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E-Adventure into Astronomy

Earth... the giant magnet

Our Earth is like a gigantic magnet. It has lines of magnetic force and it's strongest at each pole and weakest at the middle, which is called "the equator."

Did you know that the earth also has electricity in it? It does! The center of the earth is filled with very hot rock, so hot that it's melted. This melted rock is made up of metals nickel and iron. These two metals are capable of letting electricity run all through the center of the earth.

Scientists have measured the electricity in and around the earth. They have determined that the electricity on the surface of the earth has a negative charge and that the air above the earth, called the atmosphere, has a positive charge.

Where does the electricity come from? No, not from flying aliens, but from our sun!

The sun shoots out rays of light that warm us and make our plants grow. These rays of light are also called solar radiation and cause the air above the earth to be filled with a special type of electricity. This special type of electricity moves in waves, similar to waves on the ocean, only we can't see them. We can see changes in the waves, though, called thunderstorms and lightning.

Remember magnets and how opposite charges attract? Well, the earth has a negative charge and the air above it has a positive charge...you guessed it...the negative charge in the air is shifted to the positive charge on the earth during thunderstorms.

Looking at Space

Scientists who study stars and planets are called "astronomers." They use special instruments called transits to watch the movement of stars in the universe. "Transit" is a special word that means "passage" or "movement through."

The transit that astronomers use is a telescope with tiny wires in it to help astronomers see how the stars move in relation to the earth.

Electricity helps the transit work. The scientists try to mark the very instant of time when a star passes one of the tiny wires. When it happens, they touch a tiny electric key on the transit. At the same time, a swinging marker makes a dot on a piece of paper. The distance between the mark made by the scientist and the dot made by the marker are measured, and that's what gives scientists the information about the star.


Ever wonder how satellites way up in space keep on working and sending back information? They use a special type of electricity made by solar cells. These solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. Solar cells help satellites send pictures to Earth. These pictures tell researchers about the weather. Watch the evening news and notice when the weather person says, "Now, let's look at the satellite pictures for our area." Those pictures were beamed down from many thousands of miles above your neighborhood!






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