What is heaven?

According to many religions based on Judaism and Christianity, heaven is a state of existence where a person’s spirit is at last united with God forever. In a number of Christian religions, heaven is believed to be the reward for people who have lived good lives according to certain rules of thought and behavior that God has made known through scriptures (sacred writings, like the Bible) and through the teachings of churches and religious leaders. (Those who have not followed these rules, it is believed by many, go to a place of punishment known as hell.) Many Christians believe that at the end of the world their human forms will be resurrected in a perfect state—just as the body of Jesus Christ was, when he arose from the dead on Easter morning—and join their souls or spirits in heaven for eternity.

This idea has led to the concept that heaven is an actual place—located above—with physical characteristics. Over the centuries, through pictures and writings, people have tried to create images of heaven, imagining a place of perfect happiness perched atop fluffy white clouds. It has often been portrayed as a place full of things that would bring happiness on Earth, possessing, for instance, pearly gates and streets of gold.

How do seeds become plants?

Once seeds are fully developed, they need a good place to grow. If they just fell to the ground beneath their parent plant, they would struggle, competing against each other for sunlight, water, and minerals. Most seeds need to travel—by wind, water, or with the help of insects and other animals—to better places to germinate, or start to grow into new plants. Some seeds, like those from conifer and maple trees, have wings attached. Others, like those of dandelions, have parachutes made of tiny hairs. Both features allow the seeds to be carried great distances by the wind, and they sometimes land in spots that are good for germination. Water carries other seeds to good growing places; the hard, watertight shell of a coconut, for instance, allows it to travel many miles at sea before finding a beach where conditions are suitable for growth.

Seeds sometimes have to wait a long time before they find good places to grow, places where the sun, moisture, and temperature are right. Most seeds are designed for the wait, protected by a hard outer pod (except those of conifers). Some seeds wait years to germinate, and some just never do. But inside each seed pod is a baby plant, or embryo, and endosperm, a supply of starchy food that will be used for early growth if germination takes place. Then a tiny root will reach down into the soil, and a tiny green shoot will reach up, toward the light.

Which planets have rings?

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune have rings—or thin belts of rocks—around them. Jupiter’s ring is thin and dark, and cannot be seen from Earth. Saturn’s rings are bright, wide, and colorful. Uranus has nine dark rings around it, and Neptune’s rings are also dark, but contain a few bright arcs.

At one time all of the planets, Earth included, had rings. These rings were unstable and the material was either lost in space or collected into the satellites of these planets.

Why do stars twinkle?

On a clear, dark night in your backyard, you can see about 2,000 or so stars in the sky, a small fraction of the 100,000 or so stars that make up our galaxy. They seem to twinkle, or change their brightness. In reality, most of the stars are shining with a steady light. The movement of air (sometimes called turbulence) in the atmosphere of Earth causes the starlight to get slightly bent as it travels from the distant star through the atmosphere down to the ground.

This means that some of the light reaches us directly and some gets bent slightly away. To the human eye, this makes the star seem to twinkle.

Why do tropical rain forests grow so many plants?

Rain forests—thick forests of trees and other plants found in the lowland areas of the Tropics around the world—exist in parts of Australia, Indochina, India, the Malay Peninsula, the East Indies, in central and western Africa, and in Central and South America. Unlike forests in many other parts of the world, which have been affected by global climate changes like the Ice Age, tropical rain forests have been growing uninterrupted in some places for millions of years. During that time an unimaginable number of different types of plants and animals have evolved to use every food source and live in every spot there. Tropical rain forests have more plant and animal species than the rest of the world combined, and scientists continue to discover new species. Because tropical rain forests are located near the equator, their climate is warm.

