Short Stuff

News of interest to kids – about earthworms, spacesuits, Thanksgiving food, and clothes that emit light.

Wet 'n' wild pumpkins

How did you celebrate Halloween? Did you carve a jack-o'-lantern? Then you know that carving a design into a pumpkin can be tough no matter how you slice it. Now imagine how challenging it would be to do it underwater!

On Oct. 20, scuba diving and Halloween enthusiasts competed in a pumpkin-carving contest off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. The trick to the contest is that pumpkins float in water. So carving a face into one of these orange gourds is often a two-person job: One cuts out the design while the other holds down the pumpkin.

Similar competitions were held across the country last month, including in a spring-fed quarry in Philadelphia, Tenn., a lake in Minneapolis, and off the coast of La Jolla, Calif.

Worm workers

Did you know that the average cow produces 100 pounds of manure per day? So what on earth is a farmer to do with all that waste? Feed it to earthworms!

Tom Herlihy of New York started a company that has 8 million employees – of the earthworm variety. The creepy-crawlies' task: vermicomposting. That's the process of breaking down organic matter using earthworms.

After the manure is heated to sterilize it, the slimy little creatures get to eat their hearts out. Once the worms digest the manure, they also expel waste. That waste, called castings, makes an all-natural, nutrient-rich, and environmentally friendly fertilizer for crops and gardens.

In about 60 days, Mr. Herlihy's special vermicomposting process can turn about 1.3 million pounds of yucky raw manure into a clean, useful product!

A lighter load for astronauts

Think your backpack is heavy? Not compared to the load astronauts bear. They have to wear special gas-pressurized suits that mimic the atmospheric pressure on Earth. But these bubblelike suits weigh about 300 pounds and are hard to move around in.

Here's where a team of folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., may come to the rescue. They've been designing a spacesuit that keeps the pressure on, but without the gas. The result: a lightweight, ultrafashionable suit that maintains proper pressure on the wearer through a skintight fit.

If you wrap a piece of cloth tightly around your arm, you'll feel the squeeze. Well, this spacesuit squeezes the entire body – but not too much and not too little. When all the kinks are worked out of the suit's design, astronauts on spacewalks will be ready for much more action.

Putting the turkey in 'turkey day'

It's November, and Americans know that means Thanksgiving is on its way. Just think of all that turkey, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole you may be eating soon. Mmm.

You might think your family buys a ton of all the fixings, but have you ever thought about how much of those typical Thanksgiving foods are produced in the United States each year?

In 2007, an estimated 272 million turkeys were raised in America. That means that the number of turkeys got pretty close to the number of people in the US!

It's predicted that 690 million pounds of cranberries will be harvested this year. Cranberry relish, anyone?

And the green bean crop should reach a whopping 841,280 tons. (That's more than 1.6 billion pounds!)

With all that food to be eaten, you'd better bring your appetite to the table!

Shining shirts

The Huichol people of the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico have no electricity, so it's hard for them to be active after dark. But now, scientists have found a way to bring light to the Huichol – in their clothes! Scientists found that teeny electronic crystals can be woven into fabric. These crystals are high-brightness light-emitting diodes, or HB LEDs. LED lights are energy-efficient and almost never burn out. But they still need a power source. A new kind of small, flexible solar panel can be sewn onto LED fabric and connected to a rechargeable battery. When the LED is turned on (via a button), the fabric glows. Who knew that one day kids might be able to do their homework by the light of their shirts?

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