Want to think like a scientist?

Science is everywhere, no matter where we are. We could be watching a rainbow at home, sitting in a garden surrounded by vibrant and colorful flowers, or out on a vacation enjoying the surroundings. Curiosity is natural at a young age, and a lot of science can be questioned. From taking pictures in nature or researching for a school project, science is all around us. You might be surprised on the commonality between several nature's spectacles. Here is a place to start this curious journey in science. Explore further details on the topics of interest.

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How is a rainbow formed?

Right after the rain when the sun shines, a rainbow can often be seen in the sky. The rainbow is always opposite to the sun.

When the sunlight enters a rain droplet, some of it gets bent and reflected at different angles. This gives the rainbow seven colors that can be remembered as VIBGYOR: violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red, from left to right of the rainbow arc.

A double rainbow occurs when the light is reflected twice inside the droplet before it exists. The colors of the second rainbow arc are in reverse order.

Rainbow in the eastern skies around me.

How do clouds get shades of orange and red at sunset?

 

Clouds get their color from the sunlight. At sunset, sunlight travels a longer path through the atmosphere to reach the human eye. This scatters the shorter wavelength colors blue and green, while the longer wavelength colors yellow, orange, and red continue. As it travels further, yellow and orange are scattered. The amount of light scattered before it reaches a cloud depends on how far the cloud is in the sky.

The color a cloud shows at sunset is based on what wavelength color it receives after scattering. 

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Cloud colors in the western skies around me.

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What causes lightening within the clouds?

 

Lightening within clouds is an electrical discharge caused by the imbalance of negative and positive charge in the clouds.

Upwards and downwards wind drafts in the atmosphere create a charging mechanism that separates the positive and negative charge. In the initial stages, the charges are insulated by air. As the difference in the charges increases, the insulation layer cannot hold resulting in a rapid discharge of electricity. Flashes of light are seen as the charge jumps between different charge regions in the cloud.

Thunderclouds in my backyard. 

What causes full moon?

 

There are four phases of the lunar cycle caused by the relative position of the moon, the earth, and the sun. As the moon orbits around the earth, the side facing the sun is always illuminated.

A full Moon occurs when the earth is between the moon and the sun causing the illuminated part to be visible from the earth. 

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Full moon in my backyard.

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Why is moon red during total lunar eclipse?

A lunar eclipse occurs when the earth's shadow is casted on the moon. In a total lunar eclipse, the moon is totally within the earth's shadow. Any sunlight reaching the moon must pass through the earth's dense atmosphere. By the time the light penetrates through the earth's atmosphere, the shorter wavelengths have been scattered leaving the longer wavelengths of light that appear red to the human eye.

More the dust, water droplets, or clouds in the sky, more the scattering of light and darker the color red. 

Total lunar eclipse from my backyard on Jan 21, 2019.

What makes glacier look bluish?

 

Air bubbles in ice reflect back most of the light as white. As the glacier ice compresses over time, the air bubbles are squeezed out and the ice becomes denser. This causes the longer wavelengths orange and red to travel deeper in the ice. The shorter wavelength blue is left behind giving the glacier ice bluish color. Deeper the light travels in a glacier, the more blue is left behind and more blue the glacier appears.

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Kenai Fjords, Alaska.

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Kilauea Volcano aerial view, Big Island, Hawaii.

What causes volcanic eruption?

 

The heat inside the earth’s crust causes the rocks to slowly melt into liquid known as magna. Since the liquid magna is lighter than the solid rocks, it rises. As the magna rises, gases are formed within it. Magna can undergo  changes as it continues it journey upwards.

If the magna is thin and runny, it may find a way out through the fissures and the cracks in the earth’s surface, known as volcanoes, where the gases are released and the magna flows out as lava.

If the magna is thick and sticky, the gases are not able to escape and build up pressure which eventually causes the gases to explode, known as volcanic eruption.

How to geysers form?

 

A geyser is formed when there is a tube-like column in the earth’s surface that runs down to the earth’s crust and can hold water. The water from the earth's surface seeps down the column till it meets the molten rocks, magna. Since the magna is very hot it causes the water to boil and form steam. The steam rises up the column and bursts out at the earth’s surface ejecting the steam.

The eruption ends when the hot water is forced out and the temperature of the remaining water cools down to below the boiling point. The water begins to sweep back down the column and the process is repeated. The duration of the eruption depends on the size of the geyser.

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Geysir, Haukadalur Valley, Iceland.

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What causes the Northern Lights?

 

The Northern Lights are produced when the solar winds cause the charged particles from the sun to reach the earth’s atmosphere and collide with the gaseous particles, mainly oxygen and nitrogen. This collision causes electrons in the oxygen and nitrogen atoms to move to a higher-energy state and energy is emitted in the form of light.

Collisions of solar particles with oxygen produce red or green light and collisions with nitrogen produce blue or purplish light.

Northern lights, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Why are most leaves green?

 

Plants produce the necessary nutrients by the process known as photosynthesis. This process occurs in the leaf cells known as chloroplasts that produce a pigment known as chlorophyll. The role of chlorophyll is to absorb light and initiate the chemical reactions of photosynthesis. Chlorophyll in the leaves only absorbs the longer wavelengths of light. The shorter wavelength green is reflected from the leaves, making the leaves look green to the human eye.

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Shrubs in my garden.

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Fall in my backyard.

Why do leaves change color in fall season before falling off?

During summer, the long hours of sunlight trigger the plants to produce abundant amount of chlorophyll to facilitate photosynthesis, the mechanism by which plant’s produce nutrients. With the approach of fall, the days grow shorter resulting in less sunlight. This signals the plants to reduce the production of chlorophyll. As the chlorophyll reduces and finally disappears from the leaves, the carotenoid pigments that can absorb green and bluish green light are unmasked. This results in shades of yellow and orange to the human eye. Simultaneously in some plants, the pigment anthocyanin is formed in the plant to help leaves use the sugars remaining from the summer. Anthocyanins are responsible for making the leaves look red.

How do water lilies survive in water?

 

Hardy water lilies have large circular leaves with round smooth edges and waxy cuticle. The circular smooth nature of the leaf provides protection from being torn apart by the wind and the water waves. The waxy cuticle makes it easier for the plant to stay afloat in water, rolling off any water from the leaf. The large leaves not only provides maximum surface area, but also have small pores on the side that is not facing the water, further maximizing photosynthesis. The stems are thin and flexible so they can adjust as the plant floats in the water.

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Water lilies in Dal lake, Srinagar, India.

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How do glow worms illuminate?

The glow worm caves are filled with larvae of a mosquito-like insect. They are known as glow worms due a chemical reaction inside their body that produces blue light. The chemical reaction is known as bioluminescence. It occurs inside the body where the skin is thin so the light can be visible.

The glow worms produce a protein waste product known as luciferin. Using the oxygen from the air they breathe in, the light-emitting enzyme luciferase acts on luciferin causing a chemical reaction that produces illumination. Since the glow worms cannot easily control their supply of oxygen, they cannot control the flashing of light. This results in a steady stream of light that is visible as blue spots all over the inside of the glow worm caves.

Glow worm caves, Te Anau, New Zealand.

Now your turn to explore!

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