Wandering and Wondering

Exploring the wonders of Science in everyday life!

Memorial Day Weekend

What does Memorial Day mean to you? For some people, it is a three-day weekend that usually marks the beginning of pool parties, barbecues, and summer vacation. Since my birthday is on May 26 (I’ll be 30 on Saturday–yikes!), it has always been my birthday weekend. However, what is Memorial Day? When was it established? Why is it important?

Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day and started soon after the Civil War as a day to honor the men and women who died during the Civil War. After WWI, Decoration Day was changed to honor all men and women who have died serving the U.S. Military.  It became an official federal holiday in 1971 for the last Monday in May, which created a three day weekend for all federal employees.

Memorial Day today is usually spent barbecuing with friends and getting together as a family, but there are also many parades across the country in cities and towns that serve to honor those who have fallen in the line of duty. Many Americans also mark the day by visiting cemeteries and memorials.


What will you be doing for Memorial Day?

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Waste not, want not

My husband sent me an article the other day with the headline “Plastic-Eating Fungi Found in the Amazon May Solve World’s Waste Problem“. Immediately, my thoughts turned to a B-movie type blob fungus oozing down the street, devouring giant plastic garbage cans and children’s toys. However, as I followed the links from the website to the actual published article, I found that this fungus actually has the potential to help manage one of the major contributors to our trash problem–polyurethane.

Have you ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? This is a huge, I mean HUGE, area of waste and litter that has accumulated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It has gathered there because the currents and tides in the North Pacific are circular and the garbage gets caught in a type of vortex. The garbage has collected in the “Convergence Zone” just north of the Hawaiian Islands, making a huge mass of plastic waste, chemical sludge, and other debris.

While some people describe it as an “Island of Trash”, it isn’t quite that simple. If it were one solid mass, it would be mush easier to clean up. However, it is actually made of many smaller “islands” of trash that are constantly shifting and moving with the currents. About 80% of the garbage comes from land sources, and about 10% comes from marine sources.

What does this mean for the wildlife in the Pacific Ocean? Well, it means that many more animals have been suffering and dying because of our waste. Sea turtles and other large marine animals can become entangled in the debris or eat plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. Both situations can cause the animals to drown or suffocate and die. Smaller animals can eat small plastics and feed them to their young. The plastic can rupture organs or even cause the animals to die of starvation.

So, how do we fix this?

It’s actually quite difficult. A cleanup operation would be astoundingly expensive, and would likely harm many animals in the process. The best thing to do right now is to educate the public about proper waste disposal. Don’t litter! Here in Los Angeles, all the storm drains and manhole covers say “No dumping…Drains to ocean”. It’s a nice, friendly reminder to us to remember that all of our trash and waste has to go somewhere!

This discovery of the plastic eating fungus has the potential to help get rid of  at least some of the plastic debris that is clogging up our oceans and killing our marine life. While this may put a dent in the problem, we cannot pin all of our hopes on to this one organism. The solution to a problem like this is often to stop the source of the problem at the beginning. Recycle! Reduce! Reuse! Going back to the lessons we learn in elementary school, we can hopefully make this planet a little cleaner and greener than it is today.




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Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…no! It’s a Supermoon!

What is a “supermoon”? One of my friends posted a link to this article today (http://yhoo.it/Kt5iZE), and it got me thinking….what is a supermoon? I had never heard about this phenomenon, so I decided to do a little digging. Here’s what I found out:

Comparison between a supermoon (right) and an average full moon (left). Source: Wikipedia

  1. The technical name for a supermoon is perigee-syzygy (good for Scrabble!), because perigee is the term for the moon’s elliptical orbit.
  2. Because the Moon’s orbit is an ellipse, it moves slightly closer and slightly farther away from the Earth as it revolves. The distance varies between approximately 222,000 miles and 252,000 miles from the Earth.
  3. A supermoon is when a full moon coincides with the closest approach the moon has with Earth.
  4. There is some speculation about whether a supermoon causes an increase in natural disasters, but the evidence suggests there is not a link.

So, as you can see, while the moon is going to be closer and appear bigger than ever this weekend, it’s really just a coincidence. Just like a blue moon isn’t actually blue, it’s just a rare event where you have two full moons in one calendar month! Want to find out more about the moon and space? Check out Wonderopolis (www.wonderopolis.org)  to find out all sorts of cool things!