Mysterious storms on planet Uranus

This video says about itself:

Extreme Storms Shake the Atmosphere of Uranus

15 November 2014

Storm on Uranus: Astronomers witnessed extreme stormy, huge and bright cloud systems on the planet Uranus. The storm permits the experts to view the hazy blue-green atmosphere of Uranus.

Uranus is an ice giant which is four times larger than the diameter of the Earth. The planet is located 19 times farther from the Sun as compared to the Earth.

From the BBC:

Strange mega storms sweep Uranus

Last year was the stormiest ever on Uranus but astronomers don’t quite know why

Usually there’s not much to see on Uranus, says astronomer Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley. But last year was its stormiest on record.

Ever since its equinox in 2007, when the Sun shined directly on its equator, the seventh planet has been becoming more active. Last year it hit a new peak.

When analysing infrared images of Uranus, Prof de Pater’s team noticed eight large swirling storms in its northern hemisphere in August 2014. One of these storms was the brightest ever observed. It reflected 30% as much light as the rest of the planet, the team reports in the journal Icarus.

Nobody had expected it, says de Pater. It shows how little we understand even about planets inside our own Solar System.

The team analysed bright patches on images of Uranus. These spots of light represent clouds.

They deduced how thick the clouds were, and how high up in the atmosphere. From the altitude they could then infer what the clouds were made of.

The clouds they saw were extremely high up. As they rose ever higher, methane gas condensed into methane ice, causing the clouds to glow.

“The very bright one we saw high in the atmosphere must be methane ice,” says de Pater. “Another one observed by amateur astronomers could be hydrogen sulfide.”

Uranus takes 84 Earth years to travel around the Sun. For half this time one of its poles is in darkness. But during the 2007 equinox each pole was equally lit up, and astronomers expected that this change in illumination would cause a particularly stormy year.

While they did see some turbulent weather, it was nothing compared to the storms of 2014.

Mystery squalls

“We have no idea why this is happening right now,” says de Pater.

The storms might be driven by the changing seasons, but to find out we would need to see if they also occur over the southern hemisphere. That will take many more years. “I don’t think I will live enough to see the whole cycle of Uranus,” she adds.

While we frequently see images from Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus has only ever been fleetingly visited by one space craft, Voyager 2. But that was in 1986 and it only observed a “featureless haze” of dense clouds.

That’s why scientists rely on images taken at the ground-based Keck observatory in Hawaii. Increasingly, they also combine these with images taken by amateur astronomers, as their telescopes are powerful enough to see Uranus.

NASA Finds Mysterious Bright Spot on Dwarf Planet Ceres: What Is It? Here.

Five Earth-sized planets around the star Kepler-444 may reveal insight on the history of how solar systems develop: here.

Radio signals from outer space detected

This 19 January 2015 video is called Mysteries of Space: Epic ‘Cosmic Radio Burst’ Finally Seen In Real Time.

From National Geographic:

Astronomers Catch Mysterious Radio Blast From the Distant Universe

by Nadia Drake

Coming from far beyond the galaxy, an extremely energetic blast of radio waves has been snared by astronomers lying in wait. Lasting for just a few thousandths of a second, the burst is the first of an enigmatic class of objects to be observed in real-time, astronomers report today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Called fast radio bursts, these extreme pulses of energy last for just a fraction of a second. They’ve confounded astronomers – who have no idea what they are – since West Virginia University’s Duncan Lorimer spotted the first burst in 2007. At the time, it appeared as though the beam of radio waves had traveled roughly 3 billion light-years before colliding with Earth. That’s a reasonably far distance, even by astronomical standards. But not everyone believed the team’s interpretation. Skeptics suggested the burst’s signal could be coming from Earth’s atmosphere, or from inside the galaxy, or even that it was an artifact of the telescope itself, located at the Parkes Observatory in Australia.

Indeed, for five years, that Parkes telescope was the sole spotter of fast radio bursts, and eventually observed another half-dozen or so.

That changed in November 2012, when the Arecibo Observatory spotted a fast radio burst. Like the Parkes signals, it looked as though it came from billions of light-years away. While the observation strongly suggested the bursts were not a telescope artifact, scientists still had yet to see one in real time: All of the observations so far had been pulled from data that were at least a few weeks old.

