Wednesday, 30 October 2013


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A light year is a way of measuring distance in space (rather than time as the name implies). A light year is the distance that light can travel in a year.

Space is huge and the distances involved are so large that Scientists measure distance in light years. One light year is equivalent to 5,865,696,000,000 miles, which is nearly 6 million million miles. The equivalent is 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers. Light travels at a velocity of 300,000 km per second. 

Measuring distance in light years is essential in the vast area of space. The nearest galaxy Andromeda is 21 quintillion km away (21,000,000,000,000,000,000)which is equivalent to 2.3 light years. The milky way is 150,000 light years across.

Light years can also help to tell the age of items in space too. A star that is one million light years away is one million years old, as it has taken the stars light one million years to reach us. The light was therefore created on million years ago, meaning that we do not see an accurate image of what is there but an image of what used to be there all that time ago.

Sunday, 27 October 2013


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They both have black and yellow stripes and can sting, right?  Often it can be difficult to tell if the insect flying around you is a bee or a wasp.  But there are key differences that will help you to identify them.

Kingdown: Animalia 
Class: Insecta 
Phylum: Arthropoda
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder:  Apocrita

Both bees and wasps are closely related flying insects that both belong to the order Hymenoptera. They both live in large social groups.  However bee and wasps behave differently and differ in their body shape and leg structure.  


Bees are closely related to wasps and ants. They are less aggressive then wasps.  In fact the honeybee will die after giving a single sting, although most bees can sting multiple times. 

Physically bees differ from wasps as they have a hairy body and legs. The abdomen and thorax are round, whilst the legs are flat and round.

Bees gather pollen and sip on nectar from flowers and have a critical role in pollination of our flowers.  This is why you will often find bees near flowers.  Unlike wasps, bees produce honey and bees wax. 

Each colony will house up to 40,000 bees consisting of worker bees, drones and a single queen bee. They they live in geometric wasp nests made of hexagonal beeswax structures.  They store food such as honey and pollen in the cells, as well as using them to brood eggs, larvae and pupae.


Wasps are much more aggressive then bees, and can sting many times. They are predators rather than pollinators and so prey on other insects.  They can often be found around bins and food items as they are attracted by sugary substances and beer.

Wasps are not hairy; they have a smooth body and legs. The abdomen is cylindrical and the legs are round and waxy.

Wasps cannot produce wax like bees and so live together in papery nests made from wood pulp or may even burrow in banks instead.  Nests are often located in sheltered areas with direct access to the outside such as gazebos, sheds and trees.

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Friday, 25 October 2013


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Its all white outside and visibility is low, but what is the difference between a fog and a mist?

It has been said that fog feels eery whilst a mist feels empty.  I think this sums them up pretty well.
I remember once driving through dense fog for over an hour and it is so disorientating as if I was driving through outer space.

Both fog and mist are caused by microscopic droplets of water suspended in the air.  Light travelling through this space is scattered when it comes in contact with these droplets which results in reduced visibility and the white veil we are familiar with. The larger and denser the droplets are the worse the visibility becomes.


A fog is defined in meteorological terms as a very low cloud, often in contact with the ground. Fog droplets are larger than mist droplets, and are closely packed together.  This reduces visibility significantly and causes the cloud like fog.

A fog occurs when the relative visibility is below 1 km and the relative humidity exceeds 95%.
The most common cause of fog is cooling by radiation when the ground cools, causing a layer of air next to the ground to cool also. A fog starts to form and condenses heat, and so becomes cooler. Gentle movement of the air makes the fog thicker.

Fogs are more common in colder weather (autumn and winter) and often form during the night.
Ground fog (also known as radiation fog) often occurs over damp or wet ground after a rainy night or when clouds touch the ground. Sea fog (also known as Advection fog) is caused when warm air flows over cold sea surface, or even the land.


A mist comprises of small droplets suspended in air. The droplets are smaller than those present in a fog and not so densely packed.  A mist occurs when visibility is between 1 km and 2 km.

Mist is commonly seen in cold air above warm water such as in a bathroom, when you breathe out on a cold day or the steam of a sauna.

Monday, 21 October 2013


Applications to carry out exploratory fracking have been recently been requested in the UK, only to receive a bad press among conservationists and protesters. 

Fracking is big news in the USA but is less used in Europe due to opposition from anti-fracking lobbies.  It is banned in France and Bulgaria, and only recently permitted in the UK.

But is it all bad or is it a necessary evil in a time where energy is scarce and we have to utilise all our energy sources? 


