Tag Archives: space

An interdimensional mother-son story


Juniper’s Big Adventure

By Declan and his mom

Declan and I wrote this together by hand, passing the notebook back and forth, each taking a turn at contributing a line or two. He’s excited to share it. We hope you like it. 

Once upon a time, there was a jackal named Juniper, and he loved to bark at birds.

One day a toucan named Alfonso Frederico la Vesta visited him, carrying a mysterious briefcase.

Juniper attacked, as usual.

Alfonso Frederico la Vesta bopped Juniper on the head with his briefcase, which exploded into 100,000 pieces of glitter and 600 silver balloons.

Juniper hadn’t a ghost of an idea what was happening. He ran away.

The balloons followed him. The glitter swirled into a massive shiny funnel cloud.

After a while, the funnel cloud reached and picked up the jackal. He flew up into the sky and bounced on top of the funnel cloud like Super Mario™ for 317 miles. Then the funnel cloud flattened and lowered down to the ground.

Juniper landed in a strange place that had a chocolate marsh and trees that were made of staple guns and jigsaws.  They started to grow rapidly as the jackal came down.

Out of nowhere, a glowy castle emerged from the chocolate marsh. It had a moat that was made of liquid rainbow Skittles™. If you tried to swim across, the castle would catapult TNT jawbreakers, which exploded in a hot gooey mess. The castle seemed to enjoy targeting a particularly cranky bunny rabbit that was practicing ballet on the other side of the moat.

Juniper fell onto his bottom in awe, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. His eyes rolled back into his head for a moment.

A drawbridge made of Jolly Rancher™ candy dropped in front of Juniper that seemed to be just for him. As he walked into the castle, a giant Burple* monster with polka dots — which actually turned out to be UFO warp engines that were friendly — appeared.

One of the UFOs approached Juniper. The warp engine smiled at him, stuck out its tongue and licked the jackal on the nose, giving him the ability to make the moment become marshmallows. These marshmallows had tritanium in them, which made you fit and healthy.

“Wow, the present moment sure is sticky,” said Juniper. “But I feel like a million pronghorn bucks that have eaten unicorn milk that was impregnated by an interdimensional creature.**  Thanks!!!”

And so he went into the 2, 248th dimension, where everything flew by pooping rainbows from dimension zero.

“I feel kind of hungry for a pork chop,” thought Juniper.

Just at that moment, a cardboard foot flew into his mouth, but it tasted like lemonade.

“Delicious!” he thought.

Then Willy Wonka™ appeared and handed Juniper an infinite, updated version of his meal gum. He chomped it in his jaws and tasted the most delicious pork chop with applesauce that he had ever tasted. There was also steamed broccoli, a glass of high-pulp, fresh squeezed, not-from-concentrate orange juice and rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream.  He turned the shape of each food, but quickly sprang back into jackal form.

He decided to make a video/life portal to the Cookieverse™. He was so full of rhubarb pie, having just been rhubarb pie, that he simply gazed at the cookies lovingly.

Reluctantly (although he knew he could come back), he went out of there and onto television.

Whoosh! Juniper felt his body flicker. Suddenly he was transported onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise-E, next to Lieutenant Commander Data. He blinked and looked down and saw that he was wearing a red Starfleet shirt from the original series.  They were searching for the Borg.

“I wonder if this means I am nothing more than an incidental character – an infinitesimal membrane – in the universe…?” thought Juniper.


* A color that only exists in alternate dimensions.

** The unicorn milk is what was impregnated here, not the unicorn.

The collage/illustration is also a TZT & Declan collaboration.

P.S. Declan was very enthusiastic about writing this story, so please feel free to share it or leave him a comment if you are at all inclined.

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Team WhyMommy Virtual Science Fair

Known to the blogging world as WhyMommy, Susan Niebur is an astrophysicist, a mother to two young boys, an advocate for cancer education and research, and a survivor. Since 2007, she’s graciously, frankly and bravely let us into her life through her blog, Toddler Planet. She’s let her readers walk with her as she’s battled Inflammatory Breast Cancer and dealt with its physical and emotional fallout, all the while advocating for women in planetary science.

She’s had a recurrence, and is slated to have surgery today. So, to let her know that we’re all thinking about her – thinking of the whole of who she is, not just this tenacious disease she keeps kicking — Stimeyland is holding a virtual science fair. People have been making an effort to do something science related (with kids or on their own) and posting about it today in Susan’s honor.

If you read Tiny Mantras at all regularly, you might guess that I don’t go through a day without doing something science-related. And you’d be right.

