Episode 99: Summer Science, Part Pluto
NB Regarding Video: When Pamela shares her screen, there is a link in her bookmark bar that uses the F--- Word. It is a link to a video that is excellent advice on ignoring trolls, and totally inappropriate for audiences offended by the F--- Word. We're sincerely sorry this word appeared on the screen, and we're looking for ways to blur it out.

Welcome to our 99th episode of Learning Space. This episode can best be summarized as:


Pluto Pluto Pluto.

And bees.

But Pluto Pluto Pluto Pluto.

With special guest Alice Enevoldsen from

Alice's Astro Info.

Last week we listened to every hot little Tweet about New Horizons science and imagery and looked for possible ways that you can turn our explorations into the outer Solar System into activities you can do with your kids. Tuesday night, Pamela saw the awesome stuff that Alice was doing at Seattle's Plutopalooza, and thus was born this episode.

In vaguely the order of the episode, here are details you need to do these activities with your kids.

Foldable Pluto

Fresh off the LORRI Camera, we bring you new and more awesome Pluto Globes. Alice helped play-test these designs, which are guaranteed to get you the best results with the least annoying amount of cutting and gluing.

These globes include NASA New Horizon's surface maps that where processed by  unmannedspaceight.com forum member Björn Jónsson. The polyhedron map projection was made with Flexify 2 and was designed by Keith Enevoldsen. As new maps come up, Alice is working to keep her site updated. I think you'll be able to consistently get the best version in this post on her website.

Painting with Salt!

This is the perfect way to bring up crystal formation with that little ice lover in your house. Whether they are totally into Frozen by Disney or frozen worlds in the outer Solar System, or just frozen foods, this will get them thinking logically about sciency things.

In the episode and in the video below, we painted with a clear, 50-50 mixture of water and epsom salts on a piece of black paper (Alice used construction paper and I used foam paper). This was based on a recipe from PBS's Crafts for Kids series. This can very easily be turned into a Science Fair project for little kids. Here are a couple different things you can explore:

  • Relationship between drying time and crystal size (dry at different temperatures on a hot plate or in a well supervised oven. (Recommended for a humid day)

  • Relationship between type of salt mixed with water and crystal size (there are lots of kids of salts. Table salt and epsom salt are just two common types. Over on Hyperphysics they go into more detail on some common salts.

  • If you come up with more ideas, share them in the comments below! I'll also add, you can add food coloring and paint colored crystals onto lighter paper.

    Science Analogies FTW

    Sometimes the best way to teach is through analogy and comparison. We all get pulled in by factoids like the surface of Pluto and the surface of Russia are the same size. One neat way to engage people is to give them a set of new facts (like Pluto's surface is no more than 100 million years old) and have them find comparisons that are meaningful to them (like bees have been on Earth for 100 million years).

    Art and Science: Getting your STEAM on

    Before you read any further, go check out our Pluto Encounter, B-Roll blog post. Don't worry, we'll still be here. Go read it.

    Done? You didn't go read it, did you. Oh! You did! You are awesome!

    Ok, so here are some awesome things Pluto Day inspired that you can do with a young one (or by yourself, because they are fun!)

    • Did you ever try // to describe exploring worlds // as #PlutoHaiku?

      One of the cool ideas that we've seen several different places is using Haiku to force concise explanations of complex things.

      This article in Smithsonian Magazine highlights some of the best from the 2013 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. Challenge yourself and your kidlings to a Haiku Off (instead of a Dance Off?) next time things get competitive.

    • Lots of people have great fun finding patterns in clouds, nebula, and burnt toast. With the Pluto encounter we encountered people finding patterns on Pluto. The ability of the human mind to find patterns is called pareidolia. The BBC explains it nicely in their magazine, and Phil Plait has an amazing collection of examples built up in his blog archive. For fun, next time you and your tinier humans are bored, go to HubbleSite and pick a huge picture from their image gallery and see what shapes you can find.

    • Simple animations and other acts of info-rich creativity are things you can encourage folks to do to teach science and learn awesome new art skills.

    Other Randomness

    The XKCD graphic we showed is below. You should definitely be following this webcomic!