Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Half moon, Full moon...Total Eclipse!

In the early hours of this morning at 4.53AM (GMT), The Americas were blessed with a magnificent sky show, when the moon changed colour, due to the Earth's shadow falling upon it. The moon went through a cornucopia of hues from orange, through to blood red, right onto brown. This spectra, known as a total lunar eclipse lasted for almost 3 hours.

A lunar eclipse happens when the moon moves behind the Earth and falls into its shadow. This can only ever occur if the moon, Earth, and sun are all completely aligned (in that order); and can only ever happen when the moon is completely round (a full moon).

Picture of the stages of a total lunar eclipse. (image taken from Flickr)
A lunar eclipse can be viewed in many different areas of the world as long as the moon is present. Unlike a solar eclipse which lasts a few minutes, a lunar eclipse lasts for several hours, providing watchers with all the time in the world to take a couple of beautiful snaps.

Like many natural events, the lunar eclipses are embroiled with mythology. In Egyptian dynasties, people thought the moon disappeared due to a large sow swallowing it and the Mayans thought that a Jaguar ate the moon.

One could say that lunar eclipses are fairly common and occur at least biannually. However total lunar eclipses like that witnessed in The Americas this morning are relatively rare.

Explorer Fact: A further 3 more eclipses will occur this year

  1. a solar eclipse-29th April
  2. a total lunar eclipse-8th October
  3. a partial solar eclipse- 23rd October

Saturday, 15 March 2014


The bid to understand and create stem cells is very current and is a very desirable piece of knowledge many a biologist and geneticist would like to know. New articles and papers are always sprouting up, with innovative findings, which claim to shed light on the amazing properties which these cells have the ability to perform.

An article in Nature, was published in January and it reported that dipping cells in acid could convert them into stem cells. The author of this piece Prof. Teruhiko Wakayama has revoked his findings and has said that 'it is no longer clear what is right'. His findings have not been discredited, but they are currently under intense scrutiny, due a number of mistakes which have been been found throughout the article.

There are 2 different types of stem cells; adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. These cells all have a potency to differentiate into specialised cell types. There are many different therapeutic treatments which rely on stem cells- like bone marrow transplants. Furthermore many new technologies are being developed to help treat cancer, Parkinson's disease, spinal chord injuries and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). As stem cells are only present in the human body in finite amounts, it is a race to find ways to harvest more stem cells, or alter the integrity of normal somatic cells to produce stem cells.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Lighting up the sky.

The Auroras are a natural phenomenon which have been described about as far back as Roman times. A story I heard growing up was about an emperor who was in battle and thought Rome was burning, so he rushed back home only to realise it was the sky; dancing with coloured light casting a reddish-orange glow over the city he so loved.

The word Aurora is Latin and means sunrise, but it is also the name of the Roman goddess of dawn. There are 2 kinds of auroras, the Borealis and the Australis. The Borealis is known as the Northern Lights and mainly appear as a green glow occasionally tinged red. The appearance of the Borealis is generally around the equinoxes, and look like curtains due to the magnetic field lines which arise within them due to the polarity of The Earth. The Australis appears in the Southern hemisphere around the poles, and is essentially the same as the Borealis.

Auroras are formed via ions released from the Sun. The Earth's magnetic field traps the ions and it is the collision between the Sun's ions and the Earth's atmospheric molecules which cause the release of energy which is visualised as light (the auroras). It is the Earth's magnetic field which causes the appearance of the rippling effect associated with The Lights.

Auroras come in a wide range of colours, and this is dependent upon altitude. Red only occurs at the highest altitudes, green is apparent at the lower altitudes and the blue colour is occasionally seen at the lower part of the lights (the bottom of the curtains).

Explorer Fact: Last week the Northern lights were visible in some of the Southern Counties of Britain (Norfolk, Essex, Suffolk and Kent).

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Mr Melonhead

I was doing some reading about whales, when I came across this little fella. He looked so happy, I thought I must write about him!

The Beluga whale is 1 of 2 members of the Monodontidae family and it shares this family with the unicorn of the sea, the Narwhal, and it is the only member of the genus Delphinapterus. The whale has a conservation status of near threatened; yet they are one of the most commonly kept whales in captivity due to their gentle and expressive nature.

The Beluga whale is found mostly in the Arctic, around the shores of North America, Greenland and Russia. It has a fairly wide diet, and tends to feast upon fish, crustaceans and deep-sea invertebrates.

In appearance the Beluga whale does not look like a 'normal' whale, it is all white in colour, and lacks a dorsal fin. Moreover it also has a large bump on its head, which is called 'the melon'. It is this 'melon' which allows the Beluga to use echolocation in order to locate other Belugas through sheet ice. Belugas vary greatly in size and can range from the size of a dolphin to the size of a small blue whale. They also have a lot of blubber and when well fed are almost spherical!

Although Belugas are able to see above water, their eyesight is not too great, however as their eyes have cone and rod structures, it is thought that they could potentially see in colour. These whales do not have a sense of smell, but they do have a highly developed sense of touch and they actually crave physical contact from other whales.

Explorer Fact: Beluga females give birth to a calf once every 3 years, with the gestational period being an average of 12-14 and a half months.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The tale of a much loved little giraffe.

Little Marius, was a 2 year old giraffe, who hailed from Copenhagen zoo. The zoo could not keep Marius, as when he matured there would have been a risk of in-breeding, giving rise to possible mutations in their giraffe population. 

An online petition was signed with thousands of signatures urging the zoo not to destroy this gentle giant. The Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which has a specialised giraffe house, and which had room to cope with a new male in the sanctuary, offered to take Marius. But instead they were turned down and the Copenhagen zoo, killed Marius with a bolt gun and invited visitors of the zoo to watch a dissection of his body. 

Marius' body is expected to be used for research and to feed some of the carnivores at the zoo.

Hundreds of people have taken to the internet to campaign against the death of Marius, with animal activists stating that his death was barbaric and calling the zoo unethical. 

So why didn't Copenhagen zoo want Marius to be rehomed? I for one, would have been willing to have kept Marius, as did many other zoos who offered.

Explorer fact: the joints that look like knees on the front legs of a giraffe are in fact wrists. It is the back legs which have the hinged joint.