So far this week, I’ve overseen the assembly of an anatomy floor puzzle and helped my son navigate CERNland — a kids’ site designed to explain particle physics and illuminate what the Large Hadron Collider is doing. We’ve snapped together models of the Ares Launch Vehicles that NASA is developing to take people back to the moon, and eventually to Mars. We’ve read Millions to Measure.

I thought I would compile a list of a few of my favorite posts about raising a science-inclined child and the things we’ve done to keep up with him, focusing particularly on Susan’s passion (also Declan’s) — space:

I gave birth to the whole universe — This is the way we tell a bedtime story.

Beginnings of a solar system magnum opus
– This is the way we write a song.

Sometimes, science makes us anxious. It makes us dream. We sleep in the rings of Saturn.

Every placemat, book and ball in our house has been part of the solar system at one point or another.

Space changed the way I look at art.

Halloween costumes — My son has actually been getting smaller every year. First he was space, then the solar system and last year he was Jupiter.

I once had to convince my son he was on Triton (Neptune’s moon) to get him to take a bath.

There is really nothing cuter than a 2-year-old talking about space or going through Hubble Space Telescope images or interpreting the world through space or warning you about impending doom.

Spaced out at NASA’s Plum Brook Station — This is a huge NASA site in Ohio that’s rarely open to the public, but they had an open house in 2008 and we went. We also like hanging out in Space Shuttle tires in Wapakoneta.

Here are some kids’ space books we love. Here is one Carnival of Space. And another.

Be well, Susan. Kick this cancer to the Kuiper Belt.

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Human worlds and Hello Kitties

One of Declan’s best friends at preschool is an extremely sweet little girl (I’ll call her Nora). The intensity of her smiles and happy bounces make it seem like she’s about to explode into a big, shimmering firework of pure joy when she tells me how much she likes my son.

She made him a gigantic valentine, replete with a big blue glass gemstone and a poem that she dictated to her mom about him. According to him, she wants to sit next to him every day at lunch. And he likes that. On the playground, they pretend they are Jack and Annie from the Magic Treehouse and go on adventures together.

The other day, her mom told me that Nora has been worried because when they grow up, Declan will no longer “live on the human world.” Declan’s affinity for space is known by pretty much anybody who knows him. She’s going to miss him a lot when he’s off on his galactic adventures, but she and another boy from their class will plan elaborate “welcome back to Earth” parties whenever he comes home for a visit.

Earlier this year, Dec started asking for Hello Kitty things. First he asked for band-aids, then stuffed Hello Kitties. He has one dressed in a lamb costume and another in a panda costume. They go most places with us, especially to his school. He feeds them at mealtimes. He puts them in the cupholders of his car booster to keep them safe. He tells me what they are thinking. He sleeps with them.

It’s been hard for me to figure what makes him so attached to them. Until I asked him one day in the car.

“I told you, it’s because all of the girls in my class love Hello Kitty so much,” he told me.

He loves the ladies, my boy. He wants to stay in their good graces. He’s a four-year-old that’s begun to unravel the mysteries of social currency with so little self-consciousness.

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Interview at Mama Joules’ place

If you are looking for ideas about how to engage children with science, Mama Joules has got resources and fresh ideas about everything from physics to geology to gardening. I plan to make her site a regular destination.

She and I exchanged emails through the crazy holiday time, and she’s published an interview with me about keeping up with a child whose scientific interests are greater than those of his/her parents. It was a lovely opportunity for me to reflect on the parts of motherhood I expected the least – those that have required me to become an amateur astronomer.

I also think it’s super cool to be among the ranks of her interview subjects, which also include the President of the National Tarantula Society and a beekeper.

Check out Meet Jupiter’s Mother. That’s the first part, here is the second.

I’ll update this post and Twitter (@TinyMantras) when part two is published.

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I gave birth to the whole universe

I decided to make up a bedtime story last night, choose-your-own adventure style.

Me: “Once upon a time, there was a boy named… Antonio or Declan?”

Declan: “Declan!”

Me: “This boy Declan grew up to become a… paleontologist or astronaut? Which should he be?”

Declan: “A paleontologist goes around looking for dinosaur bones and putting them back together to make, like, T-Rex.”

Me: “True. So is that what you’d like to be? Or an astronaut?”

Declan: “I don’t want to be those. I want to be something I want to be.”

Me: “Like what?”

Declan: “Space.”

Me: “Space? Like… all of space? The universe?”

Declan: “Yes. Space.”

Me: “Uh… okay… Once upon a time there was a little boy named Declan who was actually all of space. He was as big as everything and expanded a lot while stars and galaxies and planets formed inside of him. He watched the Earth as it started to form, and people started to evolve…”

Declan: “I couldn’t do that. Everybody knows that space doesn’t have eyes. It can’t watch anything. It just is. It’s everywhere.”

