13 October 2018

Frost Flowers: Nature’s Exquisite Ice Extrusion

It is as beautiful as it is rare.  A frost flower is created on autumn or early winter mornings when ice in extremely thin layers is pushed out from the stems of plants or occasionally wood. This extrusion creates wonderful patterns which curl and fold into gorgeous frozen petioles giving this phenomenon both its name and its appearance.  This feature contains all the science but if you want to see more pictures, don't forget that we have a new collection of frost flower photography that you can see by clicking the red rectangle above (there's a link at the bottom of the post too).

Conditions have to be just so for frost flowers to form.  Early winter and late autumn are the optimum time to come across them as although the weather conditions must be freezing it is vital that the ground is not.

6 October 2018

Autism Hour – A Great Initiative

There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK and many of them find everyday experiences, such a shopping, something of a challenge.  The National Autistic Society has joined forces with a number of High Street shops to create Autism Hour.

You can watch a video about how someone with autism might experience a visit to the shops here.

During the second week of October shops will make a series of simple steps to make themselves more autism friendly.  Over 10,000 shops have already agreed to participate and the campaign also includes celebrities such as Chris Packham and Anne Hegerty.

The steps taken are incredibly easy – first and foremost the shops are spreading autism awareness among their employees.  Secondly, things like reducing the volume of music in their shops to dimming fluorescent strip lighting can really make a difference.

Personally, I think this is a great initiative and I hope that the steps made can, in the future, become something more permanent.  So, between 6 and 13 October, shopping should be a lot easier for a vast amount of people.  What a shame it couldn’t be extended throughout the year!

You can find out more by visiting the National Autistic Society's website.
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29 September 2018

Victorian Street Life in London

In 1876, six years after the death of Charles Dickens, the streets of the English capital still looked very much like the famous author had described. Poverty, disability and filth were everywhere: people lived a precarious and marginal existence working on the streets of London. Two men became determined to document this – and the book they produced shocked a nation.

Radical journalist Adolphe Smith conducted interviews with the poor and down and outs of London. Yet this had been done before. The unique selling point of this book was his collaboration with photographer John Thomson. These pictures - such as the one above of a young girl searching drinking houses for an inebriate parent, were taken with a camera using the glass plate method (Eastman would not develop film until the next decade). They stunned the British middle classes and made their book – Street Life of London – an immediate best seller.

23 September 2018

The Ribbon Seal: The Seal with Stripes

What do you get if you cross a zebra with a seal?  There is no sensible answer to that question, of course, but there is a species of seal which lives in the Arctic and subarctic regions of the North Pacific Ocean which could (however unfeasibly) be the product of a chance romance between the two species.  It is the Ribbon Seal and it is remarkable for its stripes.  Our sibling site, the Ark in Space has a picture feature on this amazing animal.

Image Wikimedia
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Faucaria Tigrina – In the Greenhouse, No One Can Hear You Scream

They say that life imitates art but perhaps in this case it is the other way around. This is Faucaria tigrina or the Tiger’s Jaw – a succulent plant found in South Africa.

Yet caught at the right angle the plant does not resemble so much the jaw of a tiger as that of an altogether alien creature, featured in a number of movies starring Sigourney Weaver et al.

15 September 2018

The Sphinx Observatory – Science at the Top of the World

It may look like the hideaway of a super villain from a Bond movie but this is the Sphinx Observatory, dedicated to research which must take place out at an altitude of 3000-3500 meters.

It is situated in Jungfraujoch, Switzerland. At an astonishing 3.571 meters above sea level, the Sphinx observatory in the Swiss Alps is the highest-altitude built structure in Europe.

12 September 2018

London’s Super Sewer


Many people say that Londoners are full of it.  This may or may not be true but there is one certainty – when they let it go (as it were) it has to go somewhere.  In Victorian days the smell from the river became so pungent that our Members of Parliament couldn’t stand the stench (one might, perhaps, argue there was a little yin-yang going on there).

It was time for change then and it's time for change now. The folks at Thames Tideway have just released the video above.  In it, real Londoners talk about the new ‘super sewer’ that is being built below the streets of England’s capital city.  It is costing a huge £4.2 billion from the start of the project in 2014 to its end in 2023. That's quite a while.  Yet Rome was not built in a day, as they say, and – for sure – a city the size of London needs serious stuff going on underneath in order for day to day life to carry on pong-free up top.

This is, then, a huge feat of engineering which is needed because although the Victorians solved the problem back in the 1850s, times and populations change.  Where we think they may have solved the problem permanently, there are still huge issues. Even now, the Thames still needs clearing up and raw sewage is going in to river at (what you might think is) an alarming rate (and you would be right).  Each year 8 billion toilet flushes go straight in to the Thames.

Big issues lead to big solutions. The project is vast – anything that takes almost a decade will be by sheer definition.  Yet we can all get our heads around the whole thing with some interesting visuals and a narration to accompany them by contemporary denizens of Hackney, Southwark and the Southbank.

So if you live in London and have noticed building sites pooping, sorry, popping up along the river without any tall buildings to accompany them, then you can probably assume that the real work is going on underground.  Thames Tideway (perhaps should be Tide-away) are going to make sure, with this massive investment, that The Great Stink of 1858 does not get a sequel in the twenty first century.  Sequels are never as good as the original, anyway, but in this case it’s one we really don’t want at any cost...

Take a look at the video above.  The scale is epic but it reflects a vision for a city which will be with us in five years.

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9 September 2018

Money Does Grow on Trees


Did your mother ever chastise you with the words money doesn’t grow on trees in a possibly fruitless attempt to curb your profligate ways? Well, maybe – just maybe – she was wrong.

The Spiders That Decorate Their Own Webs

Spider webs – possibly the most beautiful and intricate animal structures of the natural world. However, some spiders are not content with a simple web. They go one step further.  They decorate their own webs and today they are featured on the Ark in Space.

These stabilimenta were the source of inspiration for EB White, who was struggling to come up with ideas for his second novel.  One day he noticed the additional decorations on the web of a Banded Garden Spider.  It was from this natural inspiration that he would come up with the idea of a writing spider and would go on to write one of the world’s most cherished children’s books, Charlotte’s Web.   Pop over to the Ark in Space for the full story of the spiders that decorate their own webs together with some amazing pictures.
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