Then, on May 14, 2014, Swinburne University’s Emily Petroff spotted a fast radio burst in the act of blasting. She and her colleagues determined the signal came from as far as 5.5 billion light-years away and was mildly polarized, suggesting a magnetic field somewhere near its origin has aligned the waves in particular directions.

Petroff had designed a program specifically to spy on these bursts, and once the radio pulse had been detected, she rallied a legion of telescopes to stare at the thing. Tasked with peering deep into the cosmos, the group of 12 telescopes quickly returned data suggesting there was no easily identifiable astrophysical source. The lack of a discernible afterglow eliminated some of the more mundane possibilities, such as distant supernovas or long gamma-ray bursts.

So what are these fast radio bursts? The short answer is, scientists still don’t know. “There are more theories than there are bursts,” Lorimer said earlier this year. Some of those theories implicate rather exotic-sounding, very dense objects: Colliding black holes or neutron stars, evaporating primordial black holes, imploding neutron stars, or enormous flares erupting from magnetic neutron stars, called magnetars.

It’s a mystery that’s still waiting to be solved, but at least scientists now know their suspects live very, very far away and aren’t exceptionally secretive. Whatever the sources are, they regularly hurl beacons of radio light across a vast expanse of cosmic sea.

Waterbear discovery, new for the Netherlands

This video says about itself:

First Animal to Survive in Space

4 September 2012

Tardigrades or “Water Bears” are the only creatures that can survive the extreme conditions in the vacuum of outer space.

Translated from the Dutch marine biologists of Stichting ANEMOON:

New waterbear discovered on Dutch beaches

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

A researcher who is particularly interested in the smallest representatives of our wildlife has discovered a tardigrade species new for the Netherlands. It is the marine waterbear Batillipes phreaticus. This is the fourth tardigrade species that until now has been found on Dutch beaches. Tardigrades are only a fraction of a millimeter wide. It is remarkable that the species has already been found in many areas of the North Sea beach including the two western Wadden islands. Especially in the environment of these tiny creatures there is still a world to discover.

Planet earth and its wildlife

This video from the USA says about itself:

Habitat Earth Trailer | California Academy of Sciences

13 January 2015

Discover what it means to live in today’s connected world with Habitat Earth, a new planetarium show at the California Academy of Sciences. Narrated by Frances McDormand, Habitat Earth uses cutting-edge science visualization to take you on an immersive, non-stop journey through Earth’s intricate living systems.

Dive with sea otters, explore the life forms hidden within soil, and migrate through the oceans with whales—all from within the world’s largest all digital planetarium dome. Opens January 16, 2015. Get tickets

Doctor Who, British science fiction TV history

This video, inspired by the science fiction series Doctor Who, says about itself:

THE TIMELORDS / KLF – Doctorin’ The Tardis

1988 Music Video Featuring Ford Timelord (1968 Ford Galaxy) and “Daleks”.

By Bernadette Hyland in Britain:

Seeking out the socialist Who behind the Doctor

Thursday 15th January 2015

BERNADETTE HYLAND explores a new publication about the life of Malcolm Hulke, a TV, radio and film writer with a political conviction

FIVE Leaves press has published a study of the work of Malcolm Hulke, written by socialist historian Michael Herbert.

Hulke was a successful writer for radio, television and the cinema from the 1950s to the late 1970s. He wrote for Armchair Theatre, the Avengers and Doctor Who, for which he is best remembered.

He was also, for a time, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain — though Herbert has yet to discover when, or for how long.

Doctor Who is the longest-running science fiction TV programme in the world. It was created in 1963 by the BBC’s head of drama Sydney Newman as a science fiction series that would teach children about history and science.

Herbert was eight years old when he watched the first episode, An Unearthly Child. Like many other children of that era, he became hooked on the programme’s mix of fantastic adventures and threatening monsters.

“It was like nothing else on TV at the time,” he explains, “It was very imaginative, often dramatic and, as someone who loved books by Jules Verne and H G Wells and was watching the space race on TV, it was the ideal programme for me.”

Herbert, who is a Trustee of the Working Class Movement Library, became interested in Hulke after he found a pamphlet written by him, called Here is Drama.

The pamphlet marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of the socialist Unity Theatre company, where Hulke was the production manager.