Me: “Uh… okay. One day he yawned, and 14 stars and 732 planets were sucked into his mouth.”

Declan: “No. Only a black hole could do that.”

Me: “Well if you were all of space and you yawned, wouldn’t that be like a really big black hole?”

Declan: “Maybe. But space doesn’t have a mouth. It doesn’t have any kind of face.”

Me: “Well what would you do if you were space, then?”

Declan: “Nothing. Just be.”

Me: “Okay. Where would those stars and planets go if you yawned? What would space’s stomach be like?”

Declan: “Maybe nowhere. Maybe another dimension. They would be spaghettified. We just don’t know where they would go.”

Me: “Okay. So maybe they would go into space’s stomach! So… Declan, who was all of space was just hanging out, just being everywhere and expanding while the stars formed…”

Declan: “And the stars made people.”

Me: “Okay. The stars made people on Earth…”

Declan: “Now say that mommy and daddy and Declan were born on Earth.”

Me: “Mommy and daddy, who lived on Earth, decided to have a baby, and Declan, who was actually all of space…? Was born?”

Declan: “That’s right.”

Me: “Okay, so, mommy and daddy had a baby who was actually all of space, but they didn’t know that, and he tried to tell them all about the universe.”

Declan: “Babies can’t talk.”

Me: “No, but he tried. He said “ooo” and “da” and “thpppphhh” but they didn’t start to understand until he learned to say words.”

Declan: “Then he taught you about the universe. That’s what you say. You didn’t know about it until I was born. You didn’t even know that after Pluto there was Eris and Ceres until I watched shows and told you.”

Me: “And read books. That’s true. So… Declan came along and learned to talk and started to teach everybody about space and the universe.”

Declan: Nods.

Me: “And then a giant sea lion — bigger than anything, bigger than all of space — that was made out of happiness came along and swallowed the enormous Declan and everything in the universe, including everyone on Earth, became very peaceful and happy because it was very cozy in the sea lion’s stomach.”

Declan: “No!” (Laughing)

Me: “Why not? Sometimes scientists talk about our universe actually being a small part of something even bigger.”

Declan: “Okay.”

Me: “Phew. The end.”

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Carnival of Space #129

Welcome to the 129th Carnival of Space!

I’m thrilled to have another opportunity to host this great showcase of space-related blog posts.

For those of you that are visiting Tiny Mantras for the first time, I’m a freelance writer and mother to a fanatical four-year-old astronomer. His interest in space has been unyielding for as long as he’s been able to talk. Therefore, I spend a lot of time reading astronomy blogs to try and become more scientifically literate, as well as riding imaginary space elevators out to Proxima Centauri and other stars in search of exoplanets. And smoothing flour and cocoa powder in a large bin so my son can throw rocks in it and make craters. Or making special trips to Big Lots to buy a bright yellow bucket for a $1 so he can keep his pretend meteor collection safe. You get the idea.

For my regular readers, I hope you’ll dig in here and learn something new about our universe. We’re entering the final weeks of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), so hurry up and get your Galileo on.

Speaking of IYA, the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope decided to honor it by combining their significant forces to create a stunning image of the core of our Milky Way galaxy. You can read more about it, find links to the image and plenty of additional info at the Chandra X-Ray Observatory blog, as well as at Dynamics of Cats.

Alan Boyle of MSNBC’s Cosmic Log calls it Triple delight in the Milky Way, with this description: “NASA has blended three views of our home galaxy’s turbulent core to produce a picture filled with scientifically significant snap, crackle and pop. And the deeper you go into the image, the more you learn.”

Boyle also sends Marvelous view … and a mystery: “Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft is making its final flyby past Earth on its way to an asteroid and a comet – a close encounter that should yield beautiful pictures of our home planet, and perhaps the answer to a cosmic mystery as well.”

If you’re preparing to do some holiday shopping for the younger set, Emily Ladkawalla of The Planetary Society Blog has reviews of several space-themed books for young children.

Mang’s Bat Page has a review of the National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Night Sky.

Nicole of One Astronomer’s Noise improvised an astronomy lesson with a group of elementary school kids by becoming a mythical creature in Unicorns and Starry Nights.

In hopes of reaching a wider community, The Lunar and Planetary Institute is putting images on flickr. First up: planetary size comparisons, such as Mars’ massive volcano Olympus Mons against the state of Wyoming, or Earth against Neptune’s great dark spot.

