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Kids Questions

Why can't I take my kitten to the moon? (Emma 6 years)
Your kitten can't go to the moon because the moon has no air so when the astronauts went to the moon they had to wear a space suit. Space suits have not been made for animals to walk on the moon so it would have to stay inside the lunar landing module while you were on the moon and it could get very lonely.

What is a lunar eclipse?
A lunar eclipse or an eclipse of the moon is when the moon goes into the shadow of the earth. This always happens at full moon. As the shadow passes over the moon, the moon changes colour and at times can be a reddish colour. There are two eclipses of the moon visible from New Zealand this year; on April 15 and October 8.

Why is Pluto no longer a planet? Where did it go?
Pluto is still in the same place in the Solar System as it was before but it has just had a name change. This is because of its size. Pluto is smaller than our moon and because of the size it does not have enough gravity to influence other objects in its vicinity. Pluto is now a dwarf planet and one of many dwarf planets that orbit the sun in an asteroid belt beyond Neptune, called the Kuiper Belt It was a case of having a Solar System consisting of tens of planets or defining what a planet is. This was done in August 2006.

Now a planet

  • is spherical or almost round
  • is in orbit around the Sun
  • has enough gravity to clear its orbital neighbourhood
  • is not the satellite of a Planet or other Solar System body

This is why Pluto is no longer a Planet because it has not cleared the neighbourhood of its orbit (the Kuiper Belt).

What is a shooting star?

A shooting or falling star is not a star at all but a piece of rock from space called a meteor. It is pulled to earth by the earth's gravity. As it comes through the earth's atmosphere the friction caused by the speed it travels through the atmosphere (thousands of kilometres an hour) causes the rock to get so hot it vaporises. Larger rocks are to hot too be completely destroyed and these fall to the earth as meteorites When a meteor appears it seems to move quickly (or shoot) across the sky its brilliance and small size make it appear as a star.

What is a meteor shower?

A meteor shower is when there are meteors coming from the same part of the sky over a short period of time. As comets go around the sun the melted, dusty material is left behind. If the earth travels through this debris path we get a meteor shower. Meteor showers are called after the constellation that they appear to come from and are best seen after midnight. Some meteor showers are...

Lyrids April 22 Low in NE before dawn
Eta Aquarids May 6 Before dawn high in NE
Delta Aquarids July 28 High in N
Perseids August 12 Pre dawn low N
Orionids October 21 NE after midnight; N before dawn
Leonids November 17 Low NE before dawn
Geminids December 14 N at midnight

Are aliens real?

Quite possibly. Almost 500 planets have been discovered going around other stars in the sky. Most are large planets like Jupiter as these are easier to detect but where there are large planets there could be smaller, more Earth like planets that are harder to find. Some Earth like planets a few times larger than the Earth have been found but these planets are so far away that space travel from Earth is so slow that we could not find if there was life on them for a long time (after all it would take 70,000 years to read the closest star to the sun travelling at the fastest speed of our space probes). The odds of the Earth being the only planet in the Universe with life on it is remote but it could be many years before we find out what Aliens really look like.

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Heavens Above :: :: University Today :: Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand