Watch Meteors on Meteor Watch Day!

Ever had the chance to make a wish on a shooting star? This
superstition originated around 2000 years ago in Ancient Greece, believed to be
gods peering down to Earth from the skies. Science has confirmed that falling
stars has nothing to do with the Olympian gods; this source of luck is a fiery
space rock falling into Earth’s atmosphere!

Our solar system is made up of planets, stars, asteroids,
comets, and meteoroids. Asteroids are huge rocks, ranging from 33 feet in
diameter to 329 miles in diameter, which orbit the sun and are often referred
to as minor planets. Meteoroids are small, rocky pieces broken off asteroids; a
meteor occurs when a meteoroid falls through Earth’s atmosphere, begins to
burn, and creates a streak of light across the sky! Meteors travel through our atmosphere
at tens of thousands of miles per hour, this intense speed causes the air in
front of the falling meteor to compress extremely quickly, creating immense
heat and burning the meteor. Stars are burning balls of gas which can burn to
up to 100,000⁰F (55,500⁰C), while meteors burn at around 3,000⁰F
(1,650⁰C)! Being that they are both blazing balls of fire, we can see how
meteors got the misnomer of “shooting star!”

It is easiest to view a meteor at night as they fall 34 to 70
miles above Earth’s surface. Meteors will typically disintegrate as they fall,
but sometimes survive the trip to the surface! Once meteors land on Earth’s
surface they are called meteorites. NASA has a large collection of meteorites,
compiled from around the world, which is used to learn more about the other
planets, asteroids and comets within our social system! By completing chemical
analysis on fallen meteorites, we have been able to determine the cause of the colors
you may see during a meteor shower! A red hue is cased by silicate, purple is
caused by potassium, green and blue is caused by copper, yellow by iron, and
yellow or orange is caused by sodium!

Comet ISON Passes Through Virgo

Meteors are often mistaken for comets. Comets are like asteroids
being that they are large bodies that orbit around the sun, expect comets are
composed of ice, gas and dust, nicknamed “dirty snowballs.” Comets are
extremely large and can be the size of a town while they are frozen, they are
believed to be left over pieces of material from when the solar system was
formed! As the comet’s orbit brings it nearer to the sun, the comet begins to
heat up, melt and burn, spewing its dust and gas into a giant, glowing tail;
this looks much like a falling meteor. Unlike meteors which are falling within
Earth’s atmosphere, comets are extremely far away from Earth! The burning tail
of a comment can be millions of miles in length and can be observed from earth
from over 70 million miles away! Halley’s Comet, the most famous of comets, can
be observed from Earth every 75 years, projected to return in the year 2061!

There are currently 958,714 known asteroids and 3,646 known
comments in our solar system. Of the almost million asteroids we have
identified, there are many smaller, broken meteoroids floating around in space.
Our planet is hit by 17 meteorites a day, with about 90-95% of meteors burning
up before they land on Earth’s surface. That makes about 6,100 meteors each
year! Celebrate Meteor Watch Day each year on June 30th with clear
skies and meteor showers!

Take a hands-on approach to learning about meteors on Meteor Watch
Day by doing the Crater Maker’s Experiment!

Fireflies, Warm Weather, and Bioluminescence

Firefly, firefly beetle, glow fly, flow worm, moon bug, golden sparkler, fire devil, blinkie, and lightning bug are all names for the lampyridae beetle. It is clear where fireflies got their name, as they produce a flashing glow as they fly through the air on warm summer nights. What actually causes fireflies to glow?

There are a few types of bioluminescent insects, but
fireflies are the most popular! Bioluminescence is a term for a chemical
reaction taking place within the body that allows the organism to glow. There
are more than 1,500 species of bioluminescent marine organism, including
jellyfish, algae, and sea stars. Luciferin, an organic compound found within
the firefly’s abdomen, is responsible for their namesake glow. This chemical
reaction produces very little heat, so this is called a ‘cold light.’ Fireflies
can create their pulsing glow by regulating the amount of airflow going into
their abdomen which reacts with the luciferin. Some species of fireflies can
even glow as eggs, emitting light as they react to stimuli such as gentle
tapping or vibrating. Bioluminescence is of huge benefits to animals, helping
to lure prey or avoid predators, and communicate within the species!

The glow of the firefly is an important method of
communication! A flashing firefly warns potential predators how bitterly
fireflies taste.  They produce defensive steroids
that make them unpalatable to hungry frogs, spiders and birds.  Glowing as eggs is especially beneficial to
fireflies, helping to ensure that the larvae reach adulthood.  The glow of fireflies also aids reproduction,
helping to identify members of the opposite sex and specific species. Female
fireflies choose mates depending on flash patterns. High flash rate males with
higher flash intensity have proven to be more attractive to females. A
firefly’s glow serves a much greater purpose than looking pretty!

