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5 of the Most Challenging Science Questions Kids Ask—and How to Answer Them

—Millstone, NJ

Parents: you are long accustomed to your child’s seemingly endless barrage of outlandish questions you can’t even begin to answer? You are not alone. A recent study found that 83% of parents didn’t know the answer to their kid’s science questions, and more alarmingly, 63% reported making up the answer when unsure. As annoying as questions may be, the inquisitive child is always the one with the will to discern truth and learn. Equipped with this guide and the plentiful STEM resources listed below, we hope that you will be prepared to answer your child’s questions with accuracy and composure.

Why is the sky blue?
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Electromagnetic Spectrum diagram

It’s all about how sunlight hits the Earth! Although sunlight appears to be just one color, it is composed of every color in the electromagnetic spectrum (the range of visible light). Various gases and particles in the atmosphere cause the sun’s light to scatter or move about through the atmosphere. As you may have learned long ago in science class, colors appear differently because they are composed of longer/shorter waves of light. Blue is most prevalently displayed because it travels in the shortest, smallest waves of all of the waves in the electromagnetic spectrum. In the same way, when the sun gets lower in the sky, sunlight passes through more of the atmosphere to reach earth, since it travels at an angle and not a straight line. This allows more time for longer wavelengths like red and orange to appear. Another factor that plays into the shade of red in the sky is the amount of dust, carbon dioxide, or other particles present. This causes more blue light to scatter at higher points of the atmosphere and red at more lower, visible points.

How do airplanes fly?
The 4 forces of flight, questions, science, onions, parents, black holes, STEM, science, questions, STEM, questions, rainbows, astronomy, science, kids, aerospace
The 4 forces of flight

Airplanes fly when the movement of air on top of their wings creates a skyward force that exceeds the force of gravity pulling the plane towards the earth, as first described by Daniel Bernoulli in the Bernoulli Principle. Four forces enable this to happen. Thrust moves an aircraft in the direction of motion, typically propelled by a jet engine. Air gets consumed and then expelled in a manner that keeps the plane moving forward. Drag helps stabilize the plane by counteracting thrust to slow a plane down. Lift is generated by the plane’s wings to keep a plane in the air. Think back to the Bernoulli Principle: When pressure is higher on the bottom side of the plane it pushes the plane upward. This is counteracted by the natural weight of gravity. Each force works in tandem to ensure a plane flies in a level direction.

How are rainbows made?

Rainbows are no more than an optical illusion. Rainbows can be seen when light passes through raindrops. Light bends as it passes through a droplet and is reflected off the inside of a raindrop. As it exits the droplet, light separates into different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. The variation of colors is again due to the different angles as light reaches our eyes. Due to these principles, the best place to see a rainbow is with your back towards the sun, looking at the rain.

Why do some onions make your eyes water?
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Teary eyes from cutting onions

Onions produce a chemical irritant known as syn-Propanethial-S-oxide. The production of bitter-tasting polyphenols is a plant's defense mechanism, trying to scare away its predators. Our eyes get irritated when exposed to this agent, stimulating the lacrimal glands (glands that produce tears) to release tears. To combat this painful sensation, many have tried blanching onions (scalding them with boiling water and then immersing them in cold water), using volatile chemicals, and putting onions in the fridge to denature the enzymes causing this reaction. While these may have been met with some success, they will alter the taste and texture of the onion.

What is a black hole?

Black holes are places in space where the gravitational pull is so extreme even light cannot escape. The reason gravity is so strong is that substantial amounts of matter are squeezed into such a small space. This can happen when a star falls in upon itself (collapses). Black holes can be big or small, but either way, they are never visible to the naked eye. They have the power to engulf anything that comes within its path. However, black holes cannot swallow Earth because no known black holes are close enough. Those who realize that the sun is a star are also in the clear. The sun is too small to become a black hole.

STEM·E has lots of activities to satiate your child's endless desire for knowledge, check out the links below for more!

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