Monday, November 29, 2010

Question of the Week

In the film, The Polar Express, what restored steam locomotive was used as the model for the film's locomotive?  Where is it located?

See The Polar Express on the IMAX®DOME - the largest screen in Virginia .  This holiday classic is now showing daily at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Answer:  The locomotive in the movie is based on the Pere Marquette 1225, a restored steam locomotive, located in Owosso, MI.  Note that the number "1225" also refers to Christmas Day (12/25).  In addition, all the ticket numbers in the film contain the number "1225."

Check out more trivia from The Polar Express at

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More “Turkey Day” Trivia: Thanksgiving dinner

Turkey meat:  white vs. dark - What causes the color difference between white and dark turkey meat? The type of muscle fiber determines the color of the meat. Dark turkey meat has slow contraction muscle fibers. Slow contraction muscle fibers, sometimes called slow twitch muscle fibers, are used for extended muscle contraction in endurance activities and are supplied with lots of blood vessels, mitochondria, and myoglobin pigments, which give the red color to the meat. White turkey meat, on the other hand, has fast twitch muscle fibers for short bursts of strength and speed. Fast twitch fibers have a poorer blood supply, and fewer mitochondria and myoglobin, and tire quickly.

Cranberries – Of all fresh fruits, cranberries contain the most phenols, a type of disease-fighting antioxidant. Phenols and polyphenols are strong antioxidants and many scientists believe antioxidants protect the heart.

Yams vs. sweet potatoes - A yam is not the same thing as a sweet potato. Although yams and sweet potatoes are both angiosperms (flowering plants), they are not related botanically. Yams, native to Africa and Asia, are a monocot (a plant having one embryonic seed leaf) and are related to lilies and grasses. Sweet Potatoes are a dicot (a plant having two embryonic seed leaves) and are in the morning glory family. Yams are starchier and dryer than sweet potatoes.

Pumpkin pie - Most pumpkin fillings are really custard-type fillings with eggs acting as "gelling agents". They're able to do this because proteins in the eggs unwind as they are beaten and hold the pumpkin and liquids in a gentle mesh. As it cooks, it coagulates or sets and forms a custard-like filling. If the filling is cooked too long, the protein network contracts and shrinks, causing the filling to crack across the top. To prevent the cracking, cook it a little less this year. Remove it from the oven while the center still jiggles slightly if you give it a gentle shake. It may look like it still needs a little more cooking, but remember because of latent heat, it will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Turkey Day" Trivia

Want to wow your guests at the Thanksgiving dinner table with your incredible knowledge of turkey trivia?  Check out these "Turkey Day" facts! 

  • Most farm raised turkeys are White Hollands. They cannot fly.
  • An adult turkey has about 3500 feathers. Big Bird’s costume (from Sesame Street) was made from nearly 4000 white turkey feathers, dyed yellow.
  • Wild turkeys can glide almost a mile without flapping their wings. Over short distances, they can fly 55 mph and run 20 mph.
  • Acorns are the wild turkeys’ favorite food. Because they have a poor sense of taste and smell, they choose acorns by size and shape.
  • A turkey’s head will change colors when it’s excited.
  • Wild turkeys spend the night in trees.
  • A male turkey is called a tom, the female is called a hen and the babies, poults. Immature turkeys are called jake (male) and jenny (female).
  • How to tell toms from hens:
    • Toms are larger, have longer legs and bigger heads. Their wattle (growth under the chin) and snood (fleshy growth over the bill) are also longer.
    • Toms grow a beard – long black feathers on their chest. The beard grows about 4 inches per year and keeps growing throughout their lifetime. Eventually, it drags the ground.
    • Male turkeys gobble and females make a clucking sound.
  • During mating season, a male turkey gobbles loudly and struts around, puffing out his chest, fanning his large tail and dragging his wingtips on the ground. 
  • As male turkeys get older, they fight a lot and may attack humans. 
  • About 180,000 wild turkeys live in Virginia, most of them in the Tidewater, South Mountain and South Piedmont regions. 
Turkey history -
  • Wild turkeys are native to the eastern US and northern Mexico.  They have lived in North America for almost 10 million years. 
  • Wild turkeys were domesticated in Mexico and introduced in Europe in the 16th century. 
  • In the 1700s, turkeys were walked to market and wore booties to protect their feet. 
  • Ben Franklin thought the wild turkey should be our national bird instead of the bald eagle. 
  • Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ate turkey for their first meal on the moon. 
  • Wild turkeys almost became extinct in the early 1900s because of habitat destruction and overhunting. 
  • The Turkey Trot was a ballroom dance popular in the early 1900s. The Turkey Trot 10K is a race run every Thanksgiving in Richmond.
Thanksgiving turkey facts –
  • Over 45 million turkeys are eaten every Thanksgiving.
  • The average American eats 17.5 pounds of turkey per year.
  • US turkey production has increased over 300% since 1970.
  • Turkey meat is low in fat and high in protein.
  • White meat has fewer calories than dark meat.

