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!


Our ‘Rocket Seeds’ have arrived!


On Monday our seeds from the International Space Station arrived, and our Y7 space biologists set to work, preparing their scientific experiment.  The seed experiment protocols are set by the European Space Agency and must be adhered to for the results to be valid. So up and down the country on classroom windowsills space seeds will start their life on Earth!

S11 space lab

S11 space lab

Our space biologists prepared trays with compost and made 200 labels, for the very ‘tiny’ seeds.


Over the next 35 days, they will study the replicants as they germinate and grow, they will learn the principles and importance of randomisation methods, fair testing, percentage yield and then download their recorded findings to ESA, NASA, and the RHS, to be part of the results being collected from 8,600 schools to determine if the trip into space and storage onboard the ISS in microgravity affected the potential growth of the rocket salad seeds.

Good luck boys!

Check the blog site for updates as our experiment progresses.



Marathon Man!


On Sunday 24th April as more than 37 thousand runners take to the streets to run the London Marathon, ESA astronaut Tim Peake will run his virtual London marathon, 249 miles above the Earth on the International Space Station, orbiting at 16,777 mph.

Harnessed to an exercise treadmill, Tim will run, while following the London sights on his iPad.


When in space astronauts need to exercise to avoid losing muscle mass and bone density, and Tim has been training regularly, although it is not so easy in microgravity. Being weighted and harnessed to the treadmill for long periods can be uncomfortable, however Tim aims to complete the 26 mile run in under 4 hours, in support of the Princes Trust!

In 1999 Tim ran the marathon in 3 hrs 18 mins, however he will not be trying to beat this time, ESA scientists say it would not be safe for Tim to push himself that hard onboard the space station.

Tim has a ‘shadow runner’ who will act as his ‘legs on Earth’, Tyrone Brennand from the Princes Trust.



Good luck to Tim in space and everyone else in London running for their chosen charities!

Looking up! April skies.

Spring is here, and as the winter skies move on, the summer constellations begin to make their appearance.

On April 17th, the middle of the month, Mars will appear stationary before beginning what looks like a backwards journey. This is retrograde motion!


Retrograde motion is an illusion that occurs at certain times of the year, with some outer planets. It happens for a few months, around the time Earth moves between those planets and the sun.

It’s not a real motion of the planets – only an illusion caused by our faster motion on Earth.

There will be a lunar occultation of Venus on the 6th, when the planet will be seen to disappear behind the moon’s lit side and reappear from the dark limb.


Look out for the perigee-syzygy moon on the 7th, a new moon at the closest point to Earth. Followed by the apogee-syzygy moon on the 21st, a full moon at the furthest point away from Earth.


The Lyrids meteor shower will visit us between the 16th-25th of April, however the phase of the moon is not favourable, so catching the meteors may not be easy.

Enjoy your April stargazing!


Priestlands Science to grow seeds from space!

Students at Priestlands School are preparing to become space biologists and embark on a voyage of discovery by growing seeds that have been into space.

In September, 2kg of rocket seeds were flown to the International Space Station (ISS) on Soyuz 44S where they will spend several months in microgravity before returning to Earth in March 2016. The seeds have been sent as part of Rocket Science, an educational project launched by the RHS Campaign for School Gardening and the UK Space Agency.

Priestlands will be one of up to 10,000 schools to receive a packet of 100 seeds from space, which they will grow alongside seeds that haven’t been to space and measure the differences over seven weeks. The students won’t know which seed packet contains which seeds until all results have been collected by the RHS Campaign for School Gardening and analysed by professional biostatisticians.

The out-of-this-world, nationwide science experiment will enable the students to think more about how we could preserve human life on another planet in the future, what astronauts need to survive long-term missions in space and the difficulties surrounding growing fresh food in challenging climates.

We are very excited to be taking part in Rocket Science. This experiment is a fantastic way of teaching our children to think more scientifically and be part of the wider science community.

Rocket Science is just one educational project from a programme developed by the UK Space Agency to celebrate British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s Principia mission to the ISS and inspire young people to look into careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, including horticulture.

Applications to take part in Rocket Science are still open and will close in March next year or until all packs have been allocated. Schools and educational groups can apply at rhs.org.uk/schoolgardening.rocket-science

Follow the project on Twitter: @RHSSchools #RocketScience