To infinity and beyond – a miscellany of space explorations

To infinity and beyond – a miscellany of space explorations

It seems the subject of space travel is everywhere at the moment. Here are just a few topics that have cropped up in my time line in the last few weeks.


Firstly there was the timely and obliging space probe that landed on a comet right in the middle of our national Science Week, but for a while it looked like an inappropriate fashion choice would overshadow the momentous occasion.

Image credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab
Image credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab


It was always an ambitious project of the European Space Agency (ESA), to get the rosetta spacecraft to rendez vous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but, after ten years in space it arrived at its destination on 4th August 2014. Even more spectacularly, Rosetta sent out her Philae Comet lander which successfully landed on the comet on 12th November. The initial joy turned to fear as the science team involved, watched by the rest of the world, realised that Philea did not stay in the initial landing point but “bounced” along the surface on the comet, coming to rest, finally, in the shadow of a cliff. There was much worry as to whether the probe would receive enough sunlight in that location to power all its scientific equipment expected to perform a series of investigative experiments on the surface of the comet. In the end all fears were allayed and all data was collected and transmitted back to earth. The team were able to heave a collective sigh of relief, marking a new line in the history of space exploration. Hopefully the event will be remembered for its scientific breakthrough rather than the #shirtgate hash tag it spawned.



I really enjoyed a conversation last night with my nine year old and his friend as we discussed what our favourite planets were and could we really live on Mars. When I spotted this video I had to share it with him and it certainly made him giggle.




Speaking of space travel, it would seem that the moon is now back on the map for space exploration, this time spearheaded by the UK and funded by the general public. The very ambitious Lunar Mission One project plans to use crowd funding to finance a trip to the moon. The original mission will be a robotic exploratory project with plans to drill deep into the moon’s surface (possibly as deep as 100 Metres). The lunar rock that will be mined from these depths is expected to be about 4.6 billion years old and it is hoped that it will shed new light on the original formation of the moon and indeed the earth and the entire solar system.

The incentive for potential funders is obviously to be part of such exploration, but, as an added bonus, each person who pledges money will be able to include something into a public archive, a type of time capsule that will be buried on the moon during the mission. This archive will include information on must of our planet’s historical events, as well as DNA from people who have funded the project.



Of course NASA take credit for the original moon landing and a lot more besides, but did you know that a lot of items of everyday use stem from technology originally created for space exploration? This infographic lays it out really well and I was certainly surprised at a lot of the items listed.




It would seem that space exploration is a hot topic in Hollywood too with the recent release of Interstellar. In the movie the mission is to travel farther than ever before to find a new home for humanity as earth will cease to support life within one generation. To travel these distances the team must use wormholes, a theory that some hope will one day become a reality. The expert advice on this one however is that wormholes, as we know them would never be able to support human travel. They would require more negative energy than space can provide, in order to stay open long enough to allow such travel.



Netflix stream team – our top five science and nature recommendations

Netflix stream team – our top five science and nature recommendations

It is Science Week in Ireland this week and to mark the occasion I thought I would share out top five science and nature picks from Netflix.

Our Netflix Science and Nature picks
Our Netflix Science and Nature picks

1. The Human planet (BBC Production)

We are loving this documentary series covering the life, habitat and customs of a diverse number of tribes and cultures;from the tree dwelling Korowai tribe of Papua New Guinea to the Bajau people of Indonesia who live their entire lives on boats on the water.

2. Africa 

Anything with Sir David Attenborough is worth watching and this series is yet another gem. There are some wonderful and “never before” scenes covering the night life of the rhinos (who knew that males are known to adorn themselves with antlers to impress the “ladies” down by the local watering hole) and a spectacular fight between two male giraffes.

3. Mission Blue (Netflix original)

An eye opening documentary with some wonderful under water footage with an honest and startling look at human impact on our oceans.

Oceanographer and eco-activist Sylvia Earle’s urgent mission to expose the dire condition of Earth’s oceans is captured in this documentary directed by Fisher Stevens, Academy Award-winning producer of “The Cove,” and Academy Award nominee Bob Nixon. Earle explains that the condition of our oceans, rapidly dying due to pollution, over-fishing, and acidification, is an ecological catastrophe soon to have a devastating impact on all life on Earth.

Mission Blue
Mission Blue

Sylia Earle is an articulate and inspiring woman ….

“If you take something apart to see how it works, always remember to keep all the pieces so you can put it back together again; when we take the ocean apart we are loosing the pieces … we will be unable to put it back together!”

