I was very pleased recently to see a good friend I hadn’t spoken too for quite a while. He’s just come back from Russia after spending a few months over there as part of his university degree.

We got chatting about travelling. Nearly 5 years ago now, just before we started college, me, him and a group of others spent a month in Cambodia and Thailand. We worked in an orphanage in a place called Battambang in Cambodia and then spent some time trekking in the jungles of Thailand in the Chiang Rai region. It was all part of a World Challenge Expedition, a company that take youngsters to different parts of the world to engage in project work. They gave me the big old travel bug! Continue reading

Ascent – Commemorating the Shuttle

If, like me, you have been mesmerised by the Space Shuttle since you first saw a launch, then you’ll love this.

My colleague posted this video on Facebook and I just had to share it with you. The video is a series of different slow motion cameras looking at the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery on a few of its missions, mainly STS-124. The first few are from the engineering cameras that film at around 400fps in various location, close-up, around the Shuttle. There are some truly stunning slow motion clips of the 3 main engines lighting up, it’s hard to describe, almost magical, the detail is astounding!

There are 2 engineers from the Glenn Research Centre who talk you through the different shots and about the different cameras and about how the shuttle operates. All very fascinating. I learnt a lot of interesting information that I didn’t know before.

So please, sit back, relax and gawp in amazement at this incredible video!

Why’s it been so cold?

If you didn’t know, Britain’s been a tad on the chilly side recently. Even all the way down here in Exeter it’s almost reached -17°C.

So why has it been so teeth chatteringly cold? Well, I’m going to answer this with the basic and limited knowledge I already have. It depends on a number of factors. The big factor is the jet stream. A fast moving belt of wind high up in the atmosphere. I won’t go into the physics of how, why and what’s going on but the stream sometimes moves and meanders here and there, much like a river.

This moves for several different reasons. The Sun also has an effect of the jet stream, and this is what a lot of people think may have happened recently – the flood in Pakistan and so on.  Continue reading


Thought I’d share some photos of the recent weather and snow.

Snowy Cumulonimbus

This lovely, sunlit cumulonimbus bought a nice heavy downpour of snow. If you look closely you can see some cumulonimbus mammatus on the side too.

Head over to my Flickr site for some more photos

Open University eBooks available on iTunesU

They’ve got some rather good books, it must be said. Just little nice easy ones, thoroughly interesting nonetheless. I’ve already downloaded the following:

  • An introduction to active galaxies
  • Climate Change
  • Introducing the Environment
  • What is the genome?
  • Geological processes of the British Isles
  • The restless Universe
  • Icy bodies: Europa and elsewhere
  • Why sustainable energy matters

Now my iPhone can look slightly more full with books! Woo! Whether I’ll get around to reading them though, I don’t know. I have a huge set of books to get through, none of which I’m reading whilst studying at the moment. It’s a nice idea though!

Follow this link and see if there are any books you like. More to come by the end of the year too!

Timelapses and Astrophotography

I started doing some astrophotography a year or two ago. Only wide angle stuff, I don’t have the fancy kit to do deep space stuff. It took me at least 3 or 4 months to get the knack of it. Braving the cold on my nights off work with my camera, tripod and a flask of tea. I found it quite relaxing. The camera could shoot away whilst I sat to admire the stars.

Here are a few of my decent shots. Of which there aren’t many!

Continue reading

Fantastic Falcon 9 Launch

Spaceflight changed today with the much anticipated demonstration launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule set atop. The rocket is being designed as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. In other words they want a way to get things (and people) up to the International Space Station. Falcon 9 is the first ever commercial launch vehicle to have been launched, orbit the Earth, and then re-enter. Over the coming years we’ll being seeing a lot more of it. Exciting times ahead!

BBC News article

SpaceX website

Drake’s Equation: The Search for Life

The BBC television series Bang Goes the Theory (@bbcbang) has managed to do a truly fantastic job of engaging people, young and old, in science and technology. Now one of their presenters, Dallas Campbell, is hosting a special one off, one hour documentary on the Drake equation.

I’m quite excited about it for it is one of the most important equations, at least in my opinion, ever conceived. The equation sets out to figure how many planets may be suitable for life in the galaxy, and on those planets whether life arises, and ultimately how many intelligent civilisations there are capable of communicating with us.

Carl Sagan did a short bit on this equation in his 1980’s TV series ‘Cosmos’. Since then however we have learnt more and can refine the numbers we input to get ever increasing more accurate answers.

The chaps at BBC Bang are surely going to manage to pull off quite an astonishing programme. It airs on Tuesday 14th December on BBC Four at 8pm. Be sure to set your recorders.

In the meantime here’s a sneaky peek. A video of Dallas interviewing Dr Felisa Wolfe-Simon about the (highly debatable, I might add) discovery of Arsenic loving bacteria.

Edit: I meant to add that my OU course head lecturer, Dr David Rothery, was one of the scientific consultants for the programme. More information on the programme is here if you want a read!

A Little Overwhelming

Well, I’m getting a little bit overwhelmed with this OU work. I’m pretty much a newbie to the Open University having only studied 1 Level 1 course and have now moved onto a Level 2 course. I’ve gone through the first four chapters of book number 1 (and it’s a big book) and I’ve really enjoyed them and found them interesting. I was a little annoyed there wasn’t more on planetary volcanism and fluvial and aeolian processes, but hey. (For those who haven’t read the ‘About’ section, I’m currently studying S283 Planetary Science and Astrobiology). So over the last few days I’ve been reading about planetary atmospheres, something I thought I might find interesting. I’m a meteorological weather observer as part of my job and find the weather and things very interesting. This stuff started in way above my head though. Quantum mechanics came into it. Quantum bleeding mechanics!  Continue reading