October 31, 2011 - Halloween

Halloween is big where I live, in Southern California. People decorate the outsides of their homes, work on costumes and jack-o-lanterns, and go (often multiple times) to haunted
attractions such as houses, theme parks, and corn mazes. People often spend a lot of money on treats to hand out to strangers who come trick-or-treating...I would say that Halloween is the second most popular, most big-deal holiday around here, after Christmas!

Last year's post describes how this holiday got its start.

Some coincidence of events include:

  • On a day when people often talk about mystery... on Halloween, 1892, the book The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (written by Arthur Canon Doyle) was first published.
  • On a day when people often talk about magic...on Halloween, 1926, Harry Houdini (perhaps the most famous magician of all time) died.
  • On a day when people dress up as skeletons and ghosts...on Halloween, 1961, Joseph Stalin's dead-and-embalmed body was removed from Lenin's grave.
You could celebrate Halloween in a most unusual way...such as reading a story about Sherlock Holmes, learning a magic trick, or trying to find out what the Russians (or, rather, the Soviets) did with Stalin's body!

October 30, 2011 - National Candy Corn Day

 and Haunted Refrigerator Night!

The National Confectioners Association has an entire calendar of candy-based “holidays.” Today is Candy Corn Day!!

To celebrate, you could make spiky candy corn cupcakes...Make cute table settings and room decorations with candy corn—be sure to look at all seven ideas here!...And do candy corn crafts such as making candles, wreaths, and garlands. There are even candy corn “printables” at Squidoo!
A fun candy corn activity
is putting out a clear jar full
of it and having a
guessing game to see who can
come closest to the number of
candy corn kernels!

The creative folks at Wellcat Holidays and Herbs suggest celebrating Haunted Refrigerator Night.

As they point out, in the nooks and crannies of your refrigerator--think here of the corners of the bottom shelf--evils of an unknown nature may lurk. Most of us are afraid to confront the mysterious containers and old foil-covered leftovers--but perhaps on this very special night you can gather your courage, delve deep into the refrigerator, and open those mysterious containers and foil packs.

October 29, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Othniel Marsh

The Bone Wars!

The Great Dinosaur Rush!

Our birthday boy (born in New York on this day in 1831) grew up to be a fossil hunter who fought a “war” of discovery with another fossil hunter.

Othniel Marsh was a paleontologist. He led fossil-hunting excursions in the U.S., and they uncovered more than a thousand fossils, including 500 new species of fossil animals. Fossils of flying pterosaurs, dinosaurs, toothed birds, and early horses...all sorts of fossils poured into the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, because of Marsh.

Marsh (on the right)
vs. Cope (on the left)
But Marsh's rival, who used to be his friend, a man name Edward Drinker Cope, was very competitive and was trying just as hard to uncover and discover fossils just as fast as Marsh was. Both sides of the rivalry acted badly, using underhanded methods and even resorting to bribery and theft! Worse still, some bones were destroyed in the rivalry—so now nobody can learn whatever story those bones would have told! Isn't that sad?

By the end of the Bone Wars, both Marsh and Cope had exhausted their funds. But Marsh considered that he “won,” since he found 80 new species of dinosaurs, and Cope only found 56.

To learn more about the Bone Wars, check out Wyoming's Tales and Trail's page. 

Better yet, find the book The Bone Wars, by Kathryn Lasky.  (Amazon says “for grades 8 and up.”)

Another book called Bone Wars is a science fiction/alternate history book written by Brett Davis. This book takes reality – the Marsh/Cope rivalry – as its basis but adds a girl (or woman?) masquerading as a cowboy, some Sioux Indians, and two aliens – all of whom join Marsh and Cope in the Great Dinosaur Rush. Apparently the book is written for adults, and I wonder if there is content that would upset kids. If anyone has read it, leave a comment. 

There is also a game called “Bone Wars: The Game of Ruthless Paleontology.” 

October 28, 2011 - Frankenstein Friday

As kids who celebrate Halloween get ready to don costumes and go door to door chanting, “Trick or Treat,” some people like to get into the spirit by watching scary movies or reading horror books. I personally am a wimp and carefully avoid scary stuff—but there are funny things associated with a Frankenstein monster—like the movie Young Frankenstein (rated PG), and the old TV show The Addams Family

I have some not-very-scary Frankenstein stuff suggested at the bottom of this earlier post.

Celebrate Frankenstein Friday with food, song, and dance!

Get into the mood for monstrous fun with “The Monster Mash.” 

Dance like Frankenstein. It's fun to dance as if you were a mechanical being. These three guys do it well. 

