Prachi Chourey

Posts Tagged ‘“Prachi Chourey”

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Springtime for Spacetime

Imagine you’re looking out onto a canal and see two insects on the surface of the water. Their weight presses down and causes a dip into which anything rolling on the surface could fall in towards them. This is how mass creates gravitational attraction by curving space-time – the bigger the insect, the larger the dip and the stronger the gravity. Now imagine the insects are moving about or spinning around. They can create small ripples on the water. Each ripple is like a small dip travelling out from the middle. Anything on the water’s surface the ripple passes under will be jiggled about, falling into the dips and pushed out by the peaks of the ripples. Space-time is a lot more rigid and the ripples a lot smaller, but it is that jiggling that missions like LISA are looking for.

Watching Saturn at Opposition

The ringed planet Saturn is at opposition – ie it is at the part of its orbit that brings it closest to the Earth. This in turn makes it a good time to have a look at this most stunning planet.

Global Astronomy Month has also begun and they started things off with a live view of Saturn. For those wanting to look at how the professionals do it, Tom Stallard and Henrik Melin of Leicester University are presently stuck up Mauna Kea in Hawaii measuring the aurora with the Infrared Telescope Facility and have also put that online.

They’ve blogged about what they’re doing here and will be broadcasting 11am-5pm BST every day of their observations at this page.

Auroral blog on ROG Blog

Max Alexander, the photographer behind the Explorers of the Universe exhibition has been featured in a blog entry for the Royal Observatory Greenwich site. The entry includes a photograph of two auroral filaments (paths taken by the impacting electrons) intertwined by the complex electromagnetic interactions of the involved currents. The entry signs off with an infrared image of Saturn’s aurora, featured in the ROG’s new planetarium show Meet the Neighbours.

The skies over Kendal in October

We’re moving into the darker, colder and usually rather cloudy nights of the end of the year. As ever, this post is illustrated with a few sky charts showing midnight on the first, last and fifteenth day of the month. The dots represent brighter stars, green circles are star clusters, nebulae, galaxies and the like and the very brightest stars, the Moon and the planets are named when they appear. Sky charts provided using Stellarium.

Solar system

The Moon will be in the last quarter phase on the 1st, new on the 7th, first quarter on the 14th and full on the 23rd. On the 14th, the Moon will occult the star 50 Sagittarii at around 8:10pm for northern observers.

The middle of the month sees the start of the Orionid meteor shower, which will peak on the 21st. Peak rates are low and a full Moon will blot out all but the brightest. Orionids are fast and leave persistent trails. They are best seen before dawn.

Heavens above presently lists two comets above magnitude 12 and seven asteroids above magnitude 10 in the hours of darkness. The comets are: 103P Hartley at 5.6 – approaching visibility – in Cassiopeia and 10P Tempel 2 at 10.1 in Cetus. Details on the future movements and changing brightness of the comets can be found here. The asteroids are 6 Hebe at 7.8 in Cetus; 4 Vesta at 7.9 in Virgo; 8 Flora at 8.6 in Aquarius; 1 Ceres at 8.9 in Sagittarius; 7 Iris at 9.4 in Gemini; 39 Laetitia at 9.5 in Aquarius and 471 Papagena at 9.8 in Cetus – rather a busy constellation this month.

The Planets

Mars is usually lost in atmospheric haze now. It shines at +1.5, appearing in the south-west, only to set an hour after the Sun.

Venus is seen just below Mars as the Sun sets, shining much brighter, but also lower, requiring a very low horizon to the West to see it.

Mercury for the next day or two, Mercury is visible in the Eastern horizon shortly before the Sun rises, though it will appear dimmer than its +1.3 magnitude suggests due to the bright sky around it.

Saturn returns to the skies at the end of the month, making an appearance shortly before dawn with rings now angled such that they look more like rings. The planet will shine at a magnitude of 0.7.

Jupiter continues to shine brightly as ‘that star in the East’. It shines at a magnitude of -2.9 and is in an empty part of the sky. Its inclination is such that transits of satellites happen quite a bit. Times of some of these and appearances of the Great Red Spot are here.

Uranus lies a couple of degrees west of Jupiter, plus a little above, and shines at 5.7.

Neptune is also in the morning skies, on the border of Capricorn and Aquarius.

A few things outside the solar system

The constellations of Leo, Virgo and the Big Dipper are all home to galaxies,details here. This is not a good month to look at faint things as the all-night twilight obliterates detail and contrast.

The Usual Stuff

If you want to watch satellites flaring or passing in the sky (even sometimes during the day), then go to Heavens Above to get times and directions. If you need assistance in deciding where things are in the sky, why not install the free program Stellarium, which does all the work for you? Finally, to avoid the dreaded clouds, Met Check gives a quick forecast and the Met satellites or other satellites can be used to track breaks in the cloud. For an indication of auroral or solar activity, is an invaluable resource. If the stars aren’t available, there’s always solar astronomy. Projections of the Sun onto white card can show sunspots, when properly focused. A good filter (not an eyepiece filter) or a dedicated solar telescope will show better details. Never observe the Sun without filters and never with an inadequate, inappropriate or old (and therefore possibly with holes in) filter.

Public events

For young astronomers (ages 9-16) Space Explorers is run in Kendal Museumon the third Saturday of most months from 2:30-4:00 pm. The next meeting is on Saturday the 23rd. The Society for Popular Astronomy also has a sky map for young astronomers here.

Plus why not pop along to the Eddington Society, which meets at Kendal Museum on the first Monday of each month, this month it is on the 4th, with member’s projects the subject of the meeting. There will also be a public observing event at The Brewery Arts Centre on the 15th from 6:30pm.

Don’t forget to check back here and on my twitter account for the latest astronomical events in this area.

FITS liberator now stand alone

FITS Liberator is a thing that allows you to download, view and manipulate images in the complex FITS and PDS data formats, produce pretty pictures with them and render them in the simpler and more common jpeg and other image formats. Before now, it operated as an add on to Adobe Photoshop. Now, however, it has been released as a stand-alone free program.

Download it here.

What has ESO got hidden?

The European Southern Observatory, which operates a number of high end observatories in the southern hemisphere, has put up a rather enticing webpage. It promises to open up and reveal ‘ESO’s hidden treasures’ on Monday, 4th of October.

We wait to see what they are…

Pan-STARRS spots hazard in space

The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS 1, is a 1.8 metre telescope with a 1.4 gigapixel camera mounted on it, constantly surveying the sky. It hunts stars, galaxies and also anything that moves from moment to moment, specifically comets, trans-Neptunian objects and asteroids. Now it has managed to capture an asteroid that may or may not pose a future hazard.

2010 STS3 is a 45 metre wide asteroid, capable of causing regional disruption on a par with the object believed responsible for the Tunguska explosion, which flattened trees after a similar sized object exploded in the atmosphere above the sparsely inhabited region.

The object poses no immediate risk, but as it is passing close to us, it will be monitored and its orbital parameter derived from dedicated follow up observations to help determine more precisely where it will be. Presently, there is a small chance of an impact in 2098, but the margin of error on the orbital parameters is too high to make any warnings relevant.

The main significance of 2010 ST3 was that Pan-STARRS saw it first, proving its ability to detect these things when they appear. Pan-STARRS 1 is set to be supplemented by Pan-STARRS 4, a larger, more sensitive observatory, which will assist in surveying the skies.

Predicting the weather

The BBC are running a series of comparisons and validations of various weather prediction services against one another in an effort to see if the Met Office is providing a sufficient service. It’s a semi public thing, with members of the public asked to send in their ideas of better weather prediction services and a public meeting planned for the 12th of October in London. Details here.

Vote for your favourate photowalk

On the 7th of August, five particle physics institutions opened their doors to the public and their cameras. Each institution has chosen three of the resulting photographs taken on their premises and these fifteen pictures have gone to the public vote to decide which is the best. You have until the 8th of October to view them and vote here.

Dance of the galaxies

The Milky Way appears to have been let off in the case of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.

The two orbitting dwarf galaxies are presently ensnared in the gravity of the much large Milky Way, but observations show they are linked by a stream of gas and stars. Initial thoughts were this was part of the tearing and chewing process the Milky Way invokes in absorbing the smaller bodies, however, studies of the dynamics of galaxy interactions have shown this is unlikely to have been the case. It is more likely that the two clouds came together before meeting the Milky Way and so became an interacting binary. Then they arrived at our local galaxy and are either in an unusually large orbit or have only just, in galactic lifetime terms, arrived. Full details here.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory have been studying and simulating the collision and merger of galaxy clusters to derive the role, if any, that dark matter plays in the dynamics of the collisions. The particular one being studied is the evolution of the Bullet Cluster. The simulation looks a little like this:

Satellite launch problems

The $424 million Glory mission to study the impact of aerosols on climate variability has been delayed due to problems with the mechanisms operating its solar panels. Originally slated for a 22nd of November launch, it has now been pushed back to the 23rd of February to allow time to correct the problem. This will mean the satellite will launch almost a year after the same rocket type exploded, destroying another climate satellite.

Meanwhile, hot on the heels of the announcement of launch dates closing in for the human spaceflight aspect of Virgin Galactic, it appears the satellite launch part of the business is being allowed to slide for the time being, with its head departing and no replacement currently in sight. Branson talked up the utility of satellite launches for the education sector in his recent press event, but more as a speculative venture.

Some IoP news

The Institute of Physics has a new President in the form of UCL materials physicist and Emeritus Professor Marshall Stoneham. Further details here.

Professor Brian Cox has also been presented with the Kelvin Award for his outreach activities.

Icy happenings out there

An animation of Comet Hartley 2 (which can be found via this chart) has been doing the rounds. No idea of attribution, although it’s on a website hosted byPatrick Wiggins, but this shows the comet travelling through the skies (not yet visible to the naked eye):

Meanwhile the photograph below was taken by Will Gater:

Cassini, not to be left out, has also been taking snaps of watery happenings in space, with this image of Saturn’s satellite Enceladus leaking from its geysers.

Some more IYA updates

Some more updates have come through on projects related to the International Year of Astronomy, 2009.

There’s a few events coming up. World Space Week will be held from the 4th-10th of October, coordinating space outreach activities across the globe. Shortly afterward, UCL will be hosting Your Universe, from the 15th-17th of October, with demonstrations on a range of astrophysical phenomena. And finally, Dark Matter Awareness Week hopes to raise awareness of, well, you guessed it, that stuff we’re unawares of, from the 1st-8th December.

The Galileo Teacher Training Programme has, in conjunction with the The Europlanet Outreach Team and Steering Committee, have released best practice guidelines for outreach activities.

One piece of outreach, Einstein@Home, has registered a success. The screensaver based cloud computing effort originally searched for the signatures of gravitational waves in data from the LIGO observatory, but also expanded into a pulsar hunt, finding a new rogue pulsar wandering through the skies 17,000 light years from us.

Having completed the final report of official IYA2009 activities, the website now wants to hear from all the events and happenings linked to IYA2009, but not included in the official census. Send your reports this way.

A couple more articles on the new exoplanet…

There seems to have been two press conferences going on when the discovery of the planet Gliese 581g was announced…

The first press conference was the announcement of a scientific study of the motions of the star Gliese 581 (also known as Gliese 581a). These motions, studied over eleven years, have suggested the existence of a planet 3.1-4.3 times the mass of the Earth orbitting the red dwarf in around 37 days, putting it within the ‘habitable’ zone of the star in terms of equilibrium temperature derived from the radiative balance of the system. This press conference included some ruminations on what would be needed to find the signals of life, such as spectroscopy of the atmosphere, which due to the alignment of the system, cannot happen with present techniques. This aspect of that press conference and the implications for the search for life outside the solar system are discussed here.

The second press conference focuses on what seems to be either over-excitement by discoverer Steve Vogt or over excitement by those reporting his thoughts and words when discussing the inevitability of life on the planet Zarmina. It is entirely common for authors of a study to contemplate the implications it could have and the possibilities it opens, and obviously where life in the cold recesses of space are concerned, the possibilities are particularly enticing, but in order to prevent more canals of Mars, Venusian cities and other such hostages to fortune, it helps to avoid statements such as life being 100% certain. But if you do want to get lost in the imagery, Vogt expands on it here.

Some spaceflight stuff

There’s a lot of activity in the space sector at the minute in anticipation of the ending of one era and the start of another.

The end of the Hayabusa asteroid sample return mission will have to wait a little longer. Although the Japanese satellite made it back from the asteroid, got its canister back to Earth and the scientists recovered it and have identified particles inside the first collection chamber, the results of analysis of the particles are not likely until February or March next year.

The start of the third and final era of the Cassini mission. The satellite entered Saturn orbit in 2004 and conducted its four year mission with few problems. Since 2008, it has been running the Equinox mission extension. Now that has run out and the satellite has begun the seven year Solstice mission, which should see it to a spectacular end in the clouds of the ringed gas giant.

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX space telescope studies an unusual target. Rather than gathering light like an ordinary telescope, it looks at particles. In particular, it studies neutral particles created by the collision of the solar wind outflow from the Sun with the material between the stars. Last year, it saw the image of a ribbon in space, interpreted as a magnetic flux tube. Further studies in the intervening time have shown this pattern to be altering on the six month timescale of the new observations. The ribbon is becoming a simpler pattern, with fewer loops and twists. This is rather faster than the eleven year solar activity cycle impacting on a uniform medium would suggest, giving us an interesting glimpse of what is happening out there. Details are reported here andhere.

CryoSat is a satellite at the start of its life. The polar explorer is presently in orbit gaining data on the thickness of ice around the globe. That data needs to be calibrated and validated before full operations can go ahead. The commissioning phase will be completed in mid-October, but further validation will be required and will have to be done on the job. A validation workshop will therefore be held in ESA/ESRIN in Frascati (Rome), Italy from the 1st – 3rd February 2011.Details and flyer here.

Another satellite even earlier in its life is China’s latest Lunar satellite, Chang’e-2, which blasted off on a Long March 3C rocket earlier today (1st of October) –video here. The satellite, the second of China’s lunar program, is set to arrive in orbit in around five days and is being tracked by China with the help of ESA. The probe’s spaceframe was created as a spare for the first lunar probe, but rather than create an entirely new probe for the second mission, researchers pinned the new technology onto the old spaceframeThe probe includes a laser altimeter, a CCD camera and an impacter. It is designed to gather data for future missions and test key technologies. The next lunar mission is aiming to put a rover on the lunar surface and eventually the program hopes to put a man on the Moon.

From launched missions to scheduled to launch missions. The updated manifestfor the final launch of the space shuttle and construction of the International Space Station has been announced. ESA plans the launch of ATV2 on the 15th of February, with NASA launching the final shuttle missionSTS-134, on the 27th of February. Roscosmos is looking into extra Soyuz launch and landing slots to add capacity if needed. Meanwhile, STS-133 still has to be launched and the 1st of November mission will be previewed in a press conference on the 21st of October. Details here.

Also set to blast off in November, the Hylas-1 satellite has been undergoing tests in India and is now set to be shipped to the launch pad in French Guiana, ESA’s spaceport ArianeSpace. The satellite is a public-private partnership between ESA and Avanti Communications to provide broadband capacity to customers in the EU, part of the EU’s commitment to universal 25mps broadband by 2025. The spaceframe has been purchased from India with Avanti providing the communications technology.

Some satellites aren’t yet scheduled for launch, but need to be shipped here and there to get them tested and together. Three different space telescopes are presently at different stages of this process. The LISA pathfinder mission, which will test the technologies to be deployed on the LISA gravitational wave observatory, has spent the summer having its electromagnetic fields and responses tested and checked. LISA will use precisely controlled spacecraft to hunt for the tiniest variations in position and as such need an extremely high level of knowledge about where each part of the spacecraft is and what it is doing. Parts of the spacecraft have also undergone thermal testing to see how the proximity and direction of the Sun will alter the spaceframe. Meanwhile MIRI, the Mid InfraRed Instrument, of the James Webb Space Telescope, a massive venture that will act as a Hubble Space Telescope equivalent in the infrared, has arrived at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory for pressure testing. Finally, the Mechanical Service Module, which will act as the control system for the Gaia space telescope, which will perform precise astrometry, measuring the positions and motions of a billion stars in the Milky Way, has been put together. The thing now needs integrating with other parts that are scattered across the globe in various stages of construction and testing.

