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Engaging Methuen Readers


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Eyes on the Sky

Did you know that Nevins Library is now loaning a telescope kit? It’s true! We’re loaning a giant box of optical wonder complete with a real live telescope, an instruction book, a pair of binoculars, and a couple of pillows in case you get tired. Stargazing does tend to happen quite late at night.

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The telescope, snugly nestled in its bin, waiting for you to borrow it

There’s a wait list right now, but the sooner you get on it, the sooner you can get your star

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The telescope, ready to stargaze

fix. Contact us about that. Meanwhile, here are a few things you can look for when you turn your gaze to the heavens above us. Or, since we’re really just riding a tiny sphere that is screaming pell mell through the endless void of space, the heavens that are all around us. All the time. Even when we can’t see them through the comforting blue illusion that is our sky.

Enjoy!

Constellations

In the olden days, before TV, people still wanted to watch “Adventure Time” all night. That’s when we first cast our eyes starward and made up awesome stories about all the rad dudes and dudettes who lived in the sky. This was, like, the nineties. We didn’t know any better.

1068424Today, we still look at constellations because sometimes Netflix is slow. Start with Robin Scagell and David Frydman’s Stargazing with Binoculars, your all-in-one guide to observing the universe from an ocularly enhanced perspective. Of course, for more lore about the stars themselves, you might want to check out Mike Lynch’s Minnesota Star Watch, a vividly colorful book that will give you a thing or two to look at in the night sky.

Planets

The word “planet” originally meant “wanderer.” That’s because, while stars always appear to be in the same positions relative to one another night after night, the planets zip around the sky in predictable, but more dramatic, patterns. They’re also impossibly beautiful and pristine otherworlds, powerful testaments to the grandeur of nature. And humans might live there someday. Think about that. Someday, 966360the majestic desolation of Mars could have dog parks and McDonalds and registries of motor vehicles and smog.

But until you can drive through Olympus Mons for a spaceburger, learn about the planets with Dava Sobol’s The Planets, a journey through the solar system that doesn’t even require you to leave your chair. Sobol is also a fantastic writer who will keep you gazing at the page for as long as you’ll gaze at the planets.

The Past and Future of our Universe

Did you know that when you look at the stars, you’re looking into the past? It’s true! Light itself takes a long time to travel from the far-flung reaches of the universe, meaning that when it reaches your eyes it’s been on the road for long enough that it’s definitely run out of car games and music. (Our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, is four years away if you’re traveling at the speed of light. We estimate that light from this star listens to Dizzy Up the Girl by the Goo Goo Dolls over 94 million times over the course of its trip to your 667725eyeball. Do not judge its musical tastes. It’s been out of the loop for a while.)

And if that blows your mind, think about this: when does that light ever stop? And what happens when it does?

The universe is a wild and wooly place, and a telescope is only the key to its box of wonders. Stephen Hawking is on hand to explain it to you in The Universe in a Nutshell, and if you want more of the crazy awesomeness that is reality, check out Simon Singh’s The Big Bang: the origin of the universe, too.

Aliens

Yes, aliens! Statistically speaking, they’re out there somewhere, but why the big hush? Where are our interstellar neighbors? Are we not forthcoming enough with the welcome 1220933cookies?

Maybe not. According to Paul Davies, chairman of the SETI Post-Detection Task Group, the lack of contact with alien life could mean any number of things. He lays it all out in his book, The Eerie Silence. In it, he does not suggest cookies. However, in my humble experience, a little thoughtfulness goes a long way. If you happen to see any interstellar visitors while gazing into the night sky, remember that. Aliens deserve a welcome wagon, too.

 

 

Contact the Nevins Memorial Library to reserve the telescope today!


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Database Spotlight Special: Science Online

Who doesn’t want to know more about the world around us? I know I do, and if you’re like me, you like to learn about that world in infographics. That’s why we at the Nevins Library are proud to present Science Online, a new-to-us database whose mission is to teach you about the natural world.

While there are designated student resources here, they tend to focus on how not to cheat or choose insane research project topics like “Is Area 51 Hiding Aliens?” (Yes, I actually did see that at a science fair once. Clearly, the poor child was Science Online-deprived.) Students may find citeable material here, but for the most part, it is authorless and more like a detailed encyclopedia than not. For preliminary research into a topic, however, Science Online can’t be beat. The E-Learning modules focus on general topics and narrow to cover specifics. For example, the E-Learning module covering Global Warming encompasses climate systems, cycles, and trends, each of those containing several of their own subtopics. A navigation menu on the right allows users to skip to the subtopics they need.

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For teachers, the designated curriculum tools have relatively little of use. Helpfully, they will expound upon the importance of STEM education, but one suspects that professional teachers are already aware. The rest of the site is such a gold mine of infographics, experiments and videos that it’s well worth an educator’s time, however.┬áIf you go back to the Home page by clicking on its tab, you’ll see that you have the option of opening diagrams through the menu on the right-hand side of the screen, under “Browse Resources.”. Alternatively, you can scroll down until you see a section devoted to diagrams.

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These diagrams, incidentally, are organized in direct alphabetical order. No subheadings here.

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Perchance you may have noticed the issue with this choice of database structure. Instead of scrolling through the two thousand plus diagrams, try using the handy one-line search interface above.

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From anywhere on the site, a search will turn up a page that looks like this one. That means that if you start searching from the Diagrams page, you’re still going to get article, image, and news results. Click on “Experiments & Diagrams” to see the glory that is the amoeba diagram.

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Click and you get a robust interface from which you can download, print, and share the diagram.

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Advanced search options are located in a rollover menu under the “Search Options” tab. (You can also view your search history from there.) Once you get to the advanced search page, prepare to learn about Boolean, because that’s what you’re going to be using.

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This may seem unfair to you, but as we all know, only things that involve great effort are worth doing.

When you navigate back to the home screen, you’ll see that you also have access to videos, virtual experiments, and biographies. (Biographies will be called “Featured People” and will be at the bottom of the page.)

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The reason I like the bios is that they’re organized in an incredibly useful way. At least, for a grade-school teacher who’s laying out a chronological curriculum.

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Yes, those birth and death dates ARE sortable!

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This function also lets you find bios of people who are still alive.

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Incidentally, you can also sort by description, though that’s nowhere near as useful because there’s no list of standard words by which these bios are categorized and, despite the usefulness of the sorting function, no way to filter by descriptive phrase. Ah well. If you think you know what you want in a bio, try Ctrl+F and search the page that way.

That brings us to the point that Science Online is basically a browsing database. It’s meant not as a hyper-focused research machine but as a general resource – small enough to flip through, lean enough that you won’t get bored with a bunch of useless content. A quick look at the Browse tab will verify that this resource is meant to be perused rather than extracted.

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That’s the rollover menu for the Browse tab. Look at all that stuff as compared to what’s available when you try to use the advanced search!

Most of the time, I advocate that the first thing a database user should do upon discovery of a new resource is to learn how to search it. In this case, I recommend the opposite. To get the most out of Science Online, prepare to spend a couple hours and have a vague idea of what you need. You’ll easily browse to the sections you want and quickly and efficiently gain the background you need to move forward.