Label: Summer Vacation Science

August 26, 2011

With all the talk on the news about preparation for Hurricane Irene, a lot of you may be wondering what makes hurricanes such a big deal. Hurricanes are the world’s worst storms. That is surprising to some people, since tornadoes have much stronger winds that sometimes get as high as 300 miles (483 km) per hour. Hurricane winds rarely blow at even half that speed - in fact, a tropical storm becomes a hurricane when winds exceed just 74 miles (119 km) per hour.

So why are hurricanes (called "typhoons" in the North Pacific and "cyclones" in the Indian Ocean) the world’s deadliest storms?

A tornado is usually less than a mile (1.6km) wide on the ground, and lasts for less than an hour. So while a tornado causes a great deal of destruction, only a limited area is affected. A hurricane affects a much, much larger area. Even a small hurricane is hundreds of miles wide, and it can last for days or even weeks. In a single day, a large hurricane releases energy that is equal to two hundred times the amount of electricity generated on the entire planet. These are powerful storms!


Hurricane Irene is a particularly large and dangerous storm - nearly 600 miles (1000 km) wide at the time this photograph was taken by NASA’s Terra satellite. You can see bands of thunderstorms spiraling tightly around a dense center. That is the circular shape of a well-developed hurricane.  

The most important thing, when a hurricane is approaching, is to be prepared. If you are in an area that is subject to coastal flooding, you must heed the warnings of local government officials and evacuate when they tell you to. If you are not in a flood zone, there are many things you should do to prepare for not only the storm itself, but also for at least three days without electricity and water. FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has a good checklist on their website.

To get the latest local information about the approaching storm, go to any Internet search engine, and type in "[your county] [your state] emergency management." That will give you a link for the Office of Emergency Management for your area, where you will find up-to-date information and phone numbers to help you get information about how the storm will affect your area.

We have learned a lot about hurricanes in recent years, and as our weather forecasting software, warning systems and emergency planning get better, we are saving lives. The more we learn about hurricanes, the better our chances of staying safe.


I updated my book HURRICANES in 2007, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, becoming the costlest and most destructive hurricane in U.S. history. You can learn more about the science behind hurricanes, and see many incredible photographs of these powerful forces of nature.  

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Summer Vacation Science, Weather, Hurricanes, Hurricane Irene   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 24, 2011

I’ve been writing all summer about all the magnificent wild animals that I’ve seen simply by getting outdoors and exploring - spotting a red fox leaping across a road, a shy lynx slipping into the shadows, a bald eagle soaring over the lake, a very grouchy (and big!) snapping turtle, and a delicate tiger moth.

Here is what some of you shared this week about your interesting summer encounters with nature and its wild creatures:

Marissa, who is a regular reader and commenter on this blog, wrote that she really loves pythons, which are the longest snakes in the world.

"I went to a zoo and found a 20 foot long, 250 pound Burmese Python! They feed it 10 pound rabbits and when they feed it they use police shields! It’s that big!" 

On a completely different note, Jennifer, a teacher in Johnson City, NY, wrote about a summer adventure that she had with her twins, Ben and Anna.


"So cool that you released your BUTTERFLIES book yesterday…That’s when the Monarch caterpillar that we found at the Rail Trail in Vestal came out of its chrysalis and turned into a butterfly on the same day! We were so excited! We let it go this morning and it flew away… so beautiful and graceful!" 


What did YOU see as you explored the outdoors this summer? Press the "Ask Seymour Simon" button to send me a note, or click on "Send us Photos/Video" link at the very top of the homepage to send me a picture. We will publish stories about your summer vacation science adventures for the next few weeks, so write in now!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: Animals Nobody Loves, Animals, Animal Books, Butterflies, Summer Vacation Science, Insects   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 23, 2011

Many photographers like to shoot macro (very close up) photographs of insects because the macro camera lens reveals details of alien-looking creatures that we can’t see with our own eyes. A Polish photographer named Miroslaw Swietek goes even further. He goes into the forest in the early morning and photographs the insects when they are covered with dew. Through the camera lens, the drops of water make the insects look as though they are covered with diamonds.


This is a photograph of a dragonfly. Look at how the water drops magnify the lenses in its compound eyes! (click here to read another one of my posts if you want to understand how compound eyes work).


LiveScience interviewed Swietek about how he takes these amazing photographs, and he said that the time of day makes it easier. "That early in the morning, insects are very sleepy so the camera doesn’t disturb them."


If you would like to see more of these amazing images, click here to go to the LiveScience website , where they have a slideshow of Miroslaw Swietek’s  "jeweled" insect photographs.



Posted by: Seymour Simon

(4) Comments  •   Labels: Animals Nobody Loves, Cool Photo, Summer Vacation Science, Insects   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 22, 2011

I was so pleased to discover seven new comments on the blog this weekend….mostly from kids on the West Coast and the South, where schools are starting up. Although I’m always a little sorry to see the summer come to an end, it means our readers are coming back. We missed you!

I have a funny photograph (and a story to go with it) to share this week. I was out in my yard, photographing some of the beautiful summer flowers. 

Just as I was snapping a picture, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a hummingbird! I quickly refocused the camera, but before I could shoot again, it was gone. Curious, I toggled back to the photograph that I had been taking when I sensed the movement next to me, and sure enough, I caught just a blur as it entered the scene. Do you see it, in the top right corner of the photograph?

I named this photograph "Sneaky Hummingbird," because it darted into the background of my photograph to grab a sip of nectar, and was gone before I could lower the camera and take a look!

I’d love to hear stories from your summer in the outdoors. Click on "comments" below and tell me what you saw as you explored nature over your summer vacation.

