-rated capsule to hit Earth’s atmosphere. [All without a crew on board, since this is a test flight.] Gizmodo

Orion will also take pictures, and plans to emulate this classic Apollo 8 picture of Earth rise over the lunar surface. Find more from NASA on the cameras, click here:

Will astronauts step boots on the Moon once again in this decade? It’s an exciting plan. In the meantime, you can only go to the Moon in science fiction. Join a young pilot on the Moon, in orbit, and on the Earth in my latest trilogy. Hurry up and read the books before real-life overtakes the story.

Science fiction trilogy: Winnie Bravo, Space Pilot, book covers

Humanity’s future in space depends on audacious pilots, and it may help if they’re a little crazy.

Winnie Bravo is brash, reckless, and more than a little annoying as she careens from adventure to adventure, determined to prove herself.

She pursues a nefarious space probe and a scoundrel who will stop at nothing. What she discovers may get her killed, or worse, fired.

If you love traveling to the future for rollicking adventure, you won’t be able to put Winnie’s story down.

Click here and start reading now.

Catnip Works for (Most) Cats, but not so much for humans #Caturday #cat #science

Catnip gives about 80% of cats a “high,” and it’s the only recreational drug society sanctions for your pet.

The plant produces a chemical called  nepetalactone in microscopic bulbs that coat its leaves, stems, and seedpods. When these fragile bulbs rupture, they release the nepetalactone into the air. The chemical binds to receptors inside a cat’s nose… to alter activity in several areas of the brain, including [an area] involved in regulating the animal’s emotions.

Catnip produces a very definite, repeatable response. A cat will pretty much do the exact same thing every time it smells it. The cat isn’t rubbing their face and rolling in the catnip to get more of it, but simply because getting high by inhaling the catnip compels them to do so.

Studies (by scientists and by myself, using my own kitties) show that not all cats appreciate catnip. Some look at you with a puzzled but tolerant expression as you wave catnip under their noses. And, despite the implication in the Vox article that drugs for humans effect all people, I also know for a fact that some recreational drugs do nothing for some people. (So I’m told, by reliable sources.)

But no matter your predispositions, it seems catnip won’t send humans on a trip:

As far back as the 1600s, Europeans  used the plant as a mild sedative, brewing tea with its leaves, making juice from them, and even smoking or chewing them. At various times, the plant was believed to cure colic in infants and excessive flatulence, hives, and toothaches in adult.

I bet there’s one question popping into your mind about now: if my kitty cats love catnip, what about their wild cousins? There’s a You Tube for that. (Of course there is.)

Hey, all you citizen scientists. As compelling as this video is, what would you need to add to make a better experiment? A control! Give a bag of non-catnip dried weeds to these cats too (after they recover) and record their reactions. Makes a better experiment, though probably not a better video. But you could try the experiment on your own pet cat.

Surgery… 31,000 years ago #archeology #surgery #ancienthistory

What do we know about ancient medicine – especially, surgery? A bit more than before. An ancient child lost a foot and lower leg, and lived for at least six years afterward. What is especially surprising is the age of the skeleton.

We’ve thought until now that the practice of medicine was stimulated by the emergence some 10,000 years ago of settled societies. The theory goes that new health problems, unknown to non-sedentary foraging populations, pushed changes in medicine, including more advanced surgical procedures. The previous record holder was [a skeleton from] 7,000 years ago, but a new discovery is causing a major re-think. Craig Good in the Skeptoid Podcast Companion

This new find in an intentional burial, excavated in East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo,) is dated at 31,000 years ago.

We humans sure liked to move around! Map of major migration routes, Science 2017

The distal third of TB1’s lower leg was removed through deliberate surgical amputation… Non-surgical amputations, commonly as a result of accidents, do not cause clean oblique sectioning and are not clinically recorded to sever the lower limb of both the tibia and fibula, as is the case for TB1. Blunt-force trauma from an accident or an animal attack typically causes comminuted and crushing fractures, features that are absent from the clearly simple and oblique amputation margin of TB1.

I would guess that hunters understood the detailed anatomy of their prey, and so could have extrapolated from animal to humans. How often such an extreme treatment might have been attempted, and how often the patient might have survived, is unknown.

Would we have recognized the child and their community as “us?” Modern humans emerged well before this time, about 300,000 years ago, and seemed to have cognitive traits like you and me by 60,000 years ago (and maybe long before.) Wikipedia.

I don’t like imagining what the child must have endured, but they survived, and someone must have cared for them. It’s truly a remarkable thought. If we can identify with our ancestors, maybe we can identify a bit more with other people alive in the world today.