“If we continue as ‘business as usual’ we are in real trouble”

“no ocean – no life”

4. The life of Mammals

Another documentary featuring Sir David Attenborough, this time looking at mammals, from the well known to the bizzare, including two of my favourites (and previously mentioned here on this blog)… the only two monotremes (egg laying mammals)… the Echidna and the duck billed platypus.

5. Virunga

This is brand new, just streaming on Netflix since Friday 7th November. We have this bookmarked as our Friday night Netflix treat!

Virunga on Netflix

 Netflix is teaming up with Leonardo DiCaprio to release the documentary Virunga.   The film from director Orlando von Einsiedel centres on the conflict between park rangers striving to protect endangered gorillas from poachers and industry encroaching on their habitats in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The film follows an embattled team of park rangers at Virunga National Park, home to the last of the planet’s 800 mountain gorillas, as they work to fend off encroaching forces of industry, poaching, corruption and war. The award-winning film debuted at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, earning a nomination as Best Documentary Feature, and was named Audience Favourite at Hot Docs Film Festival and Best of Fest at AFI Docs, among other awards.

So there are just five of our current favourites but there are so many more to choose from, we will be back with more very soon. And of course the best thing is that it doesn’t have to be Science Week to watch them… you can watch these documentaries any time you want!!!

Disclosure: As a member of the Netflix Stream Team I have received a years subscription to Netflix, free of charge, and an Apple TV, for streaming purposes. As part of Netflix Stream Team I will be posting monthly updates on what we are watching and what is on offer.  All opinions expressed will be my own.

Science Week 2014 kicks off!

Science Week 2014 kicks off!

And we’re off! Science week 2014  officially kicks off today. Dr. How’s household has been busy preping for two weeks of school science fun, bringing The Science of Sound into 15 schools. I had a house full of kids today, all happy to help me put the finishing touches to things 😉 The children made a bowl of oobleck and I showed them the effect of sound on this non Newtonian fluid. I love the reaction from children and teachers when we do this experiment in school and I will share it with you later in the week.

The fun of ooblecks
The fun of ooblecks

The workshops will include buzzing balloons, singing pipes and a whole lot of making noise! If I am not coming to your school you can still catch the workshop at the NUIG Science and Technology Festival Exhibition on Sunday 23rd November.

If you want to find out what is on in your area check out the Science Week Ireland website, or for details on the Galway Science and Technology Festival line up, just click here. You can keep up with it all by following the hastag #Sciweek2014.

Where ever you are and whatever you are doing I hope you get to join in and get hands on with some science.

In the blink of an eye, the boy turns nine

In the blink of an eye, the boy turns nine

Nine years ago today my second child was born. It was a stormy night as I walked the corridors of the hospital, in the early stages of what was to be a quick labour, with the doors flinging open from the force of the wind outside. Then all went calm as labour kicked in and a short while later I was holding my son in my arms.

And still he brings calm into our lives when the wild winds blow.

He was due a week earlier, but, as he now likes to tell people, he got a bit too comfortable and stayed in a while longer.

Early to move, early to talk, he seemed keen to catch up to his sister. He learned how to walk at an early age, but realising he could move more quickly from a crawl, he preferred to move on all fours. Until he mastered the art of running that is, and then he didn’t stop.

We bought him his first proper shoes on his first birthday. He must have liked them for he ran the entire length of the town with both his parents struggling to keep up. This small little blonde head bobbing up and down, parting the sea of people on the street, each one turning with bewilderment and then amusement at the happy little runner.

To his big sister he quickly became devoted companion and defender. At the tender age of two I remember he stormed across a playground to confront an eleven year old boy he thought (incorrectly) had spoken to her out of turn. He followed her blindly and was the willing side kick to some of her hair brained adventures, that may or may not have included a spot of creative face painting with pink emulsion paint and a black indelible marker. Not only did the poor boy sit quietly for the “body art” he then sat quietly while his irate mother plopped him in a bath and scrubbed his little face until it was more pink that the paint she was removing.

From an early age he had a strong sense of justice, of right and wrong. Before he was even two we would sometimes find him sitting on the “time out stool”, quietly waiting. When we asked why he was there he would openly admit to some small crime he had committed, and acting as self appointed judge and jury, he would dish out his own punishment.