Onto future spacecraft and ESA has been asked to make a decision. Presently, it has the use of the ATV (Automatic Transfer Vehicle), an automated vehicle that can deliver stuff to the ISS, but then gets burnt up on reentry. A new vehicle, the ARV (Automatic Reusable Vehicle) has been proposed, which replaces the cargo module on the front of the ATV with a reentry capsule and also upgrades the service module. This would enable things to be returned from the ISS to the ground – such as science experiments and the like. However, there is some opposition to the craft, which some say has no future as the ATV is seemingly adequate for the jobs required of it and development of the ARV to full production capacity would probably leave little time before the ISS is decommissioned and the vehicle needing a new mission.

One possible new mission could be the development of private space hotels. There’s been a few proposals and actual launched vehicles from the USA, but now a consortium in Russia has announced plans to put up a space station. The CSS, or Commercial Space Station, will provide space for up to seven people (one commander and six non professionals) performing commercial research or just lounging about. The four room guesthouse will be supplied by Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, taking advantage of the lack of alternatives in getting people into space and Russia’s enhanced relative capabilities when others around do start popping up with new launch vehicles – all of which will also be able to partner with the station. Orbital Technologies has teamed up with a state run company and the Russian space agency to make the project a reality. The station is, unlike the ISS’s modular creation, expected to be launched on a single rocket. Construction is expected in 2012 or 2013.

Meanwhile, SpaceShipTwo, the space tourism craft operated by Virgin Galactic, has been built and is expected to begin operations in around eighteen months. Sir Richard Branson’s sights are also turning toward providing commercial satellites for the education sector as well as potentially space hotels (getting crowded up there…) and eventually a lunar habitat.

Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited has announced three Earth Observation satellites, costing £100 million are to be built and launched in 2013 to provide data commercially as well as a £10 million satellite construction and testing facility in Guildford.

Now onto conceptual spacecraft and one NASA plan to create a heavy lifting spacecraft from modified shuttle boosters, fuel tanks and engines has beenobtained by a website. At present, NASA works on the Ares rocket, derived from the solid rocket boosters that appear at the sides of the big orange fuel tanks that supply the stuff that the shuttles burn to get into orbit. This new design would lose the shuttle, move the engines from the orbiter to the fuel tank and stick a capsule on top, with some other frills. A power system has been developed that would see energy taken from the solar wind. The satellite has the capability of taking charge from the stream of ions and electrons that constantly whiz from the Sun to the outer regions of the solar system, but at present there’s no way to transfer the power back to Earth or any passing spacecraft that could use it.

And for some words on the future of spaceflight from those in whose hands it may potentially lie, the head of the UK Space Agency has been giving his view in an interview, as has the Director General of ESA.

Things to do

There’s a few things happening in the offline world (I hear from friends – or at least twitter followers – that there is such a place). So here’s a couple I’ve noticed flying about:

Monday the Fourth of October at 7:00pm sees a meeting of the Eddington Society at Kendal Museum. A talk will be given on Refraction from Atmosphere to Gravisphere.

Tuesday/Wednesday the Fifth/Sixth of October are dates designated as possible star parties (one date will be used if clear that night) held by the Bristol Astronomical Society. Details here.

Saturday the Ninth of October sees the Science is Vital March for Science to demonstrate against cuts to the science budget. Details here.

Friday the Fifteenth of October at 6:30pm sees a meeting of the Eddington Society at the Brewery Arts Centre for an observing night – weather permitting.

Tuesday the 9th of November sees the start of a season of showings of the play Bright Star, running until Saturday the 27th of November, on the life of Beatrice Tinsley at the Tabard Theatre in London, including two dates with scientists answering questions raised by the play. Details here.

And finally, if the March gets you in the mood for moving about more, then there’s a Solar Eclipse Marathon to be held in Australia on the 14th of November 2012. The race begins as the Sun emerges from behind the Moon. Details here.

Some more #SciCuts stuff

As the spending review draws closer and the impending cuts to the science budget loom ever more, a spate of further articles have been produced in opposition to them.

The Guardian reports on the potentially exacerbated Brain Drain caused by the relatively poor conditions for research in a given field in the UK compared to other countries. Meanwhile, UCL mentions a new report out showing the career paths of PhD educated individuals and hence the areas of the economy enriched by the skills learnt.

Meanwhile, the contribution of the field of chemistry to the economy is £250 billion a year, according to a report commissioned by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

And the BBC reports on how a small seed of money has grown into a sprawling oak as the Earth Observation market has become well developed enough to need no subsidy. The case the report hinges on is Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd‘s growth from a small subsidy run venture to one that has just announced it will be spending £100 million on three new satellites built and operated by itself, paid for by the licensing of observational data they will gather (immediate capital coming from sales of already generated data). This means that through the tax system, the subsidy has now reversed flow from government coffers to industry, now going from industry back into government coffers, but the initial seed was required to get the ball rolling on this.

If you’re a company looking for that sort of a start up opportunity for some scientific development, the STFC may have some help. The research council is offering prizes of fixed term free use of facilities and scientists for appropriate research. Details on the application process are here. Of course, if you can think of research requiring longer terms, different facilities or just miss out on the competition, then you can always try hiring the facilities. Researchers are cash hungry and often open to industrial partnerships relevant to their work.

Further details on the 9th of October Science is Vital march have been put on the web.

Some astronomy publications

A new month and a new quarter have broken, meaning there’s a fair few new things out to be read.

The Sky at Night Magazine have put out a preview of what’s in their October issue to wet your appetites.

Four centuries after conception and a hundred years or so after its use was occasionally demonstrated as after dinner entertainment, a book called Calculus Doesn’t Suck has appeared (along with podcasts and the like) to show the many varied uses of the mathematical methodology.

The British Astronomical Association has put out the latest issue of its journal. There’s a lot about the recent solar eclipse, including unusual shadow bands seenand a trip report by Francisco Diego.

The BAA has also released an entirely new publication from its double star group. Both of the BAA publications are free to download.

For those interested in planetary science, a Geophysics twitter newspaper has been launched. Such publications are websites drawing more in depth stories from the twitter feed of those followed by the editor.

Meanwhile, Astronomy Now has been looking back over September’s images. Just to be different.

For those who prefer a little more audio, then Under British Skies, the show, has a few more episodes out including this one on the planets and this one on citizen science.

ESA has also released an edition of its Euronews Space Magazine vodcast, which can be seen here, discussing science and science fiction. This is quite topical given the appearance of this interview with the scientific advisor to The Big Bang Theory as well as ruminations in Discovery on Disney’s updating and rereleasing of the not even aiming for accuracy 1979 film Black Hole.

Finally, the much vaunted Geek Calendar (in support of Libel Reform) is on its way and a trailer has been released. Close eyes now…

Some observing alerts

Jupiter remains king in the sky at the moment, as Will Gater’s image, showing a transit of Io shortly after my own observations of it, illustrates:

That black dot is the shadow of the satellite, a vast area of eclipse moving over the cloudtops of that giant planet.

The two most distant major planets of the solar system are also available to be found at the moment.

We also have a comet in Cassiopeia, comet Hartley, now edging onto the visible end of the brightness range. Finder chart here.

And for more advanced observers, there’s a faint blue star in Auriga presently up in brightness by about five orders of magnitude (taking it to around 16). Further details and a finder’s chart are here.

Finally, slightly more advance warning has come in about how the proper motion of the stars will alter the appearance of constellations over the next 50,000 years (yes, they can write this knowing no-one’s going to take it up with them if they get it wrong).

More on the new planet

A quick roundup of articles on newly discovered habitable zone extrasolar rocky planet. Start off at the overoptimistic end with the Telegraph’s article, taking Vogt’s rather dodgy assumption that it is certain there’s life there at face value… Then there’s Skymania, which mentions the possibilities of life on the planet, while stressing these are just possibilities. Discovery puts in a line suggesting life is so certain, it would be harder to prove it isn’t there. Next to fall in line is the BBC article, mostly neutral but pushing the life angle hard. Then onto the more neutral press release from the University that hosts the researchers involved. Finally, Universe Today hosted a twitter debate on whether or not Vogt was right to be confident of life’s appearance on the planet. It did not tilt in his favour to say the least…

Planet found in an alien star’s habitable zone

Gliese 581 is a name well known and repeated in exoplanetary circles. Lying 20.3 light years from us in the constellation of Libra, it is a red dwarf star now known to have at least six planets. Twice before, the star has been in the news with one of its planets declared close to the habitable zone – the slender band of orbits around the star where the stellar radiation is high enough to melt ice, but low enough not to boil water. Planet C was close, but on the hot side, too close to the star. Planet D was close, but on the cold side. Now a planet G has appeared and it is right in the middle of the habitable zone.

Appearing in this region around a star is not in any way proof that a planet can support life, it is merely a suggestion that it is likely to fulfill at least one of the prerequisites – the balance of radiation from its host star is sufficient to sustain liquid water. But further properties derived from observations of the star are quite positive. The planet is 3-4 times the mass of the Earth, suggesting a rocky planet with a defined surface, which at a similar density would put it at 1.2-1.4 Earth masses, giving a surface gravity not that dissimilar to our own. That would imply sufficient gravity to hold an atmosphere. But the similarities with the development of our own world do seem to end there.

The planet orbits its host star in 37 days. The low luminosity of Gliese 581 means that to be in the habitable zone in terms of radiation, the planet must crowd close to the star. This means the star has sufficient gravitational effect to tidally lock its satellite – meaning as with the Moon in orbit of the Earth, the same face of the planet always points toward the star. This would imply a searingly hot one face and freezing cold dark side, with winds racing from one side to the other. At the day night boundary, buffeted by these winds, more moderate climates would be seen at the different latitudes, where life could start, possibly evolving to take advantage of less temperate spaces on the planet after leaving the cradle. Red Dwarfs are long lived stars, so the time will also be there to do it.

But gravity and photons aren’t all a star can put out. Gliese 581 isn’t a flare star, that is, it isn’t known for sudden massive bursts of material from its surface, but it will still lose mass through slow stellar winds. It is believed that planets in close orbits to their host stars tend to lose their magnetic fields, or see them closely affiliated with that of their host stars. The protective magnetosphere, the magnetic sheath that protects us against the particle radiation that results from hot matter essentially expanding off the surface of our Sun, may not be replicated in this new place.

Whether or not there is life in this increasingly diverse place, the careful measurements carried out by the team, who measured the Doppler shifts of the light from the wobbling star to an amazing precision, do show that pulling out rocky planets in the habitable zones is within reach of modern technology. However, with the actual light from the planet lost in the glare of the star, it will take time and new technology to tease out the signal of life within that light, should it be there.

The paper announcing the discovery of the planet is here and one submitted at the same time detailing modelling of planet D’s atmosphere to determine whether or not its properties are sufficient to insulate the bitter cold and foster life is here.

Further reports on the story are herehere and here.

Lost Apollo 11 footage found… and released a year ago.

Space and physics news tends to consist of many, many small sparks of inspiration doing the rounds and dying down for a bit. So many, that occasionally, should a spark previously lost amid a sea of news activity re-emerge in times of lower headline flux, it can be mistaken for new news.

A few websites such as Discovery picked up on the story of new cleaned up footage of the early moments of Apollo 11, thought lost by NASA, but recorded by other stations. The reports state the footage has been painstakingly reassembled. All this is true, except for one minor problem – the footage was released during the 2009 celebrations of 40 years since the 1969 missions, as Universe Today noted.

ISS crewmembers land successfully

Three crewmembers from the International Space Station have successfully undocked from the station and landed in Kazakhstan in vehicle Soyuz TMA-18. The event brings to an end the crew configuration known as Expedition 24. The new crew configuration, Expedition 25, will commence when three new crewmembers join the three still on the station. This is expected to happen on the 9th of October, with the arrival of Soyuz TMA-01M.

The Soyuz undocked at 03:02 BST today. It carried out a separation burn to put distance between it and the station. At 05:31, it performed a four minute twenty one second deorbital burn, slowing it down sufficiently to drop out of the skies. The three segments of the vehicle separated at 05:56 and the crew continued towards the ground in the descent module, which entered the atmosphere at 05:59. It landed near Arkalyk, in Northern Kazakhstan, at 06:23. Pictures like the one shown below are at NASA’s flickr photo stream:

Events were also captured on NASA TV and archived to their youtube channel, from which the following, showing the change of command, the aborted landing, farewells and the actual undocking and landing, were taken:

Quick Observing report

The cold air tonight reminded me that there actually sometimes is a starry sky above my head. Seeing the clear, star pricked night, I assembled the Celestron 130SLT and eyepieces and quickly set it up outside. Not quick enough as a band of fast moving cloud headed between me and the targets. Defeated, I returned inside.

Not too long afterward, I returned and set up under a clearer sky with slower clouds. I took with me the Greenkat spotting scope as well. My three intended targets for the night were Jupiter, Uranus and the Comet 103P Hartley, which is breaching the magnitude 6.5 according to Heavens Above (finder chart here). My intention was to direct the main telescope straight onto Jupiter and Uranus and use the spotting scope’s wider field of view to scan for the comet before zooming in on it later, as I have done with previous ones.

This didn’t go quite to plan as a combination of the strong light of the Moon and neighbours popping by for a look meant the comet hunt was eventually called off. Although I did get a glimpse of Hartley, it didn’t seem quite good enough for a swing round of the Celestron.

Instead I concentrated on the brighter objects, taking in the turquoise Uranus before showing off Jupiter and the four Galilean moons to four neighbours. Three of the satellites were arranged in a similar way to the handle of the plough, all on one side of the planet. The fourth, Io, sat just off the limb, easily resolvable in the 9mm and 4mm eyepieces, but too close for the 24mm one to pick out. Just passed opposition, the giant planet is enormous in the eyepiece. As well as the remaining equatorial band, detail could be seen of the zones and caps, which is quite unusual for me to spot.

After this, a neighbour wanted to look at the just passed full Moon, so we swung onto that, with views of shadowed craters on the limb to see. With that done and the cold biting into everyone, the session was wrapped up and we headed back into our houses.

IYA2009 update

Some news on the ever continuing International Year of Astronomy, 2009.

The World At Night photography project has released a book of its best images as well as photography articles. Magic of the Stars is only presently available in German and Dutch, but may be translated to other languages soon. Meanwhile,their regular newsletter has been released – this time in English.

Global Hands On Universe and the Galileo Teacher Training Project have also released a joint newsletter on their efforts to spread good practise in astronomy education. The next ESA GTTP session will be held during the 7th-10th of December in the Netherlands. Teachers of students aged 11-19 will be encouraged to apply from the 1st of October. Full details here.

A forthcoming conference will examine the interaction between the New Media and Learning to determine best practise and how to go forward, using one to compliment the other. The event will take place in Brussels on the 25th and 26th of November. Details here.

And finally, the International Astronomical Union will be hosting a Middle East and Africa Regional meeting on the 10th-15th of April 2011, in Cape Town, South Africa. The meeting will discuss the use and opportunities afforded by new facilities in the region. Full details here.

Outreach funding deadline approaches

A funding deadline approaches for large outreach projects. The UK Space Agency is looking to award up to £5,000 to projects that will bring space to the masses. The total amount to be distributed is £35,000 and the deadline for applications is the 1st of October. Details on eligibility and the sort of projects funded last year are available here, along with all forms required for a successful submission.

Want to get back to basics in astronomy?

The British Astronomical Association is holding a basic introduction to astronomy session in Cardiff on the 16th of October. The series of talks and discussions on techniques will take place from 9:30am-6pm. Further details on cost, how to book and venue are here.

