Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blowing their minds ....

Occasionally, instead of reading a bed time story to Michael and Matthew, I'll give them a classroom style lecture on topics that I feel they're old enough to start to comprehend. These topics tend to be quite 'deep' and sometimes, but not always, the message sails way over their heads. I held a particularly good lecture just the other night. The topic was ''Space. It's mind numbingly big" and their little brains tried ever so hard to keep up ... I thought they did exceptionally well.

I started out the lesson by telling them that I was bored on the train ride home that night and a question popped into my head "What is the most distant object we can see in the universe?". I used my Blackberry to google an answer and I asked them if they wanted to know what I learned. "YES!" was their answer.

The data may be stale but I told them that we, humans, can see distant galaxies that are over 10 billion light years away from Earth. That's a mind numbingly far distance so I spent a few minutes trying to explain how far away that is. Light travels at a speed of approximately 300,000 km / second ... so, if we travelled at the speed of light it would take us over 10 billion years to reach these distance places. By comparison light from our Sun takes about 8 minutes to reach us. It's difficult to tell if someone can grasp the vastness of this distance but I know the kids understood it was extremely far away.

As their brains attempted to digest that distance I hit them with the next 'bomb'. So, if it took light over 10 billion years to reach Earth that means we are actually seeing 10 billion years into the past. Questions started flying from their mouths ... I don't get it? How is that possible? What does that mean?

The questions they asked took my lecture on to topics about quasars, black holes, dark matter and some theories developed by Einstein and others postulated by Stephen Hawking. It warms my heart that my kids share my passion for pondering about the cosmos. You can almost see the wheels turning in their heads as they try to absorb these concepts.

Some may think that this is a cruel and unusual punishment to hold these lectures as bed time stories. Obviously I don't feel that way. I've always had an interest in the universe and I would have loved to have someone tell me stories about it when I was a kid. Back then I had to settle for Star Trek and Star Wars as my source of information. I actually studied physics for two years in university until I decided that the topic was more of a hobby than a career choice ... for me at least. I am determined to get my money's worth out of those two years by teaching as much of it as I can to my kids. I'm stunned by how much they retain ... their minds are truly sponges.

But the biggest pleasure I get is from blowing their minds for the first time. That's priceless.

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