One of the amazing things about children is their endless curiosity. They have a unique view of their environment and think about things in such a different way than adults. When they look up at the sky and the vastness of space, they often wonder about things adults may have forgotten to consider. The following are answers to just a few of the questions kids ask about space.
Why do stars twinkle?
The light from stars appears to twinkle or move because it has to travel through Earth’s atmosphere to reach the eye. As it moves through the atmosphere, the light is refracted randomly many times. This makes the starlight blink out or shift in the vision, causing that twinkling effect. When a star is lower on the horizon, it will twinkle even more, because the light must travel through more atmosphere across the Earth’s surface. Planets don’t twinkle as much as stars because they are small discs of light rather than narrow pinpoints. With more light comes a better chance of reaching the eye, so planets appear as more solid points of light.
Why is space cold?
Space is very close to what scientists call a vacuum, a region that contains no matter at all. Heat is created by matter and the constant movement of the molecules that make up matter. The faster these molecules move, the more heat they produce. Absolute zero temperature can only be achieved if no molecules exist, but space is still a few degrees above since it still has a few random molecules such as hydrogen floating around in it.
How did the sun get made?
Our sun and solar system started as a cloud of gas and particles in space. Gravity pulled these molecules together and caused them to spin, forming a central ball with an orbiting disc around it. The disc eventually gathered into the different planets of our solar system, while the central ball condensed, forming a protostar. Gravity continued to work on this ball of mostly hydrogen and helium, building the pressure and temperature until it started nuclear fusion, a process like an enormous bomb. This fusion reaction has continued since, producing vast amounts of heat and light.
Why is the moon white?
The moon’s surface is composed of different metals and minerals forming a rocky terrain. The moon has no water or vegetation, so the blue and green colors of Earth in space views won’t appear on the moon. The moon’s color is due to the sun’s light reflecting off it and how the human eye registers that light through Earth’s atmosphere. The true color of the moon is closer to gray, but against the black night sky, this reflected sunlight looks white. The moon can also look yellow or reddish, depending on how its light passes through Earth’s atmosphere.
Why is Venus called our sister planet?
Venus is often called Earth’s twin or sister planet because of its similarity in size, mass, and materials. Earth is only about 5% larger than Venus and weighs about 19% more. The next closest planet is size is Mars, which is just over half the size of Earth. Both Venus and Earth have metal cores and a similar surface, plus many of the same minerals and gases. However, Venus has also been named the “evil twin” because of its incredibly high temperature, pressure, and the amount of gases that make it unable to support life.
Children ask the darnedest things and space can be just as much an enigma to adults as to their youngsters. Parents have resources to answer these baffling questions, though, educating themselves as well as their children. Armed with knowledge, parents can be heroes to their little space explorers and address their questions with confidence.