Two lunar views

Scientists at the European Planetary Science Congress 2010 have released a map of how the solar wind impacts differently on different parts of the lunar surface. Mapping how many solar wind protons are deflected by magnetic anomalies, the researchers found up to 20% of incoming solar wind particles were bounced away. Furthermore, maps of energetic hydrogen atoms created by the interaction of the 80% of solar wind protons that make it through and strike the ground show holes where the magnetic anomalies resisted the interactions. The size of the holes varies with the force of the solar wind, which blows with changing intensities, but the general outlook is one of areas of the lunar surface relatively protected from the ion flux and so less likely to be producing the minute amount of water that results from the interactions. Details here.

Someone who himself was once deflected on his way to the Moon is Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 fame (and previously Apollo 8, which orbitted but did not intend to land on the Moon). He discussed the future of spaceflight and other things over on Universe Today, the interview is here.

A couple of previews

On their facebook page, Astronomy Now have published this picture, a preview of the new heavy duty EQ7 tripod by Skywatcher.

Meanwhile Chris Lintott has published this picture of Patrick Moore in costume for the upcoming Sky at Night episode…

…and if you want a real movie preview, the film Monsters will be shown at an event at the Greenwich Observatory. They are hosting an astrobiology event, discussing aliens in science, fiction and comedy. During the event, which includes games, discussion, meteorite handling and possible observations of the potentially life bearing moon of Jupiter, Europa (weather permitting), attendees will be selected at random and offered the chance to watch the preview in one of the limited number of available seats in the planetarium. More details here.

More on Saturn’s aurora

Following Tom Stallard’s EPSC 2010 presentation on videos of the changes in Saturn’s aurora (including faint auroral signals) and linking that to events in the magnetosphere in general, there’s been a couple of news items in magazines. New Scientist managed to get the wrong end of the stick, believing the infrared aurora to be the new thing (it isn’t, just the video of it and the faintness of the signal) whereas Astronomy Now gave a more proper writeup, including a genuinely new thing from the same session on the detection of Saturn’s radio aurora. Radio emissions come from charged particles getting deflected by magnetic fields, which is what happens when auroral particles head to the auroral regions of a planet. Satellites have long been able to put themselves in the thin zone of emissions from Earth, Jovian observers have detected the Io current associated auroral radio signals, but Saturn has been more elusive to satellites in its region until now.

Soyuz landing tonight

This post might seem like a repeat…

Last night’s undocking of the Soyuz vehicle that would bring three astronauts back to the ground was halted after ground control in Moscow received a signalsuggesting the International Space Station had not been made airtight as the hatches between the two vehicles closed. Once this had been resolved, the vehicle refused to unhook itself from the ISS when the command was given, sothe undocking was cancelled and repairs carried out.

Now the three crewmembers are sat back in the vehicle. The hatches are closed and everything’s registering as airtight. Undocking is expected at 3:02 am BST and landing at 6:22 am BST, all broadcast on NASA TV, if this time it happens…

The replacement crewmembers are expected on October 9th.

Intergalactic magnetic fields blur our views

Images of black hole candidates viewed in x-rays have been blurred by primordial magnetic fields lying around the universe according to a new study. 170 images of black hole candidates were investigated and a blurring effect relative to the expected nice clean x-ray images reported. The mechanism for doing this lies in how x-rays interact with background radiation in the universe. Occasionally, an x-ray will interact by becoming an electron-positron pair. This pair of oppositely charged particles will travel for a little while before being attracted back together and forming a new x-ray. If nothing happens to deflect the e-p pair, the new x-ray will continue on the same path as the old one with the same energy. Magnetic fields will however alter the path of the charged particles and hence the properties of the recombined x-ray – if they recombine. More details here.

Dance of the planets in the dust

Spotting exoplanets is very hard to do directly. The best bet is to find an indirect method, such as the amount of light they block from their host star, the gravitational lens they produce as they pass between us and another object, or the amount they pull their host star about. Another suggestion is to look for how they alter the distribution of debris in their version of the solar system. Round these parts, the outer debris ring is the Kuiper Edgeworth belt, and just like Saturn’s rings are shepherded by Saturn’s moons, so this belt is kept in line by the planet Neptune. Looking for well kept borders enables some idea that a planet may be available, but when looking at even earlier times in a solar system’s formation, the evidence of an outer planet’s influence can be even easier to spot.

NASA researchers have now modelled the effect of Neptune on the belt, going back to the earliest times in the solar system’s history. They find a well kept belt forms in around 15 million years. The researchers plan to extend their findings to researching the main asteroid belt as well as the capture of Trojan asteroids by gravitational sources associated with Jupiter. They will also investigate models of dusty rings seen in other planetary systems to see what information can be obtained. Further information and a video of the creation of our outer ring can be seen here.

How fast does your clock run?

In Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, one of the surprising predictions was that a clock close to a strong gravitational source will tick faster than one observed farther away. Similarly, one clock moving relative to another will also appear to tick at a different rate. These effects have been measured using pairs of atomic clocks, one on the ground the other on aircraft and spacecraft before, but advances in technology have enabled the difference in altitude to be made a little smaller. So now the difference in clock speeds when one is 35cm above the other, or travelling at 20mph have been measured. The difference is measurable, but tiny – one part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 – so no need to keep altering bedroom alarm clocks to keep up with the clock in the living room. Further details were broadcast on a radio show, which can be read about and heard here.

Planetary studies on the ocean

A NASA oceanographer, who uses boats to study climate change, has been interviewed about what makes him tick.

Telescope maintenance blog up

A blog discussing the maintenance of telescopes used by the American Association of Variable Star Observers to compliment the observations made by amateurs has been put up. Here’s one of the entries, giving a flavour of what’s to come.

New ESO magazine out

The European Southern Observatory‘s quarterly journal, The Messenger, has put out its latest edition. The indepth astronomy magazine is free to download from here and contains information on the latest research at ESO facilities, technical adjustments to the telescopes as well as general issues on observing, such as how ‘seeing’ and ‘image quality’ are considered.

Soyuz crew drop to take place soon

A trio of astronauts from the International Space Station are preparing to take an elevator ride they’ll never forget. They are presently sitting in a Soyuz capsule waiting for the OK to decouple and head off towards Earth. A problem with the couplings has delayed things for a while, but undocking burn is expected at 00:40 EDT (5:40 BST), deorbital burn at 3:14 EDT (8:14 BST) and landing north of Arkalyk around 4:05 EDT (9:05 BST). Coverage on NASA TVwill resume at midnight EDT (5am BST).

Space probe roundup

There’s a few probes out there, gathering data in the solar system, so starting from the inner planets, today’s news includes:

Venus Express has been watching a vortex playing in the atmosphere above the south pole of Venus. In 1979, the Pioneer Venus mission spotted a vortex above the north pole and on arrival in 2006, Venus Express found its southern twin. However, continuous recording of the phenomenon has shown that the double-eyed appearance of the vortex was simply a coincidence. Other vortices have since come and gone at the south, leaving the double eyed feature nowhere to be found. Full details are here.

Sticking with Venus Express, but delving lower into the atmosphere, lightning discharges on the second planet from the Sun have been confirmed as happening as frequently on Venus – one hundred times a day – as on Earth. The storms are strongest on the dayside, where the Sun provides the energy for cloud particles to collide and rub together, and also strongest towards the equator, for the same reason. The signals, previous detected by other probes using different instrumentation, were detected using Venus Express’s magnetometer and were apparent from the earliest times after insertion into orbit. Full details here.

Onto Earth now and a crater seen in satellite images bundled into the Google Earth software has been confirmed as being an impact feature. The feature was spotted in 2008 in images of the Egyptian desert and has been measured at 45 metres diameter and 16m deep. The crater was forged by the impact of a 1.3m meteorite weighing in at 10 tonnes (one tonne of which has now been collected up) sometime in the last several thousand years. The crater has evaded the geological processes that tend to erode such features and seems to have also escaped notice from human eyes in all that time. More on the discovery and confirmation of Kamil crater (including a google maps page showing the thing)can be seen here.

Three years of data from the SMART-1 mission to look at the Moon have beenreleased by ESA. The three scientific instruments on board the probe were: the Advanced Moon micro-Imager Experiment (AMIE), which was a camera in visible and near infrared light, which watched the terrain changing as the shadows changed and so mapped the southern pole of the Moon to a resolution of 40m per pixel; the SMART-1 InfraRed Spectrometer (SIR), which watched the spectrum of the Moon in the 0.9-2.6 micrometer wavelength range, enabling mapping of pyroxene and olivine in solidified lunar magma exposed by asteroid impacts; the Demonstration of a Compact Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (D-CIXS), which mapped the Moon in the 0.5-10keV photon energy range, enabling x-ray reflection spectroscopy of some heavy elements. Fortunately for D-CIXS, a high energy solar flare provided additional x-ray flux enabling some of the elements that would normally be producing very dim signals to shine brightly enough to be confirmed. The data can be found here.

Further out and Mars Express has been used to examine the unusual behaviour of carbon dioxide ice in the Martian polar cap. Observations of the ice showed unusual behaviour as the cap receded in warmer times. The signal of the CO2 is seen to weaken and vanish as it sublimates from ice to gas, but then not long after, the signal suddenly returns before vanishing again. This fade in, it was hypothesised, could be due to a protective layer of dust or water ice protecting the underlying CO2. As there was no change in brightness, as there would be if white ice gave way to dark dust, researchers concluded water ice, invisible to the instruments they were using, must be the insulating layer. The Martian polar caps contain a mixture of water ice and CO2 ice. CO2 sublimates at a lower temperature, so what was happening was the exposed CO2 vanished, leaving a water ice shell (added to by condensing water ice from warmer, lower latitudes) and underlying CO2. Then there came the problem of why the water ice was suddenly stripped away revealing lots of CO2 to provide the second signal. Models of downward flowing winds created by the warming showed that these were capable of doing the stripping, lending the final piece of the theory. Full details here.

The Rosetta probe is set for a date with the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in May 2014. Computer models of the three dimensional shape and motion of the comet have been used to assess what part of it will be least prone to outgassing as the block of rock and ice closes in on the Sun. The results suggest the southern hemisphere will be the best place for Philae, the lander delivered by the probe, to hook on and sample the comet material. Before the probe meets the comet, this hemisphere will receive the largest amount of sunshine, eroding the outer crust and exposing pristine material within. By the time the probe meets the comet, and after delivery of the lander, the north pole of the comet will be in the glare of the Sun, and so most prone to outbursts. The lander will use harpoons and jets to hook onto the comet during its studies. Full details here.

Cassini will be performing the first in a series of Titan flybys over the next eighteen months later today. The aim will be to supplement climate studies of the distant satellite of Saturn, more details here.

Cassini has also been taking a good look at the parent body in the infrared. Using the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, Tom Stallard of Leicester (and formerly UCL) has been observing changes in the southern lights of Saturn to compare with other processes going on in Saturn’s magnetosphere, the aim being to connect the two. The aurora of Saturn are complex and involve both large scale motions of the magnetosphere – contractions and expansions caused by the uneven passage of the pulsed solar wind – and small scale structure such as disruption of particle and energy flows by the moons of Saturn inside the magnetosphere. More details of his infrared work are here and some images of ultraviolet auroral signals from Saturn and Jupiter by the Hubble Space Telescope are here.

Explorers of the Universe reaches Cardiff

Containing a pleasantly large selection of UCL astronomers, the Explorers of the Universe series of portraits by Max Alexander has arrived in Cardiff. It will be exhibited until the 28th of November, 10am-5pm, Tuesday to Sunday each week along with models of the Herschel and Planck satellites. The exhibition is situated at the National Museum and further details can be seen here.

Your Universe – back at UCL

University College London will be hosting another session of Your Universe. The event will showcase telescopes, talks and demonstrations of a variety of concepts in astronomy, astrophysics and space science.

Your Universe will happen on the 15th-17th of October and further details are here.

Get Brian Cox for your school

Professor Brian Cox will be teaching a science lesson somewhere in a school in the UK. To decide which school the TV presenter and CERN scientist will be unveiling the wonders of the universe in, click here and follow the instructions to nominate your own.

More #SciCuts stuff

The Science is Vital campaign, which aims to halt cuts to the science budget now has a new website, including links to petitions and other such stuff.

Meanwhile a poll currently being carried out in the Economist has been looking at whether or not readers of that magazine favour protecting the science budget. The results from the first day show readers backed science by 70% to 30% in favour of not protecting the area. This ratio has improved in favour of science in the days since then and presently looks closer to 74% to 26%. The ongoing debate is here.

A similar poll a similar result in Scientific American. Details here.

Have a bilingual chat with a ground based NASA pilot

How can you be a pilot when never leaving the comfort of your office? The answer lies in the kind of unmanned drones flown by NASA. Herman Posada flies these full scale aircraft as they test the limits of aeronautics and carry out dangerous imaging missions. He will be discussing his role in an online chat to be carried out in both English and Spanish at 8pm BST (3pm EDT) today as part of NASA’s regular Ask the Expert program at this website.

Willets warned over science cuts

David Willets, the Science Minister, has been warned over cutting the science budget in a letter sent by the Lords Science and Technology Committee, which articulated the views of the heads of six leading universities. Metrics showing the increase in early stage researchers heading abroad as other countries increased, or were perceived as increasing, their science budgets were cited. Alongside this was a warning about damage to the research base on which the government intends to build a new hitech economy.

What goes up must, well, erm…

Anti matter seems to be fairly well understood. We see it in cosmic ray collisions with particles in the upper atmosphere. We use it in PET scans in hospitals. We create it in the Large Hadron Collider to smash into ordinary matter and investigate the inner workings of both.

Antimatter is known to have the opposite electric charge and other properties to its ordinary matter equivalent. We know there’s more matter than antimatter, but don’t know why. But while we can investigate strong forces like electromagnetism, another mystery arises when considering a very weak force – gravity.

In most of the situations we see antimatter, it is zipping along at a great speed and its momentum is hardly affected by accelerations due to gravity. In most cases the deflection due to magnetic fields is too great for gravitational effects to be measured in the short life of the stuff. To put it bluntly, we’ve never really just let antimatter go and seen whether it goes up, down or stays put.

Now an experiment has been devised to help explore this.

Virtual particles and antiparticles are constantly being created and destroyed in pairs. Hawking suggested that should this happen on the boundary of a black hole, the gravity should be sufficient to rip out one of the pair before it is attracted to its antiparticle and they annihilate. As such particle radiation would be detectable. Now other researchers have suggested that if antimatter does interact with mass differently to ordinary matter, the signature will be heavy in anti matter.

Their specific example was the creation and destruction of neutrinos, which are affected only by gravity. Close enough to a black hole and the matter one would be pulled in while the antimatter one, if the hypothesis is right, should be pushed out. The IceCube Neutrino observatory should be able to spot black holes shining bright in antineutrinos. However, there are other hypotheses that can produce such a signal, so even if the detectors did see such an event, they would need further work to determine if antimatter really does run away from mass.

Big astronautics conference soon

The 61st International Astronautical Congress (IAC) will be held in Prague, the Czech Republic from the 27th September until the 1st October under the theme of Space for Human Benefit and Exploration. This gathering of 3,000 top spaceflight experts is drawn from the space agencies, industry and academia. There will be a media day as well as chances for younger researchers to meet with the top brass of the field. ESA will also be putting on an exhibition on the theme of Space for Earth.

Details here.

New job at Greenwich

The National Maritime Museum is searching for a Senior Web Developer to assist its Head of Digital Media/Digital Project Manager in the production of digital content for the place. The successful candidate will have experience and evidence of previous such work to a high standard. Full details of what’s required are here.

Changing seasons of Titan explored again

Studies of the seasons on Saturn’s largest natural satellite Titan have been a rich source of studies during the long years of the Cassini mission. The tilt of the satellite to the Sun changes over the course of Saturn’s orbit, making seasons last seven years. As one full season since Cassini began studying the rock draws closer to the end, the changing cloud patterns have been revealed.