READERS: Are you wondering how to add your own "comment" to this blog? Click here for exact directions on how to add a comment so you can become one of our Seymour Science writers! We also want you to be safe and not share too much information when you write on this blog, so please take a minute to read about how to stay safe on the Internet. We love to hear from you, so give "comments" a try! 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Animals, birds, Summer Vacation Science, Seymour Photographs   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 1, 2011

Are you watching Shark Week on Discovery Channel? It kicked off tonight with a great program called Jaws Comes Home. That title sounds a little scary, doesn’t it? But, it’s about a passionate shark expert and U.S. Fisheries scientist named Greg Skomal who loves Great White Sharks and is trying to learn more about their journeys up and down the east coast of North America. His work is exciting (although a little scary at times!), and the program includes incredible footage of these massive fish shot by brave underwater camera crews.

But are all sharks really dangerous or is JAWS just a scary movie that is not really factual? That’s why I’ve written several books about sharks: to separate shark facts from shark fiction.

You can tune in to Discovery Channel this week and learn lots of shark facts for yourself. Happy Shark Week!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Summer Vacation Science   •  Permalink (link to this article)

July 28, 2011


Ever been on a boat and suddenly felt horribly sick? Well, a whole lot of people have felt the very same thing. This sort of seasickness is commonly a form of motion sickness, which is what happens when your brain gets tricked! How so, you ask?


As you look out over the glistening blue water from your boat, your eyes may rest on a lighthouse or even a lonely house on the other side of the shore. Since your eyes are quite still and you’re looking at something stationary (also, quite still), your brain believes that you are also perfectly still. But if you’re on a rocking boat, your inner ear is able to sense that you’re not balanced and not still and is able to communicate to the brain that you’re actually moving.


Scientists believe that we tend to get sick when the brain is getting these sort of conflicting messages (one from the eyes that says we’re still and one from the ears that says we’re moving). They think that when this happens, the brain concludes that one of these messages is false and that we must be hallucinating (or dreaming) due to some sort of poison. And so, the brain comes to the rescue by releasing certain chemicals designed to make us vomit and remove the poison from our body.


Fun fact: When we feel like vomiting, we often refer to it as suffering from nausea (or being nausesous). In fact, the word nausea comes from the Greek for seasickness (naus means ship in Greek). So, it looks like even the dudes in ancient Greece felt the same thing!

Image: New York Times Company (illustrated by Victoria Roberts)


Posted by: Liz Nealon

(3) Comments  •   Labels: Summer Vacation Science, Fun Facts   •  Permalink (link to this article)

July 12, 2011

Can you imagine a single hurricane that has lasted for centuries? In this activity (click here to download), you will learn more about a giant storm on Jupiter that has not changed its position for hundreds of years. 







 From now through Labor Day, we will publish various nature projects. The goal is to get kids outdoors, exploring and enjoying the world around them. Check back here throughout the summer for new installments of Summer Vacation Science.


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Summer Vacation Science, planets   •  Permalink (link to this article)

July 4, 2011

It is Monday, so it’s time for SUMMER VACATION SCIENCE!

I have been watching my morning glory vine (the kind that gets blue, trumpet-shaped flowers in September) gradually creep up the light pole in my front garden. Although it seems almost too delicate to survive, the vine is actually quite strong, clinging onto the wire through heavy rain and windstorms. 


This morning, when I went outside, I saw what I thought was a dead leaf clinging to my vine. I went over to remove it, only to discover that it was a moth! We searched online and discovered that it was a Blinded Sphinx Moth (Paonias excaecatus). 

Click here to learn more about the butterflies and moths that you can observe right outside your door, and learn how to tell the difference.

Happy July 4th to all my American readers! 



 From now through Labor Day, we will publish various nature projects. The goal is to get kids outdoors, exploring and enjoying the world around them. Check back here throughout the summer for new installments of Summer Vacation Science.


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: Animals, Butterflies, Summer Vacation Science, Insects   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 20, 2011

Good morning, campers! It’s time for SUMMER VACATION SCIENCE!

It’s still not too late to plant, and this week we are talking butterfly gardens. Would you like to have a special habitat, right in your own yard or nearby lot, where butterflies, moths and hummingbirds visit regularly and return?

Click here to download the full project guide, which has everything from how to find the right plants, how to plant them, and what butterflies need to thrive and return. Get started today and create your own, personal, very unique butterfly garden!


This summer, our goal is to get kids outdoors, exploring and enjoying the world around them. Check back here throughout the summer for new installments of Summer Vacation Science.


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Animals, Summer Vacation Science, Insects, Gardening   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 17, 2011

I took a walk today in Great Falls National Park, along the Potomac River in Virginia. The falls are really beautiful, and the trails are wooded and shady, but the best part, for me anyway, was spotting all the wild animals.



This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) feeds at the water’s edge, using its long legs to wade through the water, spearing small fish and frogs with its long, sharp bill. 



You can clearly see the compound eye of this beautiful Dragonfly (an insect belonging to the order Odonata), which was perched in the foliage high above the falls. You usually find dragonflies near the water, because their larvae, called "nymphs" live in the water. These insects are valuable predators (valuable to humans, at least) because they eat mosquitoes.


My grandson Ben Simon took this great photograph of a wolf spider, which was hiding inside a crack of an old stump. Wolf spiders are members of the family Lycosidae, from the Ancient Greek word "λύκος" meaning "wolf". The blue and white mass, which almost looks like a piece of jewelry, are actually all her babies - dozens of tiny wolf spiders, riding on her back!


Have you taken a walk in the outdoors this week? If not, get outside and keep your eyes peeled. There are fascinating wild creatures all around you.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: Animals Nobody Loves, Animals, birds, Summer Vacation Science, Seymour Photographs, Insects   •  Permalink (link to this article)

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