In last week’s episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart, I talked about why the moon orbits the Earth. If you haven’t watched it yet, give it a look. I’ll wait.

There’s some pretty interesting astrophysics keeping the moon orbiting Earth and not getting gobbled up by the sun, eh. But I left one thing out of that video. The moon doesn’t really orbit the Earth. Strictly speaking, the moon and the Earth orbit each other.  

Just like the Earth exerts a gravitational force on the moon, the moon and its mass are “tugging” right back on us. As a result, the two bodies are actually orbiting a point in between, called the barycenter.

If you’ve ever watched pairs figure skating, you’ve seen this in action. When spinning through this move, called a “death spiral”, the two skaters are actually rotating around a barycenter in between their two centers of mass:

This is true of any two orbiting objects, whether it’s a pair of binary stars, a planet and its star, or a planet and its moon(s). You can think of it just like a playground see-saw, with the masses and distance between the two orbiting objects determining where the “balance” point is. 

The Earth/Moon barycenter is about 1,700 km beneath the crust:

Jupiter, despite being more than five times farther from our central star than Earth is, is so massive that its barycenter lies outside of the Sun:

The Earth-Sun barycenter, on the other hand, is effectively in the center of the sun. Our mass is just peanuts compared to that of that huge burning ball of hot gas:

When two orbiting bodies have similar masses and are relatively close to each other, it can be tough to figure out who’s orbiting whom. This is one reason that some astronomers think Pluto and its moon Charon are more of a double-dwarf-planet system:

Scientists use the see-saw physics of barycenters to study planets in distant solar systems, observing these wobbly waltzes to discover planets that we can’t see with telescopes.

The dig deeper into this cool bit of astrophysics, check out this article from my friend Chris Crockett. And cue the Dead or Alive


The above are fasciated daisies. Fasciation is most often recognized by the flattened, fused appearance of stems, but can also be seen in flowers, roots and fruits. While fasciation affects the plant’s appearance, it has little affect on the health of the plant. 

There are multiple causes of fasciation. First, it can be caused by a bacterium (Rhodococcus fascians) that mimics the plant’s natural chemicals for controlling cell growth and development causing the unusual growth. Second, it can be caused by physical damage to the meristem tissue where growth is initiated.

The physical damage to the meristem usually occurs when the plant is a seedling and may be caused by an insect, herbicide, or physical contact. Thirdly, fasciation can be caused by a recessive gene. (Source)

The Solar Impulse 2 has only one seat, a wingspan of over 236 feet, and weighs about as much as an average car. That’s a larger wingspan than a Boeing 747, but only about 1% of a Boeing’s weight.  It flies solely on solar power, which powers the plane and charges the battery that keeps the plane flying through the night. (Source)

Manhattanhenge Returns!

For Manhattan, a special day comes twice a year, when the setting Sun aligns precisely with the Manhattan street grid, creating a radiant glow of light across Manhattan’s brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough’s grid. A rare and beautiful sight.

For best effect, position yourself as far east in Manhattan as possible. But ensure that when you look west across the avenues you can still see New Jersey. Clear cross streets include 14th, 23rd, 34th. 42nd, 57th, and several streets adjacent to them. The Empire State building and the Chrysler building render 34th street and 42nd streets especially striking vistas.

Here are the dates for Manhattanhenge 2015:

Half Sun on the Grid

  • Friday, May 29 8:12 P.M. EDT
  • Monday, July 13 8:21 P.M. EDT

Full Sun on the Grid

  • Saturday, May 30 8:12 P.M. EDT
  • Sunday, July 12 8:20 P.M. EDT

Learn more about Manhattanhenge from the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The American robin lent its name to a striking shade of blue, but the vivid hue may have been colouring eggs long before the bird evolved – perhaps long before any birds evolved. It may have appeared in the dinosaur ancestors of birds that lived 150 million years ago.

Continue Reading.

rationalhippie zapytał(a)::

I think #girlswithtoys just proved that women in stem issue is baseless, and all this hyperbolic "women don't go to stem because sexism" has zero credibility. Look at all these female scientists!!! All of them exceptions?

You’re so wrong its laughable. The reason the hashtag is important is because it highlights successful women in STEM careers which gives aspiring scientists role models and encouragement to succeed. Are you really arguing that a few thousands photos of women in Science suddenly means that women are equal in STEM fields? Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’m a man, and even I understand this. I am the one who has been creating and sharing these photosets ( shychemist is my personal blog), because I realize how important movements like this are. Even when women get into stem fields, rampant sexism, discrimination and unequal treatement can push them out.

Any opportunity I get I will encourage women in STEM fields. They deserve to be there and succeed just as much as a man.

Let me educate you:


Columbia Business School experiments show that hiring managers chose men twice as often for careers in science, technology, engineering and math

Bias Persists for Women of Science, a Study Finds

Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills, a new study by researchers at Yale concluded.

As a result, the report found, the professors were less likely to offer the women mentoring or a job. And even if they were willing to offer a job, the salary was lower.

This is a must read which goes deeply into why women are discouraged and discriminated against in STEM fields:

Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?

