Recently, it was cold enough in our area for my young children to see their breath in the morning, which inevitably led to the question of why they could. As the children in your life observe the world around them and seasonal changes in it, you may be fielding similar questions. We get them at the Library, too! Our Science, Technology and Business Division created a website, Everyday Mysteries, to share answers to many of life’s interesting questions through scientific inquiry, and to introduce you to the Library of Congress’s rich collections in science and technology. All of the questions on the site were asked by researchers and answered by librarians from the Library’s Science Reference Services. You and the children in your life can use the online form to ask your own question, too.
Here are a few sample questions and answers from the site related to winter and the Christmas holiday season. Click on each link to find a more detailed explanation and to see related images and other materials from the collections.
Questions related to snow and cold weather:
- Why do I see my breath when it’s cold outside? Answer: Cold air causes the warm moisture in our breath to condense into tiny droplets of water that appear like a small, misty cloud.
- Is it true that no two snow crystals are alike? Answer: The scientific consensus states that the likelihood of two large snow crystals being identical is zero.
Questions related to seasons:
- Why is it hot in summer and cold in winter? Answer: Because the earth’s axis is tilted.
- What is a blue moon and is it ever really blue? Answer: “Once in a blue moon” is a common expression that has been used for a long time, and which means ‘not very often,’ or ‘very rarely.’ It often refers to an extra full moon; however, it has been used to describe the way the moon actually looked, when for different reasons it had turned a blueish color.
Questions related to the North Pole:
- Is polar bears’ fur transparent? Answer: Yes! Most sources indicate that the long, coarse guard hairs, which protect the plush thick undercoat, are hollow and transparent. The thinner hairs of the undercoat are not hollow, but they, like the guard hairs, are colorless.
- What are the northern lights? Answer: The northern lights, one of several astronomical phenomena called polar lights (aurora polaris), are shafts or curtains of colored light visible on occasion in the night sky.
Question related to Christmas:
- Who invented electric Christmas lights? Answer: Thomas Edison and Edward Johnson (1880 &1882) and Albert Sadacca (1917).
Enjoy, and find many more at //www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/
What a timely post! Just yesterday my 8-year-old also asked why she can see her breath, and she’ll love reading about these other everyday winter mysteries, too. Thank you!