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What happens to solar power when it isn't sunny? A simple question with an amazing answer.

"How does solar energy work when there's no sun?" has been a question for pretty much about as long as solar energy has been a thing.

Of course people wouldn't want solar panels on their houses if installing them meant that, come sunset, the movie they were watching suddenly shut off, forcing them to read by candlelight like colonial settlers. Making solar power a viable option, even when the sun sets or disappears behind some clouds, was one of the first things scientists and engineers had to figure out.

Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images.


When the first devices that could capture the sun's energy were invented, they weren't very efficient.

Much like touch screens or video chatting or Dorito-flavored taco shells, solar power is one of those perfect ideas that took a while to get just right. Believe it or not, the earliest solar devices were introduced in the 1800s.

In 1878, Augustin Mouchot invented a device that could freeze water using the concentrated power of the sun. It was a cool experiment but not exactly reasonable or viable options for large-scale energy production.

No one wants this on the roof of their house. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Mouchot won a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris for his invention, but his device was gigantic, and coal was quickly becoming the go-to for efficient energy, so it didn't catch on.

The other downside to his invention? The solar-powered water-freezer only worked on (you guessed it) sunny days. But, that was 1878. Things have changed a lot since then.

Over the last century, the efficiency and feasibility of solar power has dramatically increased, and it's getting better every day.

Just look at this fun, easy-to-read chart!

OH GOD, MY EYES!Photo via National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

I know, I know, it's a lot to take in. Just know that it's showing you that since 1975, we've gotten better and better at efficiently converting the sun's rays into energy that can power our homes, businesses, and even a few cars and planes.

So how does solar energy keep providing power when the sun goes down?

The answer is pretty simple: storage.

Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.

Today's solar panels are designed to soak up more energy from the sun than we actually need and store it for later.

The way they do it is pretty amazing. Photons (aka light particles) hit the solar panel really hard — so hard that electrons (aka what electricity is made of) get knocked loose. Then the solar panel guides those loose electrons into a battery or superconductor that can store them. If an area has a reliable electricity grid, homeowners can just hook their solar panels right up to it. For them, nothing changes from their normal source of power except (usually) a smaller electricity bill.

A lot of people don't realize that going solar doesn't have to mean going "off grid," says Dan Whitson, solar manager for Green Audit USA in Long Island, N.Y.

"The grid is pretty reliable here, so battery options aren’t necessarily cost-effective on Long Island," Whitson explained over the phone. "But that’s something we have to explain to homeowners that, you know, you’re still going to be connected to the grid even though you’ve gone solar."

If there are solar panels on your roof, it's not like your PlayStation is plugged directly into them. The solar panels run into your regular power lines and help offset some of the energy cost, or they run into a box that will store the electricity, quite literally, for a rainy day.

Solar farms are power-plant-scale versions of this concept.

A solar power plant in China. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.

They can be built in the middle of a desert where the sun is incredibly powerful and cloudy days are rare. The panels can even pivot automatically to follow the sun's path across the sky.

After the panels soak up as much energy as they can, the energy is transported to nearby cities. There's a solar farm in Austin, Texas, that produces enough power for 5,000 homes and offsets over 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

Oh and, yes, solar panels can still collect energy on cloudy days. They're just not as efficient about it.

That's because clouds don't block all the sunlight, just some of it. If you walk outside on a cloudy day and can still see, that's because there's still sunlight, even if it's a bit more muted than usual.

The sun is unstoppable. Photo via iStock.

That's where storage and the grid come in. Energy companies rely on the grid to offset any dips in production they might experience on a cloudy day.

"All of the reputable solar production calculators out there take in 20 to 30 years of weather data based on region," Whitson said. "So they can predict how much sun you’re going to get throughout the course of a year. Most projections are taking into consideration that it’s not going to be sunny every day."

Also, as previously mentioned, efficiency is one of the key things scientists are constantly trying to improve about solar panels.

"How does solar energy work when there's no sun?" is a simple question that cuts right to the core of a pretty huge idea.

It's the type of question that scientists, engineers, researchers, and experts around the world have to ask every single day in order to get better at what they're doing.

Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images.

It's the type of question that brought solar energy from an obscure experiment to a feasible source of electricity that powers millions of homes around the world.

Family

Dad takes 7-week paternity leave after his second child is born and is stunned by the results

"These past seven weeks really opened up my eyes on how the household has actually ran, and 110% of that is because of my wife."

@ustheremingtons/TikTok

There's a lot to be gleaned from this.

Participating in paternity leave offers fathers so much more than an opportunity to bond with their new kids. It also allows them to help around the house and take on domestic responsibilities that many new mothers have to face alone…while also tending to a newborn.

