Saturday, September 23, 2017

THE SHOCKING SECRET OF THE ELECTRIC EEL



Some scientists let their curiosity make them do truly weird experiments. Meet Ken Catania. He studies strange-looking creatures, such as the star-nosed mole and its unusual way to smell underwater. More recently, Catania has been focusing on electric eels, and their ‘shocking’ abilities.


https://www.amazon.com/Shocking-Secret-Electric-Secrets-Revealed/dp/0766087263/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1506200481&sr=8-1

He discovered that eels can control how much electricity they put out. They use low voltage pulses to sense for prey, and they can turn up the power to make prey (think of fish) twitch or go numb. That was fascinating, but then Catania came across an 1800s illustration and an odd South American story from famous explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt wrote of eels attacking a group of horses that had stepped into a pool where the eels lived.

“The aggressive behavior of the eels, taking the offensive against the horses, seems the most fantastic and questionable part of the story,” he said.

Just when scientists thought they knew all there was to know about electric eels, here comes an old tale that makes them wonder. Can eels really jump out of the water? Catania had to solve the mystery and so he did using props shaped like alligator heads and human arms, and electric connections to see with his own eyes whether eels in his lab could jump as Humboldt’s allegedly did. 

The Shocking Secret of the Electric Eel book also includes four more secrets: how parrot fish don’t let the sea bugs bite, the jumping spider’s amazing ‘hairy’ hearing, the mystery of European eels and their heads (these are much smaller that the electric eel and won’t shock you), and the secret of the underwater night hummers. 

May I entice you with more animal secrets? I invite you to visit my website to explore the other titles of this series.

Coming up soon: Teacher’s Guides for Animal Secrets books!
Follow me on Twitter @RodriguezAMaria
Contact me! I am available for school visits, conferences and science talks at your event!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

WHAT IS THE SECRET OF THE SCUBA DIVING SPIDER?

Meet the scuba diving spider! A one-of-a-kind, air-breathing animal that spends most of its life underwater. How does it do it?


THE SECRET OF TEH CUBA DIVING SPIDER...AND MORE!


No bigger that your thumbnail, the scuba diving spider triggered the curiosity of scientist Roger Seymour since he was a young boy. At 10 years old, he read Erna Pinner’s book, Curious Creatures.  He told me, “One of the chapters described the diving bell spider that lived in ponds in Europe. I imagined what it would be like to live inside an underwater bubble.” That image remained in Seymour’s mind until he became a scientist and studied the spider’s secret.

Seymour teamed with scientist Stefan Hetz and together they made a home for the spiders in aquariums in the lab, and observed and measured their activities. They discovered how the spiders achieve this unique and quiet lifestyle. It has worked well for the spiders; it allows them to remain out of sight from predators, trap food, and create an underwater home for them to grow and have a family. 

The spider, too, has an amazing name, Argyroneta aquatica, which means “aquatic spinner of silver.” 

TheSecret of the Scuba Diving Spider book also includes four more secrets: the secret of the not-so-quiet caterpillar, why bats jam with each other, zombie beetles, really?, and the secret of the unstoppable cockroach. 

If this book appeals to you, may I entice you with more animal secrets? I invite you to visit my website to explore the other titles of this series.

ATTENTION TEACHERS AND EDUCATORS
Coming up soon: Teacher’s Guides for Animal Secrets books!

Follow me on Twitter @RodriguezAMaria
Contact me! I am available for school visits, conferences and science talks at your event!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

New Animal Secrets Are on Their Way



August 15 is a date to celebrate. New Animal Secrets Revealed! books will be available both in library binding and paperback formats. Here is one of the covers hinting at the topic of one of the five chapters; birds are smart. 



We have heard of Alex the parrot, and some of you probably read Stephanie Spinner’s book. We have all heard of crows' amazing abilities to solve problems. Animal Secrets books dig on recent scientists’ investigations to discover what is so special in some birds’ brains that helps them solve problems or learn skills we thought they could not.

I have also updated my website, and I hope you will visit to peek at the book covers of the other books in the series. They all include a hands-on activity connected to the topic of one of the chapters.  I had a lot of fun researching and writing these books. I hope children enjoy reading them!
Ana

Friday, August 10, 2012

Take a road trip to Mars!


Curiosity's panoramic image of its current position (sol 5). On the left of this image, part of the rover's power supply is visible. To the right of the power supply can be seen the pointy low-gain antenna and side of the paddle-shaped high-gain antenna for communications directly to Earth. The rim of Gale Crater is the lighter colored band across the horizon.  NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Curiosity’s” successful trip to and landing on Mars has inspired me to follow the cool-looking rover’s adventure and I would like to share what I learn on my Friday blog. If you are a teacher, I invite you to follow my blog and share with your students what Curiosity is doing and what she’s discovering as well as information about Mars and class activities. This would be a wonderful and exciting way to raise interest in science and engineering!

