6 Curious Questions That Kids Ask
Autumn and Winter are my favourite times of year to be out and about. In fact, if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen my autumnal adventures in fungi spotting (below are some of the highlights!). Why not have a go at spotting some of the amazing fungi that are out at this time of year with our Fungi Spotting printable PDF.
Being outdoors also reminds me of when my kids were younger and our outdoor yomps were punctuated by questions about the world around us. They were (and still are) curious about EVERYTHING! I’d find myself drowning in questions like “why is the sky blue?”, “why does the sky sometimes turn red?”, “what makes those white lines in the sky?” and “how is the sea salty?”.
Simple five-year-old questions that I’ll admit I didn’t know all the science to answer. But I did a little learning of my own so I could answer their questions, which I’m now passing on to you in case your little curiositeers are in never-ending-question-asking mode too.
1. Why IS the sky blue?
So let’s take the first question.
The sky is blue (when it’s cloudless at least) because of the way light behaves.
You see, light from the sun might appear to be white, but it actually contains all the colours of the rainbow. Sunlight moves in waves and each colour has a signature wave.
Red, for example, has a long relaxed wave whereas blue has a short, fast, zippy wave. When light hits Earth’s atmosphere with all its gases, bits of dust and other flotsam makes the busy blue light bounce around and off everything it touches.
It’s this bouncing that means we see the blue light the most when we look up.
2. How far away is the sun?
When you look up at the sky, it’s hard to imagine it being just another star like all the others twinkling in the night sky. And for that reason, it’s impossible to judge how far away the sun is from the Earth.
The answer is that it’s 93 million miles away from Earth. Let that sink in for a minute…!
To put that into perspective: If a jet aeroplane was travelling at 550 miles per hour, it would take a whopping 19 YEARS to get from the Earth to the sun. Even more mind-boggling, if you were heading to the sun in your family car, it would take you 177 years!
3. Is red sky REALLY a delight/warning?
I remember my mum quoting the proverb “Red sky at night shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning”. But why? This is again because of particles in our atmosphere.
High pressure can cause dust and particles to become trapped there they scatter the blue light making the red and yellow waves from the white sunlight more visible than the blue.
As for whether seeing them in the morning means anything? It does, but the proverb’s most reliable when weather systems predominantly come from the west as they do here in the UK. A red sky at sunset means high pressure is moving in from the west, so therefore the next day will usually be dry and pleasant.
“Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning” means a red sky appears due to the high-pressure weather system having already moved east meaning the good weather has passed, most likely making way for a wet and windy low-pressure system.
4. Where do those aeroplane patterns come from?
Now we have the colours sorted, what is the science behind those white trails left by aeroplanes? Those trails are called “contrails”, and they’re actually artificial clouds.
Contrails are formed by water vapour from the exhaust of an aircraft, which turns into billions of ice crystals when it hits the cold air outside. How long the contrail lasts depends on what the weather is like at the time.
Although pretty from down here, contrails are bad news for the climate. They interfere with radiation and in doing so contribute to increased temperatures in the atmosphere – i.e. climate change.
5. Why is the sea salty?
The truth is all water is salty – it’s just that “fresh” water has so little salt in it that our taste buds can’t detect it.
The amount of salt dissolved in the sea is huge! If you spread all the salt in the ocean over the land, it would be a staggering 500 feet deep! This came originally from volcanic ash and lava flowing into the water and the salts leaching out. The salt levels are maintained when fresh rainwater flows over rocks into the sea, absorbing more salt as it goes.
6. How are rainbows made?
There’s nothing quite like looking out to see a rainbow on a cold clear day. But where do they come from?
As you may already know, rainbows appear in the sky when it’s both sunny and rainy at roughly the same time. They’re formed when light hits water droplets in the air and is refracted (the scientific word for “bent”).
This mains the light that usually appears white-ish appears in all the colours it’s actually made up of (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet).
So, in a nutshell, when it rains, beams of sunlight shine towards the rain and gets bent, breaking it into colours. Each colour then leaves a raindrop at its own angle, which is different from all the others.
That might keep them quiet for five minutes…and of course, some questions our little ones ask simply can’t be answered easily. Check out local musician, Nick Cope’s song about little Joe who has a million-and-one questions for his parents to answer:
If your little curiositieers have more questions, why not get them a Tots, Nano Box subscription so they can begin to unearth their own answers!