Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Children Standing In Front Of... Rocks

Looking for the A To Z Challenge? That's not on this blog. It's on lit, a place for stories. Click the link to go there. But feel free to read this post!

Today, I take a brief detour from my ongoing like's work, "Children Standing In Front Of Art" (TM), to show you what the title promised:

We took a field trip, with Mr F's and Mr Bunches' first grade classes, to the Geology Museum at the UW-Madison downtown, and while I was skeptical that the museum would hold anything of interest to me (Quote: "Rocks. Eh.") I was wrong.

Partially, I was wrong because I forgot that the category "Things That Are Rocks" includes "Fossils," and "Meteorites" and partially I was wrong because even things that are very obviously rocks turn out to be pretty cool.

We began with a talk from the college guy at the left in front of a large globe the guide assured us was one of "5 or 6" in the United States" that are that big.  This guy kind of talked over the kids' heads (Quote: "Right, what you have is a political map, while this is geographical") and then warned the kids not to touch any glass because "It'll break," but he warned them so much and so direly that I began to feel that perhaps this glass was extra-fragile.

Then we divided up into groups. Our group started with fossils, like this:

Which you might take for a mere rock but which is actually billions of tiny fossilized microorganisms that piled on each other, died, and then were fossilized. That rock is about the size of me, curled up, and is 450,000,000 years old.

Also in that category was the picture at the top of this post, which is a segment of rock from the seabed, and which is 100,000 years old.  We showed that specifically to Mr F to see how interested he would be in it.

He looked at it.  Which for him is something, at least.

Mr F was more interested in the lab where they work on fossils, cleaning them and doing the mind-numbingly boring work to prepare them for display:

"Children Standing In Front Of Science."

Then the fossils got more fossil-like and less rocklike:

"Dads Standing In Front Of Rocks."


is a fossil of an early shark, and included in there are fossils of early turtles, etc., that had been in the shark's stomach and which were also fossilized.

Another fossil was even better:

"Tour Guides Standing In Front Of Fish Heads."

The tour guide was pretty up on what is a shark and what is not: she knew, for example, that the Whale Shark is a filter-feeder and not technically a shark, so these kids were learning a LOT today.

This was a big (5'x6') hunk of rock consisting of hundreds of fossilized Sea Lilies:

But when someone says fossils nobody really thinks "sea lilies and shark stomachs," right? They think:

Sadly, that is a reproduction and not the original bones, although I'm not sure why that matters. Is it better to see the actual rocks that are shaped like what a dinosaur's bones are, than a fake rock shaped the same way? It is, but I'm not sure why.

Let's see a kid standing in front of that!

They had a bunch of partial and whole skeletons of dinosaurs and other massive animals:

"Blurry Children In Front Of Out Of Focus Rocks"

"Technically: People Standing Under Rocks"

And I learned that the large animal is a pteranodon, not a pterodactyl, and I also learned that pterodactyls were only the size of chickens.


I wish we had chicken-sized pterodactyls still flying around. I wish ALL these things were still around. Stupid dinosaur-killing asteroid*

*assuming that is still where science is on that.
From there, it was back to "Things We All Instinctively Recognize As Rocks," like quartz and pyrite and other cool rocks.  This is where the SINGLE BEST QUESTION AND ANSWER EXCHANGE EVER happened.  I will give it to you verbatim:

Guide: Are there any questions?
Little boy *raises hand eagerly*
Guide:  Yes?
Little boy:  Once, I saw a movie, and there was this shark, he was a hammerhead shark, and he fought an octopus.

NAILED IT.  You just know that kid had been waiting to fit that story into something for a while now, and couldn't hold it back anymore.

Mr Bunches had earlier participated, too, during the original rock part where we learned about meteors, etc.  The guide had asked whether the kids knew if there were any rocks on Earth from other planets and the kids all agreed, yeah, of course, let's get on with it we know how the universe works, etc. and the guide said:

Who can name another planet that rocks are from?

And Mr Bunches raised his hand and said:

"The moon."

BINGO. He is right.  We know of about 1,000 pounds of moon rock that are present on Earth. (800+ brought back by the Apollo missions. USA! USA! We are the leading importer of Moon Rocks on EARTH. GO TEAM!)

But the guide was looking for Mars, as the answer, and got us there, and pointed to a tiny rock that I did not take a picture of out of deference to my skepticism, and here is why:

For a MARS rock to be on Earth, the following has to happen:

1. Something has to blow up on Mars sufficiently explosively to launch rocks out of the Martian atmosphere.
2. At least one of those launched rocks must then intersect with Earth's orbit.
3. Said rock must then fall to Earth without being burnt up.
4. Someone must find it.

Those are all VERY VERY improbable things.  VERY VERY VERY.  I googled the question "Has anyone ever witnessed an explosion on Mars launching rocks into space" and found no articles showing that this has ever been observed in the history of history, while there is evidence of such a thing happening on the Moon (the most recent was September 11, 2013, when a boulder-sized meteorite struck the moon at 37,900 miles per hour.

So I am not convinced that these are Mars rocks, despite what "science" says, and before you jump all over me as being unduly skeptical: brontosaurus.


