Thursday, 31 July 2014


I have enjoyed Blackberrying for as long as I can remember, and still do. Last year the wild blackberry harvest was magnificent. This year looks at least as good, and starting earlier.

There is something deeply satisfying about picking blackberries. I know a quiet little lane aside a brook with thick prolific brambles both sides. The sheer numbers, more than enough for everyone and the birds and other wild creatures. You soon develop an efficient picking routine despite the thorns and nettles. Those berries just beyond easy reach always seem most desirable. As my jar fills, thoughts of blackberry jam, crumbles and fresh fruit linger.

This is a free resource. No notices about DO NOT PICK. Compare the expensive blackberries on the supermarket shelf, flown in from South America.

As I was picking yesterday, I got to thinking this is a sort of practical expression of the Commons. The common treasury for all. It's not only blackberries in my little lane; here there are sweet apples, plums and cob nuts soon ripening.

Nasa is seeking help from universities and companies about better ways to relay data back to Earth. The aim is to close a potential communications gap set to occur in 2020.

Currently Nasa relies on two craft orbiting Mars, Odyssey and the Reconnaissance Orbiter, to pass data back to Earth beamed to them from the Curiosity rover on the Martian surface.

Data relay will be taken over by two newer spacecraft:  Nasa's Maven satellite (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution in September 2014, and Europe's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter in 2016.

Nasa has no plans to launch orbiters after Maven. However, there are plans to land more rovers on Mars, which will potentially create a problem retrieving data gathered by the rovers. 

Nasa's John Grunsfeld says 'We are looking to broaden participation in the exploration of Mars to include new models for government and commercial partnerships.'

This could include laser data transfer to boost data transfer rates.

Comment:  Exploration of Mars using surface rovers looks set to expand. Will this develop into a commercial 'goldrush' mentality, allowing a few rich countries to exploit the red planet?

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


For the first time in six years the government has opening bidding for new fracking licences. 

Half the UK is now open to exploration for shale gas.

New restrictions apply to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural, and companies granted a licence for test drilling will also need planning permission and environmental permits. The Environment Secretary will also have more power to intervene where their are disputes over drilling. 

The first gas from fracking is likely to be extracted early in 2015.

Comment: There have been strong local protests where test drilling has already been carried out. There are several sweeteners on offer to try to persuade local communities to accept the risks around fracking: tax breaks, payments of £100,000 per site plus a 1% share of revenue. The government deny that the new restrictions on fracking are designed to head off protest in Tory seats in the south of England.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014


New images of comet 67P/C-G from the Rosetta probe appear to show the nucleus of the comet is two objects - a smaller 'head' connected by  a 'neck' to a larger 'body'.

On 20 July Rosetta was about 5,500 km from the comet. The ESA probe is due to move into orbit on 6 August, when it will be 70 km from the surface of comet 67P,  a 4.5 km wide ball of ice.
Then surface mapping of the comet will help select a touchdown zone for a small landing robot called Philae in November.

Dr Holger Sierks from the Max-Planck-Institute in Germany said 'The only thing we know for sure at this point is that this neck region appears brighter compared to the head and the body of the nucleus.' The team say this could be due to a different surface composition or topography in the neck region.

Rosetta will be the first space mission to rendezvous with a comet, follow it and attempt to send a lander to its surface.

Comment: Fascinating detail of 67P from Rosetta which should increase our understanding of the nature of comets.