Hulke’s first serials for Doctor Who were The Faceless Ones, broadcast in 1967, and The War Games, broadcast in 1969.

He then contributed a further six serials between 1970 and 1974. This was a time when Jon Pertwee played the Doctor and the show, now in colour, reached new heights of popularity. It often had a subtle political dimension.

“This was period when race, the destruction of the environment, industrial militancy, the cold war and the liberation of women were hot political issues,” reflects Herbert.

“It’s not surprising that a writer such as Hulke, with a political background, incorporated these themes into his work through the medium of science fiction.”

Doctor Who’s chief script editor at the time, Terrance Dicks, said : “What we never did was commission a Doctor Who with a political message. But nonetheless, if you look at it there is a streak of anti-authoritarianism in all Mac’s work. He doesn’t trust the Establishment.”

Hulke himself said in a rare interview: “It’s a very political show. Remember what politics refers to. It refers to relationships between groups of people. It doesn’t necessarily mean left or right … so all Doctor Whos are political. Even though the other group of people are reptiles, they’re still a group of people.”

He died on July 6 1979, and Dicks recalled that, as a convinced atheist, he had left orders that there was to be no priest, no hymns or other ceremony at his funeral.

Consequently his friends sat by the coffin not knowing what to do. “Finally Eric Paice stood up, slapped the coffin and said: ‘Well cheerio, Mac’ and wandered out. We all followed him,” recollected Dicks.

Herbert situates Hulke’s writing within a classic era of Doctor Who and expresses the hope that fans of the revamped show broadcast since 2005 will be persuaded to look back to its 1970s incarnation.

“Clearly the pace of the show is much slower and the special effects were nothing like today, but many of the serials have strong and imaginative stories which stand the test of time” he says.

Pushed to name his favourite serial by Hulke, Herbert opts for The War Games: “The Doctor and his companions land in the midst of what they think is the first world war, but then discover that other wars from Earth’s history are taking place in near-by zones.

“It’s all been set up by an alien race who want to create an unbeatable army. Malcolm shows war as violent and pointless, controlled by leaders who couldn’t care less about the soldiers. It’s quite bleak and an overlooked classic.”

Herbert is keen to hear from anyone who knew Hulke and can be contacted by email at

He will teaching an 11-week evening class on Doctor Who, starting on Tuesday 14 April, at Aquinas College in Stockport. Further information about the course can be obtained by ringing the college on (0161) 419-9163 or emailing

Doctor Who and the Communist: Malcolm Hulke and his career in television costs £4 and can be ordered directly from Five Leaves.

Bernadette Hyland blogs at

Starry night in the Netherlands, video

This video says about itself:

Dutch Beauty – A time-lapse Short Film – by Rick Kloekke

6 January 2015

This short film is filled with time-lapses taken in The Netherlands! Take a good look at the Milky Way/starry sequences. Due to the great amount of light pollution, there are just a few places in The Netherlands where you can see the Milky Way with naked eyes!

Doctor Who TV series, militarism and anti-militarism

This video, inspired by the science fiction series Doctor Who, says about itself:

THE TIMELORDS / KLF – Doctorin’ The Tardis

1988 Music Video Featuring Ford Timelord (1968 Ford Galaxy) and “Daleks”.

By Bryan Dyne and Christine Schofelt in Britain:

Doctor Who turns toward militarism

9 January 2015

Christmas 2014 marked the end of the eighth season of the rebooted British science fiction television series Doctor Who (the program first went on the air in 1963). It was also the end of the first season for veteran actor Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It, In the Loop) in the role of “The Doctor,” the twelfth incarnation of the time-traveling humanoid alien.

The most recent season brought the military almost immediately into the foreground. Given the state of the world, this was perhaps not entirely surprising, or even inappropriate. But what is the program’s attitude?

Much of the focus is on Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a war veteran turned math teacher and boyfriend of The Doctor’s companion Clara (Jenna Coleman). Questioned as to whether he killed anyone in the war, Danny demurs, troubled by what he has seen and done. He disabuses his students of the idea that war is anything to be glorified or celebrated.