If you've worked up an appetite, try eating some Frankenstein frankfurters, Frankenstein Baked Peppers,  and maybe even a Frankenstein cake.  If you don't want to go through the trouble of making a cake, you can make almost any rectangular treat into a Frankenstein Friday treat with some frosting! 

October 27, 2011 - Three-Z Day

– Democratic Republic of the Congo

On this day in 1971, the then-president of Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko, changed the country's name to Zaire. He also renamed the Congo River the Zaire River, and the money, franc congolais, also became zaire.

See? Three Zs.

Unfortunately, Mobutu was a horrible leader. He repressed any criticism or political opposition, stole money from the nation, and violated his people's rights—including torturing and killing people!

The Congolese people rose up to oppose this autocratic and corrupt president, and in 1997, he had to flee the nation. The people of Zaire reclaimed their older name, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, because the name Zaire was so closely connected to Mobutu. I'm sure that the people of Democratic Congo no longer celebrate Three-Z Day (sometimes called Name Day), but that doesn't stop it from still being a listed holiday all over the internet!

The heart of Africa...

  • Democratic Congo's position in the middle of Africa doesn't mean that it is landlocked. The nation includes a narrow arm of land surrounding the Congo River all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Remember, it is important to a nation to have access to the sea so it can participate in shipping and trade without relying on another nation...

  • Congo has a lot of rain – more than 80 inches (2,000 mm) per year – and the most thunderstorms in the world. It has a large, lush jungle that is the second largest rainforest in the world. (Any idea what the largest rainforest in the world is?....Hint: it starts with the letter “A.”)

  • A rift valley in Congo has exposed some minerals that are useful or beautiful. These minerals are mined: cobalt, copper, cadmium, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, and iron.

  • By the way, one of Democratic Congo's neighbors is named the Republic of the Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville. Confusing, huh?
Gorillas live in the rainforests of Congo.

Check out...

  • the rainforest of the Congo river basin. 
  • the life of a 10-year-old boy, Kani, who lives in Congo.
  • the lives of other kids in Congo. 

October 26, 2011 - Diwali

This Hindu festival is popularly known as the “festival of lights.” Small clay lamps filled with oil are lit to represent the triumph of good over evil. Also, people celebrating Diwali wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with friends and family.

Some people have fireworks shows and burst firecrackers. Others make beautiful electrical light displays on their houses or hang colorful paper lanterns. A decoration that doesn't involve light is rangoli, designs made on floors or courtyards from colored powder (colored rice, flour, or sand can be used).

Did you know....?

One of the nations that sets aside Diwali as an official holiday is India. Did you know that there is one city, Sivakasi, located in the state of Tamil Nadu, that produces 90% of the fireworks in the entire country? There are more than 8,000 fireworks factories in this one city, including the world's largest firework-manufacturing unit!

(Sivakasi is also the home of the safety match industry—factories in this city manufacture 80% of the nation's safety matches. Finally, the city is big in the printing industry, with calendar art and colorful posters being printed on many offset printing presses.)

How do fireworks work?

Here is a video that shows the components and hand-built creation of a large-scale firework. 

PyroUniverse offers diagrams to help you understand how fireworks work. 

NOTE: the components of fireworks are very dangerous to use, and it is incredibly dangerous to try to make fireworks yourself!!!

October 25, 2011 - Constitution Day – Lithuania

Trakai in Lithuania features a
castle on an island in a lake.

Lithuania is a small nation in Northern Europe, one of the three countries called the “Baltic states” because they border on the Baltic Sea.

Lithuania's heydey, when it was the largest nation in Europe, was waaay back in the Middle Ages, specifically the 14th Century. (That means the 1300s.) The land that is now Belarus and Ukraine, plus parts of Poland, were part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, back then. Of course, as with other European nations, Lithuania's history is one of nations breaking apart, uniting, being conquered, being liberated, and so forth. When the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, Lithuania was the first former-Soviet-state to declare its independence.

Did you know...?

  • The geographical center of Europe is in Lithuania. A large compass rose marks the spot!

  • Within the Lithuanian Art Museum is the Palanga Amber Museum, which boasts a huge collection of amber—more than 28,000 pieces! Amber is fossilized tree resin and is a beautiful gold (or amber!) color. Many pieces of amber, including many of the pieces of amber on display in this museum, encase insects, spiders, or plant parts. One of the largest pieces of amber in Europe is on display there —it's 3.5 kilograms, or almost 8 pounds.

  • On the edge of the Baltic Sea, in Lithuania, there is a very long spit of land called the Curonian Spit, and there are many sand dunes on this long, skinny peninsula. Between the peninsula and the mainland is a beautiful lagoon. This far north, I don't expect to see white-sand beaches and bright blue lagoons!