Clouds of ethane appear at 30-50km. At the beginning of the season, they clustered at the North Pole, with a thin covering at the South Pole and a band centred at a southern latitude of 40 degrees. Now, the polar clouds are thinning away and the band is getting stronger, as predicted by computer models.

Cassini has been allowed to continue through to 2017, allowing the majority of a second season at Titan to be enjoyed close up from Earth.

On pad 39A, Discovery awaits

The space shuttle Discovery will be the next vehicle to have a final scheduled flight to the International Space Station. In preparation for November’s mission, the shuttle has already mounted launchpad 39A and been visited by photographers on the pad. The results are here.

Galileoscope gets a new bit

Posted on 23/09/2010 | 1 Comment

The Galileoscope was created during the International Year of Astronomy, 2009 as a low cost, relatively high quality refracting telescope available to the masses. To achieve that goal, various luxuries – such as a tripod – common to other telescopes were missed out in the package. It was also self assembly, with suggested physics practicals to do to the pieces before putting them together.

Now a new piece has arrived – a diagonal. Diagonals are prisms that allow eyepieces to be at a ninety degree angle to the axis of the telescope, allowing more comfortable viewing for overhead targets. The diagonal can be seen here.

Space probe recreated in Lego

In order to help students visualise the challenges and mission of the comet chasing Rosetta probe, a version of the device has been created using the computerised Lego Mindstorms system. This high tech equivalent to the plastic blocks of yore enables moving parts controlled by home PCs to be used in the demonstration. The full story of the education set prototype and videos showing it in action are here. One of the videos is shown below:

Red rock seen on red planet by greyish white rover

Another potential meteorite has been spotted on the surface of Mars by the Opportunity Mars Rover. The metallic rock, around the size of a toaster, has been named Oileán Ruaidh after Red Island off the coast of North West Ireland.If confirmed, it will be Oppy’s fifth meteorite. Stuart Atkinson has produced an enhanced image of the rock here.

UK’s bit of LoFar opened for business

The UK branch of the Low Frequency Array has been officially opened by Pulsar discoverer Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell.

The radio telescope, which has stations dotted around Europe, will combine signals in a process called interferometry to create a single large telescope operating in the 1-10m wavelength. This aperture synthesis will allow higher resolution images than an individual station would be able to achieve. This is necessary as resolution depends on wavelength and the diameter of a telescope. At metre wavelengths, the size of a telescope required is enormous. LoFAr’s arrangement is such that the combined signal will be equivalent to a telescope the size of the separation of the individual stations, while the sensitivity will be equivalent to the combined sensitivity of the observatories.

Aperture synthesis is routinely used in radio astronomy to counter the poor resolution of radio waves, but rarely on this scale. It has also been used in shorter wavelengths, but this is more difficult as the higher frequencies of light make adding the signals more complex. Telescopes like Keck and Subaru are designed to use large single observatories in pairs to achieve larger synthetic observatories in infrared and even optical light.

Each new wavelength regime observed opens a new chapter in astronomy. Higher energy events are seen at low wavelengths, with things as hot as stars and aurorae generally in ultraviolet and mostly optical regimes. Newly forming protostars, existing planets and asteroids are seen to glow brightest in the infrared and dust as well as the background hiss of the afterglow of the formation of the optically thin universe, the CMB, are seen in the microwave. Radio wavelengths most often show the emissions from charged particles deflected by magnetic and other fields. As such, the new telescope can be used to observe magnetic fields on the cosmic scale, the interaction of the solar plasma with objects in the solar system, cosmic rays hitting our atmosphere and processes involved in star formation and the growth of black holes, all of which involve or are revealed by the deflection of charged particles to a greater or lesser extent.

Close Encounters of the Scientific Kind

The Royal Albert Hall is hosting a series of things under the umbrella of theClose Encounters project. Including tours of the history of the RAH, the events list, occurring at the end of October, includes Lunar based workshops, music on the theme of space, discussions of the UK X-files, film viewings, planetarium shows, talks by scientists, space themed food and drink and a free exhibition of views of the Universe.

March for Science

With budget cuts looming on top of the damage done by maladministration at the STFC on two occasions, organised resistance to further cuts to science has begun to be formed.

The group is presently organised by the Science is Vital facebook page (they’ll have a website ‘soon’, apparently) and the march on Central London has been set for 2-4pm on the 9th of October, details here. Lobbying will occur in Parliament, Early Day Motions are being mooted too as well as a campaign of letter writing to MPs.

They’re also getting a bit of attention in the press.

More info on events leading up to all this is here.

Skylon gets an airing

The UK Space Agency has been hosting a meeting investigating the possibility of a single stage to orbit launch vehicle using the SABRE air breathing rocket technology. SABRE essentially runs as a jet in high air pressure then slowly switches to pure rocket thrust when air becomes more sparse, enabling, in the Skylon concept, deployment of satellite payloads before returning to predesignated landing coordinates.

More on the meeting is here.

New website for the Schools Observatory

The National Schools Observatory, which provides access for schools to the robotic Liverpool Telescope, has relaunched its website. The site includes information on the telescope, activities to do with it and offline projects that can be downloaded for various age groups. There are also general astronomy learning sections, bits for teachers and webcams on the La Palma site.

The Sky at Night needs YOU!

The venerable program The Sky at Night is approaching is 700th episode. The March 2011 episode will pay tribute to this by being in an unusual format. There will be a question and answer session with an expert panel on one side and an audience of Sky at Night viewers on the other, asking questions in the following categories:

  • Observing
  • The Solar System
  • Space Missions
  • Cosmology
  • Manned Space Exploration
  • The Sky at Night programme
  • The Bizarre and Unexplained

Further details on this event are here.

Phobos might be a little bit of Mars

Our Moon is believed to have been formed when a Mars sized body struck an early Earth and blasted out material into orbit, leaving it with such a recoil that even billions of years after the material collected into a body, our satellite is still edging nervously away from us.

The origins of other satellites around other planets have long been less clear. An example in point are the irregularly shaped Phobos and Deimos, pieces of rubble in orbit of Mars. Now research carried out comparing the minerals present on Phobos seem to suggest that it too was once a part of the planet it now orbits.

Analysis of the composition of the satellite shows more similarities to Mars than to asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter (where another hypothesis suggested the body might have originated). Further to this, minerals associated with the presence of water and silicates have been seen. As something as small as Phobos would’ve lost heat too quickly alone in the early solar system to have had enough time for such reactions to take place, this suggests that the satellite contains material once part of a bigger and wetter body, or had a presently unknown internal heat mechanism. Phobos is also a lot spongier than an asteroid surviving capture by Mars would likely be as well as being in a more circular, more equatorial orbit than chance would suggest (a characteristic shared by Deimos).

The observations were made with the Mars Express vehicle and presented in the European Planetary Science Congress 2010 in Rome. A report by the BBC is here and one by Discovery is here.

Shuttle Art

To commemorate the shuttle program, NASA has unveiled five imagesdedicated to the five vehicles, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, involved in the program (poor Enterprise…). The images depict significant events in each shuttle’s history and include the mission badges of all flown missions. I guess some people don’t want Atlantis flying one final mission…

The images can be viewed and downloaded from here.

More aurora stuff

Liam Fox’s speech has been making a few waves, with the Sun giving a report(plus the ‘news in briefs’ item giving a rather suspect take on it), Newsnight doing a piece (including Chris Davis of SolarStormWatch) and astronomy picture of the day giving a nice auroral view.

Get your space pictures in…

The BBC’s website is running a series of photo competitions wherebye it puts up a theme and asks for photos on that theme. One upcoming theme is ‘The Night’ – a perfect opportunity to get those starry photos in the news.

Aurora in the news again

With a solar activity maximum expected in 2013, when disruption of radio signals and damage to satellites will be at its highest for the decade or so long solar activity cycle, the dangers of a large burst of space weather hitting our digitised world have filtered through to the political world.

On the 24th of July, I noted that briefings on space weather had been prepared by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Two explanations for this are that they were an updated general training document or, more usually, had been ordered by a minister. This is the area of physics hammered by cuts during 2007 during the formation of the STFC (research council in charge of astronomy and particle physics funding), whose concentration on space weather was described at the time as ‘bizare’ by parliament.

Now it seems the Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Sir Liam Fox, is in at least partial agreement. At a conference organised by the Electric Infrastructure Security Council and the Henry Jackson Society (a political think tank), he argued that the increasing complexity of modern technology married to the threat of a high impact, low frequency event puts the country at risk. Measures taken to mitigate the risk must be put in place to prevent enemies exploiting such a thing.

Of course, if you want the aurora to be seen as a thing of beauty rather than an ominous sign of disturbances in space, then there’s always this website, known as AuroraMax and created by the Canadian Space Agency, showing auroral activity in Canada.

Some timelapse videos

I seem to be collecting these things today… sped up videos of various things to see in the sky.

First off, as the night draws in, a thin crescent Moon heads for the horizon in the west in this recent video:

Secondly, the Moon again, this time during the day as it passed in front of Venus as seen from some parts of the Earth. This daylight occultation was caught in South Africa in a series of images showing the crescent Venus reemerging from the body of the crescent Moon:

Deeper into the daytime and sundogs are making appearances either side of the Sun from a number of locations at the moment. Here’s a timelapse of one changing as the clouds blow through its area:

But of course, there are timelapse events happening in the world of research too, such as the latest image of supernova 1987A by Hubble, which has photographed the same supernova before. The reason? To see how such a thing modifies on the timescale of a human lifetime, giving some idea of the complexities involved in expanding nebulae and their interactions with external gas.

Of course sometimes it helps to vary sources of information to get even older data on an object with time. Researchers believe they have unearthed the oldest mention so far of Halley’s comet being visible in the skies. The observations, made by ancient Greeks in 466BC, predate the previous earliest accepted observation, by Chinese astronomers in 240BC, by three orbits. The Greeks write about a comet being visible in the west for around 75 days (simulations suggest up to 80 days of visibility of Halley’s comet, depending on atmospheric conditions, at this time) in the same year as a massive meteorite fell that then became a tourist attraction for half a millennia. The records, unlike the later Chinese ones, aren’t very detailed, and are second hand at best.

Source :


So lately there have been rumblings that Daddy spends too much time in the train room…  Coming out of the cold and rainy season, I can see where this could be a legitimate complaint.  There’s also the fact that my wife has been toiling away at evening graduate classes three nights a week, so I’m basically unsupervised much of the time.  Being an adolescent trapped in a middle aged body, there is all kinds of potential for mischief.

The good news is I’ve made all sorts of progress on the layout, finishing the infrastructure of a major expansion, adding some cool structures and reworking some key scenery elements.  I’ve also caught up most of the outstanding decoder work that’s been piling up.  The bad news is that when Laura gets home at night, typically the dishes aren’t done, and the kids are still bouncing around well past the certified bed time.

In my defense, I know lots of guys that spend a great deal of time out on very expensive sailboats, in the woods in a heavily armed tree stand, or wandering around a golf course chasing a little white ball.  Of course there are others who devote their spare time to more “earthly pleasures” that keep them beyond the reach of their wives and families.  That’s a hobby that’s definitely more expensive than I can afford.

Now that the sun is out a little more, there are other chores that take me away from the layout.  Finishing the paint job on the house chief among them.  There’s also baseball on TV, which my wife and I enjoy sitting together and watching.

Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at breaking layout projects down into bite sized pieces.  I can feel like I’m making progress on something in 15 minutes to an hour as time becomes available.  Of course, being solidly ADD, I can also be up there for hours at a time either focused on a singular detail, or unfocused and bouncing from project to project.

So anyway, what about this commitment of time…  As you may or may not know, this economy hasn’t been kind to me or my family, so we’re not in a position to take a get-away vacation, or anything like that.  The train room has been something of a refuge for me.  I guess the trouble is that it is in the attic, and it does keep me beyond the reach of the family a bit.  But it’s also one of the few places in my world at the moment where I can just close the door and leave the world outside for a while.  With her class load, I don’t see much of my wife anyway, and my kids are old enough to amuse themselves.  I can’t sit still long enough to watch a bunch of television (save for the occasional ballgame or movie), so I drift up to the attic where I can feel productive, keep myself amused, and listen to some old records, or the ballgame on the radio.

In the warmer weather, one solution is to move some of my more portable projects down to work on them out on the porch.  There I can keep busy, but still have an eye out for skinned knees or geometry homework.  In a way, I suppose the hobby can be considered addictive.  Like booze or drugs, there’s a certain “high” in it, there’s peer pressure, a fair amount of expense, and that potential for separation from loved ones.  But that defines any hobby, doesn’t it?

We all know someone that’s gone off the deep end, with trains running around the living room, through the bathroom and across the kitchen counter.  There’s usually not the risk of annoying a spouse in those cases, however.

So I’ll carry on, and strive to strike a balance between the responsibilities of family and the hobby I’ve enjoyed so much.  At least when I’m up there tinkering, everyone knows where to find me. 




FRIDAY, APRIL 29, 2011

Still Not Sold on Sound


It seems the latest fashion in Model Railroading, apart from the timeless vest covered with railroad patches and the tie tack with blinking crossbucks, is on-board sound.  Tiny speakers nested under coal bunkers or in fuel tanks emitting tinny noise are on the list of any beginner, and even many more experienced guys.  A speaker that’s supposed to evoke standing trackside listening to the roar of an EMD 567, or the chuff of a steam locomotive have captured the hobbyist’s imagination.

But not mine.

I’ve had the pleasure of installing a number of sound decoders into both N and HO scale locomotives.  I’ve also participated in a few operating sessions where sound has been in use by one or God forbid, more than one operator, and I have to say that after the first few moments of novelty, and the delight of pressing F2 and getting a faint “woot woot” from the kazoo-like speaker, the excitement plum evades me.

Maybe it’s because when I’m running my trains, I’ve just gotten used to listening to old vinyl records.  (A fact which should say a lot about my affinity for technology of another age.)  Or maybe when I have three diesels on the point of a heavy N scale train, I like to hear them working… often sounding a lot more like a lashup of real diesels than those little micro chips can.

In either case, on-board sound just doesn’t do it for me.  I don’t like the way it adds significantly to the power drawn by the locomotive, I don’t like the way it sounds so thin compared to the real thing, I don’t like installing sound decoders and speakers and all those wires, and I don’t like having more buttons on the throttle to fool around with while I’m trying to operate my train with one hand, and sip a beer with the other.

Nope.  Sound is not the savior of the hobby.  There are many who would argue otherwise, but rest assured, they are wrong.  Sound is a novelty, it will amuse the uninitiated briefly, and be a crutch to people who would rather not pursue a higher standard of model building.

If I wish to enjoy the sound of some historic diesel, I shall spend a few moments scanning You Tube, and I’ll find what I want in a matter of moments.  If I want to really enjoy the thrum of a big diesel, then I shall take my web lawn chair trackside.  And there I’ll get the full Monty!  Squealing flanges, flattened wheels tapping by.  Maybe, just maybe, there will be some jointed rail and a healthy dose of clickety clack! 





The Times That Try Men’s Souls

Hunters have their duck blinds, mechanics their garages. Others will sit in a beach chair and lose themselves in a book, or just watch the surf. People are very adept at finding solace in their leisure time, even if it’s catch as catch can. It’s a vital survival strategy as life seems to get more complex every day.

There’s a lot of things going on in the world right now, giant oil spills, wars, economic downturns… It’s enough to make your head spin sometimes, especially if you or someone you know is dealing with hardships related to any or all of the above.

The forums tend to light up in times like these with threads predicting gloom and doom, and the demise of the hobby as people find their disposable income dwindle away. I find myself up to my eyeballs in alligators at the moment, with stresses ranging from dwindling income to difficulties at work, two children and my wife all in college, aging cars and a house that needs painted… So I can totally relate to the disposable income situation.

But I reject the notion that trying times spell the end of model railroading as we know it.