Fireflies have short lifespan, averaging around 2 months
once they reach adulthood. The larvae stage, or immature insect form, of the
firefly lasts 50 to 100-weeks. Firefly eggs can be found in rotting trees,
soil, or water. Maturing during the spring and early summer, most fireflies
reach adulthood from the third week of May to the third week of June. Fireflies
feed on sails, slugs and pill bugs, all which are brought out with rain, so the
rainfall and air temperature has a great impact on when fireflies emerge.
Moist, humid regions of Asia and the Americas are the best habitat for these
muggy weather lovers. Fireflies are cold-blooded beetles, so as the weather
begins to cool, their flashes slow. Once the weather reaches 50⁰F
fireflies will cease flashing and flying. Fireflies are truly bugs of summer!

Many of us have pleasant childhood memories of catching
fireflies on summer evenings, but the firefly is disappearing. As open fields
and forests are developed for human use, the habitat of the firefly is being
compromised. Use of insecticides, logging and pollution have also shown to be
affecting firefly populations. Light pollution, or the amount of artificial
light being used by humans at night, is impacting the firefly’s ability to communicate
with each other. It is becoming more difficult for fireflies to attract mates,
defend their territory, or ward off predators. Fireflies are awe inspiring,
fascinating creatures. Their loss would be a huge impact to their habitats and
future generations of firefly catchers.

Want to enhance your firefly catching strategy? Build a bug

Mosquitos: Why do they Suck?

Why are mosquitos so religious? Because they prey on you!

When making a list of the most dangerous creatures on our
planet, what do you think of? A menacing shark with 3,000 teeth? A hungry,
slithering, 30-foot long anaconda? What about a buzzing, blood sucking
mosquito? Mosquitos may not maul you like a vicious tiger, but instead carry
diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, Zika, yellow fever, and encephalitis.
Mosquitos bites are estimated to be responsible for the deaths of more than 2 million
people annually, causing 300 to 500 million cases of malaria each year.
Mosquitos are the deadliest animals on the planet, followed by human beings and

After you feel the itch of a mosquito bite, have you ever
wondered why mosquitos feast on us? Raccoons, snakes, frogs, and birds like
crows or ducks are also subject to the thirst of a mosquito.  To locate their next source of blood,
mosquitos track exhaled carbon dioxide, movement, and body odor and temperature.
Male mosquitos do not possess the necessary anatomy to suck blood, so female
mosquitos are to blame.  Mosquitos need
the proteins our blood contains to produce their eggs.  While the average mosquito’s lifespan is 2
weeks to 6 months, a single female mosquito can lay thousands of eggs within a
month! Mosquitos can drink three times their weight in blood!

Female mosquitos use their straw-like mouth called a
proboscis to pierce the skin and access blood. The proboscis has a sharp tip to
piece the skin, much like a doctor’s needle, to draw blood up into its mouth.
The itching associated with mosquito bites is caused by mosquito saliva, which
the mosquito injects into its prey when biting. Mosquito saliva is an
anticoagulant, which inhibits blood clotting, so the mosquito can get the most
blood per bite. Our bodies recognize mosquito saliva as a foreign liquid, and
the swelling is a response from our immune system to flush out this chemical.
Scratching mosquito bites make the itching worse by increasing the inflammation
of this immune system reaction.

The first human malaria case can be dated back to 450 C.E.;
the disease is rumored to have killed half of all humans who have ever lived,
making it the deadliest disease of all time. Malaria is also deadly for 125
species of animals, including mammals, birds, and reptiles. Prior to the age of
germ theory, malaria was named after the assumed cause, “bad air.” Mosquitos
lay their eggs directly on top of water, making mosquitos populations rampant
in swamps and marshes, earning the name bad air from the heavy, humid air of
these areas. Malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite called Plasmodium
, which enters the blood stream through mosquito saliva. Once
this parasite is inside the blood stream, it makes its way to our liver,
compromising the liver cells and multiplying rapidly.

