Natural World

Plant a Tree for You and Me

Have you ever been in a place where there were lots of buildings but no trees? New housing developments or parts of a city that have been neglected for a long time may not have the shady spots and fresh air that trees give. As trees breathe, they let out oxygen that humans and animals need to survive. Their roots hold the ground together, making sure the soil doesn't blow away in the wind. When a tree dies naturally in the forest, its wood becomes a home for insects and a cafeteria for the hungry birds who eat those insects. Trees provide so many good things for the Earth.

Your Own Little World: Create a Terrarium

Whether it's filled with mossy rocks and ferns or sands and cactus, a terrarium is an amazingly fun way to learn more about nature. With a terrarium in your room, something of the outdoors can always be inside.

Terrariums that feature plants (not animals!) lock water inside to keep the soil moist. When the plants transpire, they let out water vapor. When the soil gets warm, it lets out water vapor. All this vapor collects against the top and falls back as rain.

The Earth, the Moon, and the Sun

How do the Sun and the Moon affect the Earth? Without the Sun, the Earth would be a big ball of frozen mud, just another asteroid, drifting in space with no gravity to anchor it here and nothing to give us heat and light. We could not be here without the Sun.

Take a Hike

Sometimes, it seems like everybody goes hiking and camping in the great outdoors in the sticky, sweltering summertime. Those are the days when the bugs are at their worst, and the heat alone can leave you panting on the side of the trail before an hour is done. For an easier time of it, grab your gear in the spring or fall. Cooler days and mostly bug-free trails make for great hiking adventures, whether by the ocean or in the mountains. November 17 is Take a Hike Day, but any day is a good day to hike.

There's Nothing Hard About Rocks!

Rocks come in all shapes and sizes, but what kind are they? You can’t ask them, but sometimes, if you know how to listen, they’ll tell you anyway.

The shape and size of a rock doesn’t tell you much about what it’s made of.
Big rocks break into smaller rocks all the time. But there are other things to look for that can give you their I.D.

Get Weather-Wise

How does rain happen? Long ago the Ashanti people believed that Anansi, the Spider, brought the rains that would put out fires in the jungle. In old Britain, the legendary Green Man was supposed to have rainmaking powers, and Zeus brought the rains for the ancient Greeks.

Today, we know that when warm, wet air rises into the sky and cools off, its water condenses out of the clouds as rain. Rain and snow can also happen when a batch of warm air meets a batch of cool air. The two kinds of air usually do not mix. The warm air is less dense than the cool air and will slide right over it. As the warm air goes higher, it cools off, and the moisture separates or condenses out of the cooled air and falls as a slow, steady rain.

Water Pollution

Our rivers, lakes, and beaches are beautiful, but are they safe? Every day, the toxic runoff from parking lots, busy roads and quiet subdivisions makes its way into our streams and oceans. Even the oil burning off from cars on the roads gets washed into the groundwater and streams by way of the storm drain every time it rains.

The more houses we build, the more pollution we will add to our environment. Every time we lay down a new parking lot or piece of roadway, there is an impact on our environment.

Happy Hibernations!

Slow, sleepy winter days find many animals curled up in their dens. They sleep warmly through winter, awakening in spring ready to enjoy the renewed Earth. This unusual, deep sleep is called hibernation.

What Is Hibernation?

True hibernation is a very deep sleep. The animal's body temperature drops, its breathing slows, and it is very difficult to awaken. But some animals, such as most bears, do not really hibernate.

River Recovery - Everybody Can Help

Boom!
One fine morning, the old wooden dam went up in clouds of smoke and broken timber. It was a huge thing—ancient and strong, built to tame the Rappahannock River. Once the power of the water pushing against it had provided electricity for the town. But that was years ago. The dam was falling apart, but so slowly that it was becoming dangerous. So the Army Corps of Engineers blew it up one morning.

Citizen Science -- No Degree Required

Citizen Science -- No Degree Required

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to help astronomers learn about the Universe. You don't need a degree in biology to help track bird populations.  Interested in what whale songs mean? You guessed it—you don't need to be an oceanographer to help scientists figure it out. All it takes is an interest and computer access and you can join the growing ranks of Citizen Scientists. Most projects provide tutorials or clear instructions on their websites. You don't even have to be an adult!