First of all, when the bullets are flying overhead, outside of time spent with my family, there is no refuge more comforting than the train room. When it’s time to sort out the news of the day, the bills in the mailbox, the nonsense at work, I drift up to the attic and turn on some music, and look around for something to do.

There’s always plenty to occupy me. I’m in the process of expanding the layout, so there’s everything from benchwork to wiring to tackle. There are still parts of the railroad that are operable, so I can do some switching if the mood strikes. There’s also a workbench full of projects that are in various states of completion. Decoders need installed, a structure needs painted, a bridge needs to be detailed.

When times are good, I have a tendency to stock up on stuff that I know I can’t get around to for awhile… it’s the old saw “when I have enough money, I have no time, when I have enough time, I have no money.” But the Boy Scouts always admonish us to “Be Prepared,” so I keep a healthy supply of scratch building materials, tools and paints at the ready so I can treat myself to an hour or so of idle tinkering to help clear my head whenever the need arises.

I suppose the people who complain the loudest about the demise of the hobby are the guys that rely on “ready to run” and “factory assembled” products for their enjoyment. While these products are indeed convenient, they are also a lot more expensive. So if you’re in a situation where you don’t have a lot of money to spend, you’re going to feel like you can no longer enjoy the hobby. For me, that’s where my enjoyment begins.

My favorite challenges are making something out of nothing. Or looking at some abundant and inexpensive material, and re-purposing it for the model railroad. (My latest foray has been to salvage teabags from the big vats of iced tea we make this time of year, drying out the tea leaves, and using them for ground cover.)

I enjoy seeing the results, pass or fail, and learning things as I go along.

Which also helps me deal with the other challenges in my life. So while the train room is a great place to escape from the “real world”… it also can provide a way to sharpen my way of thinking about work, home life, and the world in general. Everything is a process, with a beginning, middle and an end. You just have to get on with it.




SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010

Pleasing the Crowd… or Yourself. That is the Question

As I go about the messy business of rebuilding a major portion of my model railroad, I’m beginning to struggle with the question of just exactly what I’d like my layout to be. The original design is a wonderful tangle of main line, yard, branch line and industrial operations. And even in its present confused state, it serves well the social interaction that model railroad operations can be.

At any given session, I can have 4 to 10 crew jammed into my layout room, and everyone (for the most part) has a job to do. In fact, without that formidable staff, sometimes it’s difficult to justify even turning on the lights in there. I do go in and tinker, and will on occasion set the turnouts for a closed route and enjoy watching a train circulate. But I’m trying to come to terms with the idea of having all this stuff, and questioning whether I’m really enjoying the layout the way I want to.

My operations plan is, admittedly, heavily influenced by the fact that I live at least a couple of hours from most of my crew. They travel a good distance to run my layout, so I feel compelled to provide them with a solid “play value” for the time they have invested. Thus I have staging areas that can hold hundreds of cars, lots of money tied up in switch motors, DCC throttles, and let’s not even get started on rolling stock. In between sessions, I’m faced with building the new this, or rewiring the faulty that… and of course, cleaning engine wheels.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like running those hot freights from one staging track to another. I love sorting cars and assembling trains in the yard, then sending them on their way. I really like switching my big industries, and that drag of empty hoppers needs to get back to the tipples…

But am I biting off more than I really want to chew? It would probably help if one or two guys lived closer, and could come over on a Tuesday night to help take care of the tedium. Or if I was an hour away, instead of two plus, so I could expect to fire up the layout more than three or four times a year. Right now, it seems a to be a lot of buck for the bang.

So, what to do? Do I go ahead and blast the whole shootin’ match and start fresh on a simple short line that I can get my head around? Do I revisit the master plan, and see if it can be made to work with fewer hands (and dollars?)

My fear is that by scaling back to a railroad that looks, fits and runs better for one guy in a relatively small space, that I’d be sacrificing the opportunity to have those great ops sessions where guys come from far and wide to have a good time at my house. (A bit narcissistic, but then aren’t we all?)

I’d also miss the variety of operations that I enjoy. While I think I’d love to build a simple branch line serving a handful of customers with a heavily weathered geep, I might also get terribly bored with it after a few times of doing the same thing over and over and over…

I suppose the only real answer is to press on with the master plan, and when the urge hits to run that rusty switcher, I’ll just turn on the branch line and let the rest of the layout sleep…





The Fleet Mentality

On the Railwire, the topic of the cost of some new rolling stock came up, and it got me thinking about how our rolling stock purchases fit in with the concept of our model railroads.

For N scalers, these are the best of times it seems, at least in terms of the quality of rolling stock that is being offered. ESM, Fox Valley, and Bluford Shops are all producing some absolutely jaw dropping freight cars that are well designed, nicely assembled, and perfectly painted. There are also some great passenger car offerings that blow you away with the level of detail. Body mounted couplers are finally making their way into the main stream, and even Atlas Trainman is offering new body styles.

But it’s also the worst of times, if you’re trying to build up a fleet. The ESM G-26 mill gondola retails for over $20 a piece. Most newer cars carry a price tag of $15-20, new passenger cars tip the scales at close to $50! Plus, the method of “Build to Order” means that you either pony up or miss the boat.

I’ve been accumulating rolling stock for 30 years, so I have a few advantages over someone just getting started. Yes, a lot of my fleet is getting pretty long in the tooth, and the level of quality pales in comparison to what’s coming on line now, but the bottom line is, it’s already on the rails, and I can choose to upgrade or replace at my own pace. I’m used to seeing the bulky cast on grabs, the relatively high ride height, the brake wheels that look like innertubes… I’m content to throw a little weathering on, maybe change a part or two, and put ‘er on the road.

A new guy might get a taste of the high end stuff, and decide that the 40-year old Trainman tooling isn’t adequate. So he starts to put together a 20 car train, and quickly realizes that he’s staring down the barrel of a $500+ investment by the time he puts his Atlas Master locomotive on the point, and a MicroTrains caboose on the end.

That doesn’t even begin to address the other expenses of track, power supply (and decoders, if that floats your boat) sound chips and scenery.

I’m drawn to N scale for it’s train:scenery ratio. I’m also attracted to its ability to accommodate large scale operations on a relatively compact layout. (That 20 car train in N is about 7′ long, in HO it would be 14’) As such, rolling stock is a major factor in what goes into the train budget.

As I illustrated in my article in N Scale Magazine, I like to “resurrect” those old junkyard dogs from the early days of N and put them back in revenue service. It takes some time and money to upgrade trucks and couplers, and do some paint and decal work, but in the end it’s worth it to me, because while they don’t add glamour, they certainly add variety to the fleet without adding substantially to the expense side of the ledger.

I have started picking up the newer cars, and I do like the way they look, but when they’re added to a consist of 20 other cars, and are rolling by at track speed, they don’t necessarily stand out. They do look nice in close up pictures, but I don’t need an entire fleet of detailed cars to do that. Consider that for every Miss Texas and Miss California, there’s 48 other girls up on stage that look pretty good, they just don’t have as many added on… er… detail parts.

I’m sure that over time as I add more and more of them, I’ll see more of a difference, but again, I have the luxury of an already intact fleet, so I don’t have to be in a hurry to spend the big bucks on the newer cars. The key to tempering my enthusiasm is keeping that fleet mentality, wherein the value of the total is more than the sum of its individual parts.




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I dare to blog and run a business with hubby. Crazy I know to think I would dare. One thing about running your own business is that some people think you can set your own hours. Okay, maybe some of the time, but not all the time. It pretty well consumed me this week. Hubby here, not here, here, not here..okay okay

So all my predictable schedule goes out the window at times like that. You know, I think that is why I love the guy. My predictable schedule might be well boring just predictable. I told the girls in my workshop this month that living with my husband is like living with a wild man. When we first got married, he would come home and tell me that we were going on vacation the next day. Of course, not a few hours away but out of state or out of country. What? People don’t do that all the time. I thought people planned for months and months.

Of course, I didn’t have time to label my outfits for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. and put each outfit in a clear bag complete with shoes, matching jewelry and handbag. Wild I am telling you to buy clothes unplanned and on the road trip. The longer I am married to the guy the more I like these *unplanned* stops and clothes buying trips vacations and different schedule.

Another benefit as I was in and out of the office this week was I got to put some final touches on my fall units. I never feel like I am finished when I create printables as I always have ideas that are simmering blazing in my head. I had some free vintage clip art from this old book A is for Apple Pie by Kate Greenaway.

All the letters of the alphabet, except I, are in color and just precious. It is a rhyme about apple pie. On a side note it was interesting to read from this site, Surf Net Kids that the original “A Apple Pie” rhyme is very old and reference is made to it as early as 1671. In those years, the letters I and J were not differentiated. The letter J as we know it, was simply the curved initial form of the letter I used before a vowel.

So guess what? I just had to make a set of printables for your PreK sweeties using all of that precious clip art. It has been a while since I created anything for the little sweeties. I made a rhyme for the letter *Ii* too. This download is a 26 page download. One page per letter.

Download the 26 pages here.

Then as I sat in my office doing work and taking breaks, I contemplated the last printables we needed to finished up our unit study on apples. We did some more reading on John Chapman or Johnny Appleseed. I still had the sizzles for more printables, so I made these next.

Download John Chapman Notebooking Page 1 here.

Download John Chapman Notebooking Page 2 here.

Download 2 Apple Life Cycle pages here.

There are 4 pages in all. Two of the pages are notebooking pages and two sheets are on the apple life cycle. Two of the pages are intended for a little older child to write about John Chapman. The apple life cycle pages are the same except for one thing. One page has the words if you have a child that doesn’t want to write and the other one provides a place for them to write in each word for each step. Then color.

Oh and as if that wasn’t enough, I was determined to finish up two more pages that I had on my list to create for my older guys about Sir Isaac Newton. Really, you could use these pages for any ages.

Download page about Sir Isaac Newton Childhood, Education and Achievements here.

Download page about Newton’s Laws here.

I like these pages because with all the writing that my high school guys do, it is nice to have something that doesn’t have to be so comprehensive to fill out all the time. I figured if they want to write an essay, whip out the laptop and do one and we do. Otherwise, writing in a few facts to highlight the achievements of Sir Isaac Newton is good enough to go with our unit study on apples.

Looking back on my week, I didn’t get to blog as much I had planned but I think I still got a lot done because the fall printables for the most part are done.

I had planned to do the Home Management Binder too this month, but it can wait. I still have printables for it. Too, now that I blog, I don’t have to make you wait until I put the curriculum planner printables on my site. I can create and share with you as I update and revise.

Sometimes I think I need to change the name of my blog to “As she gets a wild hair……”

I hope you can use these printables in your school.

We also started our unit on the FBI. It is turning out bigger than I originally planned as my sons are really into this time period right now.

I am not sure if this unit will be done before I break from my blog for the winter break but I am going to try to share it with you. It really depends on how long the kids want to stay on it. They found a couple of books they liked. One of the books I was kind of surprised to find because it is a graphic biography. I like graphic novels but to find one that is nonfiction is kind of insane. But we did. Who said to give up pictures when you read?


The other book The Life of J. Edgar Hoover Secrecy and Power is way more comprehensive but the graphic novel has a rapid fire of points style that we like too. I think the graphic novel probably couldn’t stand “alone” if it was the only resource we used.

I am hoping for a slower week but it has to be this cool fall weather that is bringing out the work for us. No complaints here. I only complain when I can’t scoot here to share with you.

Hope you heart the printables.

Hugs and you know I love ya,


From Apples to Physics + Apple Lapbook

 Posted by Dynamic 2 Moms Homeschooling Adventures on September 27, 2012 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (4)

{First I wanted to say our blog host is having quirky techy problems here and there after the upgrade.  Some of you using Google Chrome are not seeing my pictures. Our hosts are still working on ironing out the problems. In the meantime, please try to use another browser like Mozilla to see if it helps and I want to say I am so sorry. I take so much time to be sure to share pictures with you and I would like for you to get them.}

The sniffles and coughing hit our house early this year. All of us have been feeling a little blah but I think that is a great time to study something light and fun. Too, I have not covered the subject of apples with my youngest one like I did with my older boys. However, because a kajillion printables exists for PreK and K, I wanted a lapbook geared toward a slightly older child but still light and fun. Hoping for some more fall-ish weather, I decided we would study apples lest our education be lacking in this area.

By the way before I forget, I have a secret I have been keeping from you as to what I have been doing these past few weeks. It is the reason we are schooling at our breakfast table and not our school area. My school area table is full of stuff.

I will have to share pictures with you soon as to what has also been consuming my time these past weeks and what I have laid out all over my school area table.

Tiny with his housecoat on wasn’t exactly thrilled with school because he still isn’t feeling a hundred percent better. But knowing he can keep his housecoat on helps some and I trek forward on an easy unit. Or is it?

Tiny perked up a bit when the other two boys joined us. They are such good sports and not put off by this subject of apples.  In a unit study with kids of multiple ages you start off talking about easier subjects or facts for the aid of the youngest one. It doesn’t hurt the older ones to hear this information either. It serves as a review and a reminder. My middle son had forgotten the names of the parts of a flower. I forget them too sometimes if I don’t review them occasionally.

Better yet, get the older kids to read the information out of a science reference book.  We have a lot of the Usborne science books along with science dictionaries that we keep at the house. However, how do you go from talking about an apple to applying it to an older child? Well, you go from apples to physics. The way I tied in the apple for the older boys was to talk about physics. Isaac Newton and his falling apple helps you to do this.


The topic of apples was certainly not a subject too easy for him. He pondered why apples felldown when they fell. The quiet time he had as a boy or to just learn helped him to reflect on his thinking. It is no different when doing a unit study which is another reason we lap them up. We have time to ponder at our pace. Time to ponder why the apple fell down gave way to Newton discovering the universal law of gravitation. Whatever part of this story of the apple falling that may be embellished, there is no denying he had a remarkable way of reasoning. Everything about him my sons find remarkable.

Newton’s 3 laws of Motion can just be explained to the youngest child. With the older kids, they can demonstrate the Law of Inertia.

Also they can share what they learned in their reading.

Give both kids a chance to share what they know. I just guided this discussion as my older two shared what they knew so far. Tiny was starting to feel bad again but as long as he is read, he still likes to be involved. Just keep it easy for the ones that don’t feel good. Also on this same topic we reviewed the simple machines like inclined plane, lever, pulley, screw, wheel, and wedge.  Any physical science of topic blends with this unit study. That is what we read about.

Of course, Mr. Awesome is always wanting to do a hands-on project or two. It doesn’t really matter if it’s directly related to apples or a subtopic of it. It all helps to add to the enriching process of learning when they can do something they like and want to do. One book I really like

and I feel has some topics that span a little older child than the review says is Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids. My Awesome decided to do  a water clock.

This is my crazy fun loving kid who brings so much delight each day and who thrives on hands-on activities. It took him just a few minutes to gather the supplies for his hands on activity of a water clock.  He cleaned up a Pace Picante jar that was just about empty, grabbed a stop watch book marker he had tucked away in his room, a paper cup, a push pin, ruler and sharpie and was ready.

He marked each 5 minute increment on his water clock and otherwise enjoyed sharing his hands-on activity.

Hands-on activities do not have to be hard just full of meaning for the topic you are studying. Get your children to search the project and gather their supplies. Going from apples to physics is a natural flow to this unit study. When I upload the free apple lapbook to my site,  I will share some more links and ideas for the other subjects along with some notebooking sheets for the older kids. Would you like the free apple lapbook now?

Download the minibooks below.

Johnny Appleseed download here.

Isaac Newton and his falling apple download here

Parts of the flower, Who said it was an apple and What kind of tree is the apple tree download here

Art with Apples download here

Proverbs 25:11 and An Apple a Day download here

Cultivating, Harvesting and Storing Apples download here

I need to get Tiny feeling better and still have my organizational topics coming up soon. I hope this lapbook, which will go on my fall unit page on Dynamic 2 Moms soon, will bring in some more fall weather. I can wish here in Texas can’t I?