All in all, it enables couples to handle the daunting new chapter as a team, making it less stressful on both parties. Or at least equally stressful on both parties. Democracy!

TikTok creator and dad Caleb Remington, from the popular account @ustheremingtons, confesses that for baby number one, he wasn’t able to take a “single day of paternity leave.”

This time around, for baby number two, Remington had the privilege of taking seven weeks off (to be clear—his employer offered four weeks, and he used an additional three weeks of PTO).

The time off changed Remington’s entire outlook on parenting, and his insights are something all parents could probably use.

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Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash

Can flying to college twice a week really be cheaper than renting?

Some students choose to live at home while they go to college to save money on living expenses, but that's generally only an option for families who live in college towns or cities with large universities where a student can easily commute.

For University of British Columbia student Tim Chen, that "easy commute" is more than 400 miles each way.

Twice a week, Chen hops on a flight from his home city of Calgary, flies a little more than an hour to Vancouver to attend his classes, then flies back home the same night. And though it's hard to believe, this routine actually saves him approximately $1,000 a month.

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Tony Trapani discovers a letter his wife hid from him since 1959.

Tony Trapani and his wife were married for 50 years despite the heartache of being unable to have children. "She wanted children,” Trapani told Fox 17. "She couldn't have any. She tried and tried." Even though they endured the pain of infertility, Tony's love for his wife never wavered and he cherished every moment they spent together.

After his wife passed away when Tony was 81 years old, he undertook the heartbreaking task of sorting out all of her belongings. That’s when he stumbled upon a carefully concealed letter in a filing cabinet hidden for over half a century.

The letter was addressed to Tony and dated March 1959, but this was the first time he had seen it. His wife must have opened it, read it and hid it from him. The letter came from Shirley Childress, a woman Tony had once been close with before his marriage. She reached out, reminiscing about their past and revealing a secret that would change Tony's world forever.

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Internet

Man goes out of his way to leave tip for a server after realizing he grabbed the wrong receipt

Instead of just brushing it off and moving on, the man wrote out a note explaining what happened with a sincere apology along with a $20 cash tip and delivered it to the restaurant.

Man goes out of his way to leave forgotten tip for server

Being in the service industry can be hard. People have to spend long hours on their feet, deal with repetitive movements that can create pain and sometimes interact with not so nice customers. When you rely on tips for survival on top of everything else, it can feel like a bit of a gut punch when someone decides not to leave you one despite how good your service was.

One customer must've realized the disappointment that can occur after not receiving a tip when serving tables because he went out of his way to give one. In a post shared on Reddit, a customer revealed in a letter that he realized he took the wrong receipt after leaving. Instead of taking the blank one, he took the merchant's copy which holds the tip amount and his signature.

The error was discovered when he was checking his bank account and saw the amount taken off of his card was not the amount he expected. That's when he decided to check the receipt from that day and saw the error.

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Science

Scientists have finally figured out how whales are able to 'sing' underwater

The physical mechanism they use has been a mystery until now.

Baleen whales include blue, humpback, gray, fin, sei, minke whales and more.

We've long known that baleen whales sing underwater and that males sing in tropical waters to attract females for mating. What we haven't known is how they're able to do it.

When humans make sound underwater, we expel air over through our vocal chords and the air we release rises to the surface as bubbles. But baleen whales don't have vocal chords, and they don't create bubbles when they vocalize. Toothed whales, such as sperm whales, beaked whales, dolphins and porpoises, have an organ in their nasal passages that allows them to vocalize, but baleen whales such as humpback, gray and blue whales don't.

Whales are notoriously difficult to study because of their size and the environment they require, which is why the mechanism behind whale song has remained a mystery for so long. It's not like scientists can just pluck a whale out of the ocean and stick it in an x-ray machine while it's singing to see what's happening inside its body to create the sound. Scientists had theories, but no one really knew how baleen whales sing.

Now, thanks to researchers at the University of Denmark, that mystery has been solved.

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You can learn a lot by alayzing faces.

There are countless situations in life where we have to figure out how someone really feels, but they have a good poker face that keeps their feelings well-hidden. According to body language expert Terry Vaughan even the most deceptive people in the world have a tell: the left and right sides of their face don’t usually match.

So, which side do we believe? Vaughan says the left.

“The reason this is a powerful hack is because the left side of the face is more likely to reveal the ‘true emotion’ or the ‘dominant’ emotion if there’s a mix,” Vaughan says. The reason? “The right hemisphere of our brain does more heavy lifting in dealing with processing emotions. The left hemisphere…is a little more analytical or ‘strategic.’”

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