WWII Eye Candy

Check out these cool & colorful World War II era postcards that are in the collection of the Virginia Aviation Museum. Postcards such as these were often sold at the various camps around the world to servicemen to send back to their loved one and friends.

Some cards (like the last postcard) were intended to make fun of life at camp. Other cards were used to champion the United States military might- on the reverse of one of the postcards reads: "The air armies of America are flying now in ever increasing swarms. Today the air is our first line of defense and [when] used in conjunction with sea and land forces is a proven, unbeatable combination".

Regardless, these are some beautiful examples of WWII airplane imagery.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Question of the Week

Model railroading has been around for over 100 years.  Can you answer these questions about model trains?

What is the difference between the scale and the gauge?

Which scales are the most popular?

See model trains in action this weekend, November 26-28, at the Model Railroad Show at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Answer:  A model railroad's scale is the model's measurement as a proportion of the original.  The gauge is the measurement between the rails of the track.

The most popular scales and their proportion are:
  • G - 1:24
  • O - 1:48
  • HO - 1:87 (most popular scale)
  • N - 1:160 (second most popular scale)
  • Z - 1:220

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stars and Stripes Forever

Today artifacts from Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s ship, The City of New York, go on auction in Dallas, Texas. A native Virginian, Admiral Byrd used the ship in his expedition to the Antarctic in 1928. The purpose of this trip was to make the first flight across the South Pole, which he did, in a Ford tri-motor. He also brought along the Virginia Aviation Museum’s Fairchild FC-2W2 Stars and Stripes (on loan from the National Air and Space Museum) airplane to document the expedition through aerial photography. The Stars and Stripes first flew in the Antarctic on January 15, 1929 and ten days later transmitted Morse Code while in flight over a record 10,000 miles back to New York City. When it was time to leave, the plane was stored in a snow hangar from January 1930 to December 1933.

As you can imagine, the Antarctic was very cold so Byrd and his crew had to wear fur coats and masks to keep warm. It was so cold that the men and their dogs had to live underground in the snow! The Virginia Aviation Museum has in its collection clothing from Capt. Charles L. Kessler, who was a part of this first expedition. Life in the South Pole meant wearing a sweater, mask, parka, fur coat with hood and, of course, gloves anytime one would go above ground.

Byrd and his crew returned again to the Antarctic in later expeditions, including one from 1939 to 1941. In the photo at right, a few members of his crew pose in Antarctic-approved clothing with their cameras in tow. Recently rediscovered at the Virginia Aviation Museum was a collection of personal photographs from this expedition of the crew- everything from taking care of puppies that were born on the trip, to photographing the Antarctic, to making pancakes in the crew’s kitchen were well documented by one of Byrd’s team.

Even though items from the expedition are being auctioned off today, you can still see many more artifacts, including the Stars & Stripes, right here at the Virginia Aviation Museum.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Watch the Sky Show: the Leonids

Want to wish upon a falling star? This is the week - the Leonid Meteor Shower peaks tomorrow. Earth is currently passing through the “tail” of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Often called a “dirty snowball,” a comet usually orbits the sun in an elliptical orbit. The comet’s nucleus, consisting mostly of ice and dust, heats as it approaches the sun. Particles begin to stream out behind it and form the comet’s “tail.” As Earth passes through this “tail” the particles collide with the atmosphere and we see a meteor shower.

Best viewing of the Leonids will be just before dawn on Wednesday, November 17 in the eastern sky (see above map). Scientists estimate this year’s show will produce 15 to 20 meteors per hour (a sighting about every 4 or 5 minutes). Meteor showers are notoriously difficult to predict - there may be many more or there may be less.

The waxing gibbous moon will set in Richmond about 4 hours before sunrise tomorrow, so the bright light of the moon will not inhibit viewing in the early morning hours. However, clouds and showers may accompany a cold frontal passage in the Richmond area early Wednesday morning. Let’s hope we get lucky and the skies clear before dawn. But there is another chance - the Leonids may be visible just before dawn on Thursday morning also.

A few tips for best viewing:

 • Find an open area away from city lights with no tall buildings or trees in the eastern sky.
 • Take some friends – it’s always more fun with someone along.
 • Let your eyes relax and look all around - binoculars not required. Actually, your eyes will find the meteors  better without binoculars because they have a broader range of vision.
 • Take some equipment for maximum enjoyment:
        o Lawn chair – be comfortable; kick back and relax.
        o Blankets or sleeping bag – bundle up; it will be chilly (50’s).
        o Hot coffee or tea in a thermos.
 • Binoculars might be useful for observing fireballs, unusually bright meteors that leave an incandescent streak lasting as long as a few minutes. Winds in the upper atmosphere will bend and distort the streak; binoculars will give you a close-up view.