The name “rain forest” comes from the fact that they receive a lot of rain—between 160 and 400 inches (4 and 10 meters)—throughout the year. Plants grow very quickly under such ideal conditions. In order to get the sunlight that they need for photosynthesis (the process by which they and other green plants make their own food), rain forest trees grow very tall, up to 130 feet (40 meters) high. Their tops form a huge canopy that shades most of the ground, protecting plants on the ground from excessive sunshine as well as wind. Rain forest trees have very shallow roots, for the soil in which they grow is poor, having long been depleted of nutrients by the needs of thick plant life over millions of years. But the abundant life all around contributes organic matter (the decomposed remains of plants and animals) to the surface of the soil, which is enough to nourish these grand, ancient forests.

How does the combine harvester help farmers?

The combine harvester saves the farmers time and labor. Before modern machinery, harvesting crops was a painstaking process. Gathering and removing mature plants from the field had to be done by hand. Farm workers used sharp-bladed, long-handled scythes and curved sickles to cut down cereal crops like wheat. Even the fastest reaper could only clear about a third of an acre a day. Because rain could ruin harvested wheat, workers called sheaf-makers quickly tied it into bundles, so that it could be safely stored if the weather turned stormy. During the long winter months farm workers used jointed wooden tools called flails to thresh or beat the dried wheat in order to separate its edible grain seeds from its stalks.

But in 1786 a machine that threshed wheat by rubbing it between rollers was invented, replacing human threshers. And around 1840 a reaping machine—whose revolving wheel pressed grain stalks against a sharp blade that cut them down— replaced human harvesters. Today, farm machines called combine harvesters do this work in much the same way. These machines are very efficient and combine all three jobs of cutting, collecting, and threshing a crop. A single combine harvester can process five acres of wheat in less than an hour!

Why is blood red?

As the young red blood cell grows and takes on an adult form in the marrow of the bone, it loses its nucleus, and it increases its production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the red pigment, or color of blood, and contains iron, combined with protein. (Oxygen combined with iron is red; the more oxygen iron has bound to it, the redder it is.)

When blood passes through the lungs, oxygen attaches itself to the hemoglobin of the red cells. From there, the red cells carry the oxygen through the arteries and the capillaries to all other cells of the body. The arteries appear reddish because the iron in the blood gives up its oxygen to the cells that need it as the red blood cells travel throughout the body. By the time the blood is back on its way to the heart and then to the lungs it has less than half as much oxygen as it did before. The veins, therefore, do not get as much oxygen as the other tissues and they appear bluish.

What is the difference between self-pollination and cross-pollination?

Since flowers possess both male and female parts, some flowers can fertilize themselves— or fertilize another flower on the same plant—which is called self-pollination. Or the ovules of one flower may be fertilized by the pollen of a different flowering plant of the same species, a method called cross-pollination.

The wind, water, insects, and other animals help to carry pollen from one flower to another. Crosspollination usually produces a better plant: the offspring of cross-pollination possesses the genetic traits of two parents, which may give it new characteristics that will help it survive in an always-changing environment. Cross-pollination is so desirable, in fact, that many flowering plants have developed different ways to keep selfpollination from happening. In the flowers of a spiderwort plant, for example, the stamens are ready to release pollen grains before the pistils are ready to accept them, so the pollen has to travel to other spiderwort plants in search of a ripe pistil.

What is an avalanche?

An avalanche is a huge mass of ice and snow that breaks away from the side of a mountain and slides downward at great speed. Most avalanches result from weather conditions, such as heavy winds and earth tremors, that cause snow on a mountain slope to become unstable.

A large avalanche in North America might release 300,000 cubic yards of snow—the equivalent of 20 football fields filled 10 feet (3.3 meters) deep with snow. Wintertime, particularly from December to April, is when most avalanches occur.

Why should I drink lots of water?

All living things need water to survive. Without water, the human body stops working properly. Water makes up more than 50 percent of your body weight and a person cannot survive for more than a few days without it. Water flushes toxins out of your organs, carries nutrients to your cells, and provides a moist environment for ear, nose, and throat tissues.

Water is also in lymph, a fluid that is part of your immune system, which helps you fight off illness. You need water to digest your food, to get rid of waste, and to sweat. Too little water in your body leads to dehydration, and it can make you tired and unable to function. Your body gets water from drinking it, but lots of foods, such as fruits and vegetables, contain water too.