Science and the Wonderful Why

Curiosity.“Why? Why? Why?” Anyone who has been around small children has experienced the monotonous, often aggravating, seemingly endless barrage of the “W” word. Why does soap make bubbles? Why do feathers float and acorns fall to the ground? Why are baths important? Why are those flowers purple? Why can’t I be purple? Why do tigers have stripes and leopards have spots and lions don’t have anything (majestic manes not withstanding)? Why can rocks bounce (skip) off water? Why didn’t my rock bounce? Why does the plant in the window bend toward the light? Why are my eyes blue and my brother’s eyes brown?

It would seem that from a very young age people are hard wired to think like a scientist. It is not enough to simply know a feather will float slowly to the ground while the acorn will plummet, or that plants turn their leaves toward the sunlight. We want to know why.

I have watched nieces and nephews as well as my own children pass through the “Wonderful Why?” stage, and I have noticed that there is often a predictable progression to the questions: “Why do plants turn their leaves toward the light?” is quickly followed by: “How do they move their leaves to face the light?” and then “What if we took away the light?”

Ray Bradbury said,

Touch a scientist and you touch a child.

As children we are all scientists. It is just that some of us never grow up.

Red Rover, Red Rover

[wpvideo j5SvPhHA]On November 26, NASA launched the Mars Science Laboratory from Cape Canaveral. The science laboratory contains the newest Mars rover, Curiosity. NASA has already received the first signal from the laboratory, shortly after it separated from the rocket. The Mars Science Laboratory is flying free toward the red planet.

NASA has a wonderful video describing how the science laboratory landing is planned. The video illustrates just how complex a mission this is. To think that we can even imagine, must less carry out, such a feat of technology and engineering is amazing. Enjoy the video, and let’s hope that on August 6, 2012, Curiosity will land safely and begin teaching us more about our neighboring planet.

If you have difficulty with the embedded video, here’s a link to the video on the NASA website.