The Q? Blog

This meteorite piece from an ancient asteroid contains valuable crystals and metals. Smithsonian image 6474.
This meteorite piece from an ancient asteroid contains valuable crystals and metals. Smithsonian image 6474.

Meteorites Bring News from Outer Space

Meteorites may conjure images of giant rocks smashing into towns. In fact, meteorites rarely hit people and regularly bring valuable materials to Earth from outer space. All of the iron we use on Earth today was delivered by meteorites. Gold and platinum even have meteorite origins. Meteorites have been hurtling to Earth since its formation nearly 4.6 billion years ago , way before humans evolved. Without meteorites, our planet would be a very...Read more

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Celebrate Pollinators, the Real Party Animals

No celebration would be as festive or delicious without the contributions of pollinators and the plants they pollinate. The importance of the nectaring visits made by bees, butterflies, beetles, bats, birds, flies, and other small animals as they go from flower to flower, carrying and dispersing pollen, is evident in one-third of our daily diets. Salads (kale, asparagus, cucumbers), fruits (apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries), main dishes...Read more
Bees and other pollinators are the focus of National Pollinator Week, June 15-21, 2015. Photo by Rosa Pineda, Smithsonian Institution.

Celebrate World Ocean Day June 7-8: Make Ocean Art, See Live Animals, and Meet the Experts

The ocean enriches us by providing food and other natural resources, supporting many industries and jobs, and underpinning much of our culture — not to mention producing half of the oxygen we breathe. Whether you live close to the ocean or not, you are connected to it, sometimes in surprising ways. People rely on the ocean, but overfishing, unsustainable aquaculture, climate change, ocean acidification, and habitat destruction are compromising...Read more
Tags: ocean, events
These cassiopea polyps, which will grow to become jellyfish, are feeding on brine shrimp eggs. See live jellyfish and crabs at the World Ocean Day celebrations, June 7-8 in Q?rius. Photo by Allen Collins, Smithsonian Institution.

Do You Suffer from Cellphone Separation Anxiety?

If you feel anxious when you don't have your phone nearby, you are not alone. With some 6 billion cellphones in circulation on Earth, we depend on them for a huge range of services: texting friends, sharing selfies, ordering food, getting news, watching movies, accessing clouds, etc. Our cellphones not only help us manage our daily lives, but also connect us to people around the world in ways, and at speeds, that didn't used to be possible...Read more
Tags: mineral
Have you seen your cell phone lately? Photo by Devin Reese, Smithsonian.

Arctic Spring Festival to Celebrate Region’s Peoples, Culture, and Science, May 8-10

“Fifteen years ago, scientists knew that Arctic ice was melting but no one imagined an ice-free Arctic,” says William Fitzhugh , director of the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center (ASC) and an anthropologist specializing in circumpolar archaeology, ethnology, and environmental studies. “Soon the reduction of Arctic sea ice will turn the Arctic Ocean into a global connector, and that is going to change the entire world." When sea ice melts to...Read more
Tags: arctic, events
Flowers bloom on a hill overlooking the settlement of Qaarsut, Greenland. Photo by Wilfred Richard.

How Mummies are Made

The most familiar mummies are the Egyptians , buried in elaborate tombs and surrounded with treasures to escort them into the afterlife. But, not all mummies were Egyptian, or even of the ruling class. Mummies have been found around the world, in circumstances ranging from honored leaders to unfortunate victims. What makes a mummy is its resistance to natural decay. Mummies are bodies that have preserved for long periods of time, either because...Read more
Egyptian mummy and its X-ray at the National Museum of Natural History. Smithsonian image by Chip Clark.

Q?rius Volunteer Shares Her Passion for Anthropology and Biology

As a recent transplant to Washington, D.C., a budding anthropologist, and a future museum professional, volunteering in Q?rius has been such a wonderful opportunity for many reasons. The people who gravitate to Q?rius (both volunteers and staff) are so intelligent, interesting, and supportive. From the high school volunteers on the Q?Crew to the retirees, everyone brings such a unique perspective and fascinating story to the group. Many...Read more
Q?rius volunteer Haley Bryant points to some of the objects in the anthropology and archaeology section of the Margaret A. Cargill Collections Zone.

A Crystal the Size of a School Bus?!

In South Dakota miners found a crystal of a mineral called spodumene that was 42 feet long and weighed 90 tons. While it's an extreme example, the massive crystal showcased one of the incredible qualities of the rock in which it was found, known as "pegmatite." Unlike most rocks, pegmatites contain unusually large crystals of a wide variety of minerals. Why? Pegmatites are igneous rocks that form as melted materials (magma) cool beneath the...Read more
Tags: geology
Blue beryl that crystallized as a 6-sided hexagonal crystal, not bus-sized but beautiful. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian.

Webcast Extra: Q&A with Geologist Cara Santelli

Did you know that the tiniest of all life forms can perform some of the most herculean transformations? Some types of microbes, like fungus and bacteria, are tiny mineral-making machines , capable of transforming toxic pollution into less harmful minerals. During our March 12, 2015, webcast, “ Mineral Transformations: Demystifying Microbes ,” Dr. Santelli gave us a look into her research on microbes that both make and degrade minerals, and how...Read more
Smithsonian geologist Dr. Cara Santelli and Maggy Benson during a Smithsonian Science How webcast

Discovering Weird, Wonderful New Species in the Open Ocean

When we think about the ocean, we may visualize sea turtles swimming around coral reefs, sea urchins anchored in tidepools, dolphins breaching the surface, or even shrimp gathered around deepwater sulfur vents. But most of the ocean is just open water, miles and miles of it from below the surface to thousands of feet down. This ocean midwater is the largest habitat on Earth! Yet midwater habitat has not been well-studied because it is difficult...Read more
The red paper lantern jellyfish, a strikingly beautiful animal in the web of midwater ocean life. Photo by Karen Osborn, Smithsonian Institution.

Not Just Menaces, Microbes are also Mineral-Making Machines

A microbe is a tiny organism, microscopic in size. We often think of microbes as menaces, such as pathogenic bacteria or fungi that cause disease. In fact, microbe s are also necessary for life because of their impacts on the distribution of essential nutrients in ecosystems. Nearly every element on this planet is affected in some way by microbes. And, microbes are found in just about every habitat on Earth , ranging from the depths of the ocean...Read more
This scanning electron microscope image shows fungi making bead-like minerals (elemental selenium). Image from Carla Rosenfeld, Smithsonian.