Tag Archives: science

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I Heart Pluto

Poor Pluto. Once a planet, now demoted to dwarf planet status.

I’m not a “Pluto is a planet” partisan, but when NASA’s New Horizon mission took this close-up photo of Pluto, I knew I had to have this shirt. Now you can have one too:

NASA did all the real work sending a spacecraft 3 billion miles to take the picture, so I’m publishing this with a Creative Commons license. Go ahead and make your own T-shirt, stickers, coffee mug, whatever.

If you are too lazy to make your own, I have T-Shirt, Stickers, and Coffee Mugs available for pre-order on CafePress.

Creative Commons License
I Heart Pluto by Jason Morrison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/pluto-is-dominated-by-the-feature-informally-named-the-heart.

How to build an eclipse viewing box with your kid

You should never look at a solar eclipse directly, but building a simple eclipse viewer is easy. It’s also a fun project to do with your kids.

Step 1. Get a long box.

Eclipse viewer box

I got a really long square box from the UPS store for ~$10. The longer the better – the more distance between the end pointed at the sun and the viewing end, the larger the image of the sun will be.

By the way, this picture is just showing off how long the box is – you won’t actually be looking through the box when we’re done.

Step 2. Decorate the box.

Decorating the eclipse viewer

This might be the most important part of the project if you’re doing it with kids. Kids love to draw planets, comets, rocket ships, and all sorts of fun things. This is also a good place to illustrate exactly what’s going on when the sun starts to disappear.

Step 3. Close the box and cut a hole in one end.

Eclipse box

This end will be pointed toward the sun.

Step 4. Cover the hole with foil and put a tiny pinprick in the middle.

eclipse viewer pinhole

You want to block out all the light except the pin prick. It will cast an image of the sun on the other end of the box.

Step 5. Cut open a small section of the side near the bottom.

Eclipse viewer ready to go

The picture illustrates this pretty well. You want a small section open so you can see the image in the bottom of the box. I also put a piece of white paper in the bottom, that shows off the image better than cardboard:

image of the sun

You’ll need to find something to use to prop up the box and aim it toward the sun. I used a tripod, but a chair will work as well. You’ll need to keep moving the viewer as the day goes on to keep the image in place.

Enjoying a solar eclipse

Caught in an eclipse without a viewer? No worries! Anything with a hole in it that can cast a shadow will show the eclipse – even your fingers or the leaves on the trees!

solar elcipse shadows

Cresent eclipse shadows

How to Predict Your Baby’s Eye Color – You May Be Surprised

Familiy eye color

One of the most fun things about having a baby is seeing which traits they inherit from each parent. It’s fun to try to guess before the baby is born, too – for example, what eye color will my baby have?

If you’ve met my family (or just looked at the picture in the post) you might not think eye color was a particularly interesting trait for us to speculate about. My wife and I have brown eyes, as does my daughter, and brown is far and away the most common eye color for people of African ancestry. Mixed kids can have all sorts of delightful variation of facial features, skin tone, hair, but we pretty much know our new baby will have brown eyes, right?

It turns out that our baby has a 26% chance of green/hazel eyes and even a 4% chance of blue eyes:

Using 23andme to predict eye color

This is from our report at 23andme. It’s pretty cool that we can get this information at all – we are living in the future, in a time genetic sequencing is done for fun.

How can this be? If you remember back to high school biology class, it’s all about genetics. Brown is the dominant gene, so you need the recessive gene from both parents in order to get another eye color. There’s a good explanation of it here.

Even though my eyes are brown, I must have inherited the recessive gene from my mom. My wife has some European ancestry in her family tree, so it looks like that recessive gene was passed down generation after generation all the way to her.

If you don’t have 23andme, you can get a reasonable prediction with this tool from the Tech Museum:


One other thing to note about a newborn’s eye color – you might not even know their eye color after they are born. Newborns often have gray-colored eyes, which change over time. No one told me this before my first daughter was born, so I was pretty surprised when she looked at me with those silvery gray eyes.

By the way, we are asking the internet to vote on the name of our baby boy! For each vote, $1 will be donated to Save the Children.

If you have a minute, please give us your vote.

Further reading about eye color in mixed populations: