Is There a Link Between Gratitude and Happiness?

The traditional Japanese tea ceremony is steeped in gratitude. According to the official tea ceremony etiquette, called the Chado or the Way of the Tea, attendees must focus their words and actions on appreciating their surroundings, their company and the steaming green beverage they sip on. This ancient protocol relates to the practice of kei,…

When Krakatoa Blew: How the 1883 Eruption Changed the World

In May 1883, the captain of the German warship Elisabeth observed a column of smoke and ash that he estimated be 6.8 miles (1.97 kilometers) tall, rising into the sky over an uninhabited mountainous island in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. "Ash fell so thickly as to obscure the sun," according…

‘What Day Is It Again?’ The Psychology of Tuesday

In the early part of the 21st century, psychologist Dr. David A. Ellis performed possibly the shortest experiment in the history of the social sciences. He gathered 65 randomly selected test subjects, invited them into his office one by one and asked them this fateful question: "What day is it today?" That's it, thank you.…

How to Find Orion’s Belt in the Night Sky

As you learn more about the night sky, you've undoubtedly noticed three stars, equidistant from one another, that shine brightly as they pass overhead each night between October and March. These three stars are Orion's Belt, part of the constellation Orion, the Hunter. To many ancient people, the pattern of Orion looked like the figure…

Why Talking Politics With Your Drunk Uncle Is a Great Idea

It's just past election season in the United States, so there's a good chance you've had a conversation with your friend/mom/boss/insurance agent in which they say something and you think, "Whoa, that's messed up." At this point, of course, you have two choices: You can argue or nod politely and try to change the subject.…

How Fractals Work

Fractals are a paradox. Amazingly simple, yet infinitely complex. New, but older than dirt. What are fractals? Where did they come from? Why should I care? Unconventional 20th century mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot created the term fractal from the Latin word fractus (meaning irregular or fragmented) in 1975. These irregular and fragmented shapes are all around…

What Causes Petrichor, the Earthy Smell After Rain?

Most people notice a distinctive smell in the air after it rains. It's frequently linked with spring, as the smell of fresh-cut grass is associated with summer. You'll find it in a lot of poetry and also on many inspirational lists of things to be happy about. The scientific name for it is petrichor, and…

Astronomers Tell You How and Where to Best View Meteor Showers

Throughout history, ancient peoples have witnessed meteor showers in awe and attributed special meaning to them. Sometimes they saw these blazing streaks of light as signs that doomsday was nigh; others posit that the star mentioned in the birth of Jesus was actually a comet. These days, we mostly see meteors for what they are…

Leonid Meteor Shower: What You Need to Know

From the vantage point of space, meteor showers are just trails of space trash, tiny bits of rock and ice left behind by comets as they race through the cosmos. But when our planet passed through those streams of junk as it revolves around the sun, the pieces of comet debris — some of them…

Why We Need Artificial Gravity for Long Space Missions

Imagine that you're inside a vehicle — or other machine — spinning around so fast that the force presses your body against the wall or seat. As you spin faster and faster that pressure forcing you against the wall increases (and conversely it decreases as the spin slows down). The weight feels just like the…

What Are the Steps of the Nitrogen Cycle?

Everybody needs nitrogen, but as far as non-negotiable, life-sustaining elements go, it's tricky. Living things require nitrogen for their cells to function and, furthermore, we are virtually steeping in the stuff since our atmosphere is made up of 78 percent nitrogen gas. However, there's a catch: It's a "water, water everywhere, but not a drop…

Hematite, the Shape-shifting Mineral Used From the Stone Age to Today

As the foremost source of iron on the planet, hematite has shaped civilizations for thousands of years. The mineral was first used as the main pigment in cave paintings often having a reddish hue, a signature trait of hematite. Later, it was – and still is – the primary source of iron, shifting the world…