Interesting fact (from ): When a comet takes 33 years to go around the Sun, it goes way out there and tends to get lost. Comet Tempel-Tuttle gets lost a lot. It also gets found now and then. Tempel-Tuttle was "discovered" by William Tempel in late 1865 and independently by Horace Tuttle in early 1866. Nobody saw Tempel-Tuttle again for almost 100 years (1965). Then on March 4, 1997, armed with great orbital data, Karen Meech, Olivier Hainaut and James Bauer at the University of Hawaii "recovered" the comet yet again. Tempel-Tuttle will next return to the inner solar system in 2031.

For more information, go to  Star map credit: Stardate.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Question of the Week

On this day in 1975, the last passenger train departed Richmond’s Broad Street Station, now home to the Science Museum of Virginia. On what date did the first passenger train depart?

Extra credit: How many passengers passed through the station on its busiest day? What was the date?

For more information on trains and the history of Broad Street Station, come to the 32nd annual Model Railroad Show Thanksgiving weekend, November 26-28, at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Answer:  The first passenger train left Broad Street Station on January 6, 1919, the second anniversary of the station's groundbreaking.

Extra Credit:  Broad Street Station's busiest day was April 22, 1943 when 33,324 passengers passed through the station.  Many were servicemen heading to and from duty during World War II.

A Bag's Life

Plastic shopping bags: do ya’ love ‘em or hate ‘em? They are a mixed bag in my book - I love the convenience but hate the trash they create.

Today is America Recycles Day. To commemorate the day, Virginia is launching the “A Bag’s Life” campaign at the State Capitol to encourage Virginians to reduce, recycle and reuse their plastic bags. The website includes a locator to find the plastic bag recycling drop-off point nearest you (nearly 800 in Virginia and growing) and tips on the 3 R’s:

Reduce. BYOB (bring your own bags) to the store when you shop. Many stores now offer reusable bags for a minimum fee. And don’t forget to use them.

Recycle. Use our locator to see where to recycle your bags – and give them a new life as splinter-resistant decking, crates and containers, or even new bags.

Reuse. People reuse bags over and over again in a variety of ways – as trash can liners, lunch bags, to pick up poop and to store their stuff.

For tips on recycling and for more information, go to: and

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Treasure Hunting at the Virginia Aviation Museum

Often when I am going through the collection at the Virginia Aviation Museum I sometimes feel as though I’m on a treasure hunt. Just the other week I opened a box to find World War II memorabilia from one man who was stationed in New Guinea. The box was complete with a hunting knife with leather case that strapped to the leg, aviator sunglasses, old chocolate rations and even a black and white photograph of the young man’s girlfriend tucked into a leather-bound notebook. Moments like these are what makes a curator’s heart beat wildly!

It is often the stories behind the objects are what make them so interesting. In the collection of the Virginia Aviation Museum there are many leather bombardier jackets, some with squadron insignia, some with skull-shaped zipper pulls, some with pilot licenses tucked into a pocket, and so on. But two jackets in the collection caught my attention for the harrowing stories of the men who wore them and the fact that the jackets got to go along for the ride!
Check out the above jacket- F. Mark Johnson of Glen Allen, Virginia wore this while flying a P-51 Mustang with the 8th Air Force, 355th Fighter Group, 354th Fighter Squadron. During World War II he was stationed in Steeple Morden, England. Once, after a mission to bomb German V-2 rocket plants, his engine failed and he had to bail out over the North Sea. He was wearing this jacket when he made his leap into the cold waters. Fortunately, he survived the crash and was issued a replacement jacket, which now too is in the collection of the Virginia Aviation Museum.

Philip W. Root, Jr., a native Richmonder who began his pilot training in Savannah, Georgia, owned this second jacket. Once, while learning to fly a B-24 Liberator during training, him and his crew had to bail out over the rural fields of Georgia. The plane had a fuel leak fire that caused his Liberator to explode into pieces. Root jumped out of the plane- but quickly realized that his parachute would not release. He dropped for several thousand feet while struggling with the device until he opened it manually and safely landed. With the aircraft in pieces, he was shocked when a young girl came up to him after the crash, holding his perfectly intact jacket that he had last seen draped across the back of his seat. It had somehow flown clear of the explosion and landed nearby! Root and this jacket went on to fly 31 missions over Europe until the war’s end.

I’m always excited when I find an object in the collection that has a wonderful story attached. It is amazing to hold something that someone wore while they were high over the North Sea, or over the farms of Georgia, and know that they were lucky enough to bring this item back home with them.