It is believed that Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and
Christopher Columbus were all victims of malaria. Malaria infection causes
flu-like symptoms like fever, headaches, muscle, and joint paint; symptoms
typically begin after a 10-14-day incubation of the parasite. It is estimated
that malaria has evolved with humans, making it as old as 60 to 80,000 years
old. It was not until 1897 when Dr. Ronald Ross, an army doctor in India, was
able to prove that the malaria parasite was found in the gut of a mosquito and transferred
to a malaria patient after they had been bitten. German chemists in 1934
invented a new antimalarial drug, the first drug proven to kill the plasmodium
species. Today malaria is of little threat to most U.S. citizens, but people in
underdeveloped areas of the world are highly susceptible to the disease. There
is no malaria vaccination currently, so the disease is fought with preventative
measures such as insecticide and covering beds with mosquito nets.

 While mosquitos are
easy to hate, from the itchy bites they leave to the disease they spread,
mosquitos have been of huge benefit to science research. Their proboscis, or
needle mouths, have helped scientists to design better, less painful needles
for doctors. The resilience of mosquitoes is fascinating, and if mosquitoes can
find food they will persist. While there are over 3,500 species of mosquito,
only 200 of those species prey on humans. Keep your bug spray handy this

Learn to love insects through entomology, the study of
insects! Catch mosquitos by making a pheromone trap from mosquitos that may
prey on you! Find the Bugs of Summer experiment at:

World Oceans Day: Protecting Earth’s Largest Ecosystem

Earth’s surface is covered in water, making around 71% of
the planet ocean water. Earth’s oceans are our largest ecosystem, home to more
than 2 million estimated species. Marine plants provide our planet with almost
70% of our oxygen we breathe, and ocean animals provide for a sixth of all
animal protein humans consume. If our planet relies on our oceans so heavily,
why do we need ocean conservation holidays like World Oceans Day?
Unfortunately, human actions are tarnishing this extensive biome.

Pollution and global warming are killing ocean animal and plant life. Most ocean pollution begins on land through runoff that makes its way into the ocean, this is called nonpoint source pollution. Chemicals produced by cars, trucks, boats, farms, and ranches make their way into streams and rivers, eventually ending up in the ocean. Marine debris like abandoned vessels, fishing gear, and plastic are of grave danger to ocean animals. An estimated 1.15 to 2.41 million tons of plastic pollution are entering our oceans each year. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, and are killed after ingesting the plastic, or animals become entangled in discarded fishing nets. Garbage patches, large collections of trash in the ocean, create floating garbage islands in our oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is around 1.6 million square kilometres large, twice the size the state of Texas. We humans are the cause of the ocean’s pollution problem, so it becomes our duty to solve it.

Nearly all species of sea turtle are endangered, the
hawksbill, green and loggerhead sea turtles are considered critically
endangered. Sea turtles have explored our oceans for more than 110 million
years, having been alive alongside the dinosaurs! Sea turtles are poached for
their eggs, shells, and meat, and are frequent victims of bycatching, being
caught in fishing gear accidentally. Climate change is affecting the natural
incubation rates of sea turtle eggs, which effects the sex ratios of their
hatchlings. If turtle eggs incubate below 81.86⁰F, hatchlings will be male,
while eggs incubating above 87.8⁰F yields female hatchlings. In
addition to sea turtles, alligator and crocodile offspring sex is determined by
temperature, and climate is affecting the populations of these reptiles. 

Cetaceans is a collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises, a family of marine mammals. The group includes 14 species of baleen whales (whales with keratin plates instead of teeth which allow them to filter feed), 3 sperm whales,  22 beaked whales, 7 porpoises, 38 dolphins, 4 river dolphins, and the beluga and narwhal. Cetaceans are one of the most distinct and highly specialized orders of mammals; the blue whale being the largest animal to ever live and the highly intelligent and communicative dolphins. Like humans, cetaceans breathe air, nurse their young, and give live birth.

Due to human activity such as hunting and pollution, most cetacean species are endangered. In previous years, whale populations have suffered due to hunting for their blubber, which was used for oil to burn in lamps or to manufacture makeup. Thousands of dolphins and porpoises die each year after being trapped in fishing nets, or from pollution and toxins impairing their ability to fight disease. In recent years, movements have raised awareness to save whales from hunting, but climate change is the largest threat to all underwater species.

Threats to marine species are difficult to perceive being that they live their majority of their lives underwater, out of sight. These animals have evolved over million of years, and have begun to vanish from ecosystems they have flourished in. The Endangered Species act has acted to salvage ocean life, promote awareness, and change human behavior to make a difference for endangered ocean species. We must work to change the threats facing ocean life, to make a better life for the species of our planet and for the future of humanity.

Celebrate marine life by learning more about them! High Touch High Tech has a Make a Coral Reef experiment to take a closer, hands-on look at another endangered, underwater sea creature! Find that experiment at :