You know I heart quotes and this one is so beautiful about the apple tree. It is such a beautiful creation and enjoyable topic to study about, not only for precious little ones, but for our older kids.


“The flowers of the apple are perhaps the most beautiful of any tree’s, so copious and so delicious to both sight and scent.” —

~Henry David Thoreau~ Wild Apples

Hugs and you know I love ya,


Review of Runkle’s World Physical Geography {free geography printables}

 Posted by Dynamic 2 Moms Homeschooling Adventures on February 21, 2012 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (8)

My voice gets hoarse this time of the year because I encourage our New Beginnings members to move away from the dark side of textbooks and step into the light of beautiful literature. However, I digress when it comes to the World Physical Geography textbook by Brenda Brewer Runkle.

Though it is more expensive than some of the other geography resources, we absolutely love it.  I figure my costs this way. Since I am using it for three children, I take the price and divide by 3. {even if you pay GeoMatters price of $68.00 that is $26.00 per child per year BUT you have a resource you can use again for another year or more for two or more children.}

It is for grades 7th  – 12th,  but I find a lot of facts that can be easily explained to my 5th grader.

One reason I chose Runkle Geography is because I am targeting my older children. But I wanted a text I could keep for a few years too.

Don’t you like it when you can look inside a book? Here is one pic. Each page is different but it has several different  teaching boxes like this throughout the book. This series also has a student workbook that we will be getting soon. I didn’t get the student workbook because I really don’t need help like that anymore. Now, I am curious about what the student workbook has in it since we like this book so much.

At times some Teacher’s Manuals seem completely useless but I like this one. Besides having all the answers to the review questions, it has the vocabulary definition, answers to each lesson, and not only test answers BUT questions. It is even tempting to not buy the student workbook because in a pinch you could just use the questions/answers from the teacher’s manual. But I love curriculum so I’m getting the student workbook.

This is what I like about it most:

  • Full of hands on activities. {yep lots of them}
  • The fun facts, critical thinking and teaching boxes allows my older sons to move on to more complicated topics if they choose.
  • Key vocabulary words are in the margin as you use them in the text.
  • The pictures and oodles of maps are so colorful and beautiful.
  • I buy two teacher’s manuals, one for me and one for my older set of boys since it’s useful.
  • The quality of the text is superior.

It is 263 pages plus a Glossary and has 13 chapters Do you want the chapter titles? I always do.

Ch. 1 Our planet Earth {4 Lessons}

Ch. 2 Maps and their use {3 lessons}

Ch. 3 Latitude and Climate {3 lessons}

Ch. 4 Prime Time Longitude {3 lessons}

Ch. 5 Journey to the Center of the Earth – The Lithosphere { 2 lessons}

Ch. 6 Mountain Building {3 lessons}

Ch. 7 The Hydrosphere {3 lessons}

Ch. 8 The Importance of Water {3 lessons}

Ch. 9 Waterways and Trade {4 lessons}

Ch. 10 Roles of Rivers {2 lessons}

Ch. 11 Rivers of Ice {2 lessons}

Ch. 12 The Atmosphere {5 lessons}

Ch. 13 The Biosphere {4 lessons}

Do you know your butte from your isthmus? At the very front of the text it has physical land form pictures with their names as a reference. So I created these land form fact cards that helps any age be able to memorize the physical landforms.

Print them, fold in half and laminate.  I put mine on an O ring for storing or taking with us.

Download geography fact cards here.

We can’t get enough of geography with this text and I know we will be expanding on some of the topics. Do you have a favorite geography resource?

Hugs today.

My Free Coral Reef Lapbook;Workshop starts tonight!:Free Copy of the Constitution; Free Middle School Science Book; Free Coral Reef Poster

 Posted by Dynamic 2 Moms Homeschooling Adventures on August 21, 2011 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Okay so don’t forget everything I told you about how long I put together a unit or lapbook, I do like to take months. This one was made over the weekend but it doesn’t count  *officially* because it is a *subtopic* of the Ocean Unit that we are

 Want to check out one minibook from the unit? Go here and download a book. (remember this is not on the site either. As  I mentioned before and because some of ya’ll are still getting use to the way I function, I work on both websites in intervals always packing things away on it and then reveal the page.)



We are actually taking a class this week on Coral Reefs and since it’s tied in with a field trip, the boys decided that would make a good easy lapbook. (I like things easy). Since we do write each week (writing based on what we are learning so its more pertinent and interesting) and do composition, we like our lapbooks to always be fresh and light.

So this doesn’t really count…as a full unit..just 1/2 of one doesn’t it?….lol….

As I blogged before, I really do like to spend months ahead of time to prepare bigger units like for our co-ops. Too, it’s easier to prepare units when there is an abundance of free material on line like this one on the Coral Reef.

When will I turn on the page and upload the lapbook? You’ll be the first to know..I hope you like my pace, it is the way my brain works..

I have to have several projects going and mull them over and then release slowly..So I have some more forms for the Curriculum Planner (remember I am in a “test mode”) . I am using a 3 ring binder (yuk) so I can add to it as necessary until I get through at least one term and see what my needs will be .

I have the Timeline that I have completed but again, mulling over the layout of the pages to see if this will work for us.. And yes working on the new unit for this year’s co-op and doing subtopics on the Ocean unit as my boys decide.

Managing several things is very comforting to me.

Also though tonight is my workshop for our 2011-2012 workshops. So my dear New Bees are first and when I regain consciousness, I will release the new lapbookt.. hee hee I promise it won’t be long.

Please think about Kelley and me tonight. We’ll share pictures too.

TIME SENSITIVE FREEBIES – hurry hurry freebies


Hillsdale College is offering a FREE copy of the U.S. Constitution. This offer is available to the U.S. and Canada, while supplies last.

This link is not playing nice, so here is the whole thing instead of hyperlink:


Amazon is offering a FREE download of the ebook Escape from the World Trade Center by Leslie Haskin.  (true account)

Click here to go there.


Free Everything College Survival Book

Remember – Because Amazon changes the price  frequently it should always be 0.00.

Click here to go there.


Gold Medal is offering a FREE Whole Wheat Baking eBook. The book contains recipes for berry crisp, pancakes, Snickerdoodle cookies and pizza crust. This offer is available internationally, for a limited time

Click here to go there. Click save at the top to get the download


Free earbuds, follow this procedure:

1.) Add the item to your cart

2.) Then proceed to checkout

3.) You will need to login or register.

4.) Under Payment information, select -PayPal_ (Did not ask for PayPal info)

5.) Continue through the checkout process

6.) Shipping is FREE and No credit card required

New 3.5mm Earbud Earphone for iPad iPhone MP3 MP4 Player-Black

Click here to go there.

 FREEBIES  – when you have time freebies


Free Science Book

 A science teacher just uploaded a book that he is writing to share for free in the public domain. In addition he has some other tools and resources he finds useful on the net that he uses in his classroom here on his site.

Here is what he has so far in the books and more to come:

Matter and Atoms

Matter and Changes

Water – Properties and Solutions

Chemical Reactions


Air Pollution

Air Pressure

Air Layers

Heating Earth’s Air

Water and Precipitation


Weather Prediction and Storms

 More to come…

Click here to go there.


Free Habitat Posters

Ya’ll know another reason I am sharing these links I have for free curriculum/things is to organize them here on my blog. So I always enjoying sharing a few each time. I don’t like tons of links thrown to me at one time but a few each day so I can organize them. So here is one for you that I have marked.

It is free habitat posters and actually the one on coral reef above makes a great picture for the outside of your lapbook or a divider in your notebook. I will actually have some covers for the coral reef lapbook but you have choices when you can download for free things like this.

There are actually 6 BEAUTIFUL COLOR grab them all.

Click here to go there.

 And finally, I know not all my readers are New Bees but whether you are or not, let go of last year and the guilt if your well meaning plans failed and remember —


Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.

~ Raymond Lindquist~


More Planner Forms Uploaded, Free Ocean Curriculum, Free PF Changs Lettuce Wraps

 Posted by Dynamic 2 Moms Homeschooling Adventures on July 3, 2011 at 3:51 PM Comments comments (0)


I don’t know what is wrong with me this time of the year…lol..but Kelley tells me that I go on “binges” and start “creating” new forms and units.

Guess what I did some more?  And because you are following me you will always be some of the first to know.  I have a big history unit coming up soon that will go on our Dynamic 2 Mom’s site. I will let you know when that is coming too!




But what I finished this past week was two more Curriculum Covers that are part of the “Keeper Series” meaning we will keep these on our New Beginnings site since they are not dated.




You can download those covers on this page in case you get a head rush and need to run right over there and do that :o) 






Also I uploaded the rest of the forms for year around schooling. I have two options for following year around scheduling. One is to use as you somewhat following the school schedule so my forms are from July to Jun (top row above) and the other form is for following a physical year calendar (bottom row above).


If you need to download those forms above to finish printing your planner, click to go there now.




I have followed both schedules in my school and I do have to say I enjoy slightly more following the physical year.




I think I enjoy following it because while everybody else is doing ‘back to school”  plans we have already been in a routine. To be able to stop and close your year when the weather is changing to cooler is also a good time for us to slow down and enjoy being outside more. It is nice to have a break toward the end of the year.




I still hit all the good sales on school supplies during this month and August . But also a plus for me  buying school supplies at that time is that we are in the “middle” of our year so if a project comes up, we have that time to see what neat notebooks/paper/new items are out that we may need for upcoming work.





I hope to be starting an ocean unit soon. We have done one when the kids were real young, but I think it’s time for another one. For my unit studies, I always start wayyyyyy out early “hunting” some of the better free things online. What do I mean by wayyyy out ? I mean as much as months before I start putting my material together and then a little longer before I present it to them.




If I am not familiar with a subject then I can’t expect my kids to be. So I start early educating myself about the topic and try to anticipate some of their interests so  I can cover that through notebooking or lapbooking.




I like both of these sites especially because they have curriculum guides and the one site even has a “teacher answer key” thank you very much.




Check ’em out. This one is National Marine Sanctuaries.


Click on the Teacher’s Section to get free guides AND then the Student’s Section to get more free downloads and games.

Be sure to click all around that site and look under Free Material then Materials and Publications too as it has some more downloads on animal matching from Hawaii


And don’t just think Ocean Study is for younger kids…I have an older guy too that likes to still join us, especially when we do unit studies.

This site has a Free Curriculum for grades 6 – 12 —AND AND —–you can create a DVD off their site to use with your curriculum. I haven’t had time to create it, but will be soon as it takes me a while when it comes to “techy things” as I uhmmmm should I say “don’t like them” but yes I can figure them out….just not my favorite thing in the world to sit down and burn a CD but it really doesn’t take that long. But then again I have a couple of  teens so I see a project for them.

You can download this curriculum in parts and then use the DVD to help you with it.  Also this site is the one where it has Student Handouts with some of the downloads and the Teacher’s Keys.

Okay, need I go on. …lol…..I LOVE this site if you want “practical” things to actually teach with…


Here is what they said about the DVD

“Download the Field Season DVD

Now you can take highlights of our ocean exploration missions with you. Below are instructions for creating a copy of our 2008 Field Season DVD.

Each Field Season DVD contains essays, daily logs, photos and videos from that year and previous years’ missions. Best of all, it’s free and can be used without an Internet connection.”

All the instructions for either a PC or Mac are on this page.



How about one more very important freebie? lol…This next one is “time sensitive”.





This is from PF Changs (yum yum,one of my favorite places) and  this is from their facebook page. FREE Lettuce Wraps on July 6.

(Mark your reminder, I put my reminders on my Google Calendar instead of my phone because it goes to my phone and PC that way).



From the site:  “PFC Fans, how do FREE Lettuce Wraps sound to you? As a part of our 18-year anniversary celebration in July, we are going to be giving you, our Facebook Fans, FREE Orders of Lettuce Wraps. Check back July 6 to download yours…”


This is the only link I have now, be sure to check their Wall too if you can’t find it that day….

And I want to share one of my favorite pictures of my youngest guy. As usual I am organizing something on the table, he was eating his peanut butter and jelly and he was suppose to entertain himself..He came back with this “get up”….

I couldn’t figure out if he was ready for a vacation or a gun fight

Hugs to you,

Free Spelling Dnloads from Connect the Thoughts (3 Days only-Starts today), Free 150 Summer Activities (BEST Nature Site), 6th Grade -Free Spelling, Vocabulary and Grammar.

 Posted by Dynamic 2 Moms Homeschooling Adventures on June 24, 2011 at 9:26 PM Comments comments (0)

Nature Detectives

Okay…here is a site that I used “year after year” The downloading and the activities wil keep you for a longgg time….They have a free download..




Connect the Thoughts

This is a time sensitive freebie from Connect the Thoughts. Here is what their email said:

“We have a once-a-year offer, available for three days only!”

Wed. June 29 12:01 a.m – Fri. July 1, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time

For three days only, from Wednesday, June 29 – late Friday, July 1, Connect the Thoughts popular FREE spelling courses will be available for download! This is the first time they will have been made available in many months! Over 20,000 of these spelling courses have been downloaded and used by people interested in our courses and methods for homeschooling. We’ll provide you links to download your free spelling course in the next piece we send, on June 28. There are three levels of Free spelling, ages 5-6 and pre-literate students (Starter); ages 7-8 and students who are developing literacy (Elementary); and for ages 9-adult (Lower and Upper School). Ours is a spelling system that can be used in conjunction with any and all other spelling programs to improve results, and which does not rely on phonics.





I have several freebies coming up for each grade level. If you need one now, give me a shout…otherwise I am going to cover several grades…Starting with this 6th grade as it always seems easier to find resources for the younger grades.



Sending you a favorite quote:

“Goals. There’s no telling what you can do when you get inspired by them. There’s no telling what you can do when you believe in them. There’s no telling what will happen when you act upon them.”

~ Jim Rohn~



Storage on my school table top, Free World Book World of Animals iPad App (good 6.18 to 7.10), Free Earth Science Paper Models, 4 Free Cookbooks from different countries

 Posted by Dynamic 2 Moms Homeschooling Adventures on June 18, 2011 at 8:22 PM Comments comments (2)

In the school area that we use for our lapbooks and projects I recently switched what we kept our “table tools” in. One reason I had to wait to switch to now is that in the spring and summer you get more of an assortment of “plant holders” lol. These are ceramic plant holders that have “insides” or inserts that come out. So I switched around the inserts and put the white  insert on the purple plant holder on the right and the purple insert on the green plant holder  on the left, The white plant holder has the green insert in it. This makes them “all matching”. My compelling need to have things organized and matching…maybe one day I will get cured.

When the kids were real young, I use plastic buckets from Target, Walmart and even building supply places to hold crayons and crafts. Also have you seen the gardening totes? Put away the yard tools for using later but they are PERFECT for holding crafts and you can put them UP and away from small hands.

I use to have hooks over the doors and bring down each kid’s tote to keep it away from “the mini-destructor” who was toddling at the time.

You can get ones decorated or get a canvas one and decorate with your kid’s hands by using paint or let them decorate each tote so it makes it special and unique.

Think outside of the box on organizational tools and you won’t have to pay such a high price because you used something “outside the box’  for organization.  These types of things go on sale after summer… Look at these totes that can be used to store crafts.





This freebie is  World Book’s World of Animals iPad App

From the site: Available FREE in the Apple iTunes Store June 16-July 10!

Do you know which animals can detach their limbs to escape a predator’s attack, which species have been launched into space, and the identity of the extinct mammal that scientists believe they may one day be able to clone and bring back to life? Delve into the fascinating World of Animals — World Book’s extraordinary educational app that gives kids of all ages engaging opportunities to explore, compare, rank, and quiz themselves on their favorite animals. This interactive app features hundreds of stunning pictures, videos and animal sounds, quick facts, encyclopedia articles, a captivating educational game, and more.

