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Posts Tagged ‘science’

spider-web

Rainbow colours in a spider web caused by diffraction of light – from Earth Science Picture of the Day

Please indulge me while I share some shiny things with you.
I always get like this in Spring, when the sun grows stronger and nature has a certain sheen to it.

I think it’s a woman thing, a gatherer trait inherited from our Stone Age forebears, who must have spent their whole lives looking for bright, shiny berries to pick and eat.

And in many species it’s the male who displays and the female who appreciates it. Apparently not in humans, but diamonds are still a girl’s best friend. So here I am exploring both sparklies and more subtle lustres – as I look at the words iridescence, opalescence and pearlescence. (more…)

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Rinjani

The Indonesian volcano of Rinjani in 1994, by Oliver Spalt on Wikimedia Commons

STOP PRESS: Moments after I published this, reports came in of a volcano erupting in Sumatra – so best wishes to everyone struggling there…

Did you have an irrational fear of something when you were a child? In my case, for a while at least, I was terrified of volcanoes. You might say that’s not so crazy. But as I lived in Wales, where an eruption would be pretty near impossible, I think it was.

So this post is all about what (more…)

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old-damascus

A romantic painting of old Damascus by Frederic, Lord Leighton, 1874

The city of Damascus is in the news for all the wrong reasons in 2012 as the awful bloodshed goes on in Syria. Forgive me if, for a moment, I sidestep the political and humanitarian issues and instead look at the glories that have been. For Damascus once meant luxury and craftsmanship for us, here in the west of Europe.

Damascus, whose name comes from roots meaning “a well-watered place”, is the capital of Syria and its second-largest city. It is in the south-west of the country and is sometimes (more…)

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mucha-venus-400

Morning and Evening Star by Alphonse Mucha, 1902

I find it hard to believe that I have only just put two and two together and worked out why Venus is always the morning or evening star!

I expect you know already, but if you think about it, as Venus is closer to the sun than we are, it’s always (more…)

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blue-moon-shadow

Blue is the colour (with a little help from my PhotoShop) - to see the original mauve Moon Shadow rose, click on this image by Drew Avery

In his prime, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, my father grew hybrid tea roses – 150 of them, row upon row, in our long, narrow back garden.

And like most rose enthusiasts, he dreamed (more…)

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interstellar-comms

Forward to the past - interstellar communication visualised by David A Hardy in 1972

This is a sudden posting, prompted merely by reading that Saturn is in opposition throughout the next few weeks, making it at its brightest to the naked eye.

So it’s a good time to recall the small telescope I owned in my childhood and to retrieve from my shelves a book called Challenge of the Stars (published by Mitchell Beazley in 1972 – although mine was a cheaper edition from Book Club Associates).

challenge

Challenge of the Stars by Patrick Moore and David A Hardy (1972)

The book is by Patrick Moore and illustrated by David A Hardy, whose images deserve some plaudits, I reckon, as I now realise they are the pictures I still have in my mind’s eye when I visualise the planets of our solar system. More about Hardy later…

Those were the days when a great Planetary Grand Tour of the outer solar system was still on the cards, in a decade when the gas giants were in a conveniently close alignment and could be used as gravitational slingshots to help a probe on its way after taking close-up pictures.

Patrick Moore enthused (more…)

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Apoptosis

An artist's impression of the process of apoptosis or programmed cell death - I think that's a phagocyte or white blood cell on the right, cleaning up the mess

Recently a reader of the newspaper for which I work wrote to ask why on earth we always publish such ridiculous artist’s impressions every time there is an outbreak of a disease (the latest was Legionnaires’ disease).

I explained that we needed an illustration of some sort and couldn’t always take a photograph of a victim. The artist’s impression cost us nothing as it was in our archive already – and anyway the images were pretty and colourful.

I am reminded of this as I illustrate one of my “favourite words” – APOPTOSIS. It’s a (more…)

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