When he was three the family unit as he knew it changed quite dramatically. He had always asked for a baby and finally he got one. When the moment arrived for him to meet his baby brother I had it all prepared. No longer a rookie, I knew just what to do; I had baby placed in the crib and moved a little away from mammy so that when he and his sister came into the room I was completely available for a cuddle. Things never go as expected though… the door was opened and a very assertive little boy walked in, scanning the room in earnest. When I opened my arms and beckoned he stood firm with the simple reply of “where is the baby?”. In shock I responded with a waving gesture towards the crib. He walked over, looked in, and then wrapped his little arms around the swaddled bundle ready to lift him, until we intervened. It was instant love and he wanted to take his little brother home.

Five years later and the love and the bond are as strong as ever. His brother cannot shed a single tear before he is by his side, comforting, protecting, defending. He has never once complained about the broken lego or the shared bedroom.

Growing up fast
Growing up fast

He always amazed me with the facts he comes out with, at this stage I have stopped looking them up to see if they are right, as they always are. He seems to remember every scene of every film he ever saw, and can usually quote a lot of it back, word for word. He is a lover of lego but is always in a hurry to build whatever is in the box, so he can take it apart and create his own version.

He has a wonderful sense of humour and an impeccable comic timing. He has a great memory for jokes. It is no surprise that his favourite animal is a monkey as he obviously feels a kindred spirit for their mischievous ways.

He is part calm, part exuberance, a wise old soul and a free young spirit. He is full of charm in his own quiet way. Nine years and sometimes it is he who creates the storm, but one quick flash of that smile and all is calm again.

Happy birthday my little man!


The Carlow Walking Festival – a family review (Part 2)

The Carlow Walking Festival – a family review (Part 2)

The second half of our Carlow Walking Festival experience involved a family cycle along the tow paths of the river Barrow. Despite the activities of the previous day we were up and out of bed early in anticipation of the day ahead.

We collected the bikes from the Waterside Bike & Hike in Graiguenamanagh. A family run business, we found Brian and his wife extremely friendly and helpful, making sure that the bikes were correctly adjusted for each of us before we headed off. They have a good range of good quality bikes for all ages including tow along bikes for adult and child and child seats. They also provide all helmets, hi viz vest and any other equipment required, ideal for the tourist or traveller who doesn’t want to be bringing all those things with them.

Bike and Tree

From the moment we set off I could tell it was going to be a good day, the scenery was stunning for the entire journey. The children were delighted with the freedom to cycle under their own steam and the adults were pleased with the safety element…. no traffic to worry about, so we could let the kids off.

Green Road 1

Every corner we turned seemed to fill our eyes with yet another glorious scene. There is always something special about being surrounded by water, trees and nature… this path had them all in abundance.

Green Road 2

The adult-child tandem bike was perfect for our youngest, he got to cycle when he wanted, or just sit back and enjoy the ride. My husband tells me you could really feel the benefit when he did pedal, but it didn’t happen all that often!

Green Road Start

Just a few minutes into our journey we came across our first lock and we all jumped off our bikes to explore. To the children’s delight a barge came along just as we did, so they got to help work the gates. As well as being a great novelty for the kids it was a wonderful way for them to really understand how the system works.

Helping with the lock

It was a pity to see part of the trail lined with Himalayan balsam. This non native species is a vigorously invasive plant that has spread from cultivated gardens into our natural landscapes. The plant, in its native environment is used to arid and difficult conditions and has adapted to such a harsh habitat by producing thousands of seeds, in the hope that a small few will prosper. Unfortunately, in the Irish climate all the seeds have a high success rate and the plant spreads rapidly.

We showed the children how the plant disperses its seeds, the seed pods become dry and taught until they pop under the slightest pressure, flinging the seeds into the air. We thought it was so cool we even took a video, although I think Sir David Attenborough may have made  a slightly better version.

We were delighted to spot a red squirrel along the path, it was on the other side of the river but we watched it travel through the trees for quite some time before it disappeared from view. The red squirrel is a native species but its population and distribution are on the decline since the grey squirrel was introduced. The grey squirrel is larger and has taken over much of the red squirrels habitat so seeing one on our cycle was a real delight. The red squirrel is more active than its grey cousin, needing to consume about 5% of its body weight in food every day to maintain its high metabolism. The presence of the red squirrel showed the local woodland was obviously healthy and well maintained as it supported the red squirrel’s diet and there was obviously no invasion from the grey squirrel in the area.

Brian had told us that once we reached the fourth lock we were nearly at the Mullichin cafe where a welcome respite was on offer. I have to admit we all speeded up once we reached the lock, the thoughts of some well deserved cakes were a great incentive.

St Mullin's lock

The Mullichin cafe is located about four miles down the green road and is a real oasis in an already fertile spot. Situated beside the river Barrow it has plenty of space outdoors to enjoy both the beautiful food and scenery.