World Book’s World of Animals iPad App is available for FREE in the Apple iTunes Store from June 16 thru July 10. On July 11, World Book will introduce a paid version of the app to the Apple iTunes Store.




This next site is called GEOBLOX and I am telling you when it comes to finding paper models of anything earth science and that is free, it is hard to come by. He sells a book but have many models that are free to download. Check it out.


This next picture I just adore and had to share. It is by Jean Van’t Hul and she blogs at the Artful Parent.

She has some great tips about summer activities  including this one called sun catchers. Check it out, it is called 11 Artful Activities to Try this Summer .



Amazon is offering 4 Free Amazing Cookbooks. The topics sound like something  that goes with a good unit study for studying various countries because the cookbooks are from different countries. By the way the time varies on how long they stay free…so grab them as they may not be “forever freebies”

Aprovecho: A Mexican-American Border Cookbook

Brazil: A Culinary Journey

■Hungarian Cookbook: Old World Recipes for New World Cooks

■Taste of Romania: Its Cookery and Glimpses of Its History, Folklore, Art, Literature, and Poetry

Too, even if you don’t have a kindle you can still download these free to your computer by using the free app made available through Amazon. Click here to go there and install it and then grab your freebies. It’s pretty quick and easy to do..just prompt along.


And finally, what kind of day are you having?

From Todd Wilson



Free EBook:Science for Toddlers/Babies, Free Insect Guides (cool), Free Magazine for Teens, Free Printables for Kung Fu Panda :o)

 Posted by Dynamic 2 Moms Homeschooling Adventures on May 24, 2011 at 7:29 PM Comments comments (1)

Welcome to my newer blog followers! Glad to have you here. I am sharing encouraging articles about all kinds of homeschooling topics and also the how-to’s of homeschooling. Too, I love freebies and I hope you like ’em too—it’s nice to have those along the way in our journey–so I throw those in as well.

Here are some freebies today for ya’!

Get a free issue of Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine!

After you fill it out you get a download link OR you can request a hard copy. I have never seen this magazine so be sure to look it over since it’s written by “teens” Just wanted to be sure to give you the heads up about that.

From the site: Receive one issue of Teen Ink’s print magazine completely free! Teen Ink is written entirely by teens and distributed to thousands of schools nationwide. Any student can submit creative writing, art and photography at no charge. Since 1989 we have published more than 25,000 student works.



Next something really educational here …LOL….Free Kung Fu Panda Printables.

This is really cute.  It includes masks, dot to dot, spy games,etc.




A free ebook from Science at home. A site for science for babies, toddlers and kids




This next freebie came from Click Schooling and WOW! This website is from Save Nature and it’s about insects. It has downloadable learning sheets, “Insect Activity Sheets” and “Insect Fact Sheets”

Look at this partial list from the site.

“Below are free learning guides to jump-start your nature discovery!

Exploring Rainforests

Exploring Coral Reefs

Coral Reef Nature Notes

Coral Reef Coloring Sheet

Hummingbird Food Plants for Bay Area Landscapes

Que es un Artropoda

The Importance of Insects and Their Arthropod Relatives

Insect Activity Sheets

Insect Coloring Sheet

Ecosystems & Insects Lab

Classifying Arthropods

Bugs in the System Recipes

Backyard Biodiversity

Federally Endangered and Threatened Species of Arthropods

Insect Safari/Bilingual English/Spanish

Common Bay Area Butterflies and their foodplants ”




Free Science Units

 Posted by Dynamic 2 Moms Homeschooling Adventures on April 25, 2011 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (0)

The site, run by science professor and former middle school science teacher Irene Salter, offers 4-6 week science units, complete with specific lesson plans, activities and printouts. In addition, ideas are offered individually for classroom activities, labs and projects, field trip ideas, assessments, computer activities, outdoor activities and more.


Minnesota Conservation Site has Lesson Plans and A Free Nature Magazine :o)

 Posted by Dynamic 2 Moms Homeschooling Adventures on April 21, 2011 at 3:54 PM Comments comments (0)

This is another one of those where do  I begin with this site :o) There is so much fun and free stuff. First the lesson plans you can find here.


This link on the site is to the plants:


This link is to the other topics from insects, amphibians, mammals and seasons and systems:


I personally like this link on their site. It is a colorful interactive page about bird songs


And THEN you can order a FREE Nature Magazine, here is that link:


~Tina~source :


AE Meets RG, scheduled to turn into RD

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2013 at 3:02 am

I’ve told this to David. Perhaps the three or four remaining readers will want to discover this. Millions of years ago, I wrote a blog about a little girl with, real name sort of “AE,” with two mommies and two daddies, chronicling what a brat she was from the ages of two to seven years, for her privacy calling her Random Granddaughter (RG for short). Some of the twenty or thirty or so occasional readers suggested that I present the blog to her some day. As I am getting old, & perhaps near to death (more info after I get the results of my first PSA test next week), I thought to myself it is time to reveal to granddaughter that she has a hidden and secret past and a secret name perhaps revealing she is the lost princess Anastasia, heiress to the Czars.

One year of her secret chronicle was lost forever, perhaps consumed by a wicked troll, but more likely the result of an Internet Server (foolishly not backed up) crashing. I am printing (a slow and laborious process) all the remaining blog posts, which run from 2007 to 2011, covering her misbehavior from the age of 3 to the age of 7. (At which time she learned to read and could no longer be hidden from herself.)

A birthday party for Mrs. Random and for AE was held at the best Danish pastry shop in Seattle and at the small house in the medium-sized city, located near the NE Library. AE is getting her ears pierced for her 9th birthday. The cast is off her arm, broken while learning gymnastics. She will appear in a minor role in Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I showed her a huge binder. I said, as your crazy grandpa, I have been keeping a secret history of you. As some of it is too adult for a nine year old girl to read, you will get it, if you grandma (who doesn’t much approve) or your two mommies (who just now are learning about it) don’t try to block it when you are 18 years old.

I am printing it all out and punching all the pages, reversing the usual front to back blog order, and putting it in this huge binder. I asked, “What will happen on your 18th birthday?”

Although she attends a private school for young geniuses, and allegedly has an astronomical IQ, and shows genuine artistic talent (not to mention a definite prima donna artistic temperament, though much improved table manners and willingness to eat a variety of foods, her math skills are mediocre. She had trouble calculating how long until she is 18.

However, when I asked, “What happens when you turn 18?” she was all over it, instantly responding I will be an adult!” (This bodes ill for any mommies who hope to be “control freaks.”)

I said, as the evil, or at least indiscreet and not politically correct grandpa, I task you to demand the Random Granddaughter secret blog print out on your 18th birthday, whether you are studying at Pearson College on Vancouver Island, or at Oberlin College in Ohio, or at the University of Washington in Seattle, or run off to Sydney Australia to study art with Trucie/Woo, or to Taiwan to meet your Chinese cousin, or married to a boy or a girl, or pregnant, or in orbit, or taking over the world. She listened politely and then tossed her reminder note on the floor carelessly and began to bat a birthday balloon around with Grandma and Mama. I read the Martha Stewart Grandma Helps RG Make Chocolate Cupcakes to Mommy who approved of it. The Mommies debated whether to add “RD” to her nicknames.

Chances that she will get the blog, read it, be interested in it I put at 10%. Chances that she will become a Christian? If she reads what I have to say, and thinks calmly about the matter, I put at about 10%. However, as she is currently mourning and  grieving the death just before Christmas  of her sweet cat Sylvie, who knows. At the moment, she is wearing a bracelet with a small cross. So the matter is a free for all.

Just remember, AE/RG, both Sylvie, the darling little black and white kitty, and Crazy Grandpa, will be pattering around in Heaven keeping an eye on you. And several chickens, and perhaps a dog or two. So decide wisely.

Canada Train Trip and Class System (Part 1 of ?)

In Good newsHumor on January 11, 2013 at 12:54 am

Pete shined the bat signal in the cloudy midday sky. As always, I am confused. About what? Well, at the age of 68, just confused. For example, what should I post about? If I post about my main activity (starting an “atheist church” on Whidbey), I run the risk of irritating my Christian readers). If I post about anything else, I am sure I am irritating/boring all four or five or six of my readers). Well, I was going to write about our train trip across Canada. So I will. I better get an answer from Pete, at least.

As we left Vancouver, we saw wires running on poles alongside the train tracks. I assumed they were power lines. One of the train crew helpfully told us that they were telegraph line wires, from the pre-telephone line days when the train tracks were first laid across Canada. The railroad finds it too expensive to tear them down. If I knew Morse Code, I suppose I could use the lines to send a secret message to . . . whom? The Taliban? Do they know Morse Code to send secret messages the CIA would never spot. Is Morse Code compatible with the Koran?

An interesting thing we discovered as we crossed Canada was that “Via Rail,” the passenger train system crossing Canada is actually three different railroads imperfectly merged into one system. Each section of the railroad has different crews, different cultures, different economies, and different virtues and flaws.

The Western part of Canada has the best economy. The service was the best, at least as far as meals and crew chipperness. My wife and I were traveling “first class,” (something we could not quite grasp or deal with, never having traveled first class on anything before in our lives). Meals were excellent and the crewfolk were cheerful and upbeat. However, every silver lining has a cloud.

The silver lining in Western Canada was that the first class crew assumed that the first class passengers knew the drill. At various points during the trip, we had to switch trains in various train stations. What my wife and I did not understand (not being part of the “landed gentry” or whatever they are called in Canada), is that first class passengers have special semi-hidden “lounges” in the train stations where they first class passengers gather and drink themselves silly. (My wife and I are just naturally silly, without needing that much alcohol to assist the process.) After a while, the lounge crew guide the addled passengers to their first class cars.

My wife and I continually lined ourselves up with the third class (steerage?) passengers and thus finding ourselves at the wrong gate or in the wrong line. The train crew, doing their best imitation of supercilious English butlers would look at our tickets and say, “Oh, no, madam and sir, you are supposed to be at Gate 17.” [instead of Gate 4 or wherever we were standing]. Although I have never been to Europe, as Canada is a combination of English and French people], I presume Canadian train staff have cross-bred to create a kind of impeccable disdain that merges to form a kind of genetically modified SUPER- SUPERCILIOUS monstrosity. So whenever we found ourselves in the incorrect line (every time we made a transfer) the staff would look at us with a polite expression of “I thought everyone in the effete upper class was born knowing what line to stand in as they were being driven to the slaughterhouse. . .”


A Hawk Celebrates Thanksgiving

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2012 at 12:33 am

On Thanksgiving, two days before our 47th wedding anniversary (which happens to be today), we went to the mommies’ house in Seattle. We joined up with a daddy (Tim), a grandma (Barb, birth mother of Random Granddaughter’s birth mother) and Barb’s second husband Ken. Also present was Tim’s stepdad, Joe. As well as Dana, birth mother of Tim. I should not forget, Sylvie, the world’s most lovable cat. Even though Sylvie is fatally ill with cancer, she managed to purr and come down stairs and demand laps to sit on.

My wife said, when we arrived, “Don’t talk about religion,” a few minutes after we arrived Joe (who is a Methodist minister in Colorado), began talking about religion. I told him that I am an atheist and had started an atheist “church” on Whidbey Island. Joe said that he is an agnostic, and would like to meet with the members of my atheist group to chat with them. Ken said that he was happy now being retired, and had been a minister at one time. I told Joe to tell my wife that he had started the discussion about religion.

We ate well. The turkey (and everything else) was done to perfection. (My wife had brought peas with bacon, also excellent.) Eventually, sated and happy, we headed for home. My wife said, “Check on the chickens.” The chickens, supposedly safe behind a closed gate, mesh, and electric fence had put themselves to bed on the roost.

I looked in the coop door. I counted three gray chickens and one black chicken. There is supposed to two black chickens.  Outside, it was dark and wet. I began to search in the dark with my electric torch. After a while I found a shredded black chicken carcass in a corner of the run. Once before a chicken hawk had squeezed through the mesh and attacked Big Mama, my wife’s favorite chicken. It seemed obvious to me that a hawk had got in again and had black chicken for Thanksgiving dinner. It was too dark to examine for more clues. I went inside, ruined my wife’s Thanksgiving by telling her about the loss of a hen. Sadly, we went to bed.

In the morning we went outside. We put the dead hen in a paper bag. We cleaned up the feathers and mess. We put her in the woods and covered her with the dirt we had dug up. We did not provide a funeral service.

We thought one of the elder hens would be the first to go. They are now close to too old to lay eggs any more. We had not figured out what to do with them when we get some new chicks and there will not be enough room. Now we will be down to one egg a day at best. The one black hen looks very forlorn out scratching and pecking by herself for most of the day.

At the gym, another person told me, “I moved to Whidbey in 1972. I bought a farm. I bought some Bantam chickens and let them run loose in the woods. They laid eggs and raised chicks. They roosted in the trees. At night I would hear an occasional squawk as an owl caught a chicken.”

A lot of people on Whidbey Island worship nature. Nature is nice, but it’s not that pretty.

Source :

If your goal is to get people to click on something, you need a killer headline. It has to be interesting, short, and hopefully provocative without being bullshit linkbait. The headline (and blog post) I’m most proud of is “He Took a Polaroid Every Day, Until the Day He Died.” That headline poses multiple questions — Why did he take a photo every day? How did he die? Who is he? — but it also gives you a big “spoiler” by revealing that whoever this post is about died at the end of his project. I would argue that the spoiler is the biggest hook of the whole thing. It’s also short enough to be forwarded via Twitter with room for added commentary.




This guest column by writer/blogger Chris Higgins, author of 
the new release, THE BLOGGER ABIDES, a practical e-book
guide about how to make money as a blogger/writer, and how to 
steadily improve your writing career (and your paycheck).
David Wolman, contributing editor at Wired called the book:
“Blunt, honest and useful guidance for freelance writers.” Connect
with Chris online at Twitter or at his website. See all Chris’s blog posts and check out




2. You Don’t Have to Write That Much

It’s better to write one sentence than a huge article.

If I were Strunk and/or White, I’d stop there, but it’s worth repeating for new writers and bloggers: avoid the instinct to catalog and obsessively cover the subject. Get in there, write the most interesting part as quickly as possible (you want the subject clearly explained in the first sentence), and if you really want to write more, put it below the fold (after the jump, so to speak) or just point people to further reading.

I’m also constantly surprised by what strikes a chord with readers. Often the most slapdash efforts cranked out in mere minutes get the biggest responses. Examples: “Gotta Read ‘Em All which” was written in less than ten minutes on a Thursday morning before I started work (and received 224 comments); “What Books Can’t You Put Down?” which was written in five minutes at most (and received 157 comments).

Having this happen over and over (and having posts involving hours of labor get no response), I’ve finally realized what’s going on here — if the subject is immediately understandable from the headline (see above), if the subject itself is interesting, and the post is short enough to be approachable, people will read it. It’s not rocket science, but it took me a long time to figure that out.

3. You Need a Thick Skin

People who comment on my blog posts are usually pretty nice, just saying some variant of “oh, cool” or “check out this related thing.” That’s great and sweet and validating. On the other hand, there’s an unstoppable army of jerks out there ready to jump on you. Grumpy people love writing blog comments. Pissed-off people are a lot more motivated to leave a comment than people who are simply enjoying your stuff.

4. The Jerks Come Back

You’d be shocked how many commenters (particularly trolls) bookmark a post and come back later in the day to continue the fight. Disengage. Post comments on your own posts only to clarify something missed in the post but raised by another commenter (if you dare), point to other sources, and/or acknowledge making corrections to the main post in response to a comment.

5. Ask Commenters to Contribute

This is very, very important. Whenever you make a list of things, end it by asking readers what you left out. This makes the inevitable “You left out xyz awesome thing!” comment a happy collaboration rather than an indictment of the blogger’s intelligence. I can’t tell you how many times people have commented: “I can’t believe you didn’t include [some obscure nerd thing], furthermore [you are an idiot] and [should be fired].” But when I invite people to contribute, they do so gladly.