What types of neat things have you found on your own treasure hunts?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Question of the Week

The SunTrust Richmond Marathon is this Saturday, November 13, 2010.  NBC12's Andrew Freiden has posted the following weather forecast for race day:
  •  7 am - low to mid-40's, mostly sunny
  •  Noon - near 60, partly sunny
  •  3 pm - mid-60's, partly sunny
What is ideal race weather?

Answer:  Ideal running weather -
  • Temperature - runners have different preferences but generally prefer low 40's to mid-50's. Intense muscle activity generates a lot of heat; cooler temperatures help prevent overheating.
  • Humidity - low to moderate. Lower humidities mean less water vapor and more oxygen with each breath. The runner's body does not have to work as hard to get enough oxygen to his/her muscles.
  • Wind - 5 mph. A slight breeze is better than no wind at all. The breeze helps keep the runner cool by evaporating sweat from the runner's skin. As for direction, a tail wind is always welcome.
  • Time of day - morning. Morning means less glare off cars and pavement and less wind, also less traffic.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Aviators, Blood Chits & Short Snorters, Oh My!

If someone had asked me a year ago to describe a "blood chit" or a "short snorter bill", I'm pretty sure that I would have only been able to blink in response. But since I began my position as curator at the Virginia Aviation Museum (a division of the Science Museum of Virginia), I'm pleased to say that I now know that blood chits and short snorter bills were used by pilots during the Second World War and served two very different purposes: one acted at a lifesaving device, the other as a source of pride and revelry.

A blood chit is a piece of fabric that pilots sewed to their jackets. It was typically made of silk and consisted of a flag and a paragraph in a foreign language that asked for anyone who came upon the aviator to return him to safety. The origins of the term blood chit come from the slang for "note" or "written notice" which was "chit", while blood references the bearer's life.

The Virginia Aviation Museum has a variety of blood chits- some still sewn onto their original jackets. The blood chit above was sewn to the back of a jacket of an Air Transport Command pilot who flew over China during World War II. The blood chit identifies him as an American fighting for the Chinese. The now faint purple characters read: "This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him with medical care".

Other blood chits offered rewards to those who would help. This chit from 1951 states in a variety of languages that,

"I am an American. I do not speak your language. Misfortune forces me to seek your assistance in obtaining food, shelter and protection from the Communists. Please take me to someone who will provide for my safety and see that I am returned to my people. I will do my best to see that no harm comes to you. My government will reward you".

While the blood chit represented the last hope for safety, the short snorter bill had an altogether different purpose. A short snorter is a pilot who was known as being worldly, having flown back and forth from many countries and often across the equator. This term came into existence in the mid 1920s and continued into World War II. A short snorter bill is the paper currency that the pilot picked up during his travels, taped together, and had signed by various friends and (hopefully) famous people he met along the way. Sometimes men would compete with each other to see who had the most prestigious and lengthy short snorter bill. Whoever had the fewest signatures had to buy a round of strong drinks, or "snorts", for the entire group!

Currently on loan to the Virginia Aviation Museum is a short snorter bill from the Virginia Aeronautical Historical Society that measures approximately six feet long. This bill has currency from a variety of countries including France, Fiji, Trinidad, Japan and Portugal. It was signed by Marlene Dietrich, a famous movie actress of the day. Taped between these foreign currencies is a piece of aircraft fabric from a Japanese plane that was shot down over Midway Island. Not all short snorter bills had to be six feet long to be prestigious. In the collection of the Virginia Aviation Museum is a single short snorter bill from 1934 with just a handful of signatures. However, one signature in particular makes this a bill of note: that of Charles A. Lindbergh.

Whether using blood chits to save a life or short snorter bills to get a buddy with less signatures to buy a round of drinks, these were two items that were often carried by the aviators of World War II.

Question of the Week

The 1903 Wright Flyer was the first successful manned, heaver-than-air, fully controllable, powered airplane.  On Dec. 17, 1903, at Kill Devils Hills, N.C., one of them flew the famous first flight. Which brother flew first?  How long was he in the air and how far did he fly?

The Wrights made three additional flights that day.  Who flew the final flight?  How long was he in the air and how far did he fly?
Come to the Science Museum of Virginia to see the Wright Flyer reproduction now on display, celebrating the opening of the film Legends of Flight in the IMAX®Dome on November 6, 2010.

Answer:  Orville Wright made the first flight on December 17, 1903.  He flew 120 feet in 12 seconds. Also on that historic day, the Wright brothers made 3 additional flights.  On the final flight, Wilbur flew 852 feet in 59 seconds.

They were ingenious but also very brave. How do you think they felt before they flew? How about after?