Enjoy!... the beauties of Lithuania

October 24, 2011 - Ariel and Umbriel Discovered


– 1851

William Lassell was apprenticed to a merchant in Liverpool, England, and then he made a fortune as a beer brewer. But he is known for his hobby.

Some hobby!

Lassell was interested in astronomy, and, remember, he made a fortune, so he had plenty of money. He was able to build an observatory near Liverpool, and he himself ground and polished a 24-inch mirror for its telescope. He was the first to use a particular “equatorial mount” to easily track objects in the sky as the earth rotates. (Remember, although all the stars and planets seem to cross the sky as the night passes, it is really the earth spinning that creates this apparent motion.)

Using his telescope, Lassell discovered Triton, the largest moon of Neptune—just 17 days after Neptune itself was discovered! That was in 1846. In 1848, he discovered Hyperion, a moon of Saturn (although on the same night, another astronomer independently made the same discovery). Finally, on this day in 1951, Lassell discovered two new moons of Uranus.

Uranus and its rings and moons...
Its axis of rotation is tipped so that
its north and south pole are where
most planets' equators are...
Uranus's moons (we now know of 27!) are named after characters from the works of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. Ariel is a sky spirit in Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Umbriel is a character in a poem by Alexander Pope.

By the way...

In case you think that William Lassell spent his entire fortune on building an observatory and telescope...no, not so much. In 1855 he built another telescope, this one twice as large, and had it installed in Malta, in the Mediterranean, where the weather and therefore skies are better for observation. When he died in 1880, he still left a fortune equal to millions of U.S. dollars of today!

October 23, 2011 - National Mole Day

Avogadro's number, commonly used in chemistry, is 6.02 × 1023, and that is why we celebrate Avogadro's number from 6:02 in the morning until 6:02 in the evening on 10/23.

And, yes, we who celebrate such a chemical constant are geeks! Thanks for asking!

But...why is a day celebrating Avogadro's number called Mole Day?

Well, Avogadro's number has to with “moles,” which is an amount. For any sort of molecule, one mole is a mass in grams whose number is equal to the atomic mass of the molecule. A water molecule, as you may know, is H2O, and it has an atomic mass of 18. So one mole of water weighs 18 grams. But oxygen gas (two oxygen atoms) has an atomic mass of 32, and so one mole of oxygen gas weighs 32 grams.

In general, one mole of any substance contains Avogadro's Number of molecules or atoms of that substance. Another way of saying that is that 18 grams of water has 6.02 x 10^23 molecules of water, and 32 grams of oxygen gas has 6.02 x 10^23 molecules of oxygen gas.

On this day in chemistry history....

On October 23, 1803...
Chemist John Dalton read aloud to the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society his essay about how water absorbs gases, and he gave atomic weights for 21 different elements and compounds. From this work on absorption of gases and atomic weights, Dalton came up with a much of the modern atomic theory eventually adopted by physics.

A very appropriate essay to have read on Mole Day!

To learn more about Mole Day, and to find links to a funny song and official website, check out last year's post!

By the way, did you notice...?

National Mole Day has nothing to do with moles-the-mammals-that-dig?

October 22, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Karl Jansky

Have you ever seen those big radio telescopes, which look like big dishes pointing up at the sky? What are they listening to? Who in outer space is sending radio waves to Earth?

Not so much who, as what!

Let's find out how radio astronomy got started in on honor of one of its founders, Karl Jansky (born on this day in 1905, in the Territory of Oklahoma).

Jansky studied physics, and he went to work for Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he investigated the atmosphere and how it affects radio and telephone transmissions. in other words, he was studying what makes radio static. 

This is a replica of Jansky's
radio telescope.
He built a large antenna – about 100 feet wide and 20 feet tall – and he mounted it on a turntable so he could point it in any direction. This huge antenna was sometimes called “Jansky's merry-go-round.” He listened to static, and he categorized the sorts of static he heard into several groups. One was nearby thunderstorms, one was far-away thunderstorms, and the last... The last was a puzzle.

And puzzles are very interesting to scientists!

Jansky spent over a year investigating the sources of a faint, steady hiss of static. The intensity of the hiss rose and fell once a day, so Jansky wondered if it could be coming from the Sun. But after a few months, the most intense point of the static moved away from the sun. Jansky finally realized that the hiss seemed to coming from the center of our galaxy – the center of the Milky Way.

Jansky published his findings and got a lot of attention for his paper. However, Bell Laboratories wouldn't fund Jansky following up with a larger antenna—they reassigned him to another project—and so it was up to other scientists to develop radio astronomy further.