Fracking is the industrial technique of hydraulic fracturing.  This drilling technique is used to recover gas from shale rock, and so can only be used in specific geological areas. Shale gas is a high carbon fuel, around 75% of its mass is carbon.

In order to recover gas from the shale rock energy companies have to drill down into the shale rock to create a well.  An area is leveled and covered in caliche rock to make a drill base.  A drilling rig is used to drill multiple wells into the shale rock. Even though the rigs are large (up to 45 meters high) it can take several months to dig a single well. 

The wells are drilled both vertically and horizontally to create pathways to release gas. Horizontal drilling is more often used as it means fewer wells have to be dug. The location of the wells will depend on the geology of the rock in that specific area, and where the gas pockets are located within it.  Wells regularly reach a depth of 2-3 kilometers  with horizontal drilling for 1-2 km.

When the wells has been drilled a high pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock for several days.  This allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well so it can be collected. Tanks are used to collect the fracking fluid and gas mixture, from which the gas is collected and pumped through pipes.  The wells are then closed and sealed with cement to prevent leaks.


Fracking is a very intrusive operation on site, and has a large environmental impact on the surface and ground below. On completion of the works there is some reinstatement to the landscape, although the scars of the process are still very evident. 

The plant required is huge and noisy and significant infrastructure is required to bring in plant, vehicles and equipment to the site.  This does impact significantly on people living in the area. In the US and Australia the local economy has suffered and house prices in surrounding areas have fallen.

Environmental concerns includes the huge amounts of water the process requires; four million galleons per borehole.  This has to be transported to site at environmental cost and waste water has to be treated.

It is also feared that potentially carcinogenic chemicals may leach into the environment or contaminate groundwater, although there is a very low risk of this through the process there may be incidents around transport and storage.  However, there may be more cause for concern about the long term integrity of the wells after they have been closed if they start to leak.

Fracking has been known to cause small earth tremors. In 2011 two small earthquakes hit the Blackpool area following fracking, and one in Lancashire. However, instances of this occurring are rare.

Fracking is still looking to release fossil fuels, which damage our environment.  Money is invested in this technique rather than cleaner, renewable forms of energy. 


However, as natural resources are scarce and alternative energy is limited there is a argument to recover gas that was previously unobtainable through new techniques such as fracking. 

It is estimated in USA and Canada  that fracking will provide fuel for the next 100 years.
In the UK shale gas will significantly supplement the dwindling north seas gas reserves.  Potentially trillions of cubic feet of shale gas could be recovered by fracking from northern England alone.

Renewable energy is not yet at a level to replace fossil fuels and so the use of shale gas will help to bridge this gap.

If shale gas is not used then energy costs will rise significantly as they become scarcer and this will be felt by many businesses and homes already hit hard by rising fuel bills.

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Wednesday, 16 October 2013


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Earthworms are fantastic creatures.  Even better when they are giant.  So of course I love giant earthworms.  Who wouldn't?

Giant earthworm species are found in the Australia, Asia, South Africa and America.   However they are so few in numbers that some species are close to extinction and they are now protected species.

Like smaller earthworms these giants live in burrows under the ground. Their tunnels are 2-3 cm wide and can reach a depth of 5 meters.  They will burrow deeply to avoid summer droughts.

Giant earthworms do not come up to the surface but instead slide along their moist burrows under the ground. In fact these worms are so large that they can be heard squelching along their tunnels from the surface. 

It is difficult to measure the length of a giant earthworm as they are delicate and can snap if they are stretched too much.  
  The Giant Paulouse Earthworm (Driloleirus americanus) is an albino form which found in the Palouse region of Washington and in Idaho, USA.  They live in the volcanic soil of the grass prairies and can reach up to 1 metre in length.  It was thought to be extinct but specimens of this giant worm were found in 2010.  

The Glossoscolecidae species live in forests in south and central in America.  They can reach up to 2 meters long.  

In Australia the native giant Gippsland Earthworm (Megascolides australis) can reach up to 3 metres in length.  They live in the subsoil along banks and hills of Gippsland, Victoria, although they are now threatened with extinction.

It has been reported that the largest giant earthworm found is the African giant earthworm, Microchaetus rappi, that reached an apparent length of over 6 meters. I don't believe that one though.

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Friday, 11 October 2013


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What is the difference between these two creepy crawlies?  

They both have legs.  Lots of them.  A centipede has one hundred and a millipede has one thousand hence the names…………. er, maybe not quite that many legs apparently.   Less shoes required. 

Millipedes and centipedes both belong to the phylum  Arthropoda,  which is made up of invertebrate animals that have a segmented body, an exoskeleton and jointed appendages.   However there are some some key differences that will help you to distinguish between a centipede and a millipede.   


