SEPTEMBER SKIES: Looking up this month…it’s all about the Moon.


To mark the International Year of Astronomy, a team of British astronomers made the largest lunar image in history and gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records! The whole image comprises 87.4 megapixels with a Moon diameter of 9550 pixels. This allows details as small as 1km across to be discerned!

The superb quality of the image is shown by the detail below of Plato and the Alpine Valley. Craterlets are seen on the floor of Plato and the rille along the centre of the Alpine valley is clearly visible.

The team of Damian Peach, Pete lawrence, Dave Tyler, Bruce Kingsley, Nick Smith, Nick Howes, Trevor Little, David Mason, Mark and Lee Irvine, and Ninian Boyle captured video sequences from which 288 individual mozaic panes were stitched together to form the lunar image.


Plato (left) and the Alpine Valley Rille (right)

September 9th and 22nd, look out for The Alpine Valley
These are good nights to observe this interesting feature on the Moon with binoculars or a small telescope.  Close to the limb is the Appenine mountain chain that marks the edge of Mare Imbrium.  Towards the upper end you should see the cleft across them called the Alpine valley, about 7 miles wide and 79 miles long.

While September 16th brings the “Harvest Moon”


To astronomers this means something very specific, the Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the September equinox, the moon becomes full at the instant when the moon is 180 degrees from the sun in ecliptic – or celestial – longitude.


The Moon’s orbital motion (combined with the larger orbit of the Earth around the Sun) carries it farther eastward among the constellations of the zodiac from night to night. At any one moonrise, the Moon occupies a particular place on the celestial sphere (the great dome of the heavens), but when the Earth turns toward that point 24 hours later, the Moon has moved off to the east about 12 degrees, and it takes an average of 50 minutes longer for the Earth to rotate toward the Moon and for the Moon thus to “rise.”
But around the date of the Harvest Moon, the Moon rises about the same time. It may almost seem as if there are full Moons multiple nights in a row!
Why? Because the zodiac is the band of constellations through which the Moon travels from night to night. The section of the zodiac band in which the full Moon travels around the start of autumn is the section that forms the most shallow angle with the eastern horizon. Because the Moon’s orbit on successive nights is more nearly parallel to the horizon at that time, its relationship to the eastern horizon does not change appreciably, and the Earth does not have to turn as far to bring up the Moon.

Find a good moon map, and identify craters, rilles, and wrinkle ridges on the moon for yourself!

Get out there and enjoy the Autumn night sky!



A newly discovered planet, 1.3 times the size of Earth, is orbiting our nearest neighbouring star Proxima Centauri, and it might be habitable, according to a team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope in Chile.


European Southern Observatory

The Centauri system consists of three stars. There is the Alpha Centauri binary made up of two stars similar to our sun, and then the much smaller Proxima Centauri that orbits them.

Proxima Centauri lies just over 4 light years away and the newly discovered exoplanet named Proxima b, is at a distance from its star that allows temperatures mild enough for liquid water to pool on its surface; known as the ‘Goldilocks Zone’.

The likelihood of finding liquid water (or even life) on Proxima b depend on the atmospheric composition. It could be vaguely Earth-like or more like Mars. At just 4.2 light years away, there’s a good chance that astronomers can characterize the atmosphere and surface of Proxima b in a way that we haven’t been able to with exoplanets that are dozens or hundreds of light years away.

“NASA congratulates ESO on the discovery of this intriguing planet that has captured the hopes and the imagination of the world. We look forward to learning more about the planet, whether it holds ingredients that could make it suitable for life.”

The science team that made the discovery, led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé of Queen Mary University of London, using the Doppler shift method; where ‘wobbles’ in a star’s radial velocity alters the colour of the light observed by astronomers, inferring the presence of a body orbiting the star.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself.

The team traced subtle wobbles in the star revealing the presence of a star-tugging exoplanet, this new planet orbits its star so closely it takes only 11 days to complete a single orbit, a ‘year’ on Proxima b.


TIM ‘PEAKIPIA’ Space Inspiration!


11 weeks on, Tim has returned safely to Earth and the year 7 scientists are still having fun with their Tim Peake Principia inspired biology experiments.


Phototropism, growing towards light, is being investigated by Elliot.

Every lunchtime, plants are checked, changes are observed, we think about why these changes are happening, and the importance in relation to growing useful crops in space.

Daylight verses Dark, is Todd’s experiment.