Visit other nonfiction blogs today at NONFICTION MONDAY, hosted by Nonfiction Detectives.


And what a better way to begin than following the fascinating explorations of the “never-give-up” rovers Spirit and Opportunity ? The twin rovers preceded Curiosity to Mars and their journey has been a rollercoaster, up with excitement, down with serious trouble, but above all a tribute to patience and perseverance on Earth and on Mars.

I am delighted to have Alexandra Siy today visiting my blog. (How do you pronounce 'Siy') She has outstanding, award-winning books about science for children including “Cars on Mars. Roving the RedPlanet.” 

I wanted to ask Alexandra about her own journey to Mars, so to speak, as she researched and wrote about Spirit and Opportunity.
Thank you, Alexandra, for sharing behind the scenes insights into what it took to write this fascinating book!

* When and how did you decide to write about the first two Mars rovers?

In the summer of 2003 Spirit and Opportunity were on their way to Mars. It was the perfect time for an encounter with a spacecraft from Earth because the planets were closer than they’d been in 60,000 years. I was camping on an island in the Adirondack wilderness and saw The Red Planet (and it was very red) in the night sky. I felt a strong connection to our nearest neighbor in the solar system, and wondered what it would be like be an explorer there. I realized I could explore Mars along with the rovers by writing a book about them.

* Why was it important for you to write about them?

I wanted to go along on the Mars road trip. I was a little kid when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. It was an extraordinary event, one that I remember vividly. The Mars rovers are like the Apollo Moon mission for today’s kids—but unlike going to the Moon and back, which takes about a week, going to Mars and exploring the planet takes years. There is a mountain of information and hundreds of thousands of images available from NASA. Children can experience the excitement and drama of the Mars missions in a book that has been carefully researched and designed. 

* What was the hardest thing to accomplish? (getting interviews or other sources, finding a kid-friendly angle, deciding how to organize and present the enormous amount of information, finding a publisher, other?)

My publisher accepted my proposal several years before I wrote the book. The mission was supposed to last about 90 days, but the rovers kept on going for years. I kept asking my editor for an extension because the rovers were discovering new things everyday. Finally, after three years, we decided it was time to tell the story of Spirit and Opportunity. I had just moved from Alaska to New York. My cross continental journey became inspiration for the book. I was really struggling to find a great title…and when “Cars on Mars” popped into my head, I instantly had the format for organizing the book in a kid friendly way. This was a “far-out” road trip, and road trips are fun, exciting, and really cool. I listened to road trip music while looking at the images from Mars. I felt like I was along for the ride! I ate road trip snacks, and even felt a little “carsick” after staring at Martian landscapes for hours and hours…I really felt like I was on Mars. I hope kids who read my book get that feeling of being on Mars with Spirit and Opportunity.

* Did you have the opportunity to talk to some of the people who made this possible?

I talked with Jim Bell, the scientist who creates the color panoramic images. He wrote a fabulous coffee table book called Postcards from Mars. 
 
I also talked to Steve Squyres, the principal investigator for the mission, whose book Roving Mars provided me with an inside look at the mission. Steve is quoted throughout my book. These quotes were from NASA press releases. Steve always had great quotes that fit perfectly into what I was trying to say. I also visited Honeybee Labs in NYC, which is the company that designs and builds the RAT (rock abrasion tool). I watched while one of the engineers controlled the operation of the RAT from computers in their offices.

*What was your favorite part of writing Cars on Mars?
I loved writing this book. While I was writing, my imagination took me to Mars. Everyday I looked forward to going into my office to write. I felt like I was leaving Earth behind and entering an unknown place. When I was finished writing the book I still didn’t have chapter titles. They were just numbered. I had to come up with titles, but I couldn’t think of anything that sounded good. Then, I reminded myself that I had been on a road trip. (When you need help on a road trip you go on Google to “Get Directions.”) Get Directions became the heading for the table of contents page, and I wrote all the chapter titles as actual directions describing what was going on in each chapter. I loved how everything came together in the end.