How does radio astronomy work, exactly?

Radio waves are a kind of electromagnetic radiation, like X-rays, the microwaves in our microwave oven, and visible light. Radio waves have the longest wavelengths of these.

Stars, galaxies, black holes, supernovas and even the Big Bang can all be studied from the radio waves they emit (or emitted). An “active” planet like Jupiter, which has violent super-storms in the various layers of its atmosphere, emits radio waves, and of course our Sun emits radio waves as well.

Here's a great source to learn about radio astronomy.

October 21, 2011 - Reptile Awareness Day

People who love reptiles ask everybody to give these creatures a good hard look every year. You can do your part by exploring reptiles “in the flesh” by going to a zoo or pet store (is there a Prehistoric Pets store in your area? ...they specialize in reptiles!), or through books or videos.

Here is a “Bill Nye the Science Guy” episode on reptiles.  (There are three parts, totaling around 20 or 30 minutes.)

Here is BBC's Life, with David Attenborough, about reptiles and amphibians. (This is about an hour long.) 

Were dinosaurs reptiles? And are birds dinosaurs? Wait, birds can't be reptiles...Or can they?

According to several sources I consulted, there is evidence that some dinosaurs, at least, were warm-blooded. People used to define reptiles partly by the fact that they are cold-blooded... but that is no longer part of the description of reptiles.

A new system of classification states that reptiles include turtles, crocodiles, snakes, lizards and tuataras, and dinosaurs. In this system, birds are considered a subset of dinosaurs...so they are a subset of the reptile group. Here is a pretty easy-to-understand article about birds being one sort of reptiles.

On the other hand, at least one classification system say that dinosaurs and birds are not in the reptile group. In this system, it would be more correct to say that dinosaurs, including birds, evolved from reptiles.

Check out the Reptile Channel's page on Reptile Awareness Day.

October 20, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Mickey Mantle

Tonight two baseball teams will slug it out in the World Series, and neither team will be the great New York Yankees—as it has been 40 times in history!

Twelve of those times that the Yankees played in the World Series, outfielder and first baseman Mickey Mantle was playing. And seven of those times, the Yankees won! As a matter of fact, Mickey Mantle, star baseball player, holds the record for most World Series home runs (18), RBIs (40), runs (42), walks (43), extra-base hits (26), and total bases (123). Wow!

Many people think that Mickey Mantle is the greatest switch hitter of all time. That means that he could hit either left handed or right handed—which is a big benefit when hitters have to face left-handed and right-handed pitchers!

It's his birthday!

Mickey Mantle (right) with Roger Maris.
On this day in 1931, in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, Mickey Mantle was born. I would've thought that Mickey was a knick-name, and that Mantle had a first "proper" first name like Michael or Mitchell. Nope, it's really Mickey! He was named after a Hall of Fame baseball player named Mickey Cochrane. (And this Cochrane fellow's proper first name was Gordon, so no clue why he was called Mickey!)

To celebrate...maybe you could play ball! Or you can go all out and have a baseball-themed party before watching the World Series game! 

October 19, 2011 - Hagfish Day

The Beauty of the Ugly” – that's the reason behind this holiday!

According to the official Hagfish Day website (Whale Times), hagfish are deep-sea scavengers – which means that they eat the dead bodies or poop that nobody else wants to eat. We are also told that hagfish “ooze slime—buckets of slime.”

This is what hagfish slime looks like.

I guess we can agree that hagfish are ugly – but are they also beautiful?

Well, some people eat them, and “eel-skin” boots and wallets are actually made from the skin of hagfish. Also, they perform a very important function in the ecosystem of the ocean. So, yes, I guess we can say that they ARE sorta kinda beautiful.

Actually, the point of hagfish day is to point out that we need to save the oceans and marine life, not just so that “cute,” well-known, popular animals like dolphins are safe, but also for all the little-known or little-liked creatures...such as hagfish!

Check out Whale Times's Hagfish Day website to learn more about hagfish and other ugly critters. Also on offer: Hagfish Day Haiku, a slime-making activity, a cootie catcher, e-cards, and recipes for “slime eats.” 


Ugly critters need a clean environment, too!

What other "ugly" animals should we be honoring today? Any nominations for ugliest mammal, ugliest bird, reptile, amphibian, or fish? How about ugliest spider, insect, mollusk, or other invertebrate?

With all their slime, hagfish are often called, not just the ugliest sea creature, but also the most disgusting one! So, sub-category -- any nominations for "most disgusting" land animal?

Hey, Pumbaa isn't ugly!

Turkey vulture, anyone?
Okay, this guy is legitimately UGLY!