December 2009

Being off school gives me a little more time to read around blogs on the internerd.  One very interesting blog that I have recently begun to subscribe to is ‘starts with a bang‘ .  It is one of many very fascinating blogs from

One article that made my jaw drop a little is about globular clusters and the stars inside them.  To get a sense of the scale of them you have to think about our local star (the sun) and how far away the next nearest star is (proxima centauri).

This crude little graphic of mine shows that if you imagine a bubble of 4 light years radius then our closest neighbour is just outside this bubble.  A light year is a measure of distance where a light year is the distance that light travels in one year.  For perspective, the sun is 8 light minutes away from earth.   So it’s not that close and inbetween is mostly empty.  There may be a few brown dwarf stars in this bubble that have not been detected yet but that’s another story.

A globular cluster is a different matter:

Omega Centauri is a globular cluster of stars 15,800 light-years away from us.  It is very densely packed with stars.  A zoomed in picture shows this better:

Just how densely packed with stars is the bit that made my jaw drop.  Back to the crude diagram:

If, instead of a four light year bubble, we imagine a one light year bubble.  Then if we imagine that the sun is in this kind of globular cluster, how many stars would be in our one light year bubble?

This many:

Imagine the night sky if this were the case!


click on image

Click on the image or here to see Simon Singh talk.

The icy cold air and the menacing winter weather makes the mountains irresistible.  I must admit that I expected more snow than what was found high up, but the mountains made up for this with their winter beauty.

The original idea was to go up Donard via the black stairs.  However, once we got the the edge of the forest line we saw that what should have been a large waterfall was a solid water fall.  So, we didn’t even go near it for fear of having to walk all the way back disappointment.

We went up to the col via the non boring path, i.e. the central gully.  This meant we got to play with our ice axes.  After all that we worked up an appetite.  So, in a very professional mountaineering manner, we broke out the trangia’s and cooked bacon sandwiches and real coffee.  Best bacon sandwich ever.

Faced with the choice of Donard (the  highest in Northern Ireland) and Commedagh; Commedagh is always a winner as for me it gives more interesting options for descent.  It also gave some amazing views from near the summit.

Slieve Binnian and the winter solstice sun.

Slieve Bernagh and hoar frost.

The Hare’s Gap (or Mare’s Gap) is down there in the middle.

The view from the stone hut on Commedagh

Winter sun from Commedagh summit.

Slieve Commedagh summit cairn.

It’s that time of year.  Seeing all the snowmen always wants me to do this:

It’s cold here and a light dusting of snow has fallen.  The lovely Sharon is sitting wrapping presents.  I can’t be sure but I think some of them are for me.  Earlier this evening I was polishing my shoes and discovered one pair had developed a shocking hole at the back of the heel.  I need to ask the lovely Sharon if has any spare elves not busy who are cordwainers.

I don’t know why, but I like this:


and this:

from here


Irish wild boar makes a comeback

The Irish wild boar – which died out hundreds of years ago – is back on the rampage.

Conservation authority, Biodiversity Ireland, has reported a number of sightings of boar in their old stomping grounds over the past year.

One 396lb boar was shot near a school playground in Tipperary this year, according to a report in the Irish Times.

Some lovers of wildlife argue that the boar should be welcomed.

But others believe they are a nuisance.

Farmers claim they damage farmland. They have also been accused of attacking dogs, charging at walkers and wrecking local land.

Sows, boars and piglets have been spotted in counties Kilkenny and Wicklow.

Some conservationists are concerned that, as the Irish wolf is extinct, there is no natural predator to keep the numbers of wild boar down.

Barry Coad, the game and wild life manager for Coillte -an Irish commercial company operating in forestry, land based businesses, renewable energy and panel products – told the Irish Times he had dealt with a number of wild boar over the past year.

He said the problem was “quite widespread throughout the country”.

Mr Coad has been directly involved in removing nine animals from Piltown in County Kilkenny and Glenealy in County Wicklow.

“I think it is a serious concern for agriculture and also there is potential for spreading disease,” he said.

Wild boar are known to uproot large areas of land, eliminate native vegetation and have the potential to spread disease to domestic livestock.

Colonies of wild boar have become established in parts of the United Kingdom in the past decade.

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