I’m off to Ethiopia!

I’ve been waiting a while to get this out in the open, waiting for phone calls, confirmations, e-mails and so on has meant I haven’t be able to officially say yet, but now I can. I’M OFF TO ETHIOPIA!

World Challenge are a company providing expeditions involving project work and trekking in the developing world for schools (kids ages 15-18). I went on an expedition with them, through school, back in 2006. We went to Cambodia and Thailand. We worked in a Cambodian orphanage and trekked in the Thai jungle. It was undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life and has helped shape the person I am today.

This year the company are celebrating 25 years since their foundation and they’ve offered ex challengers (people who go on expeditions are known as challengers) the opportunity to go to Ethiopia and trek in the Simien mountains. And the best part is that it’s free. Actually, the even better part is that I’M GOING! 12 people have been selected out of a few thousand (I think) and we’ll be leaving in November.

It’s only a short expedition (10 days) but what an opportunity. New people to meet, a new country to explore. What more could you need?

Stay tuned for further updates!

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Venus Transit: Some Impressive Pictures

So we’ve seen (well I haven’t as it was cloudy) the last Venus Transit until 2117. Here are some of the pretty incredible photos taken by astronomers across the globe.
They give a grand sense of scale on the enormity of the solar system. (Oh, there’s a fantastic video at the bottom too!)

Venus Transit. Credit Chris Hetlage

Path of the Venus Transit. Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Venus Close Up! Credit: JAXA/NASA/Hinode

Film Review: Prometheus

[Update: 8th June] To my surprise this post has been viewed an incredible number of times. Please note that this is my first film review and that it’s pretty damn poor! Perhaps I’ll get better over time!

*CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS*

Ridley Scott has come back to sci-fi and he’s done a bloody good job!

The USCSS Prometheus

I heard about Prometheus about a  year ago and have been inexorably excited ever since. It’s the freakin’ prequel to Alien for christs sake! There’s a cracking cast set up too. There’s Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Michael Fassbender who is surely up for an Oscar with his superb acting of the android David.

The plot is what you might expect. Evidence of Aliens (or Engineers) having previously visited Earth have been found in cave paintings indicating a star constellation. Lets go and say hi. It goes wrong. It answers a lot of questions left behind from Alien (such as the space jockey) but leaves more questions being asked. The effects in this film are utterly sublime too. The ship, Prometheus, looks absolutely breathtaking!

Ridley has said in one of his interviews that Prometheus skirts around the truth of what may really be out there. Well, I can assure you, that it skirts so far from the truth there is no resemblance of the truth remaining. It’s a science fiction, that’s it.

Xenomorph?

The one thing in the film that didn’t make sense to me was the presence of this xenomorph-like feature (pictured). I can put together how I think it makes sense, but it doesn’t really. I’ll be going to see it again anyway, so maybe I’ll get the answer a second time round.

It’s possible, and Ridley Scott has talked about it, to there being a sequel (a sequel to the prequel!) If so it looks like it’ll move even farther away from the Alien franchise, and after seeing Prometheus, I think that’ll be a great thing!

Points out of 10? 9.5! The only disappointing factor for me was that it was only a 15 (I know they were under a lot of pressure to only make it a 15) and I’d expect a few more scares and so on. Eitherway it’s a true classic – GO AND SEE IT!

Here’s the trailer to get you more excited if you haven’t seen it yet!

Dragon Breathes Fire

The new era of spaceflight has officially begun. SpaceX have launched its Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule to drop supplies off at the International Space Station. It launched, got berthed (note not docked…yet) to the space station and has returned. Remember, this is a private company. This is the future.

One of the unique things with Dragon is that it’s the only vehicle capable of bringing things back from the space station, such as science experiments. Scientists are now able to launch tests, leave them to work on the ISS for a few months and then have them come back for detailed analysis. Brilliant!

It’s all at a significantly cheaper cost too, plus they’re going to be shipping astronauts to and fro as well. Double brilliant! And then there’s the Falcon 9 Heavy, capable of lofting gargantuan satellites into space, again at significantly cheaper prices.

And the best thing of all? This is only the beginning!

Here are some great photos from launch, berthing and landing.

Falcon 9 launches to the ISS with Dragon. Credit: SpaceX

The ISS robotic arm grapples Dragon for berthing. Credit: NASA

Dragon being unberthed. Credit: NASA

Dragon safely back on Earth. Credit: SpaceX

Rare Interview: An Audience with Neil Armstrong

An Audience with Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong very rarely gives interviews, so this is something pretty special. This is a 4 part interview (each 15 minutes long) discussing different aspects of the space race and Neil Armstrong’s involvement in it. There aren’t many of these around so sit back and enjoy. He’s really a joy to listen too.

Click here for the interviews

And so the Noctilucent Cloud Season of 2012 begins…

What are these noctilucent clouds? Well, I’m sure you can easily deduce it. That’s right they are ‘night-shining clouds’. And now is the start of the season for them (they only occur in the northern hemisphere between June and August). These simply aren’t your normal clouds though, these are something special.

Noctilucent Clouds

First of all they are the highest clouds in the atmosphere. They occur in an area called the mesosphere (they’re also called polar mesospheric clouds for this reason). The mesosphere sits atop the stratosphere which itself sits atop the troposphere (which is where all other clouds and weather form). So these things are pretty high up, 75 – 85km up in fact.

So why do these things ‘night-shine’? It’s pretty simple really, they occur so high up that if you were where they were you’d be able to see the Sun. So they simply reflect the sunlight they’re seeing down to us.

The problem is is that not a lot is known or understood about these clouds, how they form and so on. The best thing though is that you can help. There’s a lovely little Facebook community who go out and report and photograph sightings. There’s also a very useful forum if you wish to know more.

So become a citizen scientist for the summer and help us learn more about these peculiar clouds!

Looking Back at Planet Dinosaur

Explaining why we think Spinosaurus hunted in water. Credit: BBC

I’ve been re-watching the BBC’s recent series ‘Planet Dinosaur‘. It’s basically a new, modern version of Walking with Dinosaurs. The thing to note is is that they are actually completely different. Walking with Dinosaurs told us what the dinosaurs did, how they lived and so on. Planet Dinosaur does the same but with one important additional feature. They provide the evidence. Parts of each episode swipe away to look at the fossils, so we can see what kind of predator attacked this type of herbivore because of the bite marks left behind, and similar things along these lines.

Explaining the Predator/Prey Relationship. Credit: BBC

In one episode they even manage to get the complex analysis of oxygen isotope data across to show you that a land based predator hunted in the water. Impressive stuff, the graphics are pretty immense too. It’s also narrated by John Hurt, who narrated Human Planet.

So once again, well done to the BBC, a truly corking job.
The series is available on iTunes too at the moment for only £7.99