Acid/Alkali pH solution preference of the plants is Tom’s experiment.


And quite clearly the radish plant much prefers alkali conditions, the plant in acid conditions is deteriorating, and it’s roots have shrivelled.

Tropism, stationary plant verses spinning plant, is what Tom R. chose to investigate, with a small motor keeping one unit constantly spinning   slowly, his plant generally grew quite straight, while his control plant remained still on the windowsill and very early on grew towards the window.


Comparing plant growth in Artificial light verses Sunlight, is Jay’s experiment, seen here comparing his plant growth with a control plant which has been in the sunlight.


There is a massive difference in leaf growth now, so a low watt energy saving light bulb can do a better job than the Sun, especially with the summer weather we are experiencing. A light meter showed a percentage difference between 2% at 1pm and 30% at 7am.

From the individual experiments, results are being seen, and conclusions are being made, and the boys have enjoyed their astrobiology experience, and I hope they go on to love science, use science and change the world!

Our results become part of a big experiment, and who knows what effect it will have in the future.

Our results become part of a big experiment, and who knows what effect it will have in the future.

Thursday 23rd brought the official Rocket seeds result, and the boys were right!  Blue packet seeds went to space!!

Y7 Science Club Are Growing More Cosmic Crops!

As the Priestlands astrobiologists await the results of the Principia seeds from space experiment, they chose to start new experiments of their own, this time to look at how seeds ( and eventually crops ) could be grown either on a space station, or a moon base, or even onboad a rocket on its way to Mars; just like real scientists are doing all over the world.


NASA scientists have done extensive hydroponic research for its Controlled Ecological Life Support System (CELSS). Hydroponics intended to take place on Mars are using LED lighting to grow in a different color spectrum, so producing less heat.

Here in S11, the enthusiastic year 7 boys have decided to investigate Hydroponics…growing radishes without traditional growing conditions, instead individual units with a nutrient medium, and their own hypotheses to investigate.

Tom: Testing pH levels

Tom: Testing pH levels


Their different experiments include; light dependence, acid/alkali pH preference, phototropism, and looking at growth effects of nutrient deficiencies.

Todd and Elliot : investigating phototropism

Todd and Elliot : investigating phototropism


Setting up Hydroponic units, transferring young plants ready for the experiments.

Great photos Jay!

Great photos Jay!

A rotating unit!! Will Tom's radishes get dizzy?

A rotating unit!! Will Tom’s radishes get dizzy?

The next blog will show how the boys experiments are going, and what they have found out.

June skies…

…Looking up this month

Saturn reaches opposition on the 3rd June, making it appear slightly larger, hence a good time to view, the Seeliger effect means the rings are particularly bright, you can find Saturn low down in the south, late in the evening. Look for the Cassini gap, the dark line in the rings.


Mars is also well positioned, in the south, having reached opposition on the 30th May, a particularly clear night may allow a view of the dark ‘v’ of Syrtis Major.


As we settle into June, look out for the beautiful night shining noctilucent cloud formations that can be seen high up in the atmosphere on clear nights. Often seen as electric blue fine streaks, 90-120 minutes after sunset is a good time to try to spot these formations.

These clouds form 7 times higher than the clouds we normally see, and are thought to form around tiny meteor fragments in the mesosphere.


The moon also approaches opposition this month, a splendid time to view or photograph.

June brings us the annual Lyrid meteor shower, peaking on the 15/16 of the month, although the phase of the moon means unfavourable skies.

And finally, 18th June sees the return of Tim Peake from his six month sojourn onboard the ISS.

Tim Peake


Tim with the seeds onboard the ISS.

Tim with the seeds onboard the ISS.

Monday May 23rd ~ Day 35

Our ‘Rocket Science’ seed experiment comes to an end, the final recordings of the rocket plants are made.

Blue seeds started strong, but the red seeds caught up!

Blue seeds started strong, but the red seeds caught up! Still no clue!


Our information will go to the RHS and UK space agency, where results from 8,600 schools across the country will be analysed, has space travel and microgravity had any effect on the seeds?

Red or blue?

Red or blue?

The boys have their own ideas as to which seeds went into space; from the planned observations and measurements set out in the Experiment protocols; and from further investigations they have carried out, including positive / negative geotropism occurring in the roots and shoots respectively, counting and comparing root lengths, observations of differences between the replicants, by tray and by individual plants.


Investigating the roots of red plants.


Making slides with Ms. Arnold.