Centipedes belong to the Diplopoda family, subphylum mirapoda  (originating from the Greek for lip foot) .   Their bodies are made up of many flattened segments.  A centipede has one pair of legs per segment.  They have between under 20 legs to over 300.  

Their legs are longer  than those of a millipede and  are held out to the side  which positions their body low to the ground. The last legs are held behind the body and not used for walking.   They are capable of moving rapidly.  

They do not have any legs on the first segment (behind the head)  as these have become fangs that contain venom.   This venom can be very harmful to small children and people who suffer an allergic reaction.  

Centipedes are much flatter than millipedes and have well developed antennae on their head  which are much larger than those belonging to millipedes.  They are primarily carnivorous.


Millipedes belong to the Chilopoda family  (originating from the Greek words for double foot) .  Their bodies are made up of many flattened segments.  Each segment consists of two single segments fused together so they have two pairs of legs per segment,  with the exception of the first three and the last segment which bears only one pair of legs. They often have between 100 and 400 legs. 

They have short legs which are held beneath them resulting in the body being held high off the ground.  They move fast in a wave like movement  and in a much slower way than centipedes . 

Male millipedes ave modified legs on their 7thbody segment called gonapods.  Like most arthropods millipedes malt as they grow, and the number of body segments increases with each malt.  

Millipedes  do not bite but can secrete  an irritating liquid from pores on their bodies which can be harmful if it comes in contact with your eyes or mouth.   Their bodies are more rounded than centipedes and are long and cylindrical in appearance.  They are detrivores, eating detritus   (decaying plant and  animal matter).

The largest millipede is the giant African millipede Archispirostreptus gigas which grow up to 30 cm long and can live for 7 years. 

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Wednesday, 9 October 2013


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Dahlias are fantastic plants and are often the star plants of a later summer border. Whether its big, blousy blooms, vibrant colour clashes or more subtle complimentary flower heads Dahlias have it all. There are so many varieties to choose from that there must be a Dahlia for every garden. They make wonderful cut flowers too. 

Dahlias are prolific flowering plants. If planted in a sheltered spot Dahlias will flower from mid summer until nearly Christmas. I have planted a Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff in my exotic border as the vibrant red provides a zingy, exotic looking accent to the border. It has been flowering its socks off all summer and still looks fantastic in Autumn. One day in October I counted over 60 single blooms on a single plant. 

Dahlias can be expensive to buy from a garden centre as a pot grown plant. The most inexpensive way to bring Dahlias to your garden is to but them as tubers and plant them up in the spring. 

Dahlia tubers are swollen root structures which store energy for the plant. This tuber supports the growth of new foliage and roots, or provides additional support to the plant during tough times. The roots become swollen with stored nutrients which will enable a new plant to develop, much like the role of a seed. The growing point on a tuber is called an 'eye' or bud. 

Dahlia tubers are tender so plant them out direct into the soil in late spring after the risk of frost has passed. Dahlias require a sunny spot with fertile, well drained soil. Dig a hole to a depth of 30 cm by 30 cm wide and incorporate grit and compost to the bottom of the planting hole. Place the tuber in the hole in an upright position, back fill with a mixture of compost and soil and water well. Plant your Dahlias out at about 75 cm apart, depending on variety. 

You may wish to get a head start on the season and can pot the Dahlias up into containers when the weather is still too cold to plant directly outside (February). Select a three litre pot and fill the bottom 5 cm with compost, then place the tuber on to and fill around it with additional soil until you reach 2 cm from the top of the pot. Water gently and place in a frost free place. Water the compost to prevent the dahlia from drying out. Plant out in the garden when the frosts have passed.

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Wednesday, 2 October 2013


My friend Emma always cooks me stir fry when we meet up.  It not that she cant cook anything else, just that it is so quick and easy and we love it.  Its also very economical but you can mix it up and add some more exotic ingredients such as
hot dog sausages, prawns, cashews or oyster mushrooms if you like.

You can prepare and cook this meal within 20 minutes.

Serves 2


2 chicken breasts
100 g bean sprouts
100 g stir fry noodles
1 peppers
1 onion
6 mushrooms
1 medium carrot
I pack stir fry sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Black pepper
5 teaspoons sesame oil.


Prepare the ingredients by slicing the sausages diagonally into 2 cm pieces.  Slice the onion and mushrooms, and cut the carrot and peppers into small strips.  

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a wok or non stick pan. Stir fry sausage, pepper, onions and carrot and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the beansprouts, noodles and stir fry sauce and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the soy sauce.

Place into a bowl and serve.  

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