St. Mullins Outside

Even in October there were people enjoying the outdoor seating, I imagine this is a thriving spot in the Summer months.

St. Mullins

Once again there was a sign to detail the flora and fauna to be found in the area. The children pointed out everything they had seen.

St Mullin's Sign

We were told the food was good in the Mullichin and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The kids tucked into hot chocolates and a variety of cakes. There was even a gluten free option which I decided to have along with my cappuccino and it was delicious. The staff of the cafe were exceptionally friendly and easy going and the interior was bright and inviting. There was even a play area of small children. We had a great chat with the owners, who were on site and hands on. They took a few minutes to answer our questions and filled us in on some local lore and information.

St Mullin's Refuel

With our tummies full of the lovely baked delights we started our return journey.

Return Cycle

But there is always time for another bit of lock exploring!

St Mullins Lock 2

We loved this “tree top house” we came across along the route. The children said it looked like the best tree house ever.

Tree Top House

Even the odd shower didn’t dampen our spirits and there was plenty of trees around to provide a natural shelter. I was dry and smug while I took this photo of the rest of the family running for shelter.


I was really taken by the beautiful bridge in Graiguenamanagh and loved this view as we rounded the corner at our journey’s end.

The Bridge

Would we go back again? Most definitely! Next time we might consider an Ecology Bike Tour with Waterside Bike & Hike. Talking to Brian before we set off we could tell he was an expert on the local flora and fauna, it would be great to tap into all that knowledge on one of the guided tours as he knows just where to stop to spot such elusive locals as otters or a kingfisher. Travelling to any new area is always enriched when you get to know more about the local history too.

The tow path of the Barrow river also stretches upriver as far as the grand canal in Co. Kildare so there is so much more to explore. The safety element was a big plus for me, with so many traffic free miles of path on offer. You really couldn’t pick a more picturesque area for a cycle and once again we were struck by the friendly and helpful nature of Brian and his wife at the Waterside and all the staff at the Mullichain cafe. You may go for the scenery, the food and the outdoor activities but you will stay for the banter, the craic and the genuine friendliness of the people you meet there.

There were plenty of other activities over the festival weekend, not least of all… plenty of walking, as the name suggests. If you want to check out what else was on and what other people though you can read Dee Sewell’s review of the walks she attended over on her Greenside Up blog. Una Halpin of Wildways Adventures lead a walk and also took her son on another, she wrote about both here.

Disclaimer:  I was invited on the blog tour of the Carlow Walking Festival by Green and Vibrant. I was provided with accommodation and activities for the purposes of review but received no other compensation for this post. All views expressed are my own, or that of my family.

Mystery Creature revealed – the Sea Pig

Mystery Creature revealed – the Sea Pig

How did you do with this week’s Mystery Creature? A few people got it right… here is a clue…

Thanks to Abby Whyne for this witty response!
Thanks to Abby Wynne for this witty response!

That’s right it is a sea pig – no, not like the one above, more like this…


Photo credit : Ocean Networks Canada
Photo credit : Ocean Networks Canada

What a weird looking creature and here are some weird facts about the sea pig:

Sea pigs (Scotoplanes) are types of Sea Cucumbers.They live in the dark abyss of most oceans (between 1000 and 6000 metres deep).  Many of the Mystery Creatures featured on this blog are at threat of extinction but the sea pig is not among them, in some ocean depths it is thought to make up 95% of the animal population.

Sea pigs can often be found in large groups (more than 100 animals), all moving along the ocean floor and facing in the same direction.

They move along on their many legs which are actually hydraulically inflated feet. There are up to seven pairs of these feet, usually one or two pairs are found on the upper body of the animal.

Like the land pig they like to root in the dirt to find their food but sea pigs eat organic deposits that have fallen to the sea floor. They have a ring of feeding tentacles around their mouth that feel for food.

Sea pigs have a minimalistic approach to body orifices. That tentacle encircled mouth is also the creatures anus! But that’s not all… the same orifice often serves as home to a small fish called a pearl fish… not exactly my idea of prime real estate, but then I’m not a pearl fish.

if that isn’t enough the sea pig will sometimes eviscerate through the same hole, it literally expels it’s intestines and other organs in one rapid movement. This may be for defence purposes or to purge the body of toxins before the organs are regenerated within the animal. Certainly the most extreme detox I ever heard of!

Certainly one of the weirdest Mystery Creature I think this blog has featured, what do you think?

My kids just loved this video and have (unfortunately) been quoting it all weekend, in their best Morgan Freeman accent. Take a look, it is quite funny…