Looking at root tip cells

Examining root tip cells with Dr Taylor.

We all look forward to hearing from GB astronaut Tim Peake in June, before he leaves the International Space Station, with an answer; Red or Blue?

Which seeds went to space Tim?

Which seeds went to space Tim?

And were the the boys right?



During the 1980s, Nasa sent tomato seeds into orbit on board the Challenger shuttle. Nothing was actually grown during the mission; this early experiment assessed the effects of deep space on seeds. It transpires that space is actually a good place in which to store seeds, as it’s dry and cold enough to keep them dormant.

In 2007, space shuttle Endeavour blasted off carrying millions of basil seeds bound for the International Space Station, orbiting approximately 400 kilometres above Earth. During that mission, the astronauts experimented with growing the seeds in special growth chambers on board the ISS, before returning them to Earth 20 days later for scientific testing.
The results of this brief investigation were encouraging: according to Nasa, the basil seeds successfully germinated within the microgravity environment of the ISS, and showed growth, the Endeavour mission to the ISS proved that it is indeed possible to grow plants in space.

Fast-forward to 2013 and Nasa’s launch of the Vegetable Production System, known as “Veggie” for short, a low-power plant-growth system designed to provide supplemental nourishment for astronauts on board the ISS.


2015, Zinia flowers were grown onboard, and ‘Veggie’ cosmic lettuce crops were eaten by the astronauts onboard the ISS.


2016, here at Priestlands, we are investigating “Geotropism”. Are our sets of young plants showing both negative and positive geotropism equally, or has the trip to space affected some of the plants?





Observations and data collection continues until May half term.

When our results and observations have been downloaded to SpaceUK, and the RHS, we will receive a message from Tim Peake onboard the ISS, as to which seeds went to space!!


SPACE BIOLOGY – Germination and Seedlings

BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE Undated handout photo issued by the European Space Agency of Tim Peake, who has beamed a video message to thousands of schools asking them to grow seeds that have journeyed through space. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday January 29, 2016. The 43-year-old astronaut, who is on board the International Space Station, is backing a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and UK Space Agency project, Rocket Science, which will see children compare the growth of seeds currently in space with those that have not left Earth. See PA story SCIENCE Peake. Photo credit should read: ESA/NASA/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Since returning from space our ‘rocket’ seeds travelled from Kazakhstan to USA and then on to the UK, ready for experiments in schools nationwide.

After only 3 days, our seeds started to germinate! Little shoots and leaves started to appear.

Day 6…

Blue seeds growing well!

…Blue seeds growing well!

Red seeds a little slower to get going!

…Red seeds a little slower to get going!

Our y7 astrobiologists are busy watering, recording, rotating, measuring, counting, and calculating; and obviously doing a very good job!

Day 10…percentage germination of the replicants was recorded.

Head of Science Dr. Taylor discussing the experiment so far with the y7 boys.

Head of Science Dr. Taylor visited the “space lab” to see how the experiment is progressing, and to talk to the boys; he was impressed by their understanding of the experiment, the need for protocols, their skills and commitment to the project.


“It is fantastic to see this group of students being real scientist! They clearly feel like real scientists and are being inspired to find out the impact of space travel on seed germination and growth. Their experiment is highly organised and they are tracking the progress of the seedlings with expert precision. I was most impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of these young scientists and their ideas of how changes in gravity might impact germination and growth of plants”.

Follow the experiments progress, via the weekly blog.

The final countdown

Exam season is fast approaching and Yr 11 are feeling the pressure. They should have a clear revision plan that they are sticking to and should be well into the self testing phase of revision. This will allow them to review and focus on any remaining gaps in their knowledge. All Yr11 students have been given a pack of past papers and more are available by downloading from the AQA website.

AQA Past papers

Each week year 11 students are expected to bring in their revision so that class teachers can keep track of how its going and to ensure that all areas are covered. There is a clear revision timetable that students are encouraged to follow. Obviously each student will have their own revision priorities depending on need but using the timetable means that no part of the syllabus is overlooked.

15 lessons to go as of today until B1……………………



Tim Peake completes his virtual London Marathon in Space!

Harnessed to a treadmill Tim completed his marathon in 3 hours, 35 minutes and 21 seconds, while orbiting the planet.


Congratulated as he crossed the finish line by his fellow astronaut Jeff Williams (NASA).

This means Tim will hold the Guinness World Record for running the fastest marathon in space!