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We have two space science-related events next weekend, August 11-12, 2018.

1. Parker Solar Probe Launch

First up, on Saturday August 11, 2018 NASA is going to launch the Parker Solar Probe. The probe will travel close to the sun and gather data about it, including information about the sun's corona. Scientists are curious about the corona because temperatures measured there are hotter than at the surface of the sun and they want to know why.

Photograph of the sun's corona during a solar eclipse (NASA)

This probe is special because it has to withstand super hot temperatures. Scientists and engineers came up with a specially-designed heat shield and used water in a device like a car's radiator to keep the equipment on board from frying.

You can see more details in this video from NASA:

Hear more about it in the Why Is The Sun’s Corona Hotter Than Its Surface? podcast at Science Friday.

Related activity:

Capture the sun's energy using a solar oven (WikiHow or HomeScienceTools).

2. Perseid Meteor Shower

What is a meteor shower or "shooting star?"

Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a "cloud" of bits of rocks or dust left over from a passing comet or asteroid. If a particle enters the atmosphere, it creates a streak of light as it burns up. The debris cloud for the Perseid shower comes from the Comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids are named because they appear to originate in the constellation named Perseus.

The Perseids are the best meteor showers for viewing with children for a number of reasons. First of all, they occur in summer so temperatures at night is usually at more comfortable than for the fall or winter showers. Most children are out of school, so there are no worries about staying up on a school night. Also, the Perseids are some of the most reliable showers and last over at least two nights. This year is going to be especially good viewing because light from the moon is not going to interfere.

If you have never watched a meteor shower, it is fantastic! When the meteors are active it can be better than fireworks. Find a nice dark place to observe the sky, and if possible, spread out on a lawn chair, the ground or the back of a pick-up truck with some blankets or sleeping bags. No need for binoculars or telescope, because the meteors move too quickly to follow.

Because this is a natural event, there are no guarantees the meteors will be frequent. Prime your children to be patient or do the Constellation Detective activity (PDF link) at the same time.

Related posts:

Three astronomy activities

Want more? See our growing list of children's books about planets and the solar system.

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Just when we thought we were done with moths, we found an orange, black, and white beauty feeding on a Queen Anne's lace flower in western New York. It almost looks as lacy as the flower.


With the striking coloration, it didn't take long to figure out it is an ailanthus webworm moth, Atteva aurea.

These moths were thought to be native to Florida, where they feed on paradise trees, Simarouba glauca and S. amara. The introduced Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) can also serve as a host plant. When the Tree of Heaven began to spread throughout the U.S., the ailanthus webworm did, too.

The caterpillars are called webworms because of the silk they produce while feeding. You can see them in action in this video.

Many of the caterpillars in the ermine moth family (Yponomeutidae) build webbed nests like this.

It turns out these little moths are ideal models, probably because their orange and black colors are a warning pattern. The one in the photo was not fazed by my attention, probably because not much tries to eat them. What a cool little moth.

Have you discovered any interesting moths this week?

Is it a bird? Is it a bee? No, it's a.... moth!

This moth has many names. Because its fuzzy amber yellow and black body resembles a bumble bee, it is called a bee moth, bumblebee moth, or bee hawk moth. Unlike other moths, you can see through its wings, so sometimes they are called clearwing moths. Finally, because they are active during the day, because of their size, and because they hover around flowers sipping nectar, members of their family are also called hummingbird moths.

As is usual for the Family Sphingidae, bee moth larvae (caterpillars) have a pointy "horn" or spike at the end of their abdomens and are called hornworms.

This short video shows a bee moth caterpillar feeding. Can you see its brownish thorn-like horn?

The caterpillars eat various shrubs, such as snowberry, or some small trees like cherry trees.

Once mature, larvae drop to the ground to pupate in the leaf litter before transforming into an adult moth.

The adults feed on nectar from flowers. They seem to be particularly attracted to bee balm (Monarda).


Aren't moths amazing?

And don't forget, it's National Moth Week.

Have you ever seen a bee moth? What did you think it was?