December 11, 2009

First night of Hanukkah (Chanukah)

This evening begins the eight-day Jewish holiday sometimes called the “Festival of Lights.”

Because it is near Christmas, this relatively minor holiday has become more important in the U.S. and some other places in the world; it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the 2nd Century BCE Maccabean Revolt. Jewish families celebrating Hannukkah light candles i
n a menorah: one candle the first night, two the second night, and so forth until the last night, when eight candles are lit.

The candles are lit with an extra candle called a shamash, so menorahs always have nine candleholders. Some people use oil lamps instead of candelabra.

Gifts are often exchanged during each night of Hanukkah; also, there are special games and songs.

Here is a menorah to color.

Here are several cute coloring pag
es. Note that the shamash is often the center candle on a menorah, and it's usually taller than the others.

Play dreidel, which is a Hanukkah top game. Here is a dreidel pattern, and here are the directions for the game.

There are lots of Hanukkah crafts and printa
ble games (scroll down for the latter) here and many other places on the Internet!

Also on this day, in 1882, Max Born was born.

This German-born physicist and mathematician helped to figure out quantum physics. He won a Nobel prize for his work. He was a very good teacher, and his PhD student and six of his assistants went on to win Nobel prizes of their own!

What is quantum physics? It's a mathematical description of the structure and behavior of atomic and subatomic particles and radiation.

Even though some of the things we have figured out about the very-very-very-very-very-very small doesn't make sense to us, quantum theory has been shown to be incredibly accurate in a huge number of different sorts of experiments.

Here's an example of something that doesn't seem to make sense: an electron seems to behave like a teeny-tiny particle of matter AND like a wave of radiation.

At the same time!

And electrons behave differently when we watch them. Even though they are just teensy little particles with no eyes or brains, they seem to “know” when we are watching!

Here is an animated Google video that shows this particular weirdness in more detail.

This is just one example of stuff that doesn't seem like it could be true, but is. There are lots of other strange-seeming facts about the world of the incredibly small. Read about them here.

Physicist Niels Bohr said, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it."

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