Ask Ms. Scientist: Solar panels and seeing stars

How do solar panels work?

Pat R.

Solar panels are made of many small photovoltaic cells, which are battery cells that convert sunlight to electricity. A photovoltaic cell is usually made of a silicon “sandwich.” Electricity is made up of the flow of electrons, which are tiny negatively charged particles. To make an electric field around the photovoltaic cells, solar panel manufacturers move around electrons so that a positive charge is on one layer of the silicon sandwich, and a negative charge is on the other. Then, when sunlight strikes the cells, the energy of the light knocks free some of the electrons that are part of the electric field. The electrons that are knocked free can then be collected with metal and conducted through wires, creating a flow of electrons that becomes the electricity that we can use.

What happens when I’m “seeing stars” after I sneeze?

Erin A.

Sometimes after a loud sneeze you might see small stars or pinpoints of light around your field of vision. These stars are often caused by our optic nerve, the nerve in our eye that transmits light to our brain. The eyeball has a thick gel that keeps it round. Sometimes, this gel can rub again the retina and stimulate the part of our brain that creates images. When the brain gets a message from the retina, it interprets it as light. Pressure and force can often shoot a sneeze out at close to 100 miles per hour. This is enough to disrupt the gel, stimulate the retina and create the phenomenon we know as “seeing stars.”

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