The issue of what it takes to be a “good man” dominates this season. The Doctor repeatedly queries Clara about this, trying to reconcile his role in the Time War, on the one hand, and his attempts to be a “healer” and “wise man,” on the other. Danny asks himself the same question indirectly, and tries to respond positively that he is a decent person. One started viewing the season with a certain optimism.

Given this motif, it is worth tracing the course of The Doctor’s relationship with and attitude toward militarism and war. In earlier episodes of the renewed show, there is an open hostility towards soldiers, guns and war. An arms factory is destroyed and replaced with a banana grove because “bananas are good” (in “The Doctor Dances,” 2005). Mechanical Cybermen are not defeated with force but by restoring their emotions, incapacitating them (in “The Age of Steel,” 2006). Intergalactic police are introduced as “interplanetary thugs” (in “Smith and Jones,” 2007). The shooting of The Doctor’s daughter is used as a lesson to demonstrate that killing, even in vengeance, should never be an option (in “The Doctor’s Daughter, 2008).

In one especially moving sequence, The Doctor is faced with the dilemma of saving Earth through committing genocide against the enemy. He hesitates and is tauntingly asked by the Emperor Dalek, “What are you, coward or killer?” He struggles, obviously torn by the question of just how far one should go, no matter how murderous the enemy. Ultimately he answers, “Coward, any day,” and refuses to take part in the destruction (“The Parting of Ways,” 2005).

Ongoing antagonists have been various Earth-based military forces, including Torchwood and UNIT, both vast and well-funded armed state agencies. By and large, they are portrayed as ruthless organizations The Doctor and his companions are obliged to resist.

And yet there have been some cracks. In one episode (“Doomsday,” 2006), the leader of Torchwood is “upgraded” (forcibly transferred into a metal body), but then saves The Doctor and his companions, declaring she “did her duty, for queen and country.” Is this retrograde sentiment the only one that might withstand mechanical brainwashing?

Despite such exceptions, the first four seasons of the show advocated a refreshing rejection of violence in general, instead using the abilities, equipment and even the life of The Doctor to save people.

In the fifth rebooted season Steven Moffat took over as head writer and show runner after the previous head, Russell T. Davies, stepped down. In considering the Moffat era as a whole, one is forced to reflect on the other works he has overseen, particularly Sherlock. In that show, whatever its strengths (including the participation of Benedict Cumberbatch), the main character is constantly glorified as a “high-functioning sociopath” who goes out of his way to assist British imperialism.

Moffat’s Doctor Who episodes reinforce this turn. Far more than previously, they are turned inward. While this inwardness is something the lead character deals with, especially given that he is “the last” of the Time Lords, it has reached an unhealthy level. No longer do the seasons culminate in some great potential catastrophe for humanity that must be opposed and defeated, but rather in some personal problem for The Doctor. One used to feel something beyond a vague voyeurism when watching the season endings of Doctor Who—there was a sense of shared struggle, shared destiny and ultimately hope. …

The Doctor’s relationship with UNIT, a military organization carried over from the show’s earlier days, comes to a head here. Kidnapped and forced into the position of President of the World by members of the organization, The Doctor is then given an army by his current foe, who declares they are more alike than not.

The Doctor then turns to Danny, who, as the Torchwood director in an earlier season, has been rendered into a Cyberman. His transformation is not yet complete, and The Doctor gives him control of the army, with which he is to embark on a suicide mission. Danny’s rousing pre-mission speech and his declaration that “This is not the order of an officer. This is the promise of a soldier!” are meant to rally the audience behind the idea of sending in the troops.

The scene in which The Doctor salutes a returned UNIT soldier—something he had refused to do in previous years—is a capitulation. For generations, he had not saluted because the military had nothing to offer but destruction. The Doctor’s rejection of aggressive methods and his frequent refusal to cooperate as long as guns were being pointed, his outrage at the needless deaths of even the most bumptious of aliens who had attacked Earth, all this appeared to be a thing of the past as he stood at attention to pay tribute to the Brigadier.

Moffat’s aim seems to be to gratuitously knock this hero down, as if to say, peace is all well and good in theory, but when push comes to shove, strike first and shoot. Something about the belligerent mood of the affluent middle class in Britain, the US and elsewhere makes itself felt here.

Talking about science fiction: this music video is inspired by Star Trek. It is called The Firm – Star Trekkin’.