Such a simple lesson. Worth so much. Do it. Also, you’ll often get people giving you links that lead to new posts down the road.

6. The Past: There’s Always More of It

Credit to John Hodgman for the headline here.

When I started blogging, I sat down and wrote a long list of interesting trivia: topics I knew something about, interesting historical tidbits, lots of computer nerd stuff. Literally a big long bulleted list, in a file on my desktop. I then proceeded to write a blog post for every single one of those items. When I ran out, I panicked. What would happen? How would I keep coming up with a new thing every day forever? I had run out of interesting stuff!

When it’s your job to find and highlight one interesting thing every day, you quickly become a specialist at spotting interesting things. If you have any human interaction, and you keep your eyes and ears open, you will constantly encounter topics. You just need to notice them, then write about them. Go to the post office and listen to people talking in the line, look around the room, look at what’s for sale — something about that experience is almost certainly bloggable. (Forever Stamps, anyone?) So my job as a blog writer changed when I ran out of ideas in my back catalog — I became a finder of interesting things, and worked to become good at briefly describing those things. The finding skill can be harder; you need to develop a clear sense not just of what’s interesting to you, but what’s interesting to your audience, and also what can be briefly described.

7. Credit Where Credit is Due

Always, always cite your sources. If you found a topic via a blog, link to that blog (the specific post, if possible; in fact, this post had a previous incarnation on my website) at the end of your post. If you’re quoting something, say so and use the HTML blockquote tag. Don’t steal photos — Flickr has a great Advanced Search feature which allows you to find Creative Commons licensed photos (including those licensed for commercial use!).

Also, be sure you’re conversant with the FTC’s Guidelines for Bloggers. In short, don’t be a shill.

If you aspire to write for print but are starting in the online world, you’re going to need to learn how to deal with citations and footnotes. Better to figure that out while you’re blogging than when you’re on a deadline for a print assignment. (I’m not suggesting that you need footnotes in your blog posts, but you definitely should keep a list of sources and, wherever possible, include them in your post.) Also, as much as I love Wikipedia (and link to it all the time), beware of basing a story on something you find there — there’s plenty of bogus info floating around, and you’ll look like a sucker for buying it. Run everything through a Snopes filter or at least a Google filter with the word “hoax” attached.

8. Don’t Blog Something That’s Already Been Blogged

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of a great idea, only to find that it has already been covered by other bloggers on my own site. Now, I do read the site, but the volume of posts is insane — and my memory is short enough that I don’t remember what people were posting about three years ago. Use the site search. If you don’t, people will yell for reposting stuff. Also, get familiar with the Google site: syntax (example: “chris higgins” will turn up posts including my name from that site).


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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Source :


Why Grow Vegetables

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Starting a vegetable garden at home is an easy way to save money — that $2 tomato plant can easily provide you with 10 pounds of fruit over the course of a season.

It also gives you the pleasure of savoring a delicious, sun-warmed tomato fresh from the garden. In almost every case, the flavor and texture of varieties you can grow far exceed the best grocery store produce.

Plus, growing vegetables can be fun. It’s a great way to spend time with children or have a place to get away and spend time outdoors in the sun.

Growing vegetables is probably easier than you think. If you plan it right, you can enjoy a beautiful garden full of the fruits of your labor — without having to spend hours and hours tending it. Vegetables and flowers are natural companions, and the combination can turn a potential eyesore into an attractive landscape feature. Read on for more!

Deciding What to Grow

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It’s best to start small with your first garden. Many gardeners get a little too excited at the beginning of the season and plant more than they need — and end up wasting food and feeling overwhelmed by their garden.

So first, take a look at how much your family will eat. Keep in mind that vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and squash keep providing throughout the season — so you may not need many plants to serve your needs. Other vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, and corn, produce only once. You may need to plant more of these.

Determining How Much Space You Need

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Once you know what you want to plant, you can figure out how much space your garden will need.

Keep in mind that you don’t need a large space to begin a vegetable garden. If you choose to grow in containers, you don’t even need a yard — a deck or balcony may provide plenty of space.

In fact, a well-tended 10×10-foot garden will usually produce more than a weed-filled or disease-ridden 25×50-foot bed.

Get ideas for growing veggies in containers.

Picking the Perfect Spot

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No matter how big your vegetable garden is, there are three basic requirements for success:

1. Full sun. Most vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of direct sun. If they don’t get enough light, they won’t bear as much and they’ll be more susceptible to attack from insects or diseases.

Here’s a hint: If you don’t have a spot in full sun, you can still grow many leafy vegetable

such as lettuce and spinach. And if you’re in a hot-summer climate, cool-season varieties such as peas may do better in part shade.

2. Plenty of water. Because most vegetables aren’t very drought tolerant, you’ll need to give them a drink during dry spells. The closer your garden is to a source of water, the easier it will be for you.

3. Good soil. As with any kind of garden, success usually starts with the soil. Most vegetables do best in moist, well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter (such as compost or peat moss).

Many gardeners like to have their vegetable gardens close to the house. This makes it easier to harvest fresh produce while you’re cooking. It can also be handy to keep a few favorite potted vegetables next to your grill.

Designing Your Vegetable GardenThere are two basic approaches to planning the layout of a vegetable garden:

Row Cropping

This is probably what comes to mind when you think of a vegetable garden as you place plants single file in rows, with a walking path between each row.

Row cropping works best for large gardens, and it makes it easier to use mechanical equipment such as tillers to battle weeds.

The downside of row cropping is that you don’t get as many vegetables in a small space, as much of the soil is used for footpaths rather than vegetable plants.

Row cropping isn’t as visually interesting, either.

Here’s a hint: Allow at least 18 inches between your rows so you have plenty of room to work between them. And as you sketch out your plan, place taller vegetables at the north side of the garden. This includes naturally tall plants — like tomatoes — and plants that can be grown on vertical supports — including snap peas, cucumbers, and pole beans.

Intensive Cropping

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This means planting in wide bands, generally 1-4 feet across and as long as you like. Intensive cropping reduces the amount of area needed for paths, but the closer spacing of the plants usually means you have to weed by hand.

Because of the handwork required, it is important not to make the bands wider than you can comfortably reach.

Intensive cropping also allows you to design your garden, making it a good choice, for example, if you want to grow vegetables in your front yard. It’s a great solution for mixing vegetables with ornamentals, as well.

A specialized version of intensive cropping is the “square-foot method.” This system divides the garden into small beds (typically 4×4 feet), that are further subdivided into 1-foot squares. Each 1-foot square is planted with one, four, nine, or 16 plants, depending on the size of the plant when it matures.

It also makes sense to leave some areas of the garden unplanted at first. This allows you to plant a second crop to harvest later in the season. Lettuce, radishes, green onions, carrots, and bush beans are commonly planted several times during the season.

Don’t miss these other vegetable-garden design tips!

Testing and Fixing Your Soil

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It’s best to test the soil before you begin digging. Check drainage by soaking the soil with a hose, waiting a day, then digging up a handful of soil. Squeeze the soil hard. If water streams out, you’ll probably want to add compost or organic matter to improve the drainage.

Next, open your hand.
If the soil hasn’t formed a ball, or if the ball falls apart at the slightest touch, the soil is probably too sandy. (Add organic matter to improve sandy soil.)
If the ball holds together even if you poke it fairly hard, you have too much clay in your soil. (Organic matter improves clay soil, too.)
But if the ball breaks into crumbs when you poke it — like a chocolate cake — rejoice! Your soil is ideal.

If your soil doesn’t drain well, your best bet will probably be to install raised beds.

Here’s a hint: Build raised beds on existing lawn by lining the bottom of frames with several layers of newspaper, then filling with soil. That way, you don’t

have to dig!


Digging Your BedsLoosen your soil before you plant. You can either use a tiller or dig by hand.

Once the soil has been loosened, spread out soil amendments (such as compost) and work them into the soil. Avoid stepping on freshly tilled soil as much as possible. Otherwise, you’ll be compacting the soil and undoing all your hard work.

When you’re done digging, smooth the surface with a rake, then water thoroughly. Allow the bed to rest for several days before you plant.

Choosing Varieties

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Once you start picking out varieties, you’ll probably notice that the possibilities for avegetable garden are endless. There are thousands of tomato varieties alone!

When selecting varieties, pay close attention to the description on the tag or in the catalog. Each variety will be a little different: Some produce smaller plants that are ideal for small gardens or containers, others offer great disease resistance, improved yields, better heat- or cold-tolerance, or other features.

Seed catalogs are one of the best sources for vegetables. Once you narrow your choices to types of vegetables, pick two or three varieties that seem promising. That way if one variety doesn’t perform well, you’ll have other plants to make up for it. Next year, grow the best performer again, and choose another to try.

Many vegetables can be started early indoors or purchased already started from a garden center. The benefit of this approach is that you can have a crop ready to harvest several weeks earlier than if you were to plant seeds in the ground. Starting vegetables indoors is not difficult, but it does require some time and attention. Seed packages list the options you have for planting particular seed.

Use our plant encyclopedia to find the best vegetable varieties for your garden!

Care and Feeding

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Most vegetables like a steady supply of moisture, but not so much that they are standing in water. About an inch of water per week is usually sufficient, provided by you if Mother Nature fails to come through. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. For in-ground crops, that may mean watering once or twice a week; raised beds drain faster and may require watering every other day.

Weeds compete with your vegetables for water and nutrients, so it’s important to keep them to a minimum. Use a hoe or hand fork to lightly stir (cultivate) the top inch of soil regularly to discourage weed seedlings. A

mulch of clean straw, compost, or plastic can keep weeds at bay around larger plants like tomatoes.

Fertilizing your crops is critical to maximizing yields. Organic gardeners often find that digging in high quality compost at planting time is all their vegetables need. Most gardeners, however, should consider applying a packaged vegetable fertilizer, following the directions on the box or bag. Don’t apply more than recommended as this can actually decrease yield.

By using vining crops like pole beans and snap peas, you can make use of vertical space in the garden and boost yield per square foot.


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This is what it’s all about, so don’t be shy about picking your produce! Many vegetables can be harvested at several stages. Leaf lettuce, for example, can be picked as young as you like; snip some leaves and it will continue to grow and produce. Summer squash (zucchini) and cucumber can be harvested when the fruit is just a few inches long, or it can be allowed to grow to full size. The general rule: If it looks good enough to eat, it probably is. Give it a try. With many vegetables, the more you pick, the more the plant will produce.

Stopping Pests and Diseases

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Pests and disease are ongoing problems for most vegetable gardeners. Although specific problems may require special solutions, there are some general principles you can follow.

Deer and rabbits. Use fences to deter rabbits. Make sure the bottom of the fence extends about 6 inches under the soil to stop rabbits from digging underneath it. The fence needs to stand at least 8 feet above the ground to prevent deer from jumping over it.

Spring insects. Row covers, which are lightweight sheets of translucent plastic, protect young crops against many common insects. Row covers are also helpful to prevent damage from light frosts.

Fungal diseases. Reduce fungal diseases by watering the soil, not the leaves of plants. If you use a sprinkler, do it early in the day so the leaves will dry by nightfall.

  • If a plant falls prey to a disease, remove it promptly and throw it in the trash; don’t add sick plants to your compost pile.
  • Grow varieties that are listed as disease resistant. Garden catalogs and websites should tell you which varieties offer the most protection.
  • Make it a habit to change the location of your plants each year. In other words, if you grew tomatoes in the northwest corner of your garden this year, put them in the northeast corner next year. This reduces the chances that pests will gain a permanent foothold in your garden.

Summer insects. Pick larger insects and caterpillars by hand. Once you get over the “yuck!” factor, this is a safe and effective way to deal with limited infestations.

Use insecticidal soap sprays to control harmful bugs. Most garden centers carry these products. Whatever pest control chemicals you use, read the label carefully and follow the directions to the letter.

how to grow onions and garlic

How to Grow Onions and Garlic
From This Video

Thing. Onions and garlic are among the easiest our investors grow and add some of the best — your kitchen. There also — most rewarding because they store well and that means you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for months after .

Resource :


by Filip Tkaczyk

Understanding the function of a forest food web can greatly enhance your effectiveness in creating, maintaining and improving a permaculture edible forest garden (a designed community of mutually-beneficial edible, medicinal, and utilitarian plants that mimics a natural forest ecosystem).

A food web is a series of elements and organisms related by predator-prey, consumer, or resource interactions – the entirety of interrelated food chains in an ecological community. To begin, it helps to break a forest food web down to its basic parts.

The Basics of a Food Web

You can begin to understand a food web by recognizing the major categories of elements and their functions. The three biggest players in a food web are the sun, water, and air. The role of the sun is to bring in energy which the producers (plants) turn into food for themselves. They then make that food available to the other members of the food web.

Clean water is vital to the life of many organisms in the forest food web, especially all of the plants. Forests can’t exist without water. Nor can they exist without air. Plants breathe just like we do, only they breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Many living things depend on the oxygen that plants breathe out.

The fourth, and most important component of a food web are the living organisms. Living organisms can be split up into three functional groups:

    • Decomposers – These are the recyclers of the food web


    • Producers – The plants (trees, shrubs, herbs) are the major sources of food for the food web


  • Consumers – Herbivores, carnivores, and parasites

All of these groups play an important role in balancing each other and sustaining each other. When designing or improving an existing edible forest garden, use this knowledge of the forest food web to help improve the vitality of all the living things that are part of it.

Applying The Knowledge

So now that you know the elements, how can you apply the knowledge? For starters, you can consider whether all of these elements are appropriately accounted for in your edible forest garden. Let us assume that you already have sunlight, water, and air in your edible forest garden. Now the first place to look might be your soil.

The Living Soil

Keeping and supporting a living, healthy soil is key to a fruitful edible forest garden. In the forest food web, the living soil is home to many living things, but those which are decomposers are some of the most important. Two of the most important decomposers are worms and fungi. Fungi are especially good at breaking down woody materials.


Worms help turn dead leaves and other detritus into compost. Worms, especially earth worms, constantly tunnel and also aerate the soil. In poor soils, fungi can be introduced along with new plants to help improve the soil and also help plants find more nourishment. Worm castings (scat) can be used to amend poor soils.

The Producers

Plants are the main producers in a forest food web. They have complex relationships with many creatures, and it is not a simple matter of putting them in the ground and watering them. Plants have predators that include everything from tiny aphids up to large deer. In order to help plants deal with these creatures, create homes for predators of these animals.

The Consumers

The greater the diversity of plants, the more homes you create for creatures such as lady bugs, parasitic wasps, lacewings and other predators of aphids and other plant-eating insects. Learn more about the habits and needs of the predators of different plant pests and help them do what they were born to do.

For example, if you have an abundance of slugs, make habitats for toads and small snakes which often feed on slugs. You can also plant daffodils, tulips, onions and garlic species around those plants that often get browsed by large herbivores such as deer and elk. Such plants repel deer and add wonderful beneficial insect attractors to your forest food web.

Avoid using insecticides or herbicides on your edible forest garden, as these can have disastrous effects on the forest food web. They can poison your soil, water and get into your food. Often insecticides will kill off the pests along with the beneficial predators that could be keeping those same pests in check. Instead, look at what conditions allowed the given pest to thrive and help nature bring things into balance by adjusting those elements which created the situation. Things in the natural world exist in a harmonious equilibrium and the closer you look, the more you will see that the solution to your problems is likely already present on the land.

With a little encouragement and attention from you, your edible forest garden will thrive!

Further Resources

Interested in learning about permaculture approaches to sustainable living, such as edible forest gardens? Check out our Permaculture Design Course.

To read more about edible forest gardens, check out our article on How to Create a Permaculture Food Forest.

For further useful information check out the following link:

Plant and Edible Forest Garden


Resource :

Prachi Chourey

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Prachi Chourey

This is my first blog. Would like to blog about anything I like to share.. Some thoughts, something nice to share, recipes, upcoming events or like anything.. My latest Hobby is Cake Decoration and something more about it.. Prachi Chourey

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