Next Big Future looks at the details and implications of the 100 kilograms of water ice found in the plume of the LCross crater impact.

Ian Musgrave of Astroblog has a guide to observing the Leonid meteor shower.

collectSpace gives us the scoop on a contest that NASA is holding for past and present space program workers to design a patch that will mark the end of the space shuttle era.

Weird Warp contemplates what it would be like to Take an Asteroid to the Stars and Arrive in Second Place.

Centauri Dreams sends the two-part report on the Project Icarus starship symposium, which was recently held in London: Part I & Part II. (Project Icarus is a joint effort between the British Interplanetary Society and the Tau Zero Foundation to update the classic Project Daedalus starship study of the 1970s.)

“Variable star junkie” Mike Simonsen of Simostronomy talks about documenting UGZs, weeding out impostors and other goals of The Z CamPaign.

Ian O’Neill of Astroengine.com and Discovery News considers the possibility of tiny, man-made black holes.

Cheap Astronomy delivers part 2 of its Greenhouse Earth podcast.

Colony Worlds
n> lets us know that Off World Colonies Will Have Organ Labs (But No Organ Donors).

Kentucky Space shipped a couple of space systems recently to NASA: “one destined from Wallops and a suborbital launch to test some hardware that will be used on our orbital craft, KySat-1, and the second, a Nanorack/Cubelab combination, destined for Marshall and a Shuttle launch to the ISS. The innovative Nanoracks and Cubelab platform dramatically lowers the cost to organizations wanting to do microgravity research on the station. We’re very excited. In short, it was a great weekend and the team celebrated with an open house on the campus of the University of Kentucky.”

And lastly, Alice of Alice’s Astro Info provides an in-depth, spoilerific review of the apocalyptic, virtually science-free Hollywood disaster-thon, 2012.

If you’re interested in perusing past carnivals or submitting to one in the future, visit Universe Today for details.

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A Gigantic, Happy Halloween

Do you know where in the universe you might find this?
400 years ago, Galileo concluded that it was orbiting this:
And with that, humanity took a giant step toward the realization that Earth isn’t the center of the universe.

We’ve had a full week of being Jupiter. At parties. Out trick-or-treating. At school. At Perkins Observatory. Sometimes with Europa-esque cracked-ocean face paint, but mostly without. He even won honorable mention for his costume at our neighborhood party last weekend. We thought about festooning his cheeks with volcanoes à la Io, but with all of this Halloweening, Declan has mostly told me “I feel like being just Jupiter today.”

Although, in moments, Venus, Pluto and Neptune’s moon Triton have monopolized his attention, he has loved Jupiter for more than half of his four-year-old life.

Meanwhile, I’ve been a little stunned to discover how alien the biggest planet in our solar system is to most adults. We would have had a much easier time with instant recognition if he’d wanted to be Saturn or Earth. I thought the extra big great red spot would be a good clue, but even the people who squealed about what a great idea it was for a kid to be Jupiter didn’t know much about its features.

He did school more than one grown-up as he trick-or-treated (including me). He let them know that all of the other planets in the solar system could fit inside of his. He told me that when you entered his atmosphere, it would smell like rotten eggs, which I surely did not know.

Mostly, though, he just shrieked with joy, heralding each new piece of candy that he got (with the exception of the person who gave him after dinner mints). This was the view of him and his mouse partner in candy mooching that we had for 99 percent of beggar’s night on Thursday:

Last night, when we went to Perkins Observatory, he was well appreciated. and he got to stand up in front of the crowd to help illustrate Jupiter’s features before stealing a quick look at his giant self in the telescope. It was a perfect celebration of both Halloween and the International Year of Astronomy (which we didn’t get to observe with the rest of the world last weekend due to rainy weather.)

This could be our last space-themed Halloween costume. Last year he was the solar system. The year before that, he simply wanted to be “space” (Phase I and II.) When we chatted about it last night, one of the astronomers noted that he seems to be getting smaller each Halloween. At this rate, he’s could be Eros or Eris next year.

Declan has told me that he wants to be some scary stabby person next year, I think because he’s mostly mild-mannered and would like to try being scary on for size. We’ll see what interests and fears another year brings. But Jupiter will live in a chest full of dress-ups, alongside his NASA uniform, space helmet, Star Trek: TNG captain’s uniform, and the shimmery capes and fabrics that take him on daily journeys to places no preschooler has gone before.

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One way to recycle a tire from NASA

This is a tire that was used on the front landing gear of the Space Shuttle Endeavor on a 1994 mission. I saw at least seven or eight kids of multiple ages do some variation of this kind of play (at the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta).

What a cool way to get closer to space.

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