5. Could you give us a hint of you current writing projects? Where will you take us next?
Currently I am finishing a book about spiders called Spiderbook. Spiders are fascinating, and so is the fact that a lot of people are afraid of them. This title will be illustrated with electron micrographs (in the same style of my recent book BUG SHOTS: TheGood the Bad, and the Bugly). 
When I’m finished with Spiderbook this fall, I plan to write about my exploration of the ancient bristlecone forests in the Great Basin. This was an extraordinary adventure of discovery. Imagine trees that are still thriving at 5,000 years old! These are the oldest living organisms on the planet and have stories to tell…I want to write these stories, I want to give the trees a voice. I’m also working on another outer space adventure featuring spaceships and awesome space photography (but I will keep that book title a secret for now). And of course, I’d love to write a book about Curiosity on Mars. I guess that sounds like a sequel!

6.  What's your message to young readers who are considering science as their field of study?

Alexandra looking for bristlecones to tell her their story.
(© A. Siy)

Well, I hope my books inspire children to want to learn about the world. That’s what science is all about. Some people say science is difficult and boring…I don’t get this! Science is endlessly exciting. There is art in science (just look at the images sent to Earth by Spirit and Opportunity, and now Curiosity). I would tell my readers to not only read, but also to become observers of the world. I would tell them to look closely at phenomena in nature and to ask questions. New discoveries are being made all the time—scientists are both critical and creative thinkers. They are also artists.
Thank you!
Thank you, Alexandra, for your inspiration, hard work and fascinating books. I wish you much success. I can’t wait to know the stories a 5,000 year old tree has to tell! WOW! This will be truly traveling back in time.
Visit Alexandra’swebsite for more information about her books, her school visits, and other projects. Did you know she’s also a wonderful photographer? 

And now, what is going on with Curiosity?
This full-resolution self-portrait shows the deck of NASA's Curiosity rover from the rover's Navigation cameras. The back of the rover can be seen at the top left of the image, and two of the rover's right side wheels can be seen on the left. See those little black dots on top? They are 1 cm  (0.4 inches) long pebbles that fell on it during landing. So far, they are not a problem. NASA/JPL-Caltech
As you are reading this post, Curiosity stays put on a desert-like Martian landscape (it’s so cool I am writing this, and it’s nonfiction!). Three hundred and so million miles away on Earth (where you are sitting) scientists and engineers have sent new software to Curiosity’s computers and are in the process of checking all instruments are go. This will take a few days. In the mean time, Curiosity is not shy with her camera keeping NASA people busy putting together hundreds of images that reveal a not so ‘alien’ landscape.

For the classroom:
If you are on Mars, a day, or the time it takes the planet to complete is full rotation or spin around its axis, is called a “sol”. One sol is about 39 minutes longer than a day on earth. Today is sol 5 of Curiosity’s mission.

Cool stuff: some of the scientists and engineers of the Mars mission wear a watch specially made to be on Mars time. Some of them wear two watches on their wrists: one on Mars time and the other on Earth time. No excuse to be late anywhere!

Visit other science blogs today at NONFICTION MONDAY. Hosted by Nonfiction Detectives.

Monday, August 6, 2012

NASA's “Curiosity” lands safely on Mars!


That´s why Curiosity is so large (right), compared to Spirit/Opportunity (left, 2004) and Sojourner (1997). It takes a car-sized rover to carry so many tools.NASA/JPL-Caltech

I watched the NASA TV channel as the car-seized rover “Curiosity” landed just as planned on the Martian surface shortly after 12:30 am (CST) on August 6th. And soon after it sent the first two photos! One showed the Martian landscape and one of the rover’s wheels on the right-hand side. The second photo included “Curiosity’s” silhouette. It’s hard to grasp that we can see almost right away images of what is millions of miles away!

The first photo "Curiosity" sent to earth. Notice the rover's wheel on the right corner.  First visual confirmation that the landing was a success. NASA
Dust sprinkled “Curiosity’s” camera lenses. It came from the ground the rockets stirred as they helped the almost 2,000 pound rover touchdown safely. You have to see the video of the simulation of the landing process. It was quite a different type of landing in comparison with the previous ones. Instead of dropping the rover inside a bouncing ball, a hovering crane dropped it on the ground. Check out this link to learn more about the mission. Kids would love to see this.

This milestone is nothing less than a major achievement of science and engineering and to complement the NASA link above I suggest the two books I show here. They are about the first two Mars rovers, “Spirit” and “Opportunity,” for younger (left) and older readers.
Congratulations to all involved in this amazing mission. I can’t wait to learn more about “Curiosity’s” findings. Are there (were there) any microbes on Mars? Stay tuned!
Learning about this mission could be an engaging way to introduce students to space exploration, the planet Mars, and all the physics and engineering basics that support this outstanding achievement. What a source of inspiration for young scientists everywhere! I wonder, where will they take us next?

Great review for "The Mighty Mars Rovers."

Check more nonfiction posts at Nonfiction Monday's host site "Shelf employed."