Questions Kids Ask

By: Malena Esposito

Just imagine: you’re six years old, eating Cheerios, and watching Mickey Mouse. You ask your parents a question so ahead of your time that they don’t even know how to answer. Well, I do. Here’s five questions that you’ve always wanted answered, from “why is the sky blue?” to “why is the earth round?”

  1. Why is the sky blue?

When you look up at the sky, you might think you’re seeing nothing, but in reality, you’re actually seeing everything. This is because when white light shines through a prism (the prism being the ocean), all of the colors are separated and dispersed. However, light travels in waves, almost like the waves of the sea. Some are short and reach the shore quickly, but some are longer, and take more time to hit the sand. Blue light waves are shorter than red light waves, reaching our vision at a more rapid rate, causing us to see blue when we look up at the sky.

  1. Why do zebras have stripes?

Why couldn’t they have stars instead? And why black and white? Well, as it would turn out, it’s a pretty gray area. Over time, scientists have made several key hypotheses for this age-old question, which according to National Geographic, go as follows: To repel insects, to offer camouflage through their own optical illusion, to reduce body temperature, to confuse predators, and/or to help the animals recognize each other. However, a new study reveals that it may more likely be some of the above.

Biologist Brenda Larison and her team visited 16 African zebra populations, measured 29 environmental factors, and then proceeded to identify any correlation in stripe patterns. Out of the 29 factors, the two that remained prominent were “how consistent the temperature was in a particular area and the average temperature during the coldest part of the year.” In addition, Larison also discovered that air currents are absorbed faster over the black stripes and slower over the white stripes, which are used to cool the mammal down.

The study also elaborated on the theory that the stripes are used to repel insects. More stripes can be used as an obstacle for disease, because “disease-carrying biting flies, like horseflies tend to like it hot.” Additional studies have also concluded that biting flies and striped surfaces don’t mix, which reasserts the theory. Furthermore, Tim Caro has also conducted his own research to show that striping can correlate to repelling insects, and says that the horseflies can carry particularly unpleasant diseases, such as “equine influenza, which “is going to be more of a problem under warmer, wetter conditions.”

  1. Leap Year…Why…

To be honest, this is a concept I didn’t understand until about, oh, 10 seconds ago when I googled it. But I’ll save you the trouble and tell you the surprisingly sensible logic behind the obscure February 29th.

We say that the Earth revolves around the sun every 365 days, but it’s actually every 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds. Without Leap Years, over time, the calendar would slowly shift and the four seasons would not properly correlate with the traditional 12 months. (Which is actually already happening because of climate change but go ahead and tell me global warming isn’t real). If we didn’t have Leap Days, then within a century, the calendar would be off by 24 days.

This strange phenomenon was discovered by Ancient Egyptians, and then acted upon by the infamous Julius Caesar around 45 BCE. Every year, he would either add a day or double a day. However, because the Roman calendar ended with February, that would be the month with the extra day.

  1. Why is the worst grade an F and not an E?

This one had me stumped for years. My elementary-level self would always wonder if I was missing something, and then would say the alphabet in my head to make sure I wasn’t. The answer, however, can be traced all the way back to 1897.

Located in Massachusetts, the Mount Holyoke College—also known as one of the first female-only institutions—had a very obscure scale, which did indeed include an E. From 95-100, the grade would be an A, while B and C had a 10-point range, and D stood for a 75 and only that, with any grade lower being given the frightful E to represent failure.

However, since many students and parents thought that the E stood for “excellent,” the system was revised, ranging from 75-100 with a 5-point range per letter. Though it’s hard to track down the precise year, it can be estimated that the E became extinct by the 1930’s.

  1. Where’s My Water?

Whether it’s because your fish died or because you’ve just dropped your favorite toy down the drain, every kid tends to wonder where the toilet water goes.

Once you do the good ol’ flusheroskie, the water travels down the sewer pipes and makes its way to large septic tanks at sewage treatment plants. These tanks are filtered, cleaned, and treated to remove the toxic content and keep your home safe.

  1. Why is the Earth round?

Not going to lie, I’ve never spent too much time thinking about this question, but as soon as I found out the answer, I was SHOOK.

So, basically, the shape of Earth is determined by mass and gravity, but when mass attracts other mass, gravity is the result. However, since the Earth is actually huge, it’s gravitational force is immensely strong.

Scientists speculate that about 4.6 billion years ago, our solar system was solely made up of dust and gas clouds. Over time, gravity “pulled the matter onto itself,” which caused the substances to twist and lump together, which then created the sun, planets, and moons.

As for the Earth, the core was created first out of the most dense matter, followed by lighter pieces to form the crust. Because the sum of this mass was so large, the gravitational impact had to be equally as big, causing the spherical shape. Gravity performs uniformly, so any corners or uneven places would be drawn toward the Earth’s center to be balanced out.

In contrast, asteroids are often seen as jagged boulders. This is because their small shape does not permit a strong gravitational pull, causing their lack of roundness.

So, there you have it. Hopefully I’ve answered the burning questions you’ve had since birth. I know I’ve definitely learned quite a bit.

 

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