Here’s some more:

Women Deterred From Many Fields by Stereotypes of ‘Brilliance’

Teacher Prejudices Put Girls Off Math, Science

Sexual Harassment and Assault Prove Common During Scientific Field Studies

Women Scientists Share Their Awful Stories Of Sexism In Publishing

Sexism In Science? UK Study Finds Women Scientists Get Fewer Grants, Less Funding Than Male Counterparts

Gender Inequality in STEM Fields

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, fields are exceedingly male dominated with women making up only 24 percent of such occupations in the United States. Starting from a young age, girls are made to believe that their abilities are not sufficient enough satisfy the requirements in such ‘complicated’ fields and that boys are just more suitable for such jobs. Many are taught and that even if they were to take interest in such subjects, it would be unnecessary since the fields are male dominated and they would never be able to excel in them. Overall societal pressures and expectations force women to conform to gender norms that hinder their participation and development in STEM fields. Gender inequality in STEM fields reflect hierarchical system that further discourages women from working in them.

Gender disparities in scientific field expectations start at a young age. Researchers such as Sadker and Zittleman suggest that the classroom environment in elementary schools often favor boys over girls as studies showed that “teachers called on boys more, commented more on their work, and praised them more” , creating a discouraging environment for young girls making them feel less competent in academic fields. Corroborated by researcher, Andre found that boys in the same grade feel they have a higher proficiency in physical sciences than girls , leading to girls in grades 4-6 often feeling that boys are better at math and sciences, particularly physical sciences. A decrease in science ability perception for students in grades 5-8 existed for girls only ; these misconceptions reflect career aspirations as a report by the US Department of Education found that, “boys were more than twice as likely as girls to aspire to be scientists or engineers (9 and 3 percent, respectively)” as early as the eighth grade . This evidence points to a societal perception that young girls experience and believe that science is for boys and not for girls. While these girls were taught names of great scientists such as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Galileo Galilei, all who were males, they were never exposed to any female professionals in such fields. Without any women role models to look up to, the girls were subconsciously made to believe that women were just not fit to do such jobs. This perception continued to exist in the home as well as the school with even parents having higher expectations for boys’ scientific abilities ; girls had no place to stand in STEM subjects.

Even after entering STEM majors, women continue to face societal pressures and negative stereotypes about their abilities in colleges. A survey of college freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute showed that 29 percent of male freshmen planned to enter STEM majors while only 15 female freshmen planned to enter similar majors. Gender roles tie women to certain fields even within STEM that are more generally seen as jobs for ‘caregivers’ as seen in 1999 while 4 percent of women and 20 percent of men planned to major in computer science and engineering, in biological or health sciences, the percentages between men and women were very similar. At post-secondary level, women were less likely to earn a degree in STEM fields than men, with the exception to this gender imbalance is in the life sciences. Historically biological sciences were tied with medical fields that were seen as ‘nurturing’ acts, tied with women’s place in society. This ties back in with women’s childhoods in which they were encouraged to believe that they did not have the mental capacity to analyze mathematical concepts as sufficiently as boys. This has nothing to do with actual ability, however as, on average, high school girls take more math and science credits and earn higher grades in these subjects than boys. Women also have higher GPAs on average than men in all majors, including STEM majors. The fact that there is no disparity between men and women in their STEM ability, and that elementary school girls and boys generally have equal interest in science suggests that there are societal expectations prevent women from entering STEM majors as they mature.

The workforce also demonstrates gender inequality in STEM fields. This inequality is often measured by the pay gap, as “women working full time in engineering and architecture earned only about 93 percent of what their male colleagues earned. While women engineers and architects earn an average of 105 percent of their male colleagues in their first year out of college, attributing to efforts to encourage girls to enter engineering fields, this gap soon reversed over time. As much as 38% of female students who remained in STEM fields expressed concerns that they would be in a better financial situation if they had not taken up these male dominated careers, leading them to experience less satisfaction with the workplace environment in STEM fields than men as evidenced by their greater faculty turnover (Xu 2008). Despite women being equally committed to their jobs, the STEM workplace is more supportive to men than women. At work, the bosses expect less participation in the job from women than from men (Xu 2008), suppressing them from expressing their full potential. Even after thirty years since Congress’s outlawing of sex discrimination in education, the gender divided in career and technical education (CTE) has narrowed barely at all (Toglia 2013).

With constant suppression from society, women cannot prosper or enter as a dominant figure in scientific fields. To allow more women to participate in such fields, it is essential that the same academic opportunities are given to girls as the boys at an early stage at their lives. Without an equal distribution of gender in specific STEM roles, a hierarchical society will continue to build, going against the foundation of American ideals focusing on equality for all. Women are constantly undermined for their abilities to perform adequately in technological fields and are forced to conform under such misconceptions. The patriarchal stereotypes trap women seeking an opportunity in STEM fields in the United States of America.

Works Cited
Toglia, Thomas V. “Gender Equity Issues In CTE And STEM Education.” Tech Directions 72.7 (2013): 14-17. Academic Search Complete. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

Xu, Yonghong. “Gender Disparity In STEM Disciplines: A Study Of Faculty Attrition And Turnover Intentions.” Research In Higher Education 49.7 (2008): 607-624. Academic Search Complete. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

I really could go on and on and on, but I really hope this is enough. I encourage you and everyone else to read all about this and leave your prejudiced notions behind.