Helix @ CSIRO

5 December 2016
by David

Counting by division

An electric calculator

A calculator is very handy for this activity

Let’s look at a few interesting patterns you can get by dividing. Some of these patterns need a lot of digits, so get the best calculator you can find.

If you have a computer with the internet handy, there are some good online calculators to use, such as wolframalpha.com. Some mathematicians might prefer to use long division with paper and a pen.

You will need

  • Calculator
  • Paper and pen (optional)

Continue Reading →

30 November 2016
by David

Spot the species difference

Two adult giraffes and a younger one.

Turns out giraffes are not all the same species!

Spare a thought for taxonomists. Their job is to separate life into groups, from the great kingdoms of plants to animals, all the way down to individual species. Sometimes they have an easy job. For example, brown bears are easy to distinguish from polar bears. Other times, the differences are harder to find, such as spotting the difference between giraffe species. Continue Reading →

22 November 2016
by David

Jet lagged sunflowers

A sunflower, in a field of sunflowers.

This bright flower can tell what time it is!
By Peter Heeling (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever flown overseas, you might have experienced jetlag. For example, daytime in London is night in Sydney, so your body can get very confused on a journey between the two. But jetlag isn’t just a human phenomenon, or even just an animal phenomenon. Turns out sunflowers can get jet lag too! Continue Reading →

18 November 2016
by David

Play Achi

A three by three grid of dots, connected by lines. Someoen is putting a counter on a dot.

Take it in turns to put a counter on the board.

You will need

  • An opponent to play against
  • A copy of the board
  • Four counters in one colour
  • Four counters in a second, different colour

What to do

The aim of the game is to get three counters of your colour in a straight line. If you do this, you win! Continue Reading →

14 November 2016
by David

We found Philae!

An artists impresssion of a thre legged alnder, and a blurry photo of the real thing.

An artists impression of Philae (left) and Rosetta’s Philae photo (right).

It’s been a wild ride through space for the Philae lander. Two years ago, Philae hitched a ride aboard the European Space Agency spacecraft Rosetta. Together they took a one-way trip to a comet known as 67P. This little lander became the first spacecraft to touchdown on a comet.

Unfortunately, Philae’s harpoons didn’t fire properly during landing, and it bounced into the shade. Without sunlight to charge its batteries, Philae shut down after only 64 hours of experiments. Continue Reading →

18 September 2016
by David

Hot top hat!

A big shiny dish.

ANU’s solar dish has a new top hat.
Image: Stuart Hay, ANU

Perched high atop a giant shiny dish, sits a strange top hat. This hat is filled with high pressure steam, and it’s the secret to efficient solar power that can work even after the Sun sets. Welcome to the world of concentrated thermal energy.

For several years, scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) have been harvesting heat energy from the Sun. Their big dish collects sunlight over a huge area and focuses it on a very small target. All that sunlight makes the target very hot – and that’s exactly what they want. Continue Reading →

16 September 2016
by David

Count to a million

Someone thinking, with a thought bubble counting up from 1.

Start by timing yourself counting to 100.

How long would it take to count to one million? Well you could just start a stopwatch and get to counting, but here’s how to work out if you’ll be done by dinner time.

You will need

  • Pen
  • Paper
  • Stopwatch

First estimate

A phone with a timer showing 20 seconds.

Remember to write down your time!

  1. Start by warming up your voice. Sing a few scales and practice your deep breathing.
  2. When you’re ready, grab your stopwatch, and time yourself counting from one to 100. Make a note of how many seconds it takes.
  3. Rest for a bit, try again, and then a third time. Record your time in seconds for each attempt. With three trials, you can calculate an average, or just take the middle value. Continue Reading →

26 August 2016
by David

Venus’ cool past

A picture of a planet with clouds and oceans.

450 million years ago, Venus may have been habitable
Image: NASA

In some ways, Venus is Earth’s twin – it’s the closest planet to Earth, and it’s almost exactly the same size. But poor Venus flies too close to the Sun. Brighter sunlight and a runaway greenhouse effect makes Venus unbearably hot, with temperatures averaging more than 450 degrees Celsius. But recent climate simulations suggest that Venus wasn’t always a terrifying hellscape. About 750 million years ago, it might have been just as mild and pleasant as Earth!

So how do we know what Venus’ weather was like? Scientists have developed complex computer programs to simulate the Earth’s atmosphere. These models are very useful in forecasting the weather, and also for predicting climate change. Recently, a team of NASA scientists adapted one of these models to look at the weather systems on Venus. Continue Reading →