Saturday, February 21, 2015

Light Speed

Light Speed.
The speed of light: 671 million miles an hour
186 thousand miles per second.

Well, it's been all about th' solar system for us lately.
Both kids have taken to making model solar systems anywhere and everywhere we'll let them.
Our house, however, is only so big, so we headed out to our class room the other day to practice on a larger scale.

Our "Classroom" is a small 2 acre nature area about five minutes away from our house if you're running, which is how we usually get there. There's a half mile section of bike trail that runs through it and that is where Fynn wanted to set up a model of the solar system.

The large yellow ball is the sun- Fynn is setting up Saturn in the photo above.
He used the cracks in the sidewalk to place the planets in this model, with Mercury Venus Earth and Mars all one crack apart, Jupiter and Saturn two cracks apart, and Uranus and Neptune and Pluto four cracks apart. In the photo below He is setting up Pluto.  Like every kid we know, Fynn is not happy about Pluto being kicked out of the solar system- so we use it anyway. Now, we know that Pluto's orbit is more elliptical than the other planets, so his distance is averaged out. There are times when Pluto is actually closer to the sun than Neptune.

Asteroid Belt

Fynn and Uranus

View from Pluto


Now, the speed of light is really fast. Humans know of nothing faster. But how fast is it compared to the solar system? Well, it takes light about eight minutes to go from the sun to earth, which is 93 million miles away. Whew.

It's absolutely amazing how things work out when you're doing the right thing.
This was a very warm day in February, especially for Colorado. There were bugs out. We saw a few spiders running through our solar system. They were comets. And we found a Roly Poly. He became Earth's Moon. But only for a little while. They don't stay a ball forever you know.

Then Fynn had a brilliant idea. Let's see how fast he goes in our solar system. So we took him over to the Sun and waited for him to open up and start walking. We made him a little lane to travel in by placing sticks on either side of him, then moving the ones he passed to the front.

To our delight (and my utter amazement, though i think Fynn just expected it) it took this little guy just over three minutes to get to Mercury. It takes light 3 minutes 13 seconds to get to Mercury.
We gave each other high five and named our little friend "Light Speed," then laughed because, well, who ever heard of a roly poly going light speed? We led this little guy all the way to Earth, and sure enough, it took him just over eight minutes to get there. Light speed didn't seem so fast anymore. Eight minutes is a long time to watch a roly poly walking. And that's just to earth. It takes light over 43 minutes to reach Jupiter. Saturn is almost as far from Jupiter as Jupiter is from the sun. The same with Uranus and Neptune. What!?

We needed a snack.

Later in the day we decided to make an actual scale model. We got a smaller sun, one that would allow us to use 12 inches to represent a million miles. We knew we'd need to use the entire bike trail, so we placed the sun at the beginning. Mercury is 36 million miles from the sun, so we took 36 steps and placed Mercury, a tiny little bead, on the side of the trail. Venus is 67 million miles from the sun. 31 more steps. Earth is 93 million miles away. 26 more steps. Not bad so far. Our planets are all pretty close, but they're tiny at this scale, so we placed our little planets on various lids and plates we brought with us.

Fynn with the Sun in background

Once you get to Jupiter things start looking big. Jupiter is 483 steps, or million miles from the sun. Saturn is almost twice as far at 886 steps, or million miles away. By the time we set up Uranus, 1782 million miles away, we could barely even see our sun. Neptune is 2794 steps from the sun. It takes light over 4 hours to go from the sun to Neptune. If you want to know how far this actually is, use a bowling ball sized sun, then count out 2794 steps. That's where Neptune is. We were almost at the end of our trail, but luckily we had just enough room. Now time for our light speed experiment.

We were going to walk from the sun to the Earth, and make it take eight minutes. We started walking. Of course other people use this bike trail too, but we're always in the middle of an experiment (or filming) when we're out here, so we rarely talk to them. I'm sure we usually look crazy. Especially when it takes you eight minutes to walk 93 steps. One guy jogged past us pushing a baby stroller. He ran to the end of the trail and turned around. I saw him looking at us, and our planets, and on the way back, he just kept looking back and forth between us walking ridiculously slow (light speed you remember) and our little beads on plates. So i said to him "It's a scale model of the solar system. right now we're traveling at the speed of light." You could see the understanding dawn upon him. His face went from quizzical to OK, i get it, And he got a huge smile on his face and said "That's Awesome! I was racking my brains trying to figure out what you were doing!" Then he went up to Fynn and held up his hand and said "High Five!" And of course Fynn jumped up and tried to hang from his hand. 

We finally wrapped up our experiment and went home. But this got me to thinking. Fynn is a true scientist. Everything he does is an experiment. Yet all he is doing is playing. We are out here nearly everyday doing things that  look crazy to those who don't know what's going on. But once you understand, it goes from appearing ridiculous to brilliant. It's not him that's changing, it's us and our understanding. Things, and people, are rarely what they appear on the surface. Suspend judgement, and dig deep.

No comments: