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The science of summer – unusual phenomena explained

unusual phenomena explained

Welcome to a world of awe-inspiring wonders and the magic of nature. Summer is a season that ignites our curiosity and invites us to delve deeper into the extraordinary phenomena that unfold around us. It’s incredible how much we can learn from the natural world. From the towering thunderstorms to the shimmering fireflies in the night sky, every moment holds a treasure trove of scientific knowledge waiting to be uncovered. These unusual phenomena are explained below.

Solar Tracking

What it is: Sunflowers tracking the sun’s movement throughout the day.

Science behind it: Sunflowers have a special growth pattern called phototropism. During the day, they face east, greeting the rising sun. As the day progresses, they slowly turn and follow the sun’s path across the sky until it sets in the west. During the night, they reset and prepare to greet the sun again in the morning.

sunflower facing the sun

This movement occurs because sunflowers have cells on the side of their stems that grow at different rates depending on the amount of sunlight they receive. The cells on the shaded side grow faster, causing the flower to bend and orient itself towards the sun. It’s nature’s way of maximizing sunlight absorption for photosynthesis!


What it is: Fireflies produce a chemical reaction inside their bodies that allows them to light up.

Science behind it: Inside a fireflies body they have special cells called photocytes that contain a substance called luciferin. When oxygen and luciferin combine with an enzyme called luciferase, it triggers a chemical reaction that produces light.

But why do fireflies flash? Well, it’s their way of communication! Different species of fireflies have unique flashing patterns to attract mates. Each flash is like a secret code that only fireflies of the same species can understand. So, next time you see a firefly, remember that it’s their way of saying, “Hello, I’m here!”

Butterfly migration

What it is: monarch butterflies are the only butterflies known to make a two-way migration as birds do.

Science behind it: Monarch butterflies from the eastern parts of North America gather in large numbers and fly south to Mexico, while those from the western regions head to California. This incredible migration is guided by a combination of genetics and environmental cues, such as the position of the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field.

The monarchs’ epic journey is a testament to their resilience and adaptability. It’s a natural wonder that teaches us about the interconnectedness of different habitats and the importance of conservation efforts to protect these magnificent butterflies.

Lightning and Thunderstorms

What it is: warmer months often bring the rumble of thunder and brilliant displays of lightning across the sky.

Science behind it: When warm, moist air rises and collides with colder air, it creates towering cumulonimbus clouds. Inside these clouds, tiny ice crystals and water droplets collide, generating static electricity. This buildup of electrical charges eventually results in lightning—the dazzling discharge of energy between the clouds or between the clouds and the ground.

Lightning occurs less frequently in the winter because there is not as much instability and moisture in the atmosphere as there is in the summer.

Thunder accompanies lightning because the rapid expansion and contraction of the surrounding air due to the intense heat of the lightning create shockwaves that we hear as thunder.

Thunderstorms and lightning are not only awe-inspiring but also essential for balancing the Earth’s energy and water cycles. They help distribute heat, refresh the atmosphere, and nourish the land with rainfall.


Do you want some hands on activities that keep you and your family busy on a rainy day, while at the same time exploring the natural phenomena?

Solar Tracking

Making a DIY sunflower tracker using a simple cardboard model: Let’s bring the fascinating movement of sunflowers into your own hands! Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Cardboard

  • Scissors

  • Sunflower template (you can draw or print one)

  • Pencil or straw

  • Compass or knowledge of the sun’s path

Cut out a sunflower shape from the cardboard.

Attach the sunflower to a pencil or straw.

Use a compass or your knowledge of the sun’s path to determine the direction of sunlight throughout the day.

Each morning, place your sunflower tracker in a sunny spot, making sure it faces the predicted direction of sunlight.

Throughout the day, observe and record any changes in the sunflower’s orientation.

By creating your own sunflower tracker, you can witness firsthand how these magnificent flowers follow the sun’s movement.


Creating a homemade firefly lantern and learning about bioluminescence: Let’s capture the magic of fireflies with a homemade lantern! Gather these materials:

  • Glass jar with a lid

  • Small battery-powered LED light or glow stick

  • Black construction paper

  • Scissors

  • Tape


Cut out firefly shapes from the black construction paper.

Tape the firefly cutouts to the inside of the jar, creating silhouettes against the glass.

Activate the LED light or glow stick and place it inside the jar.

Screw the lid back onto the jar, ensuring the light source is securely in place.

Turn off the lights and watch as your homemade firefly lantern illuminates the darkness.

As you enjoy the soft glow, take a moment to explore the concept of bioluminescence and how fireflies use it for communication and attracting mates.

Butterfly migration

Building a butterfly garden to attract and observe butterflies: Create a beautiful haven for butterflies in your own backyard! Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Flower seeds or potted flowering plants known to attract butterflies

  • Gardening tools (shovel, watering can)

  • Butterfly identification guide (book or online resource)

Choose a sunny spot in your garden or use containers on a balcony or patio.

Prepare the soil by loosening it with a shovel.

Plant the butterfly-friendly flowers according to the instructions on the seed packet or the potted plants.

Water the plants regularly and provide a shallow dish with water for butterflies to drink from.

Keep an eye out for visiting butterflies, and use your identification guide to learn more about different species.

Building a butterfly garden not only adds beauty to your surroundings but also provides a habitat for these delicate creatures and an opportunity to observe their behavior up close. This experiment just keeps on giving! You will have to wait until winter to observe the monarch migration.

Check out some tips for exactly what flowers to plant to attract more butterflies here!


Demonstrating static electricity and creating mini lightning bolts: Get ready to harness the power of static electricity with this electrifying experiment! You’ll need:

  • Balloon

  • Wool fabric or your hair

  • Darkened room

Rub the balloon against the wool fabric or your hair for about 30 seconds.

Turn off the lights to create a darkened room.

Hold the balloon close to a wall or other surface and watch as tiny sparks, or mini lightning bolts, jump between the balloon and the surface. Or go one step further like Sarah, and add a lightbulb to the mix! See her easy experiment here.

Static electricity is the same force behind lightning in thunderstorms. This experiment will give you a glimpse into the invisible electrical charges that can build up and create spectacular displays of energy.

You can even take it one step further and use the static electricity to light a lightbulb like Sara here! Check out her simple tutorial.

By doing these experiments you can develop a deeper understanding of the science behind these unusual natural phenomena and cultivate your love for the natural world. Enjoy your summer of discovery!

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