The "basic" rocks were anything but -- they had a pretty good collection of interesting-looking things, and the kids were allowed to touch some of this stuff, stuff like:

A 1,300 pound slab of copper:

And a 320-pound meteorite:

"Children Actively Touching Space Rocks"
Although blurry, I included this because the kid on the left was being nice to Mr Bunches (on the right) and taking him to see "gold" (pyrite, but I didn't tell them that) AND the nice kid is the kid who told the hammerhead/octopus story.
He is an American hero.

From there, we moved to the "Rocks That Glow" room, where the guide explained that the reason white shirts glow under blacklight was because detergent uses things like phosphorus (a rock!) to get them white, and phosphorus glows under blacklight.  

Again, I was skeptical, mostly because nowadays many detergents are not white- or color-only, and we don't even separate our whites and colors anymore.  I didn't challenge the guide or anything, and having just looked it up, "How Stuff Works" says that really is how that part of stuff actually does work, which still leaves all kinds of unanswered questions, namely:

1. So why don't the phosphors in detergent make my blue jeans or whatever glow?

So, really, just ONE unanswered question.

The final thing was a cave. We were given a big talk about caves and how not to touch them in real life but you could touch this one and talk about stalactites and stalagmites and etc etc and then finally FINALLY were allowed to walk through the cave...

...which was like four feet long and contained very few of the things we had been warned about /promised.

With that, it was time for group photos of Mr F's class:

Mr F is in the orange. He is too cool to pay attention in photos.
 And Mr Bunches' class.

"Children Standing In Front Of A Scale Depiction of EVERY ROCK IN THE WORLD"


Robin said...

Sounds like you learned as much, or more, than the kids.

Love that kid who asked the question. As you say, he was just waiting for an opportunity to ask that one. Hahahaha. "An American Hero".... that is great.

Briane P said...

This is the part where I say, "Oh, no, the kids learned, they truly are the hopes of tomorrow, those little men and women..."

But yeah, I learned WAY more than they did. That's part of the thrill of being 45. When someone tells you something about rocks, you listen and learn. At 7, all you want to do is run up and touch that T.Rex skull.

Andrew Leon said...

I probably had a lot of things while I was reading this, but here's two:

1. Most fossils of dinosaurs in museums are no longer real. Basically, they couldn't keep people from touching them and trying to take pieces, so the real bones are kept "backstage," so to speak, and replicas are put on display. Kinda sucks, but that's how it is.

2. Science is divided on the whole death of the dinosaurs thing. Most paleontologists long ago (decades ago) decided that the asteroid thing doesn't work. Not as an extinction-level event, at any rate. According to paleontologists, it was climate change.
However, other branches of science, along with the public at large, still believe in the extinction-level asteroid and continue to try to prove how that could have worked. I heard a thing on NPR this past weekend about a physicist's theory about how the asteroid thing could have worked. It sounded cool, impressive even, and there were all kinds of experiments to backup his conclusion, but, really, it was dumb. For all kinds of reasons.

In short, though, when you are using science to try to prove a belief rather then using science to follow the evidence, you will always mess up. Even if you're right, you will mess up. Science doesn't work that way.

Rusty Carl said...

I loved the photo essay there. What a great day that was.

In difference to Andrew... I don't read a lot of work from paleontologists these days, but all the other branches of science I know of seem to think the Chicxulub impact crater certainly was a real thing, and coincided with the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

However, early paleontologists were sticking heads on the wrong ends of their specimens for some time too, so I'm not so sure how much confidence I'd place in them knowing in particular detail.

But the book I'm reading now, coincidently, by a biologist, says that the asteroid impact causing the extinction of the dinos is irrefutable (more or less) now. Weird for me, because I was reading that passage just today. Then I come here and you're talking about dinosaurs.

Although he also said they didn't go extinct at all, but became birds... so I'd like it a lot if he'd pick an answer and stick with it.

Andrew Leon said...

At best, the asteroid impact caused some chain of events that lead to climate change. Possibly, it was the asteroid that set the continents drifting apart? At any rate, there is no extinction-level event that explains the extinction of -just- dinosaurs. The explanations getting around that are clearly people trying to make the facts fit in with what they think happened rather than allowing the facts to lead them to an answer.

Charity Bradford said...

That actually sounds like a great field trip!

Rusty Carl said...

Andrew - I'm always nervous about jumping into a thing when I'm not really sure what the other person is talking about. So I'm not sure if we're really talking about the same thing.

I don't think anyone (sciency, at least) believes that the dinos were all happy with no issues at all, then the asteroid struck and 24 hours later there were none left alive on the planet.

I have read some folks that say dinos were already in decline when the asteroid hit. But regardless, the KT boundry is where the dinos disappear from the fossil record.

I think you'll, at some point, need to actually let me in on what you're talking about, because I don't think the physics of an impact of a 100 meter or larger asteroid is in doubt, it's a global catastrophe.

Andrew Leon said...

Actually, the thing I was listening to did say that. The dinos were wiped out, everything on the surface of the Earth, was wiped out in a matter of hours. The surface of the planet was burned clean by the asteroid. The physics, according to him, prove it.

I'll